Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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Gerald Magnant and John Davis were each charged with violating MCL 205.428(3) of the Michigan Tobacco Products Tax Act (the TPTA), for transporting 3,000 or more cigarettes without the transporter’s license required by MCL 205.423(1). Defendants were nonsupervisory employees of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). Michigan State Police pulled over a KBIC-owned pickup truck for speeding. Davis was driving, and consented to a search of a utility trailer, representing to the trooper that it contained “supplies” and “chips.” The trailer actually contained 56 cases holding over 600,000 “Seneca” cigarettes marked with KBIC stamps but not with the Michigan Department of Treasury tax stamps required by the TPTA. Magnant was a passenger, and admitted he helped load the trailer. The parties stipulated that Davis, Magnant, and the KBIC were not licensed to transport tobacco products under the TPTA. Defendants jointly moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the relevant statutes were unconstitutionally vague because they did not give individual employees, as opposed to businesses, adequate notice that they were subject to the TPTA licensing requirement for transporting cigarettes. A circuit court denied the motion, holding that the language of the TPTA provided adequate notice that an “individual” can be a “transporter” subject to the licensing requirement. The Michigan Supreme Court held that an individual acting as a “transporter” need not have specific awareness of the law that creates the licensing requirement; a conviction for violating MCL 205.428(3) must, at a minimum, be supported by a showing that the individual (1) knew he or she was transporting a regulated amount of cigarettes and (2) knew of facts that conferred “transporter” status upon him or her. In this case, however, the prosecution failed to present any evidence establishing or implying that defendants were aware of facts that conferred transporter status on them. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and defendants' joint motion to quash a bindover decision was granted. View "Michigan v. Magant" on Justia Law

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In 2004, defendant Gregory Washington was convicted by jury of second-degree murder, two counts of assault with intent to commit murder (AWIM), possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. In a 2006 unpublished opinion, an appellate court affirmed defendant’s convictions but remanded the case for resentencing because the trial court had failed to articulate substantial and compelling reasons for its departure from the second-degree murder sentencing guidelines. Before defendant was resentenced, he petitioned the Michigan Supreme Court for review. While the Supreme Court was considering defendant’s application, the trial court resentenced defendant, and he petitioned the Court of Appeals for review of the new sentence. The Supreme Court ultimately denied defendant’s application for leave to appeal his original convictions. After the Court of Appeals also denied defendant’s application for leave to appeal, he filed his second petition to the Supreme Court, which was again denied. Defendant then moved the trial court for relief from judgment, which was denied. Defendant appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court denied appeal of the Court of Appeals’ denial. In June 2016, after exhausting all available postconviction relief, defendant filed a second motion for relief from judgment with the trial court, arguing that the trial court had lacked jurisdiction to resentence him in 2006 because his application for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court was pending at the time. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, vacated defendant’s sentence, and ordered resentencing. The prosecution appealed. The Court of Appeals, upheld the trial court’s ruling in a published per curiam opinion, holding that although defendant’s successive motion for relief from judgment was barred by MCR 6.502(G), the trial court had lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter the second sentence. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court indeed lacked subject-matter jurisdiction when it resentenced defendant in 2006 while his application for leave to appeal was still pending with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also held the trial court did not err 10 years later in 2016 when it granted defendant relief on that ground, which was raised in defendant’s successive motion for relief from judgment. The matter was remanded for the trial court for resentencing consistent with its 2016 order. View "Michigan v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Taxpayers for Michigan Constitutional Government and several individuals brought an original action to the Court of Appeals against the state of Michigan; the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget; and the Office of the Auditor General to enforce section 30 of the Headlee Amendment, Const 1963, art 9, which prohibited the state from reducing its budget for total state spending paid to all units of local government, taken as a group, below that proportion in effect in fiscal year 1978–1979. Plaintiffs: (Count I) alleged the state violated section 30 by classifying as state spending paid to local government monies paid to school districts pursuant to Proposal A, Const 1963, art 9, section 11; (Count II) alleged the same assertion as to monies paid to public school academies (PSAs) pursuant to Proposal A and MCL 380.501(1); (Count III) alleged the state improperly classified as section 30 state spending those funds paid to maintain trunk-line roads; and (Count IV) sought a determination that state funds directed to local governments for new state mandates could not be counted toward the proportion of state funds required by section 30. The Court of Appeal dismissed Count III without prejudice upon stipulation of the parties; all parties moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims. The appellate court granted the state defendants motion on Counts I and II; plaintiffs' motion was granted as to Count IV. Finally, the court granted plaintiffs mandamus relief and directed the state to comply with reporting requirements found in MCL 21.235(3) and MCL 21.241. