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In his trial for first-degree murder, the trial court improperly denied defendant William Lyles, Jr.’s request for an instruction informing the jury that his evidence of good character could create a reasonable doubt. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review was whether defendant has shown that it was more likely than not that this error was outcome-determinative. Defendant was permitted to introduce his good character evidence; it was, however, minimal and strongly contradicted by the prosecution’s witnesses. Given this and the other evidence implicating defendant in the murder, the Supreme Court could not conclude that the absence of the instruction (the only error alleged here) made the difference: defendant did not show it was more likely than not that the outcome would have been different. View "Michigan v. Lyles" on Justia Law

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Gary Lewis was convicted after a jury trial on four counts of third-degree arson, and one count of second-degree arson. The trial court sentenced defendant as a fourth-offense habitual offender to 17 to 30 years of imprisonment for each of his convictions. Lewis appealed his convictions as of right to the Court of Appeals, claiming that he was deprived of counsel at his preliminary examination and that this deprivation of counsel at a critical stage of the criminal proceedings against him amounted to a structural error requiring automatic reversal. Believing itself bound by precedent, the Court of Appeals resolved the conflict by holding, in effect, that United States v Cronic, 466 US 648, (1984) controlled and granted defendant an automatic new trial. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded Cronic’s discussion of the general remedy for complete denials of counsel was dictum; Coleman v. Alabama, 399 US1 (1970) held that the denial of counsel at a preliminary hearing was subject to harmless-error review. When the Supreme Court’s holdings and its dicta conflict, the Court was bound to follow its holdings. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated Part II of its opinion, and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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In several cases consolidated for review, the issue common to all was whether the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services could recover from beneficiaries’ estates an amount equivalent to certain Medicaid benefits paid to, or on behalf of, those beneficiaries during their lifetimes. Pursuant to the Michigan Medicaid estate-recovery program (MMERP), DHHS asserted creditor claims in the amount of those benefits against the estates of four deceased beneficiaries. In each case, the estate prevailed in the probate court and DHHS appealed. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and reversed in part, concluding that DHHS could pursue its claims for amounts paid after MMERP’s July 1, 2011 implementation date, but not for amounts paid between that date and the program’s effective date, July 1, 2010. One estate appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing due process barred DHHS from recovering any amount paid before 2013, when the agency had directly notified the estate’s decedent of MMERP. DHHS applied for leave to appeal in all four cases, arguing that the Court of Appeals had erred in concluding that the agency was not entitled to recover the amounts paid between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011. The Supreme Court concluded DHHS was not barred from pursuing estate recovery for amounts paid after July 1, 2010. View "In re Gorney Estate" on Justia Law

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Michael and Jacqueline Ray, acting as coconservators for their minor child, Kersch Ray, filed an action against Eric Swager, Scott Platt, and others, in part alleging that Swager was liable for the injuries suffered by Kersch when Kersch was struck by an automobile driven by Platt. Kersch was thirteen years old and a member of the Chelsea High School cross-country team at the time of the accident; Swager was the coach of the team and a teacher at the high school. Kersch was struck by the car driven by Platt when Kersch was running across an intersection with his teammates and Swager during an early morning team practice. Plaintiffs alleged that Swager had instructed the runners to cross the road even though the “Do Not Walk” symbol was illuminated. Swager moved for summary judgment, arguing that as a governmental employee he was entitled to immunity from liability. The trial court denied Swager’s motion, concluding that whether Swager’s actions were grossly negligent and whether he was the proximate cause of Kersch’s injuries (and therefore not entitled to immunity under the GTLA) were questions of fact for the jury to decide. Plaintiffs appealed. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, reasoning Swager was immune from liability under MCL 691.1407(2) because reasonable minds could not conclude that Swager was the proximate cause of Kersch’s injuries; rather, Platt’s presence in the roadway and Kersch’s own actions were the immediate and direct causes of Kersch’s injuries, and the most proximate cause of Kersch’s injuries was being struck by a moving vehicle. Plaintiffs appealed. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals incorrectly analyzed proximate cause under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ray v. Swager" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) filed a formal complaint against Sixth Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca, alleging two counts of judicial misconduct arising from a hearing at which she found three children in contempt of court. The contempt hearing arose in the context of a protracted and acrimonious divorce and custody case. The two younger children, 10-year-old RT and 9-year-old NT, were ordered to participate in parenting time in respondent’s jury room with their father. LT was not scheduled for parenting time with his father on that day, but he came to the court with his siblings. After the children refused to communicate with their father, respondent held a show cause hearing to determine why all three children should not be held in contempt. Among other things, respondent told LT that he was defiant, contemptuous, and “mentally messed up.” She held him in direct contempt of court and ordered LT to be confined at Oakland County Children’s Village. Respondent then addressed RT and NT, who were initially apologetic and indicated that they would try to comply with the court’s order but later stated that they would prefer to go with LT to Children’s Village. All three children were handcuffed and removed from the courtroom. The JTC special master found respondent committed misconduct by: (1) finding LT in contempt of a nonexistent parenting-time order; (2) giving the children’s father the keys to the jailhouse thereby depriving the children of the opportunity to purge their contempt; (3) making a gesture indicating that LT was crazy and making disparaging remarks about the children; and (4) misrepresenting to the JTC that the gesture was intended to communicate LT’s moving forward with therapy. The JTC adopted the master’s findings with one exception: the JTC disagreed with the master that respondent misrepresented the meaning of the gesture and concluded that her answer was merely misleading. The JTC recommended that the appropriate discipline for respondent’s misconduct was a 30-day suspension without pay and costs. After review of the record the Michigan Supreme Court agreed in part with the Commission’s conclusion that respondent committed judicial misconduct, but was not persuaded that the recommended sanction was appropriate. Instead, the Court held public censure was proportionate to the judicial misconduct established by the record. The Court rejected the Commission’s recommendation to impose costs, fees, and expenses against respondent under MCR 9.205(B). View "In re Hon. Lisa Gorcyca" on Justia Law

