Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal 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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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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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

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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