Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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A jury convicted Tia Marie-Mitchell Skinner, and Kenya Hyatt were convicted by jury: Skinner, for first-degree premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder for acts committed when she was seventeen years old; Hyatt for first-degree felony murder, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony for acts committed when he was seventeen years old. At issue before the Michigan Supreme Court was whether MCL 769.25 violated the Sixth Amendment because it allowed the decision whether to impose a sentence of life without parole to be made by a judge, rather than by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court held that MCL 769.25 did not violate the Sixth Amendment because neither the statute nor the Eighth Amendment required a judge to find any particular fact before imposing life without parole; instead, life without parole was authorized by the jury’s verdict alone. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals in Skinner and affirmed the part of Hyatt that held that “[a] judge, not a jury, must determine whether to impose a life-without-parole sentence or a term-of-years sentence under MCL 769.25.” However, the Court reversed the part of Hyatt that adopted a heightened standard of review for life-without-parole sentences imposed under MCL 769.25 and that remanded this case to the trial court for it to “decide whether defendant Hyatt is the truly rare juvenile mentioned in [Miller v Alabama, 567 US 460; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012)] who is incorrigible and incapable of reform.” No such explicit finding is required. Finally, the Supreme Court remanded both of these cases to the Court of Appeals for it to review defendants’ sentences under the traditional abuse-of-discretion standard of review. View "Michigan v. Skinner" on Justia Law

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This case presented an issue of how and when it is appropriate to impeach by contradiction using other-acts evidence. During defendant’s trial on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, being a felon in possession of a firearm (felon-in-possession), and possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), he called his wife, Tameachi Wilder, as a witness. On direct examination, the witness testified that she did not see defendant with a gun when he left the house on the date in question, that to her knowledge he did not own a gun, and that she did not have any weapons in the house. She was not asked about and did not offer any other information about defendant’s history with guns. On cross-examination, the prosecutor did not question the witness about defendant’s possession and ownership of weapons on the day of the crime but instead asked three times whether the witness knew of defendant to carry guns. The witness responded “no” to each question. Over defendant’s objection, the trial court - which mischaracterized both the evidence on direct examination and the witness (referring to her as a character witness rather than a fact witness) - then permitted the prosecutor to question the witness about defendant’s prior weapons convictions. At the conclusion of trial, the jury found defendant guilty of both felon-in-possession and felony-firearm, but acquitted him of carrying a concealed weapon. The Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions, concluding, among other things, that the trial court had not erred by allowing the prosecutor’s questions. After defendant sought leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, the Supreme Court ordered oral argument on the application, directing the parties to address, among other things, whether the prosecutor’s cross-examination of the witness was proper. The Court concluded the prosecutor’s tactics and questions violated several basic tenets of Michigan's rules of evidence, thus, the Court reversed that part of the Court of Appeals’ judgment holding that the cross-examination of defense witness Tameachi Wilder concerning whether she knew of defendant to carry guns and her knowledge of defendant’s prior weapons convictions was not error. The Court remanded this case to the Court of Appeals to consider whether the error was harmless. View "Michigan v. Wilder" on Justia Law

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In an unpublished, split decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals majority concluded that the misdemeanor offense of keeping or maintaining a drug house is not a “felony” for purposes of the Penal Code and, therefore, cannot serve as the predicate felony for a felony-firearm conviction. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: when the government charges a criminal defendant with felony-firearm under the Penal Code, the Court must look to the Penal Code to ascertain the meaning of the word “felony,” which was defined as an offense punishable by imprisonment in state prison. "Although the Legislature intended the offense of keeping or maintaining a drug house to be a misdemeanor for purposes of the Public Health Code, that offense is punishable by imprisonment in a state prison, and, therefore, it unquestionably satisfies the definition of 'felony' in the Penal Code. Thus, under the clear and unambiguous language of the Penal Code, which this Court must apply as written, a person who carries or possesses a firearm when keeping or maintaining a drug house is guilty of felony-firearm." View "Michigan v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Edward Pinkney was charged with five felony counts of election forgery, and six misdemeanor counts of making a false statement in a certificate-of-recall petition, all for having submitted petitions with falsified dates in connection in an effort to recall the mayor of Benton Harbor, Michigan. After defendant was bound over to court for trial, he moved to quash the charges, arguing that MCL 168.937 was a penalty provision and not a substantive, chargeable offense. The court denied the motion. Defendant was convicted by jury on all five counts of election forgery but acquitted of all six counts of making a false statement in a certificate-of-recall petition. Defendant was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender to concurrent prison terms of 30 to 120 months. The Court of Appeals upheld defendant’s convictions, holding that MCL 168.937 created the substantive offense of election-law forgery. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, however, finding that MCL 168.937, by its plain language, was only a penalty provision; it did not set forth a substantive offense. As a result, defendant was not properly charged under that provision with the substantive offense of election-law forgery. Therefore, his convictions had to be vacated and the charges dismissed. View "Michigan v. Pinkney" on Justia Law

