Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Keith Wood was convicted by jury of jury tampering, for having distributed a pamphlet promoting the concept of jury nullification outside the courthouse at which the pretrial hearing of a man named Andrew Yoder was scheduled to begin. The pamphlet asserted that jurors could vote their conscience, that jurors could not be forced to obey a juror oath, and that a juror had the right to hang a jury if he or she did not agree with other jurors. Defendant handed the pamphlet to two women who told him that they had been summoned to the court for jury selection. The case against Yoder never went to trial because Yoder entered into a plea agreement. After being charged in district court with obstruction of justice, and jury tampering, defendant moved to dismiss both charges, arguing with regard to the jury-tampering charge that the term “juror” in MCL 750.120a(1) did not include people who were summoned for jury duty but never selected or sworn. The district court dismissed the obstruction charge, but denied the motion to dismiss the tampering charge. The circuit court and Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding that individuals who were merely summoned for jury duty and have not yet participated in a case were not jurors for purposes of MCL 750.120a(1). Therefore, defendant did not attempt to influence the decision of any “juror” as that term was used in MCL 750.120a(1). View "Michigan v. Wood" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Davontae Sanford filed suit against the state of Michigan, seeking compensation under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA). Another man confessed to the crimes committed in 2007 to which plaintiff had pled guilty when he was 15 years old: four counts of second-degree murder and carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony. In 2008, plaintiff was sentenced to concurrent terms of 37 to 90 years in prison for the murder convictions, plus a consecutive two-year term for the felony-firearm conviction, with credit for the 198 days he spent in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility. After an investigation into the other man’s confession and with the stipulation of the prosecutor, the circuit court vacated plaintiff’s convictions and sentences on June 6, 2016, and plaintiff was released from the Michigan Department of Corrections June 8, 2016. Defendant admitted that plaintiff was entitled to $408,356.16 in compensation for the 8 years and 61 days he spent in a state correctional facility pursuant to the WICA’s damages formula set forth in MCL 691.1755(2)(a), but defendant disputed whether plaintiff was entitled to $27,124.02 in compensation for the 198 days he spent in local detention. The Court of Claims held that the time plaintiff spent in local detention was not compensable under the WICA, and it awarded plaintiff $408,356.16. Plaintiff appealed as of right, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court that the WICA did not authorize compensation for the time plaintiff spent in detention before he was wrongfully convicted of a crime, and affirmed that court's judgment. View "Sanford. v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellee Derek Smith was convicted by jury on two counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm (AWIGBH); three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon (felonious assault); one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony; one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm; and two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery. Defendant appealed in the Court of Appeals, which affirmed his convictions but remanded to the trial court for resentencing on the basis that two offense variables had been incorrectly scored. Upon reconsideration, the Court of Appeals found no merit to defendant's argument the trial court erred by having imposed the felony-firearm sentence to run consecutively with the AWIGBH sentences when the jury had not explicitly found that he possessed a firearm during the commission of the AWIGBH offenses. The appellate court ultimately ordered resentencing, finding the felony-firearm sentence could not be imposed to run consecutively with the AWIGBH sentences. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for it to determine whether felonious assault or felon-in-possession was the predicate felony for the felony-firearm conviction and to amend Smith’s judgment of sentence so that the felony-firearm sentence was consecutive only with the predicate offense. The prosecutor appealed that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed, finding the Court of Appeals appropriately remanded the case to the trial court to impose the two-year felony-firearm sentence to run consecutively with a single felony sentence. View "Michigan v. Smith" on Justia Law

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While conducting a probation compliance check on defendant John D. Vanderpool’s house, a probation agent found heroin. Defendant admitted that the heroin belonged to him. A few weeks later, defendant was arrested and was again found in possession of heroin. He was charged with two counts of possession with intent to deliver heroin and with violating probation. Defendant moved to suppress evidence from the compliance check, arguing that the search was illegal because he was not on probation at the time of the search, but the circuit court denied the motion. Defendant pleaded no contest to having violated probation and to having possessed less than 25 grams of a controlled substance, second offense. Defendant appealed, arguing that because he was not on probation when his home was searched, the search was unlawful. The Michigan Supreme Court agree: while the circuit court attempted to extend defendant’s probation before the compliance check, because the term of probation had already expired, the court did not have the authority to extend it. Consequently, the warrantless search of defendant’s home was not justified. View "Michigan v. Vanderpool" on Justia Law

