Articles Posted in Criminal Appeals

Original Case Details

Back in January of this year, 46-year-old David Michael Barber was sentenced to up to 15 years in Michigan state prison for his conviction of involuntary manslaughter, felony firearm, and trespassing. He was given a minimum sentence of three years in prison by 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power. Barber must serve these three years before he is eligible for parole. Investigators found that Barber had entered onto land owned by the victim while hunting on the first day of deer season. Barber thought he saw a buck about 60 yards away and fired a shot, killing the owner of the land. The victim was found lying over a deer that he was apparently field dressing. Field dressing is a process in which the animal’s internal organs are removed in order to preserve the meat. The big issue in Barber’s case was whether his actions constituted the amount of negligence needed in order to convict Barber of involuntary manslaughter. It doesn’t appear that Barber ever took the position that he did not shoot the gun. The facts that Barber entered onto another’s land and ended up accidentally killing the owner of the land were simply too much for Barber to overcome at trial.

Court of Appeals Decision

Original Case Details

Battle Creek Woman Tonia Miller was 19 years old when she was convicted of second-degree murder for the death of her infant child. She was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison back in 2003 for the death of her 11-week-old due to what a jury believed was a case of shaken baby syndrome. Miller’s baby was said to have problems breathing, where she would frequently stop breathing for no apparent reason. Miller testified that while she was feeding her baby, her baby stopped breathing and Miller gently shook her which started her breathing again. Miller was told by doctors that nothing was wrong and that she was being paranoid. Doctors at the time of the baby’s death believed that the death was due to shaking. The scientific understanding of the medical records in this case has now changed and medical experts believe that the cause of death may have been due to pneumonia, and not due to being shaken by her mother. In 2018, lawyers for Miller from the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic filed a motion for a new trial due to the new medical viewpoints. Two years later, the Michigan Court of Appeals has made their decision regarding re-opening Miller’s case.

Court of Appeals Decision

Original Case Details

Former Jackson County resident Dawn Dixon-Bey was convicted of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of her then-boyfriend, Gregory Stack. Dixon-Bey was found guilty by a jury in front of Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John McBain. She stabbed her boyfriend in the heart twice but claimed self-defense when she testified at trial. The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office said that the act was premeditated because the boyfriend was laying on the couch when he was stabbed. Judge McBain viewed the crime as first degree murder, and his sentence of Dixon-Bey was intended to show that. McBain sentenced Dixon-Bey to 35-70 years, a sentenced which far exceeded the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. The defense appealed the sentence, winning a Michigan Court of Appeals decision 2-1 in favor of resentencing Dixon-Bey. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear the case, so it went back before Judge McBain for resentencing.

Judge Defies Court of Appeals Order for Resentencing

Original Case Details

In Sanford v Michigan, a then 15-year-old Davontae Sanford pled guilty to the killing of four men back in 2007. Police misconduct and the confession of a professional hitman cast serious doubt on the plea from the then-teenager. Sanford spent nine years in prison appealing his wrongful convictions and was released in 2016. Sanford’s mother insisted that the teen could barely read or write back in 2007 and was also blind in one eye. His mother also stated that her son only confessed to the murders to please the police officers who had been interrogating him. Upon his release, he was entitled to money from the state due to his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. In the state of Michigan, a person who is exonerated from a crime is entitled to payments of $50,000 for every year they wrongfully spent behind bars. In the case of Davontae Sanford, his wrongful conviction and imprisonment led to compensation in the amount of just over $408,000 for the 8 years and 61 days that he spent in a state prison. Sanford, However, was seeking more. He was also seeking an additional $27,000 for the nearly 200 days he spent in custody awaiting his trial. He was denied this additional money at the trial court level and at the Michigan Court of Appeals. Sanford appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court who recently issued their decision.

