St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Family Law

Moving Children Too Often Can Have Custody Consequences

Family LawThere are very specific rules related to the custody of children following a divorce. While the initial custody arrangements are usually handled as part of divorce proceedings, certain events can and should trigger a revisiting of the custody arrangement. If you’re currently dealing with custody problems, speaking with a family law lawyer in Van Buren County is the first step in ensuring your rights as a parent are protected.

For example, did you know that moving around with your children can be grounds for new custody proceedings?

About the Case

Consider this case out of the Michigan Court of Appeals: a man and a woman get married and have two children. They later divorce and are awarded joint legal custody, with the woman being granted primary physical custody. The woman then marries a man in the military, a circumstance that results in several long-distance moves for her and the children. The original husband then petitions the court for physical custody of the children due to the frequent moves.

The trial court declined the man’s motion on the grounds of finding “insufficient evidence” to revisit the custody arrangement. However, the Michigan Court of Appeals has elected to overturn this ruling and is now requiring a new custody hearing to establish new custody guidelines based on the current circumstances of the arrangement. In other words, the frequent moving of the primary physical custody holder was grounds enough to require that the custody issue be revisited.

There’s a lot of technicality to the case, as it rotates around a couple of core statutes in Michigan law. Essentially, the law dictates that the court revisit custody arrangements when one parent is planning a move. The woman involved received permission for her first move, but did not seek permission for the moves that followed. Because the statute does not exempt additional moves from existing legal obligations and because the mother was unable to provide legal precedent for her actions, the Court of Appeals is requiring a re-opening of the custody arrangement.

This does not necessarily mean that the woman will lose custody of her children, only that the custody arrangement will be revisited by a court. Working with an experienced and reputable family law lawyer in Van Buren County is the best way to ensure decisions like this do not catch you off-guard during a custody hearing and do not negatively impact your proceedings. For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our prominent lawyers at Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC contact us at 269.982.1100 or visit

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Crisis Center Calls

Crisis Center Calls Not Privileged in Terrorism Prosecution

Crisis Center CallsA new ruling out of the Michigan Court of Appeals has set a serious precedent for defendants facing charges related to terrorism. Here’s the basic breakdown: An individual called a mental health hotline and spent around 80 minutes on the phone with an emergency services specialist. During the call, the individual made specific threats of violence. After the call concluded, the specialist reported the call to 911 operators.

The individual was charged with one count of threat of terrorism (based on the call) and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (discovered at arrest). Part of the prosecution’s case then relied on testimony from the emergency services specialist who took the call as well as recordings from the call itself. Later in the process, a circuit court granted the defendant’s request to exclude the testimony of this specialist and the call recording on the grounds that both represented privileged information.

The prosecutor in the case then challenged this ruling, and the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed that the privilege normally present in these types of calls was lost when the defendant made threats of violence against identifiable third party targets. In other words, there is no privileged information when it comes to specific threats that might reasonably be carried out. If you’re facing prosecution for a threat-of-terrorism charge, it’s vitally important that you speak with a Van Buren County criminal attorney to protect your privileged conversations and to be fully aware of your rights.

It’s also worth noting that the court reminded the defendant that he has full control over waiving privilege on his communications should he wish to introduce them as evidence in his defense. The threats and context surrounding them are considered admissible regardless due to the specific way in which they interact with threat-of-terrorism laws.

For more information or questions about how this ruling might affect your case? Please contact Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC today at 269.982.1100 or visit

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Criminal defense law

Self-Represented Defendant Gets Conviction Tossed

Criminal defense lawIn the United States court system, defendants are free to act as their own attorneys. This is almost universally a bad decision; unless the defendant is himself a lawyer, the chances of him providing adequate and effective legal representation are slim to none. Finding a criminal defense attorney in Berrien County is a much better option for those facing time in a courtroom.

