People v. Spears

Decision Date20 April 2023
Docket Number357848
PartiesPEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RONNIE LAMONT SPEARS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Wayne Circuit Court LC No. 16-002012-01-FC



Defendant appeals as on leave granted[1] the trial court's order denying his motion for relief from judgment under MCR 6.502 in which he sought to withdraw his guilty plea in the trial court. Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder, MCL 750.317, and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), MCL 750.227b. He was sentenced to 20 to 50 years' imprisonment for second-degree murder, and two years' consecutive imprisonment for felony-firearm. On appeal defendant argues that his plea-based convictions must be vacated because the trial court violated his constitutional right of selfrepresentation, his guilty plea was invalid under MCR 6.302, and his guilty plea was the result of coercion. Relatedly, defendant argues that he has established entitlement to relief from judgment under the applicable court rules. We affirm.


This case arises from defendant's guilty plea in the trial court. Defendant was charged with one count of first-degree premeditated murder, MCL 750.316, one count of intentionally discharging a firearm at a dwelling or potentially occupied structure (intentional discharge), MCL 750.234b, and one count of felony-firearm. On the first day of trial, defendant accepted a plea offer and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and felony-firearm in exchange for dismissal of the counts of first-degree premeditated murder and intentional discharge, with a sentencing agreement of 20 to 50 years' imprisonment for second-degree murder and two years' imprisonment for felony-firearm.

At defendant's sentencing, he, with then-newly retained counsel, orally moved to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that his plea was invalid because he was "highly medicated on Seroquel" at the time of the plea and that he did not fully understand the nature of what was occurring. Further, defendant argued that his "so-called allocution" was made by his prior counsel, not him. The trial court, finding no error in its acceptance of defendant's guilty plea, declined to allow defendant to withdraw his plea. The trial court then sentenced defendant consistent with the prosecution's plea offer, as described earlier.

Defendant subsequently moved again, now in a written motion and through appointed appellate counsel, to withdraw his guilty plea. Defendant also alternatively requested a Ginther[2]hearing. In particular, defendant argued that his initial trial counsel's ineffective assistance prevented him from tendering a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary plea. At another hearing, the trial court again denied defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court also denied defendant's request for a Ginther hearing, stating that there was nothing to indicate ineffective assistance by defendant's initial trial counsel during the plea process.

Defendant applied for leave to appeal in this Court, which we denied. People v Spears, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered October 15, 2018 (Docket No. 344921). Our Supreme Court also denied defendant's application for leave to appeal. People v Spears, 504 Mich. 852 (2019).

Defendant subsequently filed a motion, pursuant to MCR 6.502, in the trial court for relief from judgment. He once again challenged his plea-based convictions. Defendant asserted four separate grounds for relief, stating that these issues "have not been previously raised on these facts in any prior hearing, appeal, or MOTION." Specifically, defendant argued that: (1) his initial trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, and the trial court improperly denied his right of selfrepresentation; (2) the trial court violated MCR 6.302 when accepting his plea because it omitted questioning required by that court rule, including questioning required by People v Jaworski, 387 Mich. 21; 194 N.W.2d 868 (1972), and the plea lacked a sufficient factual basis and was otherwise involuntary; (3) the trial court, in taking his plea, applied coercion in violation of People v Killebrew, 416 Mich. 189; 330 N.W.2d 834 (1982), by actively participating in the plea negotiations; and (4) appointed appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise the meritorious issues raised in the instant motion.

The trial court denied the motion for relief from judgment. The trial court explained that initial trial counsel adequately represented defendant, that defendant was not denied his right of self-representation because he never made an unequivocal request to represent himself, that the court complied with the relevant court rules when taking his plea, that the court did not violate Killebrew, and that appointed appellate counsel did not provide inadequate assistance.

We denied defendant's application for leave to appeal. People v Spears, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered October 15, 2021 (Docket No. 357848). The Supreme Court then remanded the case back to us with the instruction to consider the matter as if we originally had granted leave. People v Spears, 509 Mich. 1053 (2022).


"We review a trial court's decision on a motion for relief from judgment for an abuse of discretion and its findings of facts supporting its decision for clear error." People v Swain, 288 Mich.App. 609, 628; 794 N.W.2d 92 (2010). "A trial court abuses its discretion when its decision falls outside the range of reasonable and principled outcomes or makes an error of law." Id. at 628-629 (citations omitted). "[A] trial court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous if, after a review of the entire record, the appellate court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." People v McSwain, 259 Mich.App. 654, 682; 676 N.W.2d 236 (2003) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

Similarly, a trial court's decision regarding a defendant's request to represent himself or herself is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See People v Anderson, 398 Mich. 361, 367; 247 N.W.2d 857 (1976); People v Hicks, 259 Mich.App. 518, 521; 675 N.W.2d 599 (2003), abrogated in part on other grounds, People v Jones, 494 Mich. 880 (2013). A trial court's ruling on a motion to withdraw a guilty plea likewise is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. People v Pointe-Bey, 321 Mich.App. 609, 615; 909 N.W.2d 523 (2017).

"A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel presents a mixed question of fact and constitutional law." People v Isrow, 339 Mich.App. 552, 531; 984 N.W.2d 528 (2021) (quotation marks and citation omitted). "All findings of fact are reviewed for clear error, while the legal questions are reviewed de novo." Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). Because the trial court never held a Ginther hearing, our review of this issue is limited to errors apparent from the record. See People v Wilson, 242 Mich.App. 350, 352; 619 N.W.2d 413 (2000).


MCR 6.508 governs entitlement to relief on a motion for relief from judgment, and it provides, in relevant part:

The defendant has the burden of establishing entitlement to the relief requested. The court may not grant relief to the defendant if the motion
* * *
(3) alleges grounds for relief, other than jurisdictional defects, which could have been raised on appeal from the conviction and sentence or in a prior motion under this subchapter, unless the defendant demonstrates
(a) good cause for failure to raise such grounds on appeal or in the prior motion, and (b) actual prejudice from the alleged irregularities that support the claim for relief. As used in this subrule, "actual prejudice" means that,
* * *
(ii) in a conviction entered on a plea of guilty, guilty but mentally ill, or nolo contendere, the defect in the proceedings was such that it renders the plea an involuntary one to a degree that it would be manifestly unjust to allow the conviction to stand;
(iii) in any case, the irregularity was so offensive to the maintenance of a sound judicial process that the conviction should not be allowed to stand regardless of its effect on the outcome of the case ....[3]

First, defendant argues that his convictions must be vacated because the trial court unconstitutionally denied his right of self-representation. We disagree.

"The right of self-representation is secured by both the Michigan Constitution, Const 1963, art 1, § 13, and by statute, MCL 763.1." People v Dunigan, 299 Mich.App. 579, 587; 831 N.W.2d 243 (2013). "The right of self-representation is also implicitly guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution." Id. "[A]lthough the right to counsel and the right of self-representation are both fundamental constitutional rights, representation by counsel, as a guarantor of a fair trial, is the standard, not the exception, in the absence of a proper waiver." People v Russell, 471 Mich. 182, 189-190; 684 N.W.2d 745 (2004) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

To invoke the right of self-representation: (1) a defendant must make an unequivocal request to represent himself, (2) the trial court must determine that the choice to proceed without counsel is knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, and (3) the trial court must determine that the defendant's acting as his own counsel will not disrupt, unduly inconvenience and burden the court and the administration of the court's business. [Dunigan, 299 Mich.App. at 587 (quotation marks and citation omitted).]

According to defendant, the trial court unconstitutionally denied...

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