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Michigan Supreme Court Announces Punishment for Second-Degree Murder and Involuntary Manslaughter When Based on Same Conduct Violates Prohibition Against Double Jeopardy

by Anthony W. Accurso

The Supreme Court of Michigan ruled that the Legislature intended that no person be punished under both the state’s second-degree murder statute, MCL 750.317, and the involuntary manslaughter statute, MCL 750.329, when both convictions result from the death of a single person.

In the early morning hours of November 1, 2013, Renisha McBride crashed her vehicle into a parked car. Though apparently injured, she made her way to the home of Theodore P. Wafer, where she began banging on the front door at around 4:00 a.m. Because Wafer’s neighborhood had experienced an increase in crime and his vehicle had recently been vandalized, he grabbed his shotgun while on his way to the door. He opened it a few inches in time to see McBride approaching the door. He opened fire, shooting her in the face and killing her.

At trial, Wafer was convicted of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and carrying a firearm in the commission of a felony. He received 15–to–30 years’ imprisonment for the second-degree murder conviction to be run concurrently with the 7–to –15 year sentence for the involuntary manslaughter conviction. His two–year sentence on the felony firearm conviction was run consecutive to the other two.

Wafer appealed. His conviction and sentences were upheld by the Court of Appeals. Though the Supreme Court initially denied review on his other claimed grounds, it agreed to a rehearing of only his claim of double jeopardy.

The Court noted that both the Fifth Amendment and the Michigan Constitution, Const. 1963, art. 1, § 15, provide constitutional double-jeopardy protections. It further noted that the Michigan Supreme Court has interpreted the state protections consistently with the federal protections. People v. Miller, 869 N.W.2d 204 (Mich. 2015). According to the Court, the prohibition against double jeopardy protects individuals in three ways: “(1) it protects against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal, (2) it protects against a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction, and (3) it protects against multiple punishments for the same offense.” United States v. Wilson, 420 U.S. 332 (1975).

The Court observed that the third type is at issue in the present case. In determining when multiple punishments are constitutionally permissible, legislative intent controls. Miller. The Court then examined the language of the two statutes at issue and concluded that the Legislature included the element of malice in the second-degree murder statute but expressly excluded malice in the involuntary manslaughter statute. Consequently, the Court explained that a defendant can’t be punished under both statutes for the same conduct, and thus, the Legislature didn’t intend the punishment for these two offenses to be cumulative.

Thus, the Court stated “we hold that the Legislature clearly intended to prohibit multiple punishments for second-degree murder and statutory involuntary manslaughter.”

Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, vacated Wafter’s involuntary manslaughter conviction, and remanded for resentencing. See: People v. Wafer, 2022 Mich. LEXIS 372 (2022). 

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Related legal case

People v. Wafer

 

 

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