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146357 - People v Trowbridge (Alan)

The People of the State of Michigan,
 
Noelle R. Moeggenberg
 
Plaintiff-Appellee,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Grand Traverse – Power, T.)
 
Alan Starr Trowbridge,
 
Michael A. Faraone
 
Defendant-Appellant.
 

Summary

In 2010, defendant Alan Trowbridge was arrested and charged with five counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Trowbridge rejected two plea offers from the prosecutor. On the first day of trial, his attorney and the prosecutor informed the court that Trowbridge had accepted a third offer to enter a plea to a reduced charge. But the trial court had a policy of refusing to accept such pleas after the final pretrial conference, and so it rejected the plea deal. Trowbridge then proceeded to trial. Two counts were dismissed by the trial court; the jury then convicted Trowbridge of all three counts submitted to it. 
 
At sentencing, the trial judge informed the parties that he had just discovered that MCL 750.520b(2)(c) required Trowbridge to be sentenced to life without parole, because he had previously pled guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. Trowbridge and his attorney had been unaware of this mandatory sentence. Trowbridge’s counsel had advised him that, if convicted, he faced a likelihood of being sentenced to 30 years in prison. 
 
Trowbridge appealed his convictions and sentences. He argued that his attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to tell him that he faced life in prison if convicted. He argued that, if he had known of the possibility of a life sentence, he would have accepted a plea deal.  The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing, to make a record regarding Trowbridge’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. After the hearing, the trial court concluded that Trowbridge’s counsel’s performance was “objectively unreasonable.”  But it also ruled that Trowbridge failed to show that his counsel’s subpar performance caused him any prejudice, and that it was “almost certain” that Trowbridge would have made the same decision if he had known about the mandatory life sentence. The trial court noted defense counsel’s testimony that he had told Trowbridge that he faced a minimum sentence of 30 years, and that he also advised his client that his chances at trial were slim. The trial court also noted that Trowbridge maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings, which caused the trial court to conclude that Trowbridge would not have admitted guilt in order to accept a plea offer. 
 
The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The panel stated that it was “not left with the definite and firm conviction that the trial court made a mistake when it concluded that defendant had not established a reasonable probability that he would have accepted the prosecution’s final pretrial plea offer with proper advice regarding the mandatory sentence he faced if convicted at trial.”  
 
Trowbridge appealed. On December 23, 2014, the Court ordered oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. MCR 7.302(H)(1) and directed the parties to address whether the Court of Appeals correctly resolved the defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim in light of People v Douglas, 496 Mich 557 (2014).