Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Voters Not Politicians (VNP) was a ballot-question committee. It filed the initiative petition at issue in this case with defendant Michigan Secretary of State. The initiative proposal would, among other things, amend Const 1963, art 4, section 6, which established a commission to regulate legislative redistricting. The commission prescribed by Michigan's present Constitution was inactive because the Michigan Supreme Court declared that it could not be severed from apportionment standards contained in the Michigan Constitution that had been held to be unconstitutional. After that ruling, the Supreme Court oversaw redistricting until the Legislature took control of the process. VNP’s proposal would bring Michigan’s constitutional redistricting standards in line with federal constitutional requirements and revive the redistricting commission’s authority to set redistricting plans for the state house, state senate, and federal congressional districts. A sufficient number of registered electors signed the petition for it to be placed on the November 2018 general election ballot. Before the Board of State Canvassers could certify the petition for placement on the ballot, plaintiff Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), along with other plaintiffs, filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus directing the Secretary of State and the Board to reject the VNP proposal. CPMC argued that the proposal was not an amendment of the Constitution that could be proposed by petition under Const 1963, art 12, section 2; rather, the proposal amounted to a “general revision” of the Constitution and could be enacted only through a constitutional convention under Const 1963, art 12, section 3. The Court of Appeals granted the request by VNP and other parties to intervene as defendants and to file a cross-complaint seeking a writ of mandamus requiring the proposal to be placed on the ballot. The Supreme Court took this case to determine whether the VNP petition was a constitutionally permissible voter-initiated amendment under Const 1963, art 12, section 2, and concluded after a thorough review, that VNP's proposal was a permissible voter-initiated amendment. View "Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Two cases were consolidated, both arising from separate incidents where plaintiffs were individually stopped and questioned by Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) officers. During these stops, plaintiffs’ photographs and fingerprints were taken in accordance with the GRPD’s “photograph and print” (P&P) procedures. Alleging that the P&Ps violated their constitutional rights, plaintiffs filed separate civil lawsuits against the city of Grand Rapids (the City), as well as against the individual police officers involved. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants in both cases. Plaintiffs each appealed by right, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in separate opinions. Relevant here, both opinions affirmed summary judgment in favor of the City on plaintiffs’ municipal-liability claims on grounds that a policy that does not direct or require police officers to take a specific action cannot give rise to municipal liability under 42 USC 1983. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals with regard to that issue and held that a policy or custom that authorizes, but does not require, police officers to engage in specific conduct may form the basis for municipal liability. “Additionally, when an officer engages in the specifically authorized conduct, the policy or custom itself is the moving force behind an alleged constitutional injury arising from the officer’s actions.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgments of the Court of Appeals, and remanded these cases to the Court of Appeals for further consideration. View "Johnson v. Vanderkooi" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, at issue before the Michigan Supreme Court was whether the trial court erred by declining to grant new trials following defendants’ motions for relief from judgment. These cases arise from the 1999 murder of Lisa Kindred. Lisa was shot and killed while in her vehicle with her three children. Earlier in the evening, Lisa, her husband William Kindred, and her three children had gone to see a movie at a drive-in theater in Dearborn, Michigan. On their way home, William announced that he wanted to make a stop on the east side of Detroit to talk to his sister’s boyfriend, Verlin Miller, about purchasing a motorcycle. Lisa, who was driving, parked their minivan across the street from Miller’s home and waited in the van with the children while William went inside. At one point, Lisa went to the door of the house and asked William to come back to the van, but William told her that he would be out shortly, and Lisa returned to the van. Soon afterward, William heard a noise, which turned out to be gunfire, and went to the front door just in time to see both Lisa’s van speeding away and a man fleeing on foot. William chased after the fleeing individual but failed to catch him. Having been struck by the gunfire, Lisa drove the van to a nearby gas station, stopped, and then collapsed out of the vehicle. She later died at the hospital. Two individuals who were in the same neighborhood at the time of the crime implicated defendants Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott in the shooting. All four individuals knew each other from the same neighborhood. Johnson and Scott were tried separately: Johnson by bench trial and Scott by jury trial. After weighing the evidence presented at the trials along with defendants’ claims of newly discovered evidence, the Michigan Supreme Court held the evidence in the form of testimony given by Charmous Skinner Jr. would have made a different result probable on retrial. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals in part and remanded these cases to the trial court for new trials. View "Michigan v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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As part of defendant Virgil Smith's plea deal, he agreed to resign his position as a state senator and not seek public office during his five-year probationary term. While serving as a state senator, in May 2015, defendant fired his rifle at his ex-wife’s car and into the air in her presence. He was charged with felonious assault; domestic violence; malicious destruction of personal property (worth $20,000 or more); and felony-firearm. After reviewing the agreement, the trial court determined that the terms of the plea violated the separation-of-powers doctrine and public policy. It struck down the terms but, over the prosecutor’s objection, enforced the rest of the plea deal. