In the Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Washington, The Court ruled that a high-court misdemeanor, despite its name, is really a felony.
Issue for the Court
The issue for the Court was whether a person convicted of a high-court misdemeanor could be convicted of a felony-firearm using the high-court misdemeanor as the underlying offense for the felony-firearm charge. Felony-firearm is where a person has a firearm in their possession during the commission of a felony.
A high-court misdemeanor is a criminal charge punishable by up to two years in prison.
What Happened in the Case
Washington was convicted of several charges, including possession of marijuana, receiving and concealing a stolen firearm, felony-firearm, and keeping or maintaining a drug house.
The charge of keeping or maintaining a drug house was used as a predicate offense for the felony-firearm convictions. As written above, felony-firearm is where a person has a firearm during the commission of a felony. As you can see, the charge requires that someone commits a felony before they can be convicted of felony-firearm.
Keeping a drug house is what’s called a high-court misdemeanor. It’s punishable by up to two years imprisonment in state prison. The type of charge is called a misdemeanor although it’s punishable by prison.
In general, a misdemeanor is a category of crime that is punishable by up to one year in jail, and not prison. A felony is a category of crime punishable by prison time.
Then you have the high-court misdemeanor. It’s called a misdemeanor even though a person could go to prison. In reality, many criminal defense attorneys refer to high-court misdemeanors as “two-year felonies,” because a person can go to prison upon conviction.
Defendant Washington had argued there was no underlying felony to support the felony-firearm conviction. Without a felony, there can be no felony-firearm. And the maintaining a drug house charge is called a high-court misdemeanor, not a felony.
Definition of Felony
The Michigan Penal Code defines a felony as a crime punishable by state prison. A high-court misdemeanor is punishable by prison, even though it’s called a misdemeanor. Therefore, a high-court misdemeanor is really a felony. As such, a high-court misdemeanor can be used as an underlying offense to support a felony-firearm conviction.
Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Lawyer in Ann Arbor.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108