On Tuesday June 18, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a decision in a case involving a 25-year-old Bay City man convicted for sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl. David B. Burns’ conviction was overturned in a unanimous 7-0 decision, the justices agreeing with a ruling made by the Michigan Court of Appeals in June of 2012 regarding hearsay statements which were allowed and admitted as evidence by the judge in Burns’ trial.
In his April 2011 trial, Burns was found guilty of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a person younger than 13 after the jury deliberated only an hour and a half. Burns was then sentenced by Bay County Chief Circuit Judge Kenneth W. Schmidt to 25 to 41 years in prison.
During Burns’ trial, an associate minister of the church the 4-year-old girl attended, Viola Gonzales, testified that the little girl told her that the defendant was abusing her; Gonzales said that the girl went into “graphic” detail about the sexual assault. A news article at Mlive.com states that prosecutors in the case attempted on four occasions to get the girl to testify, but each time she refused to speak. The jury was allowed by Judge Schmidt to use Gonzales’ testimony not as corroborating evidence, but as evidence of proof. Schmidt said that this was allowed because of an exception to the hearsay rule due to the alleged 4-year-old victim’s unwillingness to testify, perhaps due to Burns telling her not to speak of the alleged sexual assault.
Additionally, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner testified to the fact that she performed a physical examination on the girl after being told she was abused, however conclusive evidence could not be obtained to substantiate the child’s allegations.
Ultimately the Supreme Court admonished Schmidt for permitting Gonzales to testify on behalf of the alleged victim; the justices also agreed that it was not proven by prosecutors that the girl would not testify because the defendant had instructed her to keep quiet or intimidated her. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and has remanded Burns’ case for a new trial.
Bay City attorney Edward M. Czuprynski who defended Burns said that his client is innocent, and that the entire case was a prosecution “built on a house of cards, on assumptions and hearsay.”
Michigan criminal appeals attorneys would agree that the evidence in this case is questionable, and that the evidence allowed by the judge was hearsay. Every individual deserves the right to a fair trial.
Individuals who feel they have been wrongly convicted or that errors in judgment were made should discuss your situation with a skilled and capable Michigan criminal appeals lawyer right away to determine if there may be solid grounds to appeal your conviction or sentence.