Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Kareem Swilley, Jr. was convicted by jury of first-degree premeditated murder; conspiracy to commit murder; three counts of assault with intent to commit murder; carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent; and six counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. These charges arose in connection with the drive-by shooting death of DaVarion Galvin. Defendant asserted an alibi defense, stating that he was at city hall at the time of the shooting with his grandmother Alesha Lee, Lee’s fiancé Philip Taylor, and defendant’s sister. Taylor and Lee corroborated defendant’s testimony at trial, and texts between defendant and one of his codefendants around the time Galvin was shot appeared to suggest that defendant was not with the codefendant at that time. Over defense objection, the trial court extensively questioned Taylor, Lee, and Joshua Colley (a witness who was present when Galvin was shot). The jury found defendant guilty of all charges. The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions but remanded the case for correction of defendant’s sentence for conspiracy to commit murder. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded the trial court pierced the veil of judicial impartiality, depriving defendant of a fair trial. "Considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that it was reasonably likely that the judge’s questioning of defendant’s alibi witness improperly influenced the jury by creating an appearance of advocacy or partiality against defendant, in violation of our decision in Michigan v Stevens, 498 Mich 162; 869 NW2d 233 (2015). Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case for a new trial." View "Michigan v. Swilley" on Justia Law

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Romon McBurrows was charged in the Monroe Circuit Court with one count of delivery of a controlled substance causing death, in connection with the death of Nicholas Abraham. Abraham, a resident of Monroe County, had driven an acquaintance to a house in Wayne County where the acquaintance bought heroin from defendant. Abraham and the acquaintance used some of the heroin in a nearby parking lot and then returned to their homes. Abraham was found unresponsive the next morning and was pronounced dead later that day. An autopsy concluded that Abraham had died from an overdose of fentanyl, which is sometimes mixed with heroin. Defendant filed a motion disputing Monroe County as a proper venue, and the trial court denied the motion. Defendant then applied for leave for interlocutory appeal with the Court of Appeals, which granted leave, stayed the trial court proceedings pending the appeal, and ultimately reversed, finding venue was proper in Wayne County, where defendant allegedly delivered the heroin. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded venue in a case like this, was properly laid in a county if the death, but not the delivery, occurred in that county. Therefore, venue was proper in Wayne County. View "Michigan v. McBurrows" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, the Michigan Supreme Court addressed the propriety and scope of expert testimony in cases alleging child sexual abuse. In Thorpe, the Court addressed the admissibility of testimony from an expert in the area of child sexual abuse and disclosure about the rate of false reports of sexual abuse by children to rebut testimony elicited on cross-examination that children can lie and manipulate. In Harbison, the Court addressed the admissibility of expert testimony from an examining physician that “diagnosed” the complainant with “probable pediatric sexual abuse” despite not having made any physical findings of sexual abuse to support that conclusion. In Thorpe, the Court held expert witnesses may not testify that children overwhelmingly do not lie when reporting sexual abuse because such testimony improperly vouches for the complainant’s veracity. And because Thorpe established that this testimony more likely than not affected the outcome of the case, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial. In Harbison, the Supreme Court held that examining physicians could not testify that a complainant has been sexually assaulted or has been diagnosed with sexual abuse without physical evidence that corroborates the complainant’s account of sexual assault or abuse because such testimony vouches for the complainant’s veracity and improperly interferes with the role of the jury. Because the Supreme Court concluded this was plain error, affected Harbison’s substantial rights, and seriously affected the integrity of his trial, it reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Thorpe" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this case was whether the building inspection fees assessed by defendant, the city of Troy (the City), were “intended to bear a reasonable relation to the cost” of acts and services provided by the City’s Building Inspection Department (Building Department) under the Construction Code Act (CCA). The Michigan Supreme Court held the City’s use of the revenue generated by those fees to pay the Building Department’s budgetary shortfalls in previous years violated MCL 125.1522(1). “While fees imposed to satisfy the alleged historical deficit may arguably be for ‘the operation of the enforcing agency or the construction board of appeals,’ this does not mean that such fees ‘bear a reasonable relation’ to the costs of acts and services provided by the Building Department. Here, the Court was satisfied plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to conclude that the City established fees that were not intended to “bear a reasonable relation” to the costs of acts and services necessary to justify the City’s retention of 25% of all the fees collected. Furthermore, the Supreme Court determined there was no express or implied monetary remedy for a violation of MCL 125.1522(1). Nonetheless, plaintiffs could seek declaratory and injunctive relief to redress present and future violations of MCL 125.1522(1). Because the City has presented evidence to justify the retention of a portion of these fees, the Supreme Court remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. Lastly, the Supreme Court concluded there was no record evidence establishing that plaintiffs were “taxpayer[s]” with standing to file suit pursuant to the Headlee Amendment. On remand, the trial court was mandated to allow plaintiffs’ members an opportunity to establish representational standing on plaintiffs’ behalf. View "Michigan Association of Home Builders v. City of Troy" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is whether the trial court committed error requiring reversal when it gave an ad-lib deadlocked-jury instruction. The Michigan Supreme Court conclude that it did: the instruction given by the trial court lacked constructive advice to encourage further deliberation, omitted important safeguards of jurors’ honest convictions, included coercive language, and was delivered in a coercive atmosphere. The Court determined the instruction crossed the line from “appropriately encouraging deliberation and candid consideration to impermissibly coercing jurors to surrender their honestly held beliefs for the sake of reaching a verdict.” The error was plain, affected defendant’s substantial rights, and affected the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the judicial proceeding. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Fred Paquin served the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (the Tribe), a federally recognized Indian tribe whose territory was located within the geographic boundaries of Michigan, in two capacities: as the chief of police for the tribal police department and as an elected member of the board of directors, the governing body of the Tribe. In 2010, plaintiff pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by dishonest means in violation of 18 USC 371, for which he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. The underlying conduct involved the misuse of federal funds granted to the tribal police department. In both 2013 and 2015, plaintiff sought to run for a position on defendant’s city council in the November general election. Plaintiff was rebuffed each time by defendant’s city manager, who denied plaintiff’s request to be placed on the ballot. In each instance, defendant’s city manager relied on Const 1963, art 11, sec. 8 to conclude that plaintiff’s prior felony conviction barred him from running for city council. Plaintiff brought the underlying declaratory action in the Mackinac Circuit Court, seeking a ruling that his position in tribal government did not constitute employment in “local, state, or federal government” under Const 1963, art 11, sec. 8. The Michigan Supreme Court determined that tribal government did not constitute "local...government." Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this matter back to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Paquin v. City of St. Ignace" on Justia Law

