Articles Posted in Criminal 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

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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