Articles Posted in Legal

Original Case Details

East Lansing Police Officer Andy Stephenson will be reinstated after the Michigan State Police have cleared him after a review of his actions during two different arrests. He was initially suspended for allegations of excessive use of force during multiple specific arrests. While he has had five separate complaints by citizens of excessive use of force since January 2018, none of these complaints have been sustained against him. Stephenson was alleged to have used excessive force on two black men in these incidents by using a “head stabilization” technique that is now up for review and retraining by the East Lansing Police Department. A city news release stated that while the technique has been deemed appropriate, it has been shown to cause harm to arrestees and should only be used in extreme circumstances. All East Lansing police officers will now be retrained on the technique with more of a focus on the arrestee and his or her physical well-being. iStock_000002709890_Large-2-300x200

The Incidents In Question

History Of The Rule In Michigan Courts

Michigan courthouses have historically only allowed attorneys and court personnel to take their cell phones, tablets etc. inside courthouses past the metal detectors. All other people would not be allowed to bring phones inside. Some courts have small lockers that you can use to lock up your phones, while other courts simply tell you to leave your phone in the car. Leaving your phone in the car is a problem if you don’t have a car or didn’t drive to court. People who take public transportation, bike, or uber to court are often left wondering where they can put their phone since they aren’t allowed to take them inside. Some people even resort to hiding their devices in bushes outside of courthouses. That all changed on January 8th of this year when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled to allow cell phones, laptops, and other communication devices inside Michigan courthouses. iStock_000013860209_Full-2-300x200

How We Got Here

Conducting jury trials amid the COVID-19 pandemic has so far proved to be extremely difficult. Even day to day operations at courts have been severely limited amid this crisis. The Michigan Supreme Court has limited access to all state courts and given the judges more authority to handle court proceedings remotely. Wayne County Circuit Court has already suspended jury service through mid-August through emergency orders related to the pandemic. The state of Michigan is reporting nearly 3,000 deaths due to COVID-19 as of this writing. index2-300x129

Details Surrounding Delay Of Jury Trials

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack had previously issued a memo on March 11, 2020 to all state trial courts recommending adjournments. The aim of that memo was to adjourn all jury trials, whether they were civil or criminal unless there was some special reason in a specific case such as a defendant being held in custody for an extended amount of time awaiting trial. This memo coincided with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer State of Emergency declaration due to the coronavirus outbreak. That recommendation to adjourn all trials has continued to the present where the Michigan Supreme Court has now delayed all jury trials until at least June 22, 2020. McCormack stated that emergency action to protect the public takes precedence over day to day operations inside state courtrooms. The Court is also looking into ways to be able to handle proceedings remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, having already used Zoom conferencing to hear oral arguments on four different cases over the course of two separate court dates. The justices participated in the oral argument via Zoom, while the attorneys for all parties had also agreed to argue their cases using Zoom.

Original Case Details

A Farmington Hills, MI teenager stands charged with killing his mother back in 2017 while he was only 16 years old. He was bound over for trial back in December of 2017 on a charge of open murder. His 35-year-old mother was found dead on a lower patio of their home on August 21, 2017. The victim had been separated from the teen’s father when this incident occurred. Police and prosecutors believe that the teen actually staged the scene to make it look like she died from an accidental fall from the upper story window. An autopsy showed that the cause of death was not the fall, but from being suffocated beforehand. Investigators believe the evidence shows that she was smothered to death and pushed out of the window by the teen. Investigators also pointed to the fact that there was little blood underneath the woman’s body, which indicated that she was dead prior to the fall. A home surveillance DVR supposedly shows shadows that make it look like the woman was pushed out the window. The DVR was turned over to the police by the teen’s father, but defense attorneys argue that the evidence was not obtained properly and that the teen was not properly read his Miranda rights when police talked to him while investigating the woman’s death. iStock_000000687101_Large-2-300x200

Evidence Issues In Case

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) along with lawyers from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and By Any Means Necessary Detroit have all joined the call for the release of the most vulnerable immigrant detainees currently held in ICE lockups. The lawyers have all focused their efforts on helping immigrants housed in four specific ICE lockups in Monroe, St. Clair, Chippewa, and Calhoun Counties. They argue that detainees are simply unable to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, leaving the vulnerable detainees even more vulnerable to sickness and death. A senior ACLU staff attorney stated simply, “civil immigration detention should not be a death sentence.” As of this writing, 38 inmates have died due to COVID-19 in the state prison system run by the Michigan Department of Corrections. 979960_prison-300x225

Current State Of Ice Detention Centers

Currently only one of the four jails have had positive COVID-19 tests so far. St. Clair County Jail has seen positive tests for COVID-19 for both inmates and staff. The other three county jails listed have not had any positive tests for COVID-19 yet. The argument from immigration attorneys is that the question is not if an outbreak it going to occur, the question is when will an outbreak occur. When an outbreak does occur, what will the jails have done to protect the most vulnerable and prevent the further spread of the disease. More than 700 ICE detainees have already been released due to the pandemic, but immigration attorneys argue that there are still many more that are being left behind.

