Obviously, committing a murder or a felony is a serious crime in Michigan that can result in a lengthy stay in state prison. However, it is also a crime if you try to solicit someone else to commit the murder or felony for you. “Solicit” means “to offer to give, promise to give, or give any money, services, or anything of value, or to forgive or promise to forgive a debt or obligation” to another person. MCL 750.157b(1). Trying to hire someone to commit a murder or felony is a severe criminal offense that can lead to fines, probation or even incarceration.
A person is guilty of soliciting a murder or felony, contrary to MCL 750.157b, if the prosecutor can prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt (Michigan Criminal Jury Instruction 10.6):
- First, that the defendant, through words or actions, offered, promised, or gave money, services, or anything of value or forgave or promised to forgive a debt or obligation owed to another person.
- Second, that the defendant intended that what he or she said or did would cause a murder or felony to be committed. The prosecutor does not have to prove that the person the defendant solicited actually committed, attempted to commit, or intended to commit a murder or felony.
The penalties for soliciting a murder or felony are as follows:
- “A person who solicits another person to commit murder, or who solicits another person to do or omit to do an act which if completed would constitute murder, is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years.” MCL 750.157b(2). It doesn’t matter if the solicitation is for first-degree murder or second-degree murder since the penalty is the same.
- A person who solicits another person to commit a felony punishable by life imprisonment or for 5 years or more in state prison (except murder), “the person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or by a fine not to exceed $5,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.157b(3)(a).
- A person who solicits another person to commit a felony punishable by less than 5 years in state prison or by a fine, “the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or by a fine not to exceed $1,000.00, or both, except that a term of imprisonment shall not exceed 1/2 of the maximum imprisonment which can be imposed if the offense solicited is committed.” MCL 750.157b(3)(b).
In People v Vandelinder, 192 Mich App 447; 481 NW2d 787 (1992), the defendant was convicted for soliciting a murder, kidnapping and first-degree sexual conduct against his wife. The charges arose because he offered to pay $1,000 to a person (an undercover police officer) to commit these crimes. He had plans to either reconcile with his wife or get rid of her, so he wanted the other person to kidnap her and videotape her being raped by other people to use the footage as blackmail so she would reconcile on his terms (otherwise, the other person should kill her). The defendant appealed his conviction and argued that there was sufficient evidence support a conviction of soliciting murder because it was only “conditional” on his wife not meeting his demands. The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed:
- “Solicitation to commit a felony is a specific intent crime, requiring proof that the defendant intended that the solicited crime would in fact be committed… The crime of solicitation to commit murder occurs when the solicitor purposely seeks to have someone killed and tries to engage someone to do the killing. Solicitation is complete when the solicitation is made. A contingency in the plan affects whether the victim will be murdered, but does not change the solicitor’s intent that the victim be murdered. A defendant cannot avoid conviction for solicitation merely because his intended victim may save herself from death as the result of some circumstance entirely beyond the defendant’s control.” Id at 450-451.
The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction for solicitation of murder.
It does not matter if the solicitation would have been impossible because the accused was actually soliciting an undercover police officer to commit the crime. However, the defendant must actually solicit “another person” to break the law rather than commit a crime “with the defendant”. In People v Thousand, 465 Mich 149; 631 NW2d 694 (2001), the defendant approached an individual named “Bekka” in an internet chatroom who was representing herself as a 14 year old girl (in reality, it was a deputy sheriff in Wayne County). The defendant’s conversations with “Bekka” became sexually explicit and he invited “her” to engage in various sexual acts despite being told “she” was 14 years old. The defendant eventually made arrangements to meet with “Bekka” at a McDonalds restaurant where they would then go back to his house presumably to engage in sex acts. In exchange, he would bring “her” a present, suggesting it would be a white teddy bear. When he arrived at McDonalds, he was arrested by waiting police officers for soliciting a minor to commit third-degree criminal sexual conduct and there was, in fact, a white teddy bear in his vehicle. The defendant challenged the charge on the basis of “impossibility”, saying there was never a child victim so no crime could have ever happened. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed and vacated the charge for impossibility. The Michigan Supreme Court upheld the dismissal but not due to “impossibility” (which is not a recognized defense in Michigan). Rather, there was no solicitation because “the prosecution was required to present evidence that defendant requested that another person perform a criminal act.” Id at 168. “The evidence here shows only that defendant requested that “Bekka” engage in sexual acts with him.” Id at 168. “While the requested acts might well have constituted a crime on defendant’s part, “Bekka” would not have committed third-degree criminal sexual conduct had she (or he) done as defendant suggested.” Id at 168.
Solicitation of a murder or felony is a serious allegation and requires the best legal representation in your corner to fight it off. There are many defenses that a skilled criminal defense lawyer can assert to defeat the charges:
- COMPLETE RENUNCIATION – “It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution [for soliciting a murder or felony] that, under circumstances manifesting a voluntary and complete renunciation of his or her criminal purpose, the actor notified the person solicited of his or her renunciation and either gave timely warning and cooperation to appropriate law enforcement authorities or otherwise made a substantial effort to prevent the performance of the criminal conduct commanded or solicited, provided that conduct does not occur.” MCL 750.157b(4). The defendant has the burden of proof of showing complete renunciation by a preponderance of the evidence.
- NO CONSIDERATION – Solicitation requires an offer of something of value or a promise in exchange for a crime being committed. Merely requesting, asking or pleading with someone to commit a crime is not sufficient for conviction unless there was proof that something was offered in return. However, it is not a defense to say that you offered little or insufficient consideration in exchange for a crime. An offer to someone to kill somebody else in exchange for one dollar is still solicitation of murder because the amount of the money, property or promise made is irrelevant.
- WORDS DO NOT ESTABLISH INTENT – The communication must be sufficient to suggest that you want to engage a person to commit a specific criminal act for something in return. Being a mere spectator at a fistfight and telling one of the combatants to “kick his butt” is not sufficient to establish intent for a crime or an offer of consideration. The purpose must be clear from the communication to the other person that a reasonable person would understand to be an offer to commit a crime in exchange for value (beyond a reasonable doubt).
Anyone facing solicitation of murder or felony charges needs skilled legal counsel on their side to aggressively protect their rights. Prosecutors and judges will not take these allegations lightly. The risk of lengthy probation, possible incarceration, and significant fines is very high. A criminal defense lawyer can ensure that the prosecutor is held to their burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you or a loved one are accused of any crime and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.