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Defendant Samer Shami was charged with violating the Tobacco Products Tax Act (TPTA) for possessing, acquiring, transporting, or offering for sale tobacco products with an aggregate wholesale price of $250 or more as a manufacturer without a license in violation of MCL 205.423(1) and MCL 205.428(3). Defendant was the manager of Sam Molasses, a retail tobacco store owned by Sam Molasses, LLC. Investigation revealed that the labels on several plastics tubs of tobacco in the store’s inventory did not match those listed on the invoices from tobacco distributors. Defendant explained that he had mixed two or more flavors of tobacco to create a new “special blend,” which was then placed in the plastic tubs and relabeled. Defendant also explained that he repackaged bulk tobacco from a particular distributor by taking the packets of tobacco out of the boxes, inserting them into metal tins, and placing his own label on the tins, which were then sold at the store. The issue presented in this case for the Michigan Supreme Court's review was whether an individual who combined two different tobacco products to create a new blended product or repackages bulk tobacco into smaller containers with a new label was considered to be a manufacturer of a tobacco product and must have the requisite license. The Court of Appeals held that, in either instance, such a person was a manufacturer. According to that Court, manufacturing simply requires a change from the original state of an object or material into a state that makes it more suitable for its intended use, and a person who changes either the form or delivery method of tobacco constitutes a manufacturer for purposes of the TPTA. Although the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that an individual combining two different tobacco products to create a blended product, relabeling that new mixture, and making it available for sale to the public is a manufacturer of a tobacco product, the Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals that merely repackaging bulk tobacco into smaller containers renders an individual a manufacturer under the TPTA. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals. This case was remanded to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Shami" on Justia Law

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Defendant Samer Shami was charged with violating the Tobacco Products Tax Act (TPTA) for possessing, acquiring, transporting, or offering for sale tobacco products with an aggregate wholesale price of $250 or more as a manufacturer without a license in violation of MCL 205.423(1) and MCL 205.428(3). Defendant was the manager of Sam Molasses, a retail tobacco store owned by Sam Molasses, LLC. Investigation revealed that the labels on several plastics tubs of tobacco in the store’s inventory did not match those listed on the invoices from tobacco distributors. Defendant explained that he had mixed two or more flavors of tobacco to create a new “special blend,” which was then placed in the plastic tubs and relabeled. Defendant also explained that he repackaged bulk tobacco from a particular distributor by taking the packets of tobacco out of the boxes, inserting them into metal tins, and placing his own label on the tins, which were then sold at the store. The issue presented in this case for the Michigan Supreme Court's review was whether an individual who combined two different tobacco products to create a new blended product or repackages bulk tobacco into smaller containers with a new label was considered to be a manufacturer of a tobacco product and must have the requisite license. The Court of Appeals held that, in either instance, such a person was a manufacturer. According to that Court, manufacturing simply requires a change from the original state of an object or material into a state that makes it more suitable for its intended use, and a person who changes either the form or delivery method of tobacco constitutes a manufacturer for purposes of the TPTA. Although the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that an individual combining two different tobacco products to create a blended product, relabeling that new mixture, and making it available for sale to the public is a manufacturer of a tobacco product, the Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals that merely repackaging bulk tobacco into smaller containers renders an individual a manufacturer under the TPTA. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals. This case was remanded to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Shami" on Justia Law