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred when it held that PSAs were “school districts” as the term was used in the Headlee Amendment. Further, the Court held PSAs were themselves not a “political subdivision of the state” as voters would have understood the term when the Headlee Amendment was ratified. The Court thus reversed the conclusion reached in Part III(C) of the Court of Appeals opinion that PSAs were “school districts” and remanded to the Court of Appeals for its reconsideration of this issue. The Supreme Court vacated the panel’s grant of mandamus in Part III(E), and directed the Court of Appeals to provide further explanation of its decision to grant this extraordinary remedy. View "Taxpayers for Michigan Constitutional Govt. v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lonnie Arnold was convicted by jury of aggravated indecent exposure and indecent exposure by a sexually delinquent person. He was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender to 25 to 70 years in prison for indecent exposure by a sexually delinquent person; his sentence for aggravated indecent exposure was later set aside. At sentencing, Arnold argued that MCL 750.335a(2)(c) required a sentence of “1 day to life” as provided in the statute, but the trial court stated that it was prohibited from imposing a sentence with a minimum penalty of a term of years and a maximum penalty of life. The court’s minimum sentence of 25 years was calculated to fit within the sentencing guidelines range. Arnold appealed his sentence. The case eventually made its way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which held that the “1 day to life” sentence for indecent exposure as a sexually delinquent person in MCL 750.335a(2)(c) was an alternative to the other sentences provided in MCL 750.335a and was not modifiable. The Supreme Court then remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to resolve the effect of the sentencing guidelines on the sentencing scheme for sexually delinquent persons in MCL 750.335a(2)(c). On remand, the Court of Appeals concluded the sentencing guidelines provided another sentencing alternative for persons convicted of indecent exposure as sexual delinquents. Accordingly, a sentencing court could sentence such defendants to either “1 day to life” or to a sentence premised on the guidelines. Because the trial court was not aware of this range of sentencing options, the Court of Appeals vacated Arnold’s sentence and remanded to the trial court for resentencing. Arnold again appealed the sentence to the Supreme Court. After re-review, the Supreme Court concluded the guidelines did not create an alternative sentence that could be imposed instead of the “1 day to life” sentence as the appellate court held. "This means that individuals convicted of an indecent-exposure offense under section 335a as sexually delinquent persons must be sentenced pursuant to the penalties prescribed in that statute as described in our earlier opinion. Because defendant did not receive such a sentence, he is entitled to resentencing." View "Michigan v. Arnold" on Justia Law

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Defendant Erick Allen was convicted by jury of possessing less than 25 grams of cocaine, for which he was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender to a prison term of 30 months to 15 years. Defendant was on parole at the time of the possession, but the Michigan Department of Corrections (the MDOC) did not file a parole detainer against him when he was arrested. Defendant was released from jail on July 13, 2017, on a personal recognizance bond. Defendant subsequently missed two court dates, and the district court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. He was arrested on August 17. The district court turned his personal recognizance bond into a cash/surety bond that Defendant was unable to post. On August 31, 2017, the district court changed his bond back to a personal recognizance bond so that defendant could participate in a drug treatment program. However, defendant brought drugs with him to the program, and he tested positive for cocaine on September 5, 2017. That same day, defendant was arrested, and the MDOC filed a parole detainer against defendant. After being bound over, defendant was convicted by a jury of possession of cocaine. Defendant remained in jail until his sentencing on March 1, 2018. At sentencing, defendant made no request to be given credit for time served. Although the court believed that defendant was not legally entitled to any jail credit because of his status as a parolee, in its discretion, the court gave defendant some credit for the time served prior to sentencing. Defendant spent approximately 195 days in jail prior to sentencing, 17 of which came before the MDOC filed a parole detainer against him. Defendant appealed in the Court of Appeals, arguing that the circuit court erred by not granting any jail credit for the total time he spent in jail. The Michigan Supreme Court determined that under MCL 769.11b and Michigan v. Idziak, 773 NW2d 616 (2009), defendant was entitled to time-served credit. Because the trial court did not grant the credit to which defendant was entitled, defendant demonstrated plain error affecting his substantial rights. The Court of Appeals’ affirmance of the trial court's judgment was reversed, and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Michigan v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Defendant Paul Betts, Jr. entered a no-contest plea to violating the registration requirements of Michigan’s Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA), as amended by 2011 PA 17 and 18 (the 2011 SORA), conditional on his ability to challenge on appeal the constitutionality of the retroactive application of the 2011 SORA. Defendant pleaded guilty in 1993 to second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-II). The trial court sentenced defendant to 5 to 15 years’ imprisonment. Two years later, SORA took effect. After defendant’s successful completion of parole, defendant failed to report his change of residence, his e-mail address, and his purchase of a vehicle within 3 days, contrary to MCL 28.725(1)(a), (f), and (g), as amended by 2011 PA 17. The prosecution charged defendant with violating SORA’s registration requirements. Defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the retroactive application of the 2011 SORA requirements violated the constitutional prohibitions on ex post facto laws. The trial court denied this motion. The Michigan Supreme Court held the retroactive application violated state and federal constitutional prohibitions on ex post facto laws. As applied to defendant Betts, because the crime subjecting him to registration occurred in 1993, the Supreme Court ordered that his instant conviction of failure to register as a sex offender be vacated. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Betts" on Justia Law

