St. Joseph Michigan Criminal Defense Blog

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trial case

Trials Often Turn on a ‘Mistake of Fact’

trial case

Believing something false can lead individuals into situations they would never accept otherwise. In a paternity case reviewed by Michigan’s Court of Appeals, a man wanted to revoke his affidavit of parentage once he learned he was not the biological father. Originally, the man acted on a “mistake of fact” asserting he was the father. A criminal defense lawyer can help defendants understand these distinctions during trial.

Defining a ‘Mistake of Fact’

In the appeal court decision, the judge defined mistake of fact as “a belief that a certain fact exists when in truth and in fact it does not exist.” This belief can lead to various actions with no basis in reality. The defendant found himself in such a situation. Told he was the only possible father of a child, the man agreed to sign an affidavit asserting he was the parent.

Later, DNA testing showed he was in fact not the father. However, his request to have the affidavit of parentage revoked was denied by the Ostego Circuit Court, which left the defendant on the hook for child support payments and other responsibilities typically reserved for parents. This is where an experienced and reputable criminal defense lawyer in Van Buren County needs to step in and help.

DNA Does Not Tell Whole Story

The appeals court went on to say DNA testing is not enough to declare a man parent or not. “Biology does not control either an acknowledgment of paternity or its revocation,” the court said in its decision. A man may attest to parentage to a baby out of wedlock and be held responsible for the protection and support of that child.

Nonetheless, the system breaks down when the basis of the man’s claims to paternity are based on a fiction, as they were in this case. Starting with a false statement, the man agreed to be considered the parent as an acceptance of responsibility. Therefore, his application to revoke his affidavit of parenthood was accepted.

A top criminal defense lawyer in Van Buren County such as Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC can help defendants in any trial case; especially ones of such nature. For further information or to schedule an appointment with one our highly experienced and reputable criminal defense lawyers please contact us at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.

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Testimony

Prosecution Loses Guilty Verdicts Due to Misleading Testimony

Testimony

Everyone deserves a fair trial. With an experienced criminal defense attorney on the job, defendants can be sure the prosecution will play fair in every aspect of the law. In a recent Michigan Supreme Court case, we saw how the prosecution neglected to mention compensation a witness had received from law enforcement for his cooperation. As a result of this misleading testimony, the guilty verdicts were reversed and a new trial became necessary.

‘Substantially Misleading’ Testimony

People v. Smith involved a paid police informant testifying against the defendant charged with armed robbery and murder. During pretrial hearings, it was clear the informant was cooperating with the police in exchange for compensation. However, once the trial began, the prosecution allowed this fact to go by unmentioned, blurring an important line in the case.

In fact, the court found the prosecution “capitalized on and exploited” the fact the jury did not believe the witness was a paid informant. There were a number of other issues involved with the witness’s testimony. Had the jury been aware he was also a paid witness, there would have been little reason for them to believe him.

Protecting Defendants During a Trial

Someone could argue that this point should have been raised repeatedly by the defense before it went to the Supreme Court. A top criminal defense attorney in Berrien County would not let this distinction slip through during the course of a trial and send the jury into deliberation accepting testimony from a witness who was later discredited.

Felony trials often pivot on these small moments when a jury can be led to believe misleading information based on the way a prosecutor manipulates the evidence. If you or someone you care about needs representation against severe charges, only accept the help of the best.

When you need a top criminal defense attorney on your side to win your case, contact Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC at 269.982.1100 to begin preparing for the trial or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com for further information.

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Criminal Restitution

What Prosecution Must Prove for Criminal Restitution to Be Necessary

Criminal Restitution

When someone is convicted of a crime, criminal restitution (monetary compensation) may be awarded to the victims. Whether the amount owed is determined at sentencing or at a hearing after the trial ends, these costs must be paid by the defendant under Michigan law. However, there is a clear threshold for the prosecution to prove. Here is how a talented criminal lawyer in Michigan can help if there are excessive restitution demands following a guilty verdict.

Reasonable Factual Basis

The appeals court came to its ruling in People v. Corbin (No. 319122), determining that a defendant was required to pay restitution to only one of two parties because there was no conviction related to the second party. Only in the case of “conduct that gives rise to the conviction” would a defendant be required to pay damages to that party.

In other words, restitution may only be awarded when a direct impact can be proven under the law, or what the court referred to as a “reasonable” factual basis. Since this ruling sets a bar that the prosecution must reach, the defense lawyer’s skill and experience often comes into play in determining the amount of compensation.

When a qualified criminal lawyer sees this reasonable factual basis unproven by the prosecution, the attorney will fight for a client’s right to avoid excessive restitution fees. The important thing to remember in cases involving restitution is these costs are often paid for many years.

In addition to medical fees or costs related to psychotherapy, defendants are often forced to pay future medical costs and lost wages. Sometimes, the amount may increase if needs of the victims arise and the judge agrees they fall under the reasonable basis threshold.