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The respondents had several children together. Their youngest, a daughter, JF, was born in 2003. JF had spina bifida, and as a result, had trouble ambulating without the aid of a mobility device. Also related to spina bifida, JF has neurogenic bladder, and she must use a catheter to urinate. JF required medical care and supervision for her entire life. In October 2015, the petitioner, the Department of Health and Human Services (the Department), petitioned to remove JF from the respondents’ care. The Department alleged that the respondents had failed to adequately attend to JF’s medical needs. At a preadjudication status conference, respondents admitted certain things about their care of JF; these admissions allowed the trial court to exercise jurisdiction over JF. In taking the respondents’ pleas, the court did not advise them that they were waiving any rights. Nor did the court advise them of the consequences of their pleas. The court ultimately terminated respondents' parental rights to JF. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding In re Hatcher, 443 Mich 426 (1993), prohibited it from considering respondents’ claim that the trial court violated their due-process rights by failing to advise them of the consequences of their pleas. The Michigan Supreme Court held the Hatcher rule rested on the legal fiction that a child protective proceeding was two separate actions: the adjudication and the disposition. "With that procedural (mis)understanding, we held that a posttermination appeal of a defect in the adjudicative phase is prohibited because it is a collateral attack. This foundational assumption was wrong; Hatcher was wrongly decided, and we overrule it." It reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court's order of adjudication and order terminating the respondents’ parental rights, and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. Because the trial court violated the respondents’ due-process rights by conducting an unrecorded, in camera interview of the subject child before the court’s resolution of the termination petition, a different judge was ordered to preside on remand. View "In re Ferranti" on Justia Law

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Alonzo Carter was convicted by jury of assault with intent to do great bodily harm (AWIGBH); being a felon in possession of a firearm (felon-in-possession); intentional discharge of a firearm at a dwelling; felonious assault; and carrying or possessing a firearm when committing or attempting to commit a felony (felony-firearm) second offense. Defendant was involved in a verbal altercation with Lawrence Sewell outside Sewell’s apartment. Defendant returned to Sewell’s apartment and attempted to lure Sewell to the door by impersonating a maintenance worker. Sewell looked through the door’s peephole and saw defendant waiting outside wearing a ski mask and holding a firearm. Sewell did not allow defendant to enter, and defendant fired three shots through the apartment door at chest level. Two shots skipped off the apartment floor and through a window, while another punctured an air mattress on which an infant child slept. At issue in this case was whether each separate pull of the trigger constituted a separate “act” under Offense Variable (OV) 12 (contemporaneous felonious acts). The Michigan Supreme Court concluded the evidence did not support the conclusion that the jury considered only one shot when deliberating over the elements of AWIGBH, and held that it was inappropriate to assess defendant 10 points under OV 12. Further, because reducing defendant’s OV score to rectify this error would reduce the applicable guidelines range, resentencing was required. View "Michigan v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Defendant Larry Mead was convicted by jury for possession of methamphetamine as a fourth-offense habitual offender. Defendant was a passenger in a car when the police pulled it over, ordered him out, and searched his backpack. He thought that search was unconstitutional, and "a straightforward application of well-settled Fourth Amendment jurisprudence - complicated only by a peremptory order of [the Michigan Supreme Court], People v LaBelle, 478 Mich 891 (2007) - says he’s right." The Supreme Court overruled LaBelle, concluding defendant had a legitimate expectation of privacy to his backpack, and the warrantless search of that item was unreasonable because the driver lacked apparent common authority to consent to the search. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court's order denying defendant's motion to suppress, and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Mead" on Justia Law

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Robert Lewis was convicted on one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexually assaulting his live-in girlfriend’s daughters. Defendant appealed, challenging his convictions and the amount of attorney fees assessed against him. The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions and sentences in an unpublished per curiam opinion, holding that the trial court properly awarded attorney fees without making findings of fact regarding the award of attorney fees because the language of MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iii) and (iv) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, MCL 760.1 et seq., was clear such that a separate calculation of costs was not required. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded a sentencing court could not impose attorney fees pursuant to MCL 769.1k(1)(b)(iv) without first making findings to support the amount of the fees, reversed the Court of Appeals' opinion holding to the contrary, and remanded this case for such findings. The Supreme Court affirmed Lewis' convictions. View "Michigan v. Lewis" on Justia Law