Articles Posted in Criminal 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

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Gary Lewis was convicted after a jury trial on four counts of third-degree arson, and one count of second-degree arson. The trial court sentenced defendant as a fourth-offense habitual offender to 17 to 30 years of imprisonment for each of his convictions. Lewis appealed his convictions as of right to the Court of Appeals, claiming that he was deprived of counsel at his preliminary examination and that this deprivation of counsel at a critical stage of the criminal proceedings against him amounted to a structural error requiring automatic reversal. Believing itself bound by precedent, the Court of Appeals resolved the conflict by holding, in effect, that United States v Cronic, 466 US 648, (1984) controlled and granted defendant an automatic new trial. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded Cronic’s discussion of the general remedy for complete denials of counsel was dictum; Coleman v. Alabama, 399 US1 (1970) held that the denial of counsel at a preliminary hearing was subject to harmless-error review. When the Supreme Court’s holdings and its dicta conflict, the Court was bound to follow its holdings. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated Part II of its opinion, and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Dwayne Wilson was convicted by jury on one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), and two counts of unlawful imprisonment. Because defendant had two prior felony-firearm convictions, defendant was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment as a third felony-firearm offender under MCL 750.227b(1), followed by concurrent terms of 100 to 180 months’ imprisonment for the unlawful-imprisonment counts. Defendant objected at sentencing, arguing that his felony-firearm sentence was improper because his two prior convictions for felony-firearm arose from a single incident. Defendant cited Michigan v Stewart, 441 Mich 89 (1992), but the circuit court held that Stewart was no longer good law because it relied on Michigan v Preuss, 436 Mich 714 (1990), which had been overruled by Michigan v Gardner, 482 Mich 41 (2008), and the court further held that nothing in the language of MCL 750.227b(1) required the previous felony-firearm convictions to have arisen from separate incidents. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in an unpublished per curiam opinion, holding that defendant should have been sentenced as a second felony-firearm offender rather than a third felony-firearm offender because lower courts remained bound by Stewart unless and until the Supreme Court overruled it. The Court of Appeals further held that defendant was entitled to a remand under Michigan v Lockridge, 498 Mich 358 (2015). The prosecution appealed, and the Michigan Supreme Court overruled Stewart because it found nothing in the text of MCL 750.227b(1) required a repeat felony-firearm offender’s prior felony-firearm convictions arise from separate criminal incidents, and the stare decisis factors did not counsel in favor of retaining the erroneous rule. View "Michigan v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Gino Rea was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI). A police officer parked his patrol vehicle in the street in front of defendant’s driveway while responding to noise complaints from defendant’s neighbor. As the officer walked up the straight driveway, defendant backed out of his detached garage and down the driveway. When the officer shined his flashlight to alert defendant that he was in the driveway, defendant stopped his car in the driveway, next to the house. Defendant then put his car in drive and pulled forward into the garage, bumping into stored items in the back of the garage. Defendant, who smelled of alcohol and whose speech was slurred, was arrested for OWI after he refused to take field sobriety tests; defendant’s blood alcohol level was later determined to be three times the legal limit. After arraignment, defendant moved to quash the information. The court granted the motion and dismissed the charge, finding that the upper portion of defendant’s driveway, closest to the garage, was not a place generally accessible to motor vehicles for purposes of criminal liability under MCL 257.625(1). On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order, concluding that because the general public is not widely permitted to access the upper portion of a private driveway, defendant’s operation of his vehicle while intoxicated did not fit within the purview of behavior prohibited under MCL 257.625(1). The Michigan Supreme Court held that because defendant’s conduct occurred in an area generally accessible to motor vehicles, the conduct was within the purview of MCL 257.625(1), and reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court’s dismissal of the case, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Rea" on Justia Law

