Articles Posted in Criminal Appeals

A Michigan Supreme Court Decision rendered on July 17, 2017 could potentially change the face of the rules of evidence both on the federal and state level. The Denson decision is a landmark case and the victory led by Scott Grabel and Associates was not just a success story for him but could also blaze a trail for criminal defense attorneys in the foreseeable future (Michigan Supreme Court, Docket No. 152916, “People v. Denson”). Grabel04a-2-300x146

The facts create a complex fact pattern as the defendant in the case was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder after a jury trial in the Genesee Circuit Court (MCL 750.84). One of the keys to the prosecution’s argument was the Michigan Rules of Evidence (MRE) 404 B (MRE 404 B [MIMIC]). MRE 404B, which is famously referred to as “MIMIC” is a tool that the prosecution has often used to bring in evidence that would normally be deemed unfairly prejudicial. In this case, the prosecution attempted to utilize 404 B to admit evidence of “other-acts” to incorporate a 2002 conviction of assault. After hearing arguments form the prosecution and the defense, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the case will be reversed and remanded for a new trial.

The Litigation

Ched Evans, a Welsh football player born in the UK, was convicted of raping a 19-year-old woman in 2012. Now, four years later, the CCRC or Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the conviction to the Court of Appeals. Evans has won his appeal against his conviction, and will now face a new trial. 11637793_s1-300x200

While the justice system may work differently in the UK, Michigan criminal appeals attorneys know that successfully appealing a conviction for rape, murder, or even larceny of drug offenses is extremely difficult – and often not possible.

An often lengthy and complicated process, the appeals process is one that if successful can “undo” a conviction. While a case ends when the defendant is found guilty, at this point it may be thought of as an “interval” in the criminal process as many go on to appeal the verdict to a higher court.

In June of 2014, Loretta Hawks, who was 35 years old at the time, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of 47-year-old Arthur Strozewski in August of 2012. News reports call the incident a “home invasion style murder.” Hawks allegedly participated with two others, all three charged with murder, kidnapping, and burglary. gavel-952313-m

Testimony at trial indicated that Hawks had lived with the victim, who threw her out of the home earlier on the day he was killed. She reportedly returned to the home later that evening with the two co-defendants. At the time the three went to Strozewski’s home, his two teenage children were also present. While the victim’s daughter was able to call 911, Strozewski and his son were allegedly bound with duct tape. The victim was then stabbed to death.

Earlier this week, Hawks’ conviction and life prison sentence were reversed by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, and a new trial ordered. Hawks claimed in her appeal that the evidence she aided the co-defendants or participated in the murder of the victim was insufficient. While the conviction and sentence were reversed, news reports do not reveal what the court based its decision on.

Recently, a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the 2014 arson conviction of 44-year-old Mark Misgen, owner of two pizza restaurants who was found guilty of burning down his family home in 2011. According to news reports, Misgen and his wife owned restaurants in Ellendale and Lonsdale, and were in substantial debt when Misgen burned the home down to collect insurance money. iStock_000009369669_Full-2-300x247

Misgen was charged in May 2013 with the 2011 burning of his home, and according to news reports had inquired about insurance settlements and how fires are investigated as testified to by a co-defendant. Prosecutors argued that the couple had written hot checks and allowed bills to go to collections due to the financial strain they were under.

Allegedly owing $124,000 in mortgage payments and $160,000 between the two restaurants, Mark Misgen also reportedly owed child support and other debts. Court documents revealed that in 2011 before their home burned, the Misgens had taken out a $612,000 insurance policy on their property. The Ellendale home was destroyed after two fires occurred within hours of each other, fires that investigators concluded were intentional.

On Friday, March 11, it was announced that the murder and rape convictions of 31-year-old Shawn McClain had been upheld by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. McClain was convicted on murder and first-degree rape charges in August of last year. The victim, Dorothy Leatherwood, was allegedly raped and stabbed by McClain as he was at her home in November of 2012 to collect payment for yard work and odd jobs he had performed at her residence.

Facade of the United States Supreme Court

Facade of the United States Supreme Court

According to news reports, McClain pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to life behind bars on both counts. Later, he sought to have the convictions reversed on appeal.

On Thursday March 10, 49-year-old Andre Hatchett was released from prison after spending nearly a quarter of a century behind bars for the beating death of a woman in 1991.  Hatchett was serving 25 years to life for the murder of Neda Mae Carter, who was strangled, beaten in the head, and left in a park in New York.