Still, cases of people acting as their own attorneys do occasionally arise, usually with disastrous results. Take, for example, the case of Jimmy Aldaoud. Charged with home invasion, Aldaoud decided to become his own attorney and reportedly spent months studying law books. When he was (inevitably) convicted and sentenced to at least three years in prison, Aldaoud then appealed the decision on the grounds that the judge did not fully explain the risk of his acting as his own counsel and did not make clear the length of a possible prison sentence.

The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed, noting that there are verifiable, important steps that must be followed when a defendant chooses to represent him or herself. In this particular case, the county judge did not adequately explain the sentence. It would seem in this case that the defendant was lucky in how his case played out, but we cannot stress enough that it is always better to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney rather than risking your future by representing yourself in the court of law. The potential consequences of a felony conviction go far beyond the actual sentence — felony convictions can follow you for the rest of your life.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with one our experienced and reputable criminal defense attorneys please contact Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC at 269.982.1100 or visit We are here to help.

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New Michigan laws

New Laws Provide Opportunities for Criminal Record Expungement

New Michigan lawsNew legislation passed by Michigan lawmakers has expanded the number of opportunities for those searching for the expungement of their criminal records. House Bill 4186 is headed to the governor’s desk after being passed near the end of the 2013-2014 legislative session, assuming it makes it back through the House one last time.
So what does this mean for you? If you have a criminal conviction on your record, the new law could provide an opportunity to have it expunged. As representative Stacy Erwin Oakes, explained, “Ultimately, this means that individuals will have a chance at having criminal offenses removed from their record, thereby giving them a second chance. That would then allow them to hopefully gain employment and even housing.” The new law is designed to lessen the burden caused by some criminal convictions.

Under current law, some individuals with a single conviction are able to request expungement five years after their release or sentencing. The new law expands this option to those with up to two misdemeanors; individuals could petition the courts five years after exiting probation or finishing parole. Certain crimes are, of course, not eligible for expungement. The best course of action is speaking with a Berrien County criminal attorney to determine how the new legislation might impact your record and your options.

It’s also worth noting that if passed the new law does not represent a guarantee of expungement. The judge is still able to make the final call, which means acquiring proper representation is critical in ensuring the best possible outcome. Thus, an experienced criminal attorney will be critical in preparing your case and presenting it to the court.

For more information or questions about getting a crime expunged or how new legislation might open new options for you, contact Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC at 269.982.1100 or visit

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Anniversary of Birth Critical for Juvenile Sentencing

Anniversary of Birth Critical for Juvenile Sentencing

Anniversary of Birth Critical for Juvenile SentencingOne of the most important aspects of any criminal proceeding involving a minor is determining his official age in the eyes of the court. Whether the accused is a juvenile or adult has immeasurable consequences in terms of both sentence applied and the long-term ramifications of that sentence. Thus, one of the many responsibilities of a Berrien County criminal attorney is establishing clear documentation confirming the true age of the defendant.

According to a recent ruling out of Michigan appellate court, the age of a defendant and his status as a juvenile should be determined exclusively by the anniversary of his birth. The ruling came as the result of a case in which a defendant was tried as an adult due to his alleged crime occurring two hours before his eighteenth birthday. The initial sentencing court worked off the common law that a person reaches the next year of age on the day preceding the anniversary of his birth and sentenced the defendant as an adult. In a subsequent appeal, the ruling was overturned based on the idea that an individual remains a juvenile until the anniversary of his birth occurs:

“By this calculation, defendant remained ‘under the age of 18’ at the time he committed the instant homicide offense and is therefore entitled to be treated in accordance with the United States Supreme Court’s rule in Miller.’”
In other words, the initial court erred by trying the defendant as an adult. If you’re curious as to whether this ruling applies to you, it’s advisable to speak with an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible. An experienced, knowledgeable attorney will look at the details of your case and help you figure out how the ins and outs of the law apply.

For more information or to schedule your consultation contact Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC at 269.982.1100 or visit

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