Criminal Law

Issues: Claim that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding proposed expert testimony on the victim's interview, delayed disclosure, accuracy of witness memories, & sex offender behavior; People v. Unger; People v. Cress; "Plain error" review; People v. Carines; MRE 702; People v. Kowalski; People v. Ackerman; People v. Peterson; Charles Reinhart Co. v. Winiemko; People v. Lukity; People v. Cooper; People v. Dobek; Right to present a defense; People v. King; Claim that the state violated defendant's right to due process by delaying his arrest for over seven years; People v. Woolfolk; People v. Adams; People v. Sabin

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)

Case Name: People v. Pruitt

e-Journal Number: 59221

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Murray, Saad, and K.F. Kelly

 

The court held, among other things, that even if the trial court had abused its discretion in precluding an expert witness's (Dr. O, a psychologist) testimony on the victim's 2005 interview, defendant could not establish that the outcome of his trial would have been different had O testified. The state of Illinois extradited defendant to Michigan in 2013, to face trial for molesting his ex-girlfriend's daughter in 2002 and 2003. He was convicted of CSC II. He sought to call O under MRE 702. The trial court, in precluding O's testimony, indicated that it did so in part because "her testimony would be both unhelpful to the jury in understanding a fact at issue and usurp the jury's role." On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it precluded O's testimony, because the testimony was necessary to help the jury understand, among other things, the alleged failure of the police to employ certain interviewing techniques during their 2005 interview of the victim. He claimed that the trial court prevented him from presenting a defense. According to defendant, O would have testified to the supposedly improper way in which the police interviewed the victim in 2005, when she told the police of defendant's alleged molestation of her. Specifically, he stated that the police, in their interview, "never explored any other reason that [the victim] might accuse [defendant] of sexual assault," and that O's testimony would have revealed how "the police never properly scrutinized [the victim's] claims in 2005 . . . . and left open the possibility that she made 'false or inaccurate statements' during her interview." As the trial court properly noted, whether the police did or did not ask such questions during the 2005 interview was not relevant to the question in this case - whether defendant molested the victim. "It is the role of the jury - not the police - to determine whether a victim's allegations are 'false or inaccurate statements.'" Nor would O's testimony "on how the police 'failed' to scrutinize the victim's claims in 2005 have 'involve[d] a matter that is beyond the common understanding of the average juror.'" O would have spoken to a matter of "common sense" - people, "including alleged victims of sexual assault, sometimes lie." As the victim testified at trial, "the jury was able to asses for itself whether her allegations were 'false or inaccurate' - or true and accurate." Further, while the trial court abused its discretion in precluding O's statements on generic sex offenders' typical behaviors, the error was harmless because defendant could not show that the outcome of the trial would have been different had O testified. Affirmed.

 

Full Text Opinion

Issues: "Other acts" evidence; MRE 404(b)(1); People v. Knox; People v. Martzke; People v. Starr; People v. Watson; MRE 403; People v. Cameron; People v. Mills; Lay opinion testimony; MRE 701; People v. Fomby; People v. Oliver; Police witnesses' opinions about the crime scene; Richardson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc.; Opinions about the defendant's reaction to the news of his mother's death; Ineffective assistance of counsel; People v. Armstrong; People v. Pickens; Matters of trial strategy; People v. Rockey; People v. Heft; People v. Russell; People v. Stewart (On Remand); Effect of defendant's failure to brief the merits of a claim on appeal; People v. Kelly; Testimony about the victim's mental illness and prior violent attacks against defendant; A jury's right "to hear the complete story of a crime"; People v. Aldrich; Denial of motion for a directed verdict on the original charge of first-degree premeditated murder; People v. Ortiz; "Premeditation and deliberation"; People v. Anderson; People v. Unger; People v. Lewis

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)

Case Name: People v. Pyne

e-Journal Number: 59194

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Owens, Jansen, and O’Connell

 

The court held that the testimony about the end of the defendant's relationship with his former girlfriend (F) due to "his cheating and lying, and his consumption of alcohol" was relevant to the prosecution's theory that he "began a 'downward spiral'" in the months before his mother's (R) death, culminating in a state of mind that led him to kill her. Further, it was not persuaded that the evidence should have been excluded under MRE 403. The court also upheld the admission of lay opinion testimony about defendant's injuries, officers' crime scene observations, and defendant's demeanor when he was told of R's death. The prosecution theorized that although R's "mental illness presented a challenge for defendant," he "had been an ideal boyfriend, employee, and friend" before 3/11. The challenged testimony showed that within two months of R's death, he "began to act differently around" F, friends, and co-workers. The prosecution theorized that he became distraught after F broke up with him, and that his "level of frustration was exasperated by" his father's decision not to divorce R, causing defendant to "take out his frustration and despair" on R. "The challenged evidence provided context for the jury to understand how defendant's mentality could have deteriorated to a point that would have caused him to violently attack his mother." While he argued that the evidence was inherently prejudicial, the court was "not persuaded that the jury would not have been able to rationally weigh the evidence." As to the lay opinion testimony, defendant claimed he injured his hand at work while moving a wooden pallet. The market manager at the orchard where he worked "testified that, based on his experience, defendant's explanation about his injuries 'didn't make sense' because he had never seen a pallet cause that type of injury." A co-worker also testified that he "did not see any way a pallet would made that type of injury." Their opinions were based on "their own perceptions of defendant's injuries and their years of personal experience handling pallets." They were "not dependent on scientific expertise and were admissible pursuant to MRE 701." The officers' opinions about the crime scene were also rationally based on their perceptions, and the testimony that defendant's reaction to the news of R's death seemed insincere was rationally based on each witness's interaction with and perception of him. The court also rejected his ineffective assistance of counsel claims, and affirmed his second-degree murder conviction.

 

Full Text Opinion
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