Hatchett went to trial twice in the alleged murder; the first ending in a mistrial after Hatchett’s defense attorneys were thought to be “inept,” according to news reports.  At the time of the murder, Hatchett was on crutches and had several injuries after being shot in the trachea and legs just months earlier.  The injuries Hatchett had at the time he allegedly killed Carter went unmentioned at trial.  Hatchett was hardly able to read or write at the time of his trial due to intellectual disabilities that had plagued him all his life, so he was not able to give his defense team support.
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In 2014, Chad Colton Bass was convicted in Lewis County in Washington State on charges of first-degree trafficking in stolen property, second-degree burglary, and third-degree theft in connection with the stripping of recyclable metals from a power pole in Centralia. iStock_000006818663_Full-1-300x200

At trial, Bass testified that he believed the former owner of the home where the power pole was located had given permission for him to cut the wire from the pole; he maintained that he was not aware the residence was bank owned following foreclosure proceedings. An employee with the city of Centralia discovered the cut wire, and matched the cut end with wire sold at a metal recycler.

While his convictions for the second-degree burglary and third-degree theft charges were upheld, the Washington State Court of Appeals overturned the first-degree trafficking in stolen property conviction, ordering a new trial after finding the trial court refused to allow the jury in the case to consider second-degree trafficking in stolen property, a lesser charge. Appeals court judge Bradley A. Maxa wrote in his decision that in refusing to provide the jury with instructions regarding second-degree trafficking in stolen property, the trial court erred. The appeals court reversed the first-degree conviction and is now remanding the case back to court for a new trial.

Recently, James Everett Dutschke, 45, filed an appeal in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals asking the court to overturn the dismissal of prior appeals of his conviction in the Northern District of Mississippi. Currently, Dutschke is incarcerated in a Colorado federal prison, serving a 25 year sentence. iStock_000006818663_Full-300x200

Dutschke, a former Tupelo martial arts instructor, pleaded guilty to four counts of sending ricin-tainted poisonous letters via mail to President Obama, Senator Roger Wicker, and others. Dutschke allegedly used the plot to set up a man whom he had issues with, Paul Kevin Curtis. Curtis was an Elvis impersonator who was not in good standing with Dutschke. Curtis was initially arrested, however authorities determined it was Dutschke who had developed the scheme. Curtis later sued the U.S. Dept. of Justice for wrongful arrest.

Dutschke’s first attempt to have a federal court overturn the dismissal for his convictions was rejected in October of last year by U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock. His latest appeal attempt includes a five-page hand-written document. Dutschke insists his request to overturn his 2014 conviction is not “frivolous” because of the fact he does not have any legal counsel or guidance to proceed through the court system properly.

In 2014, former Los Angeles city councilman Richard Alarcon and his wife, Flora, were convicted on richard-alarconcharges of perjury and voting fraud.  According to news reports, the couple lived in Sun Valley, but claimed they lived in Panorama City so that Alarcon could represent the district.  The Alarcons appealed the conviction, and were successful.

According to an article at the Los Angeles Times, a panel of justices with the 2nd District Court of Appeals found the trial judge in the case had issued improper instructions to the jury.  Superior Court Judge George Lomeli instructed the jury in the case, however the appeals court justices ruled that “we cannot conclude that the instructional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”
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In May of 2014, Kyle Wilson of Alpine Township was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his cousin Brandon Nelson. The two men shared an apartment; Wilson allegedly beat Nelson in a dispute over pizza. iStock_000006818663_Full-300x200

According to news reports, Wilson fled the apartment after beating his cousin, taking his cell phone and wallet. He claimed he was acting in self-defense, although investigators discovered blood spatters in the apartment that indicated the victim had been struck numerous times while on the floor. Wilson appealed his conviction, however the Court of Appeals upheld it in part because of this evidence. Wilson is currently serving a 46 to 150 year sentence. He had previously been convicted of killing a 15-year-old boy in a dispute over money, and had served several years in prison before his 2013 release, at which point he moved in with Nelson, his cousin.

After living with Nelson just five months, the two became involved in an argument over rent and pizza. Wilson claims that Nelson shouted at him that we wanted to kill him, charged him, and that he was frightened. When his cousin charged him a second time, Wilson claims he struck him twice in the head; he also claims he never hit Nelson after he was down on the floor.