The Michigan Supreme Court has decided against hearing argument in a controversial Allegan County witness screen case.
In People v. Rose, a western Michigan man, Ronald Rose, was accused of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl. At trial, a one-way screen was placed between the witness and Rose, ostensibly because she was scared of testifying. However, in doing so not only was Rose denied his 6th Amendment right to confront his accuser, but the action was also highly prejudicial. As a result, Rose should be entitled to a new trial.
The U.S. Constitution provides many protections designed to ensure criminal defendants are given a fair trial. One of these protections is the 6th Amendment, which provides that a defendant is entitled to be confronted with the witnesses against him. While MCL 600.123 expressly provides alternative for child testimony, the use of a screen is not one of them. In fact, as described by Scott Grabel, a Michigan criminal defense lawyer, the use of the screen was more like a theatrical prop and was “the most prejudicial thing he’d ever seen in a criminal trial.”
The visual of seeing a screen placed between the accuser and the defendant highlighted the “witness’s apparent fear of directly facing defendant…Permitting the screen sent the jury the message that the court deemed the witness to be worthy of protection from the defendant,” stated Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly. Other less prejudicial alternatives exist to protect child witnesses, such as using videotape testimony. In these instances a jury may conclude that a child is scared of testifying and the criminal court system, rather than being scared of a particular defendant.
In declining the opportunity to hear argument, the Supreme Court is allowing a “constitutionally defective” decision to stand.
Further, by failing to instruct the jury not to draw any negative inferences from the use of the screen, the trial court missed an opportunity to eliminate any potential bias or prejudice created by its use. As stated by Justice Kelly, using the screen branded defendant ‘with an unmistakable mark of guilt.”
For more information about this case, or if you have been charged with any Michigan criminal offense, contact an aggressive criminal defense lawyer in Michigan at Grabel & Associates for an immediate consultation.