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Dwayne Wilson was convicted by jury on one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), and two counts of unlawful imprisonment. Because defendant had two prior felony-firearm convictions, defendant was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment as a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b(1), followed by concurrent terms of 100 to 180 months’ imprisonment for the unlawful-imprisonment counts. Defendant objected at sentencing, arguing that his felony-firearm sentence was improper because his two prior convictions for felony-firearm arose from a single incident. Defendant cited Michigan v Stewart, 441 Mich 89 (1992), but the circuit court held that Stewart was no longer good law because it relied on Michigan v Preuss, 436 Mich 714 (1990), which had been overruled by Michigan v Gardner, 482 Mich 41 (2008), and the court further held that nothing in the language of MCL 750.227b(1) required the previous felony-firearm convictions to have arisen from separate incidents. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in an unpublished per curiam opinion, holding that defendant should have been sentenced as a second felony-firearm offender rather than a third felony-firearm offender because lower courts remained bound by Stewart unless and until the Supreme Court overruled it. The Court of Appeals further held that defendant was entitled to a remand under Michigan v Lockridge, 498 Mich 358 (2015). The prosecution appealed, and the Michigan Supreme Court overruled Stewart because it found nothing in the text of MCL 750.227b(1) required a repeat felony-firearm offender’s prior felony-firearm convictions arise from separate criminal incidents, and the stare decisis factors did not counsel in favor of retaining the erroneous rule. View "Michigan v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) filed a formal complaint against 14-A District Court Judge J. Cedric Simpson, alleging three counts of judicial misconduct arising from a 2013 incident where Crystal Vargas, one of respondent’s interns, was involved in a motor vehicle accident near respondent’s home. Vargas immediately called respondent, and he arrived at the scene approximately 10 minutes later. As the investigating officer was administering a field sobriety test, respondent identified himself to the officer as a judge, had a conversation with Vargas without the officer’s permission. Vargas had a breath-alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit, and she was placed under arrest. Respondent contacted the township attorney who would be handling Vargas’s case, said that Vargas was his intern. Respondent also contacted the attorney to discuss defense attorneys Vargas might retain. After an investigation into respondent’s conduct, the JTC filed its formal complaint alleging that respondent had interfered with the police investigation into the accident, interfered with Vargas’s prosecution, and made misrepresentations to the JTC. The master appointed to the case found by a preponderance of the evidence that respondent’s actions constituted judicial misconduct on all three counts. The JTC agreed with these findings and concluded that respondent’s conduct violated the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct and also constituted misconduct in office and conduct clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice under Const 1963, art 6, section 30(2). The JTC recommended that respondent be removed from office and that costs be imposed. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded the JTC correctly found that respondent committed judicial misconduct, but it erred by concluding that removal from office was warranted. A suspension of nine months without pay was proportional to the misconduct. View "In re Hon. J. Cedric Simpson" on Justia Law

