Michigan Supreme Court Holds Double Jeopardy Prevents OWI, OWI Causing Injury Convictions

On July 20, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court held in a criminal case that the Double Jeopardy clause prevents a trial court from convicting a defendant of both the offenses of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and OWI Causing Injury in a single case arising out of a single set of facts.

In People v Miller, Docket No. 149502, the Michigan Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a trial court properly convicted a defendant of both OWI and OWI causing injury.  The case involved a defendant who while intoxicated grabbed the steering wheel of his girlfriend's car while she was driving, causing a crash with the victim sustaining physical injury.

From the opinion's syllabus:

Joseph Miller was convicted by a jury in the Leelanau Circuit Court of operating while intoxicated (OWI), MCL 257.625(1), and operating while intoxicated causing serious impairment of another person’s body function (OWI-injury), MCL 257.625(5), for an accident that resulted when he grabbed the steering wheel of the car that his girlfriend was driving. The court, Thomas G. Power, J., sentenced defendant to two concurrent terms of five years’ probation, with the first nine months to be served in jail. Defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals, DONOFRIO, P.J., and SAAD and METER, JJ., in an unpublished opinion per curiam issued March 11, 2014 (Docket No. 314375), affirmed defendant’s conviction for OWI-injury but vacated defendant’s OWI conviction on the ground that it violated defendant’s constitutional protection against double jeopardy. The Court of Appeals denied the prosecution’s motion for reconsideration. The Supreme Court granted the prosecution’s application for leave to appeal. 497 Mich 881 (2014).

In a unanimous opinion by Justice VIVIANO, the Supreme Court held:

The trial court violated the constitutional protection against double jeopardy by convicting defendant of both OWI and OWI-injury. When read as a whole, MCL 257.625 expresses a clear legislative intent not to allow conviction of and punishment for multiple offenses arising from the same incident except where explicitly authorized by the statute, and MCL 257.625(1) and MCL 257.625(5) do not specifically authorize multiple punishments. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals correctly vacated defendant’s conviction, but for the wrong reason.

1. The constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy protects against successive prosecutions for the same offense and against the imposition of multiple punishments for the same offense. The protection against multiple punishments is not violated if the Legislature has specifically authorized cumulative punishments under two statutes; however, if the Legislature has expressed a clear intention to prohibit multiple punishments, it is a violation of double jeopardy to convict a defendant for both offenses in a single trial. If the Legislature’s intent is not clear, courts apply the “abstract legal elements” test articulated in People v Ream, 481 Mich 223 (2008), which focuses on the statutory elements of the offense to determine whether the Legislature intended for multiple punishments. Under this test, it does not violate double jeopardy protections to convict a defendant of multiple offenses if each of the offenses has an element that the other does not.

2. The Court of Appeals erred by concluding that the Legislature did not express a clear intent with regard to multiple punishments arising under MCL 257.625(1) and (5). Although these provisions do not clearly evidence the Legislature’s intent when read in isolation, reading MCL 257.625 as a whole indicates that the Legislature specifically authorized multiple punishments for an individual who violates MCL 257.625(7) by driving with a minor while intoxicated and, by that same conduct, also commits OWI-injury under MCL 257.625(5) or OWI causing death under MCL 257.625(4). The fact that there is no similar provision expressly authorizing multiple punishments for violating MCL 257.625(1) and MCL 257.625(5) indicates that the Legislature did not intend to permit a defendant to be convicted of both offenses for the same criminal conduct. Accordingly, the trial court violated double jeopardy by convicting defendant of both OWI and OWI-injury.

Court of Appeals judgment affirmed on different grounds; case remanded to the trial court for resentencing.