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court granted certiorari review to decide whether the resignation and bar-to-office provisions of the plea deal were enforceable, and if not, whether the trial court erred by refusing to allow the prosecutor to withdraw from the deal. The Court held: (1) the question regarding the resignation provision was moot and therefore the Court declined to reach it, and instead vacated the Court of Appeals’ discussion of that issue; (2) the bar-to-office provision was unenforceable as against public policy; and (3) the trial court erred by not permitting the prosecutor to withdraw from the plea agreement. View "Michigan v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lonnie Arnold masturbated in front of an employee at the Monroe Public Library in January 2014. He was charged with aggravated indecent exposure, MCL 750.335a(2)(b), indecent exposure by a sexually delinquent person, MCL 750.335a(2)(c), and also with being a fourth-offense habitual offender, MCL 769.12. He was convicted after a jury trial on both substantive indecent-exposure counts. At sentencing, the Department of Corrections (DOC) recommended defendant serve 225 months to 40 years in prison on the count of indecent exposure by a sexually delinquent person, to be served concurrently with 2 to 15 years on the aggravated indecent-exposure count. At sentencing, defense counsel asked that defendant be given “1 day to life.” The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court's review was whether individuals convicted of being “sexually delinquent persons” must be given a “1 day to life” prison sentence in accordance with MCL 750.335a(2)(c). The Court concluded that a “1 day to life” sentence has never been required by the statutory scheme, overruling the Court of Appeals’ contrary conclusion in Michigan v Campbell, 894 NW2d 72 (2016), and remanded this case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of its conclusion. View "Michigan v. Arnold" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lovell Sharpe was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC), two counts of third-degree CSC, and one count of fourth-degree CSC, based on allegations that he engaged in sexual penetration and conduct with the 14-year-old complainant, DM. Defendant was in a relationship with DM’s mother through early 2015, and he fathered DM’s two halfsiblings. Defendant did not reside with DM’s mother and the three children during his relationship with DM’s mother. At issue in this case was whether the rape-shield statute, MCL 750.520j, precluded the prosecutor from admitting evidence of a complainant’s pregnancy, abortion, and lack of other sexual partners during a criminal-sexual-conduct prosecution. On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals held that evidence of the complainant’s lack of other sexual partners was not subject to the rape-shield statute and was otherwise admissible under the Michigan Rules of Evidence. As to evidence of the complainant’s pregnancy and abortion, the Court held that this evidence fell under the purview of the rape-shield statute but was admissible pursuant to the statute’s exception for evidence of the victim’s past sexual conduct with the actor. The Michigan Supreme Court agreed the entirety of the evidence offered was admissible, but that none of the evidence fell within the scope of the rape-shield statute. Furthermore, the Court held the entirety of the evidence was otherwise admissible under the Michigan Rules of Evidence. Therefore, the Court rejected the Court of Appeals’ reasoning, but affirmed its conclusion that the offered evidence was admissible. View "Michigan v. Sharpe" on Justia Law

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In 2002, defendant Timothy Barnes was convicted of second-degree murder and other offenses. On direct appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions, and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. In 2008, defendant moved in the trial court for relief from judgment. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court again denied leave to appeal. Defendant filed another motion for relief from judgment, arguing that, because his sentence was imposed when the legislative sentencing guidelines were mandatory, he should be resentenced now that the Michigan Supreme Court has in Michigan v Lockridge, 870 NW2d 502 (2015), the guidelines were advisory only. Ordinarily, successive motions for relief from judgment were barred by MCR 6.502(G)(1), and the Supreme Court found the trial court denied defendant’s motion on that basis. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court erred and that his motion fell within one of the exceptions in MCR 6.502(G)(2), which allows a “subsequent motion [for relief from judgment] based on a retroactive change in law that occurred after the first motion for relief from judgment . . . .” The Supreme Court determined Lockridge did not have retroactive effect for sentences receiving collateral review under MCR 6.500, and so affirmed. View "Michigan v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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Defendant Christopher Oros did not dispute that he intended to kill the victim, Marie McMillan, when he stabbed her 29 times; rather, he argued insufficient proofs were presented at trial with regard to the elements of premeditation and deliberation to sustain his conviction. The Court of Appeals agreed, concluding there was insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation, and therefore reduced defendant’s first-degree premeditated murder conviction to second-degree murder. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, holding the Court of Appeals erred when it improperly usurped the role of the fact-finder and misapplied the Supreme Court’s opinion in Michigan v. Hoffmeister, 229 NW2d 305 (1975). In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court reversed Part II of the Court Appeals opinion and held that, based on the record evidence presented at defendant’s trial, a reasonable juror could have found that the killing was committed with premeditation and deliberation. Defendant’s first-degree premeditated murder conviction and sentence were reinstated. View "Michigan v. Oros" on Justia Law

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Johnny Kennedy was convicted by jury of first-degree murder for the 1993 strangulation death of Tanya Harris. Attempts to find Harris’s murderer stalled for nearly two decades until 2011, when various swabs taken from Harris’s body were tested. The swab from Harris’s left fingernail included a mixture of DNA profiles—from Harris and three male donors. Defendant’s DNA profile matched the major donor’s. Vaginal and rectal swabs taken from Harris also matched defendant’s DNA profile. By this time, defendant was already incarcerated for having admitted to strangling another woman in 1996 under similar circumstances. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals, affirmed defendant’s conviction and found no abuse of discretion or constitutional error in the trial court’s denial of defendant’s request for an expert. The majority noted that defendant did not provide enough evidence that an expert would have aided the defense, as required by MCL 775.15 and Michigan v Tanner, 469 Mich 437 (2003), nor did defendant raise any specific concerns with the evidence. The dissent concluded the trial court’s refusal to appoint an expert violated defendant’s due-process rights because defendant could not know the inherent concerns with the DNA evidence without an expert’s assistance. The Michigan Supreme Court took the opportunity to clarify that MCL 775.15 did not apply in this context; instead, the Court held that Ake v Oklahoma, 470 US 68 (1985) was the controlling law. And, to assist trial courts in determining whether a defendant has made a sufficient showing to be entitled to expert assistance under Ake, we adopt the reasonable probability standard from Moore v Kemp, 809 F2d 702 (CA 11, 1987). Accordingly, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded to that Court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Kennedy" on Justia 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