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Gino Rea was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI). A police officer parked his patrol vehicle in the street in front of defendant’s driveway while responding to noise complaints from defendant’s neighbor. As the officer walked up the straight driveway, defendant backed out of his detached garage and down the driveway. When the officer shined his flashlight to alert defendant that he was in the driveway, defendant stopped his car in the driveway, next to the house. Defendant then put his car in drive and pulled forward into the garage, bumping into stored items in the back of the garage. Defendant, who smelled of alcohol and whose speech was slurred, was arrested for OWI after he refused to take field sobriety tests; defendant’s blood alcohol level was later determined to be three times the legal limit. After arraignment, defendant moved to quash the information. The court granted the motion and dismissed the charge, finding that the upper portion of defendant’s driveway, closest to the garage, was not a place generally accessible to motor vehicles for purposes of criminal liability under MCL 257.625(1). On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order, concluding that because the general public is not widely permitted to access the upper portion of a private driveway, defendant’s operation of his vehicle while intoxicated did not fit within the purview of behavior prohibited under MCL 257.625(1). The Michigan Supreme Court held that because defendant’s conduct occurred in an area generally accessible to motor vehicles, the conduct was within the purview of MCL 257.625(1), and reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court’s dismissal of the case, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Rea" on Justia Law

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Alexander Steanhouse was convicted by jury for assault with intent to commit murder (AWIM), and receiving and concealing stolen property. The court departed from the sentencing guidelines’ recommended minimum range and sentenced Steanhouse to 30 to 60 years’ imprisonment for AWIM, to run concurrently with a sentence of one to five years’ imprisonment for receiving and concealing stolen property. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions but remanded under the procedure adopted in Michigan v Lockridge, 498 Mich 358 (2015), from United States v Crosby, 397 F3d 103 (CA 2, 2005), to determine whether the sentences were reasonable. Mohammad Masroor was convicted by jury on 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-I), and five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-II). The court departed from the sentencing guidelines’ recommended minimum range and imposed concurrent prison terms of 35 to 50 years for each of the CSC-I convictions and 10 to 15 years for each of the CSC-II convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed Masroor’s convictions but ordered a Crosby remand and directed the trial court to apply the proportionality standard adopted in Steanhouse. Both defendants appealed, and the Michigan Supreme Court: (1) held the legislative sentencing guidelines are advisory in all applications; (2) held the proper inquiry when reviewing a sentence for reasonableness was whether the trial court abused its discretion by violating the “principle of proportionality” set forth in Michigan v Milbourn, 461 NW2d 1 (1990); (3) declined to import the approach to reasonableness review used by the federal courts into Michigan jurisprudence; (4) agreed with the Court of Appeals that defendant Steanhouse did not preserve his Sixth Amendment challenge to the scoring of the guidelines and that Masroor did preserve his challenge, but declined to reach the question whether Michigan v Stokes, 877 NW2d 752 (2015), correctly decided that the remedy was exactly the same regardless of whether the error was preserved or unpreserved in light of the fact that both defendants received departure sentences, and that, therefore, neither defendant can show any harm from the application of the mandatory guidelines; (5) reversed, in part, the judgments of the Court of Appeals in both cases to the extent they remanded to the trial court for further sentencing proceedings under United States v Crosby, 397 F3d 103 (CA 2, 2005), finding the proper approach for the Court of Appeals was to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion by violating the principle of proportionality; and (6) because of its ruling in (5), in lieu of granting leave to appeal in the defendants’ appeals the Court remanded for plenary consideration of whether the departure sentences imposed by the trial courts were reasonable under the standard articulated here. View "Michigan v. Steanhouse" on Justia Law

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Defendant Tmando Denson was convicted by jury of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. The charges stemmed from an altercation defendant had with a 17-year-old who was dating defendant’s 15-year-old daughter: defendant discovered the two in the daughter’s bedroom, partially undressed. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review was whether evidence of defendant’s prior act was admissible under MRE 404(b) to rebut claims of self-defense and defense of others: that he honestly and reasonably believed his use of force was necessary to defend himself or another. The Court held the trial court erred when it admitted defendant’s prior act because the prosecution failed to establish that it was logically relevant to a proper noncharacter purpose. The Court also concluded this error was not harmless. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Denson" on Justia Law