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AG Nessel Scores Win in Michigan Supreme Court Case

LANSING – In a case argued by Attorney General Dana Nessel before the Michigan Supreme Court, the Court agreed with Nessel that  a trial court must  advise a criminal defendant of the direct consequences of a plea, including the fact that the court may impose consecutive sentencing, which could significantly affect the maximum possible prison sentence for the offense.   

Nessel was permitted by the Court to argue as amicus in support of the defendant in People v. Warren, a case involving defendant Kelly Warren, who was represented by counsel Michael Naughton. 

“Plea deals allow for legal proceedings to move more swiftly through the judicial system, but those defendants who make an agreement to sacrifice their liberty and subject themselves to punishment should have a clear picture of the potential consequences they’re agreeing to,” Nessel said. “Anything less than full disclosure by the courts can result in a defendant serving far more time incarcerated than she or he expected. Our justice system should be as transparent as possible, or those who are served by it will lose confidence in it. As such, I am grateful for the court's decision on this critically important case and honored to argue the case alongside Mr. Naughton.” 

Both the trial court and the majority of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that a court was not required to inform the defendant of its authority to make sentences consecutive. However, the Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision on Wednesday overturned the lower courts’ rulings. 

In People v. Warren, Warren pleaded guilty in 2014 in Mecosta County Circuit Court to two separate charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, third offense (OWI-3rd), in exchange for the dismissal of other criminal charges against him and the sentence enhancement he faced as a fourth-offense habitual offender. 

The trial court judge noted on the record that each charge carried a five-year maximum prison sentence but did not disclose that the court could impose consecutive sentencing because Warren committed the second OWI-3rd charge while the first OWI-3rd charge was pending. He was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of two to five years, a maximum of 10 years total.  

Warren then filed a motion to withdraw his plea because the court did not disclose that sentences could be served consecutively. But that motion failed at both the trial court and appellate court levels. 

Attorney General Nessel filed an amicus brief in July 2019 when the case went to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

In his written opinion for the Michigan Supreme Court majority, Justice Stephen Markman notes that since a trial court has the authority to impose consecutive sentences, it should advise a defendant of his or her “maximum possible prison sentence,” which must include the maximum time for each individual offense and all offenses collectively. 

“Defendant (Warren) was instructed that each OWI-3rd conviction carried a five-year maximum term of imprisonment, which, if imposed concurrently, would amount to a maximum possible sentence of five years’ imprisonment,” Markman wrote. “However, because of the trial court’s discretionary consecutive-sentencing authority, defendant actually faced, and received, a maximum possible sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. This was, in fact, the ‘maximum possible prison sentence for the offenses.’”