Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Eric Beck was convicted by jury as a fourth-offense habitual offender of being a felon in possession of a firearm and carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony, second offense. He was acquitted of open murder, carrying a firearm with unlawful intent, and two additional counts of felony-firearm attendant to those charges. The applicable guidelines minimum sentence range for the felon-in-possession conviction was 22 to 76 months in prison, but the court imposed a sentence of 240 to 400 months (20 to 331⁄3 years), to run consecutively to the mandatory five-year term for second-offense felony-firearm. The court explained that it had imposed this sentence in part on the basis of its finding by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant had committed the murder of which the jury acquitted him. Defendant appealed and challenged his convictions and sentences on multiple grounds, including that the trial court erred by increasing his sentence on the basis of conduct of which he had been acquitted. The Court of Appeals issued an unpublished per curiam opinion remanding for further sentencing proceedings using the procedure set forth in United States v. Crosby, 397 F3d 103 (CA 2, 2005), in light of Michigan v. Steanhouse, 313 Mich App 1 (2015), aff’d in part and rev’d in part 500 Mich 453 (2017). Defendant sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, which, after holding the application in abeyance for Steanhouse, ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. The issue the Michigan Supreme Court considered reduced to whether a sentencing judge could sentence a criminal defendant for a crime of which he was acquitted. "We hold that the answer is no. Once acquitted of a given crime, it violates due process to sentence the defendant as if he committed that very same crime." The appellate court's judgment was reversed, the sentence vacated and the case remanded for resentencing. View "Michigan v. Beck" on Justia Law

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Terence Bruce and Stanley Nicholson were convicted by juries of common-law misconduct in office. Defendants were federal border patrol agents assigned to a Hometown Security Team (HST) task force that included Michigan State Police troopers, border patrol agents, and other officers operating in Jackson County, Michigan. Defendants had been assigned to ensure perimeter security around a home during the execution of a search warrant and to help search the home and remove confiscated evidence. The task force kept a tabulation of items seized, but defendants took additional property not included on the tabulation. Defendant Nicholson took an antique thermometer and barometer device, insisting that it was junk, and he accidentally ruined the device when he took it home to clean it. Defendant Bruce took a wheeled stool with a leather seat home with him, but he returned it to the police department when asked about it. Defendants were charged with common-law misconduct in office as well as larceny in a building. Defendants moved for directed verdicts, arguing that they were not public officers for purposes of the misconduct-in-office offense. The court denied the motions, and the jury convicted defendants of misconduct in office but acquitted them of larceny in a building. Defendants appealed. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals, held that defendants were not public officers and vacated the convictions. The State appealed. The Michigan Supreme Court held that whether defendants were public officers depended on the duties they exercised and the color of office under which they acted. In these cases, because defendants exercised duties of enforcement of Michigan law and acted under authority granted to them by Michigan statute, they acted as public officers. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to that Court for consideration of defendants’ remaining issues. View "Michigan v. Bruce" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jennifer Hammerlund was involved in a single-vehicle accident in the early morning hours of September 30, 2015, on a highway exit ramp in Wyoming, Michigan. According to defendant, another driver cut her off, causing her to overcorrect and lose control of her car. Defendant suffered only minor injuries; however, the car was no longer drivable. She did not report the accident to police. The Wyoming Police Department was dispatched to the scene of a reported abandoned vehicle on the shoulder of the highway off-ramp. After observing the damage to the vehicle, as well as the guardrail and cement barrier, the officer requested a tow truck, conducted an inventory search, and discovered the vehicle was registered to defendant. The officer requested that officers from the Kentwood Police Department go to defendant’s home to perform a welfare check. In the meantime, according to defendant, she returned home, found that she was “really shaken up,” and drank some alcohol. She then went into her room and went to bed. Kentwood officers arrived and told her roommate that they wished to speak with defendant. Defendant initially declined to leave her room; however, after her roommate spoke to the officers and reported back to defendant that the police would take her into custody and arrest the roommate for harboring a fugitive if she did not appear. Defendant came to the door but refused to go any further. Officers remained on the porch while defendant remained inside, approximately 15 to 20 feet away from the front door. During their short conversation, defendant admitted to driving the car that caused the damage. When he asked defendant to produce her identification she was “reluctant” to give it to him so she passed it to him through a third party in the home, believing police were “trying to coax her out of the house.” In returning the I.D. to defendant, when she reached out, the officer grabbed her by the arm and attempted to take her into custody “[f]or the hit and run that she just admitted to.” When she tried to pull away, “the momentum” took the officer inside the home two to three steps where defendant was handcuffed and arrested. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review was whether defendant’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizures was violated when the officer entered defendant’s home to complete her arrest for a misdemeanor offense. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendant exposed herself to public arrest when she reached out her doorway to retrieve her identification and that when she pulled her arm back into her home the officer’s entry was lawful as a “hot pursuit.” The Supreme Court disagreed: “Defendant didn’t surrender her Fourth Amendment rights when she interacted with law enforcement at her doorway because she consistently maintained her reasonable expectation of privacy throughout the encounter, and further, the entry was not justified under the ‘hot pursuit’ exception to the warrant requirement. The warrantless arrest was unreasonable.” View "Michigan v. Hammerlund" on Justia 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