Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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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 In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals concluded Jemison’s right of confrontation was adequately protected when the analyst testified via video because the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

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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