Supreme Court Decision in Sanford v Michigan

Original Case Details

A man convicted of Criminal Sexual Conduct won a legal victory on a constitutional issue in the Michigan Supreme Court recently. The issue decided by the Michigan Supreme Court was whether a defendant in a criminal case has the ability to decide whether remote testimony can be allowed in a trial. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled 6-0 in favor of the man, stating that the remote testimony in his case violated the confrontation clause of both the United States and Michigan Constitutions. This is a blow to prosecutors, who were looking to have remote testimony become more of the norm due to costs and convenience. The Court made it clear that the right to confront accusers in person and the ability to decide to waive that right rested only with defendants, not prosecutors. If an accused agrees that remote testimony can be given against him in a case, then and only then, will it be allowed. The obvious fear from defendants and their attorneys is that when testimony is given remotely, it does not always accurately represent what a witness’s testimony really looks like. A jury in this situation is not given the opportunity to use their abilities to read body language, but most importantly, it flies in the face of what the Sixth Amendment intended, the right to be able to confront your accusers in court, and question them in a public forum. The case will now go back to a lower court who will view the video testimony that was given in the man’s case to determine if a different result would have occurred had the testimony been in person.

The Confrontation Clause

Original Case Details

54-year-old Charles Pickett was convicted back in 2018 of 14 criminal charges in the death of five bicyclists in Kalamazoo County. Pickett’s convictions included five counts of murder in the second degree, five counts of operating while intoxicated causing death, as well as four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury. Investigators say that Pickett took various drugs and proceeded to drive his pickup truck into a group of cyclists. Pickett killed five bicyclists and injured four others from a bicycling group known as the “Chain Gang.” Toxicology results showed Pickett to have been under the influence of methamphetamine, muscle relaxers, and pain medication at the time of the accident. In June of 2018, Pickett was sentenced to 40 to 75 years in prison by Kalamazoo County Circuit Court Judge Paul J. Bridenstine. Pickett won’t be eligible for parole until he’s 90 years old.

The Appeal

Original Case Details

A Rochester Hills man was convicted in 2018 of assault to do great bodily harm less than murder and possessing a firearm in the commission of a felony. The white male was accused of shooting a gun at a black teenager who had come to his door asking directions after he got lost on his way to school. The victim was 14 years old and was luckily not hit by the bullet the man fired. The man testified at trial in his own defense, stating that he and his wife both mistakenly believed the victim to be an adult intruder. In actuality, the victim had missed his bus to school and got lost while trying to walk to school, leading to the victim going to the defendant’s front door to ask for directions. The defendant claimed he went outside holding his gun intending to fire a warning shot but slipped on a wet spot on his porch causing the gun to discharge. A home surveillance video showed who appeared to be the defendant aiming a gun in the direction of the victim and firing as he ran from the porch. When the man was sentenced in November of 2018, the victim’s mother told the judge that she believed that the shooting was racially motivated. The man had a previous conviction for firing a gun in a road rage incident. He was ultimately sentenced to 4 to 10 years in prison, a conviction and sentence which he is appealing.

Current Status of the Case

Wrongful Convictions In Michigan

All 50 states across the country have experience in dealing with people being wrongfully convicted of crimes. The state of Michigan has had its fair share of exonerees that have lost many years of their lives sitting in prison for crimes they did not commit. Some of these men have spent in excess of twenty years waiting for their moment for the truth to come out as well as the freedom that comes with that truth.

One such example of these cases is the case of Davontae Sanford, a man who pled guilty to the killing of four men when he was 14 years old in 2007. Police misconduct and the confession of a professional hitman cast serious doubt on the plea from the then-teenager. Sanford spent nine years in prison appealing his wrongful convictions and was released in 2016. Sanford’s mother insisted that the teen could barely read or write back in 2007 and was also blind in one eye. His mother stated that her son only confessed to the murders to please the police officers who had been interrogating him.

The law firm of Grabel and Associates won another landmark case when prosecutors dismissed sexual assault charges against a former Michigan State Police trooper Brian Alexander after the Michigan Supreme Court ordered a new trial on the matter.

Scott Grabel of Grabel and Associates led the defense team in a battle that lasted over 2 years. Grabel stated, “While it took a long time, I’m glad the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office did the right thing and dismissed the charges. We had to go to the Michigan Supreme Court to fight for Mr. Alexander and there is no doubt in my mind that the man is 100% innocent.”

Brian Alexander was 33 years of age when he was convicted on four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct after a 2015 trial in Ingham County Circuit Court. A judge later vacated that decision and the case then went through the Michigan Appellate Court system. Alexander was awaiting a second trial when the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges on Sept. 25.

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”).

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

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