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Alexander Steanhouse was convicted by jury for assault with intent to commit murder (AWIM), and receiving and concealing stolen property. The court departed from the sentencing guidelines’ recommended minimum range and sentenced Steanhouse to 30 to 60 years’ imprisonment for AWIM, to run concurrently with a sentence of one to five years’ imprisonment for receiving and concealing stolen property. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions but remanded under the procedure adopted in Michigan v Lockridge, 498 Mich 358 (2015), from United States v Crosby, 397 F3d 103 (CA 2, 2005), to determine whether the sentences were reasonable. Mohammad Masroor was convicted by jury on 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-I), and five counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-II). The court departed from the sentencing guidelines’ recommended minimum range and imposed concurrent prison terms of 35 to 50 years for each of the CSC-I convictions and 10 to 15 years for each of the CSC-II convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed Masroor’s convictions but ordered a Crosby remand and directed the trial court to apply the proportionality standard adopted in Steanhouse. Both defendants appealed, and the Michigan Supreme Court: (1) held the legislative sentencing guidelines are advisory in all applications; (2) held the proper inquiry when reviewing a sentence for reasonableness was whether the trial court abused its discretion by violating the “principle of proportionality” set forth in Michigan v Milbourn, 461 NW2d 1 (1990); (3) declined to import the approach to reasonableness review used by the federal courts into Michigan jurisprudence; (4) agreed with the Court of Appeals that defendant Steanhouse did not preserve his Sixth Amendment challenge to the scoring of the guidelines and that Masroor did preserve his challenge, but declined to reach the question whether Michigan v Stokes, 877 NW2d 752 (2015), correctly decided that the remedy was exactly the same regardless of whether the error was preserved or unpreserved in light of the fact that both defendants received departure sentences, and that, therefore, neither defendant can show any harm from the application of the mandatory guidelines; (5) reversed, in part, the judgments of the Court of Appeals in both cases to the extent they remanded to the trial court for further sentencing proceedings under United States v Crosby, 397 F3d 103 (CA 2, 2005), finding the proper approach for the Court of Appeals was to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion by violating the principle of proportionality; and (6) because of its ruling in (5), in lieu of granting leave to appeal in the defendants’ appeals the Court remanded for plenary consideration of whether the departure sentences imposed by the trial courts were reasonable under the standard articulated here. View "Michigan v. Steanhouse" on Justia Law

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Defendant Tmando Denson was convicted by jury of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. The charges stemmed from an altercation defendant had with a 17-year-old who was dating defendant’s 15-year-old daughter: defendant discovered the two in the daughter’s bedroom, partially undressed. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review was whether evidence of defendant’s prior act was admissible under MRE 404(b) to rebut claims of self-defense and defense of others: that he honestly and reasonably believed his use of force was necessary to defend himself or another. The Court held the trial court erred when it admitted defendant’s prior act because the prosecution failed to establish that it was logically relevant to a proper noncharacter purpose. The Court also concluded this error was not harmless. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Denson" on Justia Law

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Justin Comer pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in the first-degree (CSC-I) and second-degree home invasion. He was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 51 months to 18 years for the CSC-I conviction and 51 months to 15 years for the second-degree home invasion conviction. The judgment of sentence included a line to be checked by the trial court, indicating: “The defendant is subject to lifetime monitoring under MCL 750.520n.” This line was not checked, and the trial court did not otherwise indicate that defendant was subject to lifetime electronic monitoring. At issue before the Michigan Supreme Court was whether the trial court’s failure to impose lifetime electronic monitoring as a part of defendant’s sentence for CSC-I rendered defendant’s sentence invalid and, if so, whether the trial court could correct the invalid sentence on its own initiative 19 months after the original judgment of sentence had entered. The Court held that defendant’s sentence was invalid because MCL 750.520b(2)(d) required the trial court to sentence defendant to lifetime electronic monitoring. Furthermore, the Court held that under MCR 6.435 and MCR 6.429, the trial court erred by correcting defendant’s invalid sentence on its own initiative absent a motion from either party. This case was remanded back to the trial court to reinstate the original judgment of sentence. View "Michigan v. Comer" on Justia Law

