St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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Criminal Defendant

Forgetful Victim’s Statements Admitted Against Criminal Defendant

Criminal Defendant
The 6th Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to confront the witnesses against them. Confrontation generally includes the opportunity to meaningfully cross-examine the witnesses. But in one recent Court of Appeals case, the victim’s faulty memory didn’t matter – the prosecutor was simply allowed to read her statements to the police instead. This represents a big change in the way criminal cases are tried.

The right to confront witnesses generally means that criminal defendants’ attorneys have to be allowed to ask questions of the witnesses against them in order to test their honesty, memory, and accuracy. While statements made to police may be admitted in civil cases, victims in criminal court have to testify in person. But what happens when the victim doesn’t remember what happened?

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently held that a victim’s written statement to the police was admissible when the victim could not remember what happened on the day of the incident. The case involved an argument that had turned violent. The defendant was charged with domestic violence, unlawful imprisonment, and attempted arson.

But when the victim took the stand she could not remember what had happened. She testified that she had been very intoxicated the night of the incident and had no memory of the events. The court allowed her prior written statements to the police to be read into the record even though she could not confirm them or be cross-examined as to their authenticity.

The case is another blow to criminal defendants’ rights in domestic violence cases. In an area where convictions are almost always based on the testimony of the victim, the credibility of that witness can now be protected just by a convenient lack of memory. Rather than protecting the defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him, this case allowed a victim to rely on her prior statements without fear of cross-examination.

If you know someone who has been charged with domestic violence, call Attorney Peter J. Johnson at 269-982-1100 for a consultation.

Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.

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Van Buren Rape Case

Court of Appeals Takes Up Van Buren Rape Case

Van Buren Rape Case
In a published, precedent-setting opinion, a Michigan Court of Appeals took on what was probably one of the more interesting criminal cases to come out of Van Buren County in recent memory. The result could change the sentences handed out for certain crimes all across Michigan.

Despite what you see on TV, it’s not too often that criminal defendants plead insanity at trial. While mental illness affects nearly 2/3 of all inmates in local jails across the country, their illness usually doesn’t have a direct connection to their crime. But the attorney for Jarrud Payne thought his did.

The trial was based on allegations that Payne, who was 17 at the time of the incident, had sexually penetrated the rear of a five year old victim in 2012. It quickly became a battle of experts as each side presented mental health professionals to debate whether the defendant’s bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and other mental health challenges rose to the level of legal insanity. In the end, the jury convicted Payne of Criminal Sexual Conduct, First Degree, a crime with a minimum possible sentence of 25 years and a maximum of life in prison.

Given Payne’s history and the circumstances of the case, the statutory sentencing recommendations were well below the 25 year statutory minimum sentence. But without giving any explanation, the judge ordered the defendant to serve 30 to 50 years in prison.

That is what the Court of Appeals took issue with. According to the opinion, the statute requiring “not less than 25 years” did not eliminate the judge’s obligation to state substantial and compelling reasons to sentence the defendant above that minimum when the guidelines called for less.

At the same time the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that a mandatory 25 year sentence was cruel and unusual when imposed on a minor charged as an adult. In the court’s eyes, a set term of years was substantially different than the death penalty and life without parole sentences previously struck down by the Supreme Court. In this case the defendant could be released if, after 25 years, he had shown signs of maturity and rehabilitation.

The court sent the case back to Van Buren for re-sentencing with two options: impose the 25 year minimum or give substantial and compelling reasons for the higher sentence. If you know someone charged with a crime in Van Buren County, contact Attorney Peter J. Johnson at 269-982-1100 for a consultation.

Please note:Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.

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Criminal Sentencing

Criminal Sentencing Guidelines

Criminal Sentencing
If you’re facing criminal charges in Michigan, your first and most important step should be hiring a Michigan criminal attorney. The importance of securing representation for yourself cannot be understated; an attorney will ensure the court treats you fairly and will help you understand your rights and sentencing options. Once you have an attorney, however, your next step should be working to understand the criminal sentencing guidelines as established by Michigan legislature.

What are sentencing guidelines?

Put simply, sentencing guidelines are the standard to which the court adheres when assigning penalties to your offenses. Specific crimes have specific sentencing ranges and judges must stay within those ranges when assigning a sentence; the guidelines consider factors relevant to the particular offense in addition to your previous record. For example, a Class F felony is punishable by up to four years in prison, but the actual sentence will vary greatly depending on the conditions specific to your case.