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Carl Bruner, II was convicted by jury trial for: first-degree premeditated murder; assault with intent to commit murder; being a felon in possession of a firearm; and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. These charges arose in connection with the shooting of two security guards outside a Detroit nightclub in June 2012. No eyewitnesses saw the shooter. Bruner was tried jointly before a single jury with a codefendant Michael Lawson. The prosecution argued that Bruner was the shooter and that he was aided or abetted by the Lawson. Bruner’s defense was that he was not present and was not the shooter. The prosecution planned to call as a witness Westley Webb, who did not testify at Bruner’s preliminary examination but did testify at Lawson’s preliminary examination about statements he claimed Lawson had made to him a few days after the shooting regarding Bruner’s actions on the night at issue. At trial, the prosecutor emphasized in his opening statement that Webb was a key witness who would testify that Bruner had a gun; however, at the close of the prosecution’s case in chief, the prosecutor informed the court that Webb could not be located and asked to read Webb’s prior testimony to the jury. The trial court declared Webb unavailable. The prosecutor conceded that the prior testimony could not be admitted against Bruner and offered to remove mention of Bruner from the transcript of Webb’s testimony. The trial court determined, over defense counsel’s objection, that Webb’s testimony was admissible against Lawson and that a limiting instruction would be adequate to ensure the jury would not consider the redacted testimony against Bruner. When the testimony was read into the record, each mention of Bruner’s name was replaced with the word “Blank,” and the court instructed the jury to consider the testimony only against Lawson. The Court of Appeals affirmed both defendants’ convictions, holding that Bruner’s right to confront the witnesses against him under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution was not implicated by the admission of Webb’s preliminary examination testimony because Lawson’s statements to Webb were not testimonial and Webb’s testimony was neither offered nor admitted against Bruner. After its review, the Michigan Supreme Court found Bruner's right to confrontation was violated. Thus his conviction was reversed and the case remanded for the trial court to determine whether the prosecution established the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Michigan v. Bruner" on Justia Law

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Tremel Anderson was charged with: assault with intent to commit murder; carrying a concealed weapon; felonious assault; and carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony. The charges arose after an incident that allegedly occurred between her and Michael Larkins, the father of her child. The only evidence presented at the preliminary examination was Larkins’s testimony. According to Larkins, defendant was driving him home when they got into an argument. Larkins testified that defendant threatened to kill him, grabbed a gun from between her legs, and pointed it at him for about five minutes before pulling over to the side of the road near Larkins’s home, where defendant and Larkins continued to argue while defendant kept the gun pointed at him. Larkins testified that defendant then attempted to fire the gun at him, but the gun failed to discharge, and he jumped out of the car and ran away as defendant fired three more shots in his direction. Larkins stated that he reached a neighbor’s home and called the police. The district court found Larkins’s testimony was not credible and therefore dismissed the complaint. The prosecutor appealed to the circuit court where the judge treated the claim of appeal as a motion and denied it without further explanation. The Court of Appeals affirmed in a split decision. The prosecutor sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court determined the magistrate in this case did not abuse her discretion in determining the complainant’s testimony was not credible, and there was no other evidence presented during the preliminary examination. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order dismissing charges against Anderson. View "Michigan v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Anthony White pled guilty to armed robbery, and breaking and entering, all in connection with a gas station robbery during which he held a gun to the cashier’s head. He was sentenced to 108 to 480 months in prison for the robbery charge, and 23-120 months for breaking and entering. White was assessed 10 points for Offense Variable (OV) 4, reflecting a court finding that the victim suffered serious psychological injury requiring treatment because the victim heard the trigger being pulled, which the court determined was enough evidence to show the psychological distress. White challenged that finding: that the trigger sound was enough to support the OV-4. The Michigan Supreme Court agreed this wasn’t enough to support the OV-4 points. Because the subtraction of 10 points lowered defendant’s guidelines range for his guilty plea to armed robbery from a minimum of 81 to 135 months in prison to a minimum of 51 to 85 months in prison, the judgment of sentence was vacated and the case was remanded for resentencing. View "Michigan v. White" on Justia Law

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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