Only an experienced criminal lawyer in Michigan can protect your rights during and after a trial. For honest and aggressive defense, trust Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC to fight for your rights in court. For further information or to schedule a consultation with one of our highly successful criminal lawyers please contact us at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.

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Firearm

A Nonworking Gun Is No Defense Against Weapons Charges

Firearm

What is the definition of a “firearm” exactly? In a 2002 decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals, a firearm may include weapons that are unable to fire at the time of arrest. Put simply, a concealed weapons charge may be brought even when a gun is unable to work.

Appeals Court Decision on Nonworking Guns

In the 2002 case of People v. Brown (No. 231354), the appeals court reinstated a felony weapons charge related to a firearm possession by a convicted felon. The original case ended when a mistrial was declared and the weapons charged was dismissed along with other charges in a larceny case.

However, the appeals court did not agree with the ruling saying the defendant’s handgun was not technically a firearm because it wasn’t working. The legislature has established that a firearm is any weapon from which a dangerous projectile “may be discharged,” which would include a gun that was incapable of firing due to defects.

When Weapons Charges Come Down

A gun charge requires the attention of a top criminal defense attorney. The People v. Brown ruling asserted the laws defining a firearm are not set in stone, which sent the defendant back in court to face charges anew. As reasoning, the appeals court noted that felons could sell or carry arms as long as firing pins were removed prior to the activity.

Taken in this light, the law’s clear intent is to keep weapons out of the hands of felons, but the ruling reveals gray areas remain on the books regarding the sale, transport, use and purchase of firearms in Michigan. Case such as these demand a skilled attorney in navigating state courts.

Contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC when you need the help of a top criminal defense attorney in Michigan . Whether gun charges or another problem result in court, you need the best on your side. For further information or to schedule an consultation with one of our highly experienced and reputable criminal defense attorneys please contact us at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.

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Sentencing Guidelines

Should Semantics and Human Bias Affect Sentencing After Conviction?

Sentencing Guidelines

Uniformity. Discretion. Deference. Disparity. Proportionate. Advisory. These are just some of the words being used to describe the recent decision of the Michigan Supreme Court to rule the state’s sentencing guidelines unconstitutional. All sides of the controversy, including criminal defense attorneys in Berrien County, are weighing in on the potential effects on Michigan’s criminal justice system.

The sentencing guidelines, which have been in effect since 1999, were passed by the Michigan Legislature to give judges binding rules for sentencing ranges and increase parity among individual judges throughout the state. Recently, however, the Legislature has been reconsidering the sentencing structure because it has not fulfilled the vision that lawmakers had for it, nor has it appeared to have any impact on reducing crime.

People v. Lockridge, which was appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court because the judge had increased the defendant’s minimum sentence by ten months beyond the maximum time set by the guidelines, involved a man who killed his wife in a domestic dispute. The situation also had exacerbating circumstances: the couple’s three children witnessed their father strangle their mother and were then left at the home with her dead body. The husband, who had a record of domestic violence, was violating a court order by being in the residence.

Under the guidelines, the acceptable range of sentencing for convicted criminals could only be calculated using evidence that the defendant had admitted to or facts before the jury. The higher court ruled that the deviation from the guidelines effectively deprived defendants of their right to a trial by jury, violating their Sixth Amendment rights. Ironically, this specific defendant’s sentence was not reduced given the case’s extenuating circumstances.

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court had called mandatory sentencing guidelines into question in Alleyne v. United States when a judge increased a defendant’s sentence based upon facts that were never submitted to the jury. The jury convicted the defendant for “carrying” a firearm. The judge found that the firearm had also been “brandished,” increasing the minimum sentence by 2 years. In that case, the United States Supreme Court also said that only a jury could determine these facts, violating that defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights.

So what does this mean for criminal defendants? First, for those who have already been convicted of a crime and sentenced, they may contact a criminal defense attorney and appeal for resentencing, in essence asking the judge to use his or her own discretion this go-round instead of using the guidelines. For those who are currently awaiting trial or sentencing, the result is as yet unknown. The sentence for those convicted may be at the discretion of a judge who, as a human with opinions, may be too harsh or too lenient. It will be some time before any pattern emerges. In the meantime, the advice and counsel of a prominent criminal defense attorney in Berrien County will be important in the outcome of the sentencing phase of any criminal trial. For further information or assistance please contact the Peter J. Johnson Law Office, PLLC at 269.982.1100 or visit www.AttorneyPeterJohnson.com.

Source: Detroit Free Press, “Michigan judges get more leeway in sentencing,” Kathleen Gray, July 30, 2015

Secondary Sources:
The Elkhart Truth, “Q&A: A look at Michigan sentencing after court strikes law,” David Eggert, Aug. 6, 2015

Southgate News Herald, “Michigan judges allowed more discretion in deciding sentences for crimes,” Jessica Strachan, Aug. 4, 2015

Tri-County Times, “The final decision on Michigan’s sentencing guidelines,” Aug. 5, 2015

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