Common felony charges in Michigan include Class G possession, Class D possession, Class E forgery, Class G larceny, and class C home invasion. Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of Michigan felony stats; you can take a look at the top 50 and their statutory penalties by reading this PDF from the State Bar of Michigan (https://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article1299.pdf).

Why does it matter?

Familiarizing yourself with sentencing guidelines is key if you want to have a firm grasp of the charges you’re facing. Your criminal attorney can help you to understand the sentencing guidelines specific to your case and will be your ally in the courtroom when your day in court arrives. Remember: Experienced criminal attorneys know how to argue the variable of a case and make it easier for you to face a more favorable sentence.

For more information about Michigan’s sentencing guidelines for your specific case, please contact us at 269.982.1100 or visit www.attorneypeterjohnson.com.

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Michigan Supreme Court

MICHIGAN SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS DEFENDANT’S RIGHT TO DISCOVERY

Michigan Supreme Court

In every criminal case the Defendant is entitled to discovery from the prosecutor – the production of evidence known to the government related to the case. A recent Supreme Court case has broadened that right by allowing defendants to demand information even if they could have found it another way.

Ever since the 1960s, courts have required prosecutors to provide defendants with any evidence in their possession that might tend to prove defendants not guilty. This requirement has since been expanded to any evidence known to any government actor, including the police who performed the investigation. If that evidence is not provided, the defendant could be entitled to a new trial.

Under the original test set by the Supreme Court, the defendant had to show:

  1. The evidence tended to prove the defendant’s innocence or discredited witnesses;
  2. The prosecutor suppressed the evidence, either accidentally or on purpose; and
  3. The trial’s outcome would likely have been different if the evidence had been produced.

But in 1998 a Michigan Court of Appeals added a fourth element: that the defendant could not have obtained the information through other reasonable means.

Now the Michigan Supreme Court has stepped in to remove that fourth element. A witness in the case at issue had given two statements to police, but had only identified the defendant in one of those statements. While the trial court had granted the defendant a new trial, a court of appeals had held the defendant hadn’t exercised due diligence in obtaining the information, and that the second statement was not favorable to the defendant or likely to change the outcome or the trial.

The Michigan Supreme Court found that the added reasonable diligence requirement put the burden on defendants to scavenge for hits of undisclosed evidence, when the burden should have been on the prosecutor. But at least in this case the Court agreed that the material was not going to change the outcome of the case.

While the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision is good news for future defendants dealing with prosecutors withholding evidence, it did nothing to help the defendant in this case. His request for new trial was denied and his conviction will stand. If you know someone who has been charged with a crime, contact Attorney Peter J. Johnson at 269-982-1100 for a consultation.

Please note:Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.

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Supreme court laws

Supreme Court Approves Search Over Husband’s Objection

Supreme court laws

It’s well known that the police can’t search a home without a warrant, warrant exception, or the resident’s consent. But what if one resident says yes and the other says no? That is exactly what happened in a recent Supreme Court case, Fernandez v. California.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled that anyone with the apparent authority to grant entry (including a non-resident girlfriend) can allow the police to search any common areas of the home. Even if the police later learn that the person who granted them entry did not live there, the search is still valid. But when multiple residents are present when the police request entry, one no overrules any number of yes votes.

So how did the Supreme Court approve the search in Fernandez? In this case the defendant was suspected of robbery. When the police came to his home, his wife answered the door with fresh bruises on her face and blood on her shirt. The police asked to search the home. The wife said yes, but the husband said no. Instead, the police arrested the defendant for domestic abuse. Once the husband had been detained, the police came back and searched the home on the wife’s consent.

The majority of the Court ruled that the objecting resident must be physically present at the time of the search to object. Because the police lawfully detained him, he was not there and the later search was valid. The Court said there was no need for a warrant because requiring one would interfere with the wife’s ability to consent to the search.

Any resident can consent to a police search, but one person can prevent the warrantless search by being physically present and objecting to the search. If the objecting resident leaves, the search can commence.

If you know someone who has been charged with a crime, contact criminal attorney Peter J. Johnson at 269-982-1100 for a consultation.

*Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.

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