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The scope of the implied license to approach a house and knock is time-sensitive; it generally does not extend to predawn approaches. While approaching a home with the purpose of gathering information is not, standing alone, a Fourth Amendment search. However, an information-gathering approach combined with a trespass is a Fourth Amendment search. Michael Frederick and Todd Van Doorne were separately charged with various drug offenses after seven officers from the Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team made unscheduled visits to the defendants’ respective homes during predawn hours. Officers woke defendants and their families for the purpose of questioning each defendant about marijuana butter that they suspected the defendants possessed. Both defendants subsequently consented to a search of their respective homes, and marijuana butter and other marijuana products were recovered from each home. Defendants moved to suppress the evidence, and the trial court denied the motions, concluding that the officers had not conducted a search by knocking on defendants’ doors during the predawn hours and that the subsequent consent searches were valid. The Court of Appeals consolidated the two cases and issued a split opinion. The majority concluded that the officers’ predawn “knock and talk” visits were within the scope of the public’s implied license because homeowners would be unsurprised to find a predawn visitor delivering a newspaper or seeking emergency assistance, but the dissenting judge concluded that the police conduct violated the Fourth Amendment because the searches, which occurred during hours at which a homeowner would not expect visitors, were outside the scope of a proper knock and talk procedure. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed and remanded for the trial court to determine whether defendants’ consent to search was attenuated from the officers’ illegal search. View "Michigan v. Frederick" on Justia Law

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Points may be assessed for OV 5 even absent proof that a victim’s family member has sought or received, or intends to seek or receive, professional treatment. Tiwaun Calloway was convicted by jury of second-degree murder on an aiding-and-abetting theory for his role in a man’s death. The trial court sentenced Calloway to 20 to 50 years of imprisonment. At sentencing, the court scored Offense Variable 5 (OV 5) at 15 points for the serious psychological injury suffered by two of the victim’s family members as a result of the victim’s death. Calloway sought delayed leave to appeal. While his leave application was pending, Calloway moved in the trial court for reissuance of the judgment of sentence under MCR 6.428. The trial court granted the motion, and Calloway filed a claim of appeal from the reissued judgment. The Court of Appeals granted Calloway’s delayed application for leave. The appeals were consolidated. The Court of Appeals affirmed Calloway’s conviction, but the Court vacated Calloway’s sentence after it determined that OV 5 should have been scored at zero points. Both Calloway and the prosecution appealed: Calloway, to appeal his conviction, and the State, to appeal the Court of Appeals’ decision regarding OV 5. The Michigan Supreme Court found adequate proof of that the victim's family member suffered serious psychological harm requiring professional treatment, the Court determined the appellate court erred in reversing the trial court's 15 point-assessment for OV 5. View "Michigan v. Calloway" on Justia Law

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This case centered on whether a trial court, in its discretion, could hold an evidentiary hearing to collaterally review a magistrate’s finding of probable cause on the basis of a defendant’s challenge to the veracity of a warrant affidavit in light of the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Franks v Delaware, 438 US 154 (1978). The Court of Appeals interpreted “Franks” as barring a trial court from granting a defendant an evidentiary hearing to challenge the veracity of a search warrant affidavit following the warrant’s execution “unless the defendant makes ‘[the] substantial preliminary showing’ ” as set forth in “Franks.” The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and held that “Franks” controlled the circumstances under which “the Fourth Amendment requires that a hearing be held at the defendant’s request,” but Franks did not bar a trial court from exercising its discretion to grant evidentiary hearings concerning the veracity of search warrant affidavits under other circumstances. Because the prosecutor did not appeal the trial court’s conclusion that the warrant affidavit was not supported by probable cause, the only issue before the appellate court was whether the trial court abused its discretion by holding the evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it granted defendant’s motion for an evidentiary hearing. View "Michigan v. Franklin" on Justia Law