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David Maples sought compensation under the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) after his conviction of delivery of cocaine was vacated and the related criminal charges were dismissed. The Court of Claims granted summary judgment for the state, concluding that the testimony of a previously-unavailable witness was not new evidence and, alternatively that it was Maples’s trial counsel’s deficient performance and the speedy-trial violation that had resulted in the vacation of Maples’s conviction, not the proffered testimony. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding the testimony was not new evidence because it had been offered at the entrapment hearing, and that it was not new evidence because Maples had not offered any proof regarding how the witness would testify. Maples sought leave to appeal. The Michigan Supreme Court ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower courts, finding there was an adequate offer of proof the witness' proposed testimony, and that the testimony was new under the WICA because it was not presented at a proceeding that adjudicated guilt. View "Maples v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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In 1992, plaintiff Desmond Ricks saw a man shoot and kill Gerry Bennett in Detroit. Ricks was on parole then; he began serving concurrent sentences for armed robbery and assault with intent to rob while armed in 1987 and was paroled in 1991. When he witnessed Bennett’s murder, Ricks still had 4 years and 118 days remaining on his armed-robbery and assault sentences. As he fled from the gunman, Ricks dropped his winter coat. It would later be discovered by the police, who used it to connect him to Bennett’s killing. Ricks was convicted of Bennett’s murder, based in large part on ballistics evidence fabricated by a Detroit police officer. The Michigan Innocence Clinic discovered that a Detroit Police Department officer had fabricated the ballistics evidence used to convict Ricks. A circuit court issued an order vacating his murder and felony-firearm convictions and sentences; Ricks was released from prison the same day, and the charges were dismissed. Ricks filed a Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) complaint with the Michigan Court of Claims seeking compensation for the almost 25 years he was wrongfully imprisoned from October 13, 1992 to May 26, 2017. This case was about one of the exceptions enumerated in the Act: MCL 691.1755(4), which barred compensation for any time served under a consecutive sentence for another conviction. The question presented was whether this exception applied when a wrongful conviction alone triggered a parole revocation, which required the WICA claimant’s parole-revoked sentence to be served before the sentence for the wrongful conviction would begin to run. The Supreme Court held that it did not, because the time served under the parole-revoked sentence was not served under a consecutive sentence for another conviction. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the Court of Claims for further proceedings. View "Ricks v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal to address the trial court’s resolution of a pair of Batson challenges, each concerning the others’ use of peremptory challenges to remove prospective jurors on the basis of race. Jacques Kabongo was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. Two police officers testified that they had seen defendant cover a holstered handgun with his shirt and that defendant’s license to carry a concealed weapon had expired. Defendant appealed by right, arguing, among other things, that the trial court had erred by overruling his objections to the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to excuse Prospective Jurors 2(a), 3(a), and 14(a), all of whom were Black, and by disallowing defendant’s use of a peremptory challenge to excuse Prospective Juror 5(a), who was white. The Court of Appeals affirmed. With regard to the State’s challenge of the three Black jurors, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not clearly err by finding the prosecution’s race-neutral explanation was not a pretext for improper purposeful discrimination. With regard to Kabongo’s Batson challenge, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court clearly erred by determining that defense counsel’s race-neutral explanation was a pretext to discrimination, “While defense counsel’s comments may have suggested that he was previously engaged in purposeful discrimination against white prospective jurors during voir dire and that defense counsel perhaps even intimated an intent to continue to do so, the record does not reflect that defense counsel actually engaged in purposeful discrimination against this particular prospective white juror. This prospective juror had extensive familial ties to law enforcement, and the sole evidence against defendant was to be the testimony of law enforcement officers.” The Supreme Court held the trial court’s erroneous denial of defendant’s peremptory challenges was not a structural error that required automatic reversal of his convictions under Michigan law. Applying harmless-error review, the Court found no harm resulted from the trial court’s denial of defendant’s peremptory challenges, and affirmed the denial of his request for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Kabongo" on Justia Law

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Victoria Pagano was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with a child as a passenger, and having an open container in a vehicle. An anonymous caller phoned 911, alleging defendant was driving while intoxicated. Central dispatch informed a police officer of the call, and within 30 minutes, the officer observed defendant’s vehicle but did not see defendant commit any traffic violations. Although it appeared that a copy of the 911 call might have been preserved, a recording was not introduced into evidence, and the caller was not identified. According to the officer’s testimony, the anonymous caller informed dispatch that defendant was out of the vehicle, yelling at children, and appeared to be obnoxious. The caller believed defendant’s alleged intoxication was the cause of her behavior with the children, and provided the vehicle’s license plate number; the direction in which the vehicle was traveling; and the vehicle’s make, model, and color. The officer pulled defendant over strictly on the basis of the information relayed in the 911 call. Defendant was arrested and subsequently charged. Defendant moved for dismissal of the charges, arguing that the investigatory stop was unlawful and that, as a result, any evidence obtained pursuant to the stop should have been suppressed. The district court granted the motion, holding that there was no probable cause to stop defendant’s vehicle because the 911 call was not reliable. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Michigan v. Pagano" on Justia Law