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Arthur Jemison was convicted by jury of first-degree sexual assault, comitted in 1996. The victim underwent a forensic examination in 1996, and evidence was collected for a rape kit at that time. But the rape kit was not analyzed until 2015. In 2015, samples from the kit were sent to a laboratory in Utah for testing and analysis. A forensic analyst at the lab concluded that a vaginal swab from the kit contained the DNA of at least one male donor. The Utah lab forwarded its report to the Michigan State Police (MSP) Forensic Science Division, where the sample was compared to DNA stored in a database. The MSP determined that there was an association between Jemison’s DNA and the DNA of the male donor identified by the lab as a contributor to the vaginal swab. Before trial, the prosecution moved to allow the analyst to testify via two-way, interactive video. Jemison objected, but the court granted the motion. At trial, Jemison renewed his objection before a new judge, but the trial court allowed the video testimony over the objection. Jemison appealed his conviction, arguing, in part, that his right of confrontation under the federal and state Constitutions was denied when the trial court allowed the lab analyst to testify via two-way, interactive video. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals concluded Jemison’s right of confrontation was adequately protected when the analyst testified via video because the video testimony allowed Jemison and the jury to observe the witness’s responses and reactions in real time and Jemison was able to cross-examine the witness. Although the Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed the video testimony over Jemison’s objection in violation of MCR 6.006(C), it concluded that the error was harmless. The Michigan Supreme Court found the appellate court relied only on precedent that predated the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 US 36 (2004), "which transformed the Court's approach to confrontation rights." The Michigan Court found Crawford, in overruling the then-prevailing case law, shifted from a "reliability focus to a bright-line rule requiring a face-to-face encounter for testimonial evidence." Here, the Court ruled admitting the prosecution witness’s video testimony over the defendant’s objection violated defendant’s state and federal constitutional rights to confrontation. It therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to that Court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Jemison" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, Xun Wang was convicted of two counts of Medicaid fraud, and one count of unauthorized practice of a health profession. Defendant earned a medical degree in her native China, and earned a Ph.D. in basic medical science in the United States. Notwithstanding her education in the United States and abroad, defendant was never licensed to practice in a health profession in the United States. The Michigan Department of the Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Division discovered that a high volume of narcotics prescriptions were being written at the clinic for which she worked part time. In 2014, the department conducted an investigation, during which Drew Macon and Lorrie Bates, special agents with the department, separately went to the clinic while posing as patients with Medicaid benefits. Defendant saw both agents when they posed as patients, identified herself as clinic-owner Dr. Murtaza Hussain’s assistant, and took written notes of their medical histories. Defendant also performed physical examinations, answered their questions, and wrote prescriptions for both agents on a prescription pad that Hussain had previously signed, including a prescription for Ambien, a Schedule 4 controlled substance. The patients’ notes were entered into the clinic’s computer system and were electronically signed by Hussain; the notes indicated that both defendant and Hussain had seen the agents. The Medicaid processing system reflected that claims were submitted for both agents’ treatment and were paid to Hussain for a total of $260. The trial court sentenced her to concurrent terms of 365 days in jail for each conviction, which was suspended upon the successful completion of five years’ probation and the payment of $106,454 in fines and costs. The Michigan Supreme Court found after review that while the lower courts did nor err in determining there was sufficient evidence to convict defendant on unauthorized practice of a health profession, the evidence did not establish she was aware or should have been aware that the patients at issue were Medicaid beneficiaries and their treatment was substantially certain to cause the payment of a Medicaid benefit under the applicable statute. Therefore, defendant's convictions of Medicaid fraud were reversed. The matter was remanded back to the trial court for reconsideration of the fines assessed. View "Michigan v. Wang" on Justia Law

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Kelly Warren pleaded guilty to two separate charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, third offense (OWI-3rd) in exchange for the dismissal of other criminal charges against him and of the sentence enhancement to which he was subject as a fourth-offense habitual offender. At the plea hearing, the trial court, noted on the record that each charge carried with it a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but the court did not inform defendant that it had the discretionary authority to sentence him to consecutive sentences under MCL 768.7b(2)(a) because he had committed the second OWI-3rd charge while the first OWI-3rd charge was pending. The trial court ultimately sentenced defendant to consecutive prison terms of 2 to 5 years, which subjected defendant to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. Defendant moved to withdraw his plea on the basis of the court’s failure to advise him of the possibility of consecutive sentencing. The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals denied defendant’s delayed application for leave to appeal. The Michigan Supreme Court then remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration as on leave granted with directions to compare Michigan v. Johnson, 413 Mich 487 (1982) with Michigan v. Blanton, 317 Mich App 107 (2016), On remand, the Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions and sentences, the majority concluding that Michigan caselaw, including Johnson and Blanton, was not dispositive of the issue and that neither the Michigan Court Rules nor due process required the court to inform defendant that it had the discretion to impose consecutive sentences. Defendant again petitioned the Michigan Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding MCR 6.302(B)(2) required a trial court to advise a defendant of its discretionary consecutive-sentencing authority and potential consequences. As a result, the trial court here erred when it denied defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea because the court failed to apprise him of both this authority and its potential consequences. View "Michigan v. Warren" on Justia Law