Bond reform is an issue that was at the center of controversy before COVID-19. With the coronavirus causing deaths and stealing headlines, the effect of protecting the community with bond has become a significant issue of division between prosecutors and defense lawyers across the United States. In the state of Michigan, we are known to have higher bonds than most of our sister states. This leads to a debate of whether COVID-19 plays a role in the issuance of a bond or should the defendant be forced to swipe their credit card to stay out of jail pending their criminal case. More importantly, what happens if the defendant cannot afford to pay for their bond. To review this issue, we spoke to several criminal defense lawyers and a prosecutor to gain their insight. iStock_000011602905_Large-2-300x200

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates, which is known as the top criminal defense firm across the state of Michigan. When asked about the issue of bond during COVID-19, Grabel said, “District Court judges and Magistrates need to understand what we are dealing with. If the defendant turned themselves in and has retained counsel, that should be enough to show that the defendant is cooperating and should be given a Personal Recognizance Bond. These are tough times, and placing somebody in jail with the presumption of innocence is dangerous to society.”

A prosecutor in Michigan that would not give her name added her point of view when she said, “Our job is to protect the community. The reason for a bond is to make sure that somebody cannot flee the state. I must protect society, and that is what I plan to do.”

COVID-19 has affected many across the United States and has created what many have phrased as the “new normal.” Governor Gretchen Whitmer has extended the “stay at home” order until May 15, and the Michigan Supreme Court has adjourned all trials until at least June 22, 2020. Administrative Order 2020-10 has mentioned that a “Pilot Program” made be put in place for jury trials where our circuit courts may allow jury trials via Zoom. We spoke to some of the top criminal lawyers in our state to get their perspective on this issue. 12736626-300x199

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates. Grabel’s firm is known as the top criminal defense team in the state of Michigan. When asked about Zoom trials, Grabel said, “We need to fight this. We are risking the freedom of others if we move to remote trials. The concept of jury trials is embedded in our history. If we move from that, we are asking for a compromise of the United States Constitution.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates covering Wayne and Shiawassee Counties. Amadeo said, “This is a joke. How am I going to conduct Voir Dire? At a place like Frank Murphy, Voir Dire is where the rubber meets the road. What’s next, should I just potential jurors a text? We cannot let any pilot program happen, and if the courts allow it, we all better get into motion practice.”

Original Case Details

Desmond Ricks was convicted of second-degree murder and spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He accused of shooting a friend outside a Detroit restaurant and blamed the police for pinning the case on him without the proper evidence. He accuses police of seizing his mother’s gun and switching the bullets in an attempt to frame him for the murder. An analysis of bullets from the victim in the case has shown that they do not match the gun that was presented at trial against Ricks back in 1992. The University of Michigan Innocence Project took the lead on this case and got a judge to reopen the case back in 2016 when they found that the bullets didn’t match. It has never been disputed the Ricks was there at the restaurant when the shooting occurred, but he has always maintained that he was not the shooter who killed the victim in this case. iStock_000068527987_Large-2-300x200

Where The Case Stands Now

The Wayne County Jail has seen a dramatic decline in inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napolean stated that the only people left that are currently in custody at Wayne County Jail are those who are charged with felonies and those who pose some sort of public safety threat. The jail population has been reduced by over 400 inmates since early March. As of March 10, the Wayne County Jail population was almost 1,400 inmates. Now the current jail population at Wayne County is approximately 950 inmates. Currently, if someone is in custody on a misdemeanor charge, it is likely that they are charged with domestic violence or some other sort of assaultive or dangerous crime. The County Jail and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office are doing regular checkups on every individual case to determine who needs to be in custody and who doesn’t. The final determination of this, as always, resides with a judge or magistrate who can set bond and bond conditions. iStock_000011602905_Large-2-300x200

Reduced Arrests And Police Activity

Fewer arrests are being made due to the state shelter in place order, along with a reduction in overall police activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is all part of an initiative from Wayne County to reduce the jail population and steer people away from this virus which spreads from close, person to person contact. These releases have been ordered administratively, without the need for a typical bond hearing in front of a judge or magistrate. For the remaining inmates, the County expects that massive push in emergency bond motions will be filed to address each remaining case in terms of bond and release. If you have a loved one who is currently in custody at Wayne County or any other jail, they might be eligible to be released due to the health and safety concerns of the current pandemic. It is imperative to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately to file any relevant motions and get in front of a judge or magistrate to see if a release is possible. The danger inside a jail currently can far outweigh the risk of an inmate being out of custody because of COVID-19. Those who need a bondsman can also find out more information here.

A Circuit Court judge out of Genesee County has reinstated criminal charges against former Thetford Township police chief Robert Kenny. This ruling overrules the District Court judge’s decision dismissing the case at preliminary exam. Genesee County Circuit Judge David J. Newblatt overturned 67th District Court Judge Vikki Bayeh Haley’s decision to dismiss embezzlement and obstruction of justice charges against Kenny. iStock_000013714975_Double-2-300x217

Original Case Details

Now former Thetford Township police chief Robert Kenny was alleged to have pocketed more than $5,000 after scrapping surplus military equipment that was owned by the city. This surplus equipment was said to have been obtained by the Thetford Police Department through the federal Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) program. This program would give excess military equipment that might otherwise be destroyed to law enforcement agencies across the country. All of this equipment is simply given, not sold, to law enforcement agencies. The military equipment would include clothing, office supplies, tools, vehicles, and guns etc. Since the beginning of the program, LESO has transferred more than $7 billion worth of military gear to law enforcement agencies nationwide. Items that are obtained through LESO can be sold off after one year as long as the money is then put back into the police department for improvements. Genesee County Prosecutors allege that Kenny sold off some of this surplus equipment and pocketed the money, over $5,000 worth. 67th District Court Judge Bayeh Haley said that the case “may be bad bookkeeping, but not probable cause for embezzlement.” She also found that there was no evidence of any obstruction of justice charges due to his cooperation with officers.

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