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Tiffany Reichard was bound over to Circuit Court on a charge of open murder under a felony-murder theory for having aided and abetted her boyfriend in an armed robbery during which he stabbed a man to death. Defendant moved to present evidence that her boyfriend had physically abused her and that she had participated in the armed robbery under duress. The court granted the motion. The prosecution filed an interlocutory application for leave to appeal, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that duress could not be used as a defense to first-degree felony murder when the claim of duress involves the defendant’s participation in the underlying felony. The Michigan Supreme Court held that duress could be asserted as an affirmative defense to murder if it was a defense to the underlying felony. "That Michigan has a separate malice requirement for felony murder does not alter our conclusion." The Court therefore reversed the appellate court and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings: the trial court had to provide a duress instruction to the jury if such instruction was requested by defendant, and if a rational view of the evidence supported the conclusion that defendant aided her boyfriend with robbery out of duress. View "Michigan v. Reichard" on Justia Law

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Travis Sammons was convicted by jury of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shooting death of Humberto Casas. DyJuan Jones and Rosei Watkins witnessed the shooting, which occurred on a street around 1 p.m. Jones was riding in the backseat of a car being driven by his mother when he heard the shots, and Watkins was driving with her grandson in her own car. About 10 to 20 minutes later, the police pulled over defendant and Dominque Ramsey in a silver Jeep. Both men were taken to the Saginaw Police Department, where they were detained. A photo of the Jeep was taken and shown to Watkins, who identified it as the Jeep from the shooting. Several hours later, Jones and his mother went to the police station, where Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant David Rivard organized a showup identification of defendant and Ramsey. According to Jones, he could identify neither man as having been involved in the shooting, while Rivard claimed that Jones identified defendant as the shooter but did not identify Ramsey. No one witnessed the conversation between Jones and Rivard, the conversation was not recorded in any way, and Jones did not sign any kind of statement or report indicating that he had made an identification. At the preliminary examination, Jones repeatedly denied having identified the shooter. Defendant objected to Rivard’s testimony about the showup identification and filed a motion to suppress this evidence. The circuit court denied the motion to suppress and, after a trial, the jury found both men guilty of conspiracy. Both men filed motions for a directed verdict or a new trial. The circuit court denied defendant’s motion but granted Ramsey’s, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the showup identification procedure employed in this case was suggestive because it indicated to the witness that the police suspected defendant. "The suggestiveness was unnecessary because there was no reason, except perhaps police convenience, to use a suggestive procedure, and the showup was not reliable under Neil v Biggers, 409 US 188 (1972). This error was not harmless because the prosecution’s case was significantly less persuasive without the showup." Accordingly, the Court of Appeals judgment was reversed. View "Michigan v. Sammons" on Justia Law

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Nadeem Rajput was convicted of second-degree murder. Defendant was driving his vehicle with another man, known only as Haus, as a passenger. The victim was driving a red Malibu with her boyfriend, Dewayne Clay, as a passenger. When the Malibu approached defendant’s vehicle, two individuals in the Malibu fired gunshots at defendant and Haus. No one was injured. Defendant and Haus returned to defendant’s house but soon after went in search of the Malibu. When they found the Malibu, the victim was the sole occupant. Defendant and Haus chased the Malibu, eventually trapping it, and then approached the Malibu on foot. An argument ensued, and multiple gunshots were fired, resulting in the victim’s death. Defendant was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Defendant argued that Haus had shot the victim but that Haus had done so in self-defense when the victim reached for a gun in her vehicle. Defendant requested that a self-defense instruction be read to the jury, but the court denied the request, citing Michigan v Droste, 160 Mich 66 (1910), for the proposition that a defendant who claims that another person committed the homicide was not entitled to a self-defense instruction. Defendant also tried to admit testimony to support his self-defense theory. The trial court refused to admit the testimony, finding it irrelevant. The jury acquitted defendant of first-degree murder and felony-firearm but convicted defendant of second-degree murder. At sentencing, the court noted defendant’s guidelines minimum sentence range of 225 to 375 months’ imprisonment but departed upward, sentencing defendant to 46 to 95 years’ imprisonment. Defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings on the self-defense instruction and the proffered testimony. Although it disagreed with the trial court’s reasoning, the appellate court held that defendant was not entitled to a self-defense instruction because he and Haus were the initial aggressors and could have fled. The Court of Appeals also held the proffered testimony was irrelevant. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ holding that defendant was not entitled to his requested self-defense instruction and that the testimony was irrelevant, “If supported by the evidence, defendant’s theory of the case must be given.” The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Rajput" on Justia Law