Articles Posted in Criminal Evidence

To complete an investigation and, ultimately, file charges for child pornography, law enforcement will almost always attempt to seize and search the electronic devices they believe could contain illegal material. The way police gain access to these devices can be an important issue in child pornography cases (called Child Sexually Abusive Material in Michigan). There are three categories in which police can seize electronic devices to search for evidence of a crime: with consent, with a warrant, without a warrant or consent.

Consent

The easiest way for police to get access to phones and computers in a child pornography investigation is to get consent from the person they’re investigating. If police come to your home and ask to see your electronic devices without a warrant, you should respectfully decline and call the Michigan sex crimes lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm immediately.

Charges for criminal sexual conduct cases, more commonly called sex crimes or sexual assault, are often based only on the memories of the complaining witness. This is especially true for sexual assault that allegedly took place when the adult victim was a child.  In these sex crimes cases there is no physical evidence, and the guilt of the accused rests entirely on the veracity of the witness’s statements and testimony. The problem is that the allegations of criminal sexual conduct can be based on totally false memories.

A new article written by an international team of researchers suggests that false memories can be reversed.  According to the article, false memories cause many problems, not the least of which is false criminal allegations.  The existence of false memories has been shown by many prior studies, and the contribution of this new study is that with the right kind of interviewing false memories can be supplanted by true memories.

To understand how this would all play out in a Michigan sex crimes case, the investigation of a sex crime usually begins with a report made to a police department.  The initial report will inevitably be based on a recollection of past events, in this case some kind of sexual trauma or abuse. The case might then be assigned to a detective, who is likely to seek a second interview of the complaining witness, a/k/a victim. Depending on the age of the complaining witness, a forensic interview may follow.

The United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that the community caretaker exception to the search warrant requirement does not apply to a person’s home. The name of the case is Caniglia v. Strom, and in a unanimous opinion the Court found that guns seized by the police after entering a home without a warrant were not admissible in evidence on the basis of the community caretaker exception.

The Caniglia case involved a married couple who had been arguing in their residence. During the fight the husband grabbed his gun and told his wife to shoot him.  The wife took possession of the gun, and put it away, hiding the ammunition. She later left the house to stay at a hotel, and because she was worried that her husband might suicide, she called the police. The wife then met the police back at their home where the husband had remained.  The police instructed the wife to stay in the car as they interviewed the husband.

The police believed that the husband posed a danger to himself and called for an ambulance to take him for a psychiatric evaluation.  He claimed the police agreed that if he went to the hospital, they would not take his guns whereas the police claimed he consented to a search of his home.  The wife, believing the officers that her husband had consented, then guided the police to where the guns were inside the home, and the police took possession of them.  No arrest was made, and no charges were brought against the husband.  The guns were eventually returned, but the Caniglia’s filed a lawsuit, nevertheless, claiming a violation of Section 1983 under the Second, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. In the lawsuit the Caniglia’s sought money damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief.

It can be difficult for a marijuana user to subjectively assess their level of impairment. Even worse, there is no way for a marijuana user to objectively evaluate their level impairment. So, after consuming marijuana medically or recreationally, how can a marijuana user make a safe decision about driving?

Before we get to that question, let’s do a quick review of Michigan’s OWI laws as it relates to drugs. In Michigan, you can be charged (and potentially convicted) if you are either impaired or intoxicated by alcohol, drugs, or any combination thereof.  Specifically, Michigan’s OWI law references impairment or intoxication caused by alcohol, controlled substance or “other intoxicating substance.” See Michigan Compiled Laws Sec. 257.625.

Notably, the statute does not define either the word intoxicated or impaired, leaving that factual determination to the fact finder, which is usually a jury of 6 or 12 individuals, depending on if the case is a misdemeanor or a felony.  To assist the jury in reaching this determination they will be given several standard jury instructions.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has indicated that two sentences of 30 to 50 years in prison for two CSC-I convictions may run consecutive to one another. This effectively means that this defendant received a minimum sentence of 60 years. The name of the case is People v. Randolf.

The Michigan sexual assault crime called criminal sexual conduct first degree, is set forth in Michigan Compiled Laws Sec. 750.520b. As therein provided, criminal sexual conduct in the first degree involves a victim aged 13 years or younger, or between 13 and 16 when certain exacerbating circumstances exist, such as a perpetrator in a position of authority.

The punishment for a Michigan criminal sexual conduct first degree conviction ranges depending again on the circumstances and facts of the involved crime. For example, in the case where the perpetrator is 17 years old or older, and the victim is less than 13 years old, there is a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years. Furthermore, the law provides that the sentencing judge may order consecutive sentences for two criminal offenses “arising from the same transaction.”

The Michigan Court of Appeals has indicated, in the unpublished opinion of People v. Adam Robe, (COA# 355005); that a failure to wait 15 minutes before administering a roadside preliminary breath test (PBT) meant that the trial court could not consider the PBT in determining if the arrest is valid. This ruling may lead to the dismissal of the intoxicated driving causing serious injury charges pending against Mr. Robe.

The Robe case involved a two-vehicle accident. When the police arrived to assist, they immediately went to the vehicle where the driver had sustained serious injuries. Later then went to talk with Mr. Robe, and after about 3 minutes asked him to take a PBT.  He consented, and thereafter was arrested and charged with drunk driving causing serious injury.  Before trial, the defendant’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the PBT was not administered according to the administrative rules which require a 15-minute determination. No field tasks were administered, and the arrest was based almost solely on the failed PBT.

The trial court denied the motion, and rather than stand trial at that moment, the defense attorney asked for a “stay of proceedings” to pursue an “interlocutory appeal.”  In other words, the defense attorney wanted an answer to this legal question about the PBT before putting Mr. Robe’s fate before a jury because if the attorney was right, and the arrest was unlawful, then there would be no trial. The drunk driving causing serious injury charge would have to be dismissed.

In the case of People v. Pagano, the Michigan Supreme Court has indicated that a traffic stop based only on an anonymous 911 call is invalid. This ruling affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of both the child endangerment drunk driving and open intoxicants in a motor vehicle charges.

As the Pagano opinion indicates, the police received information from central dispatch that a woman was obnoxious and yelling at her children and appeared to be intoxicated.  The 911 caller also provided identifying information about the vehicle driven by the ostensibly intoxicated woman, including the license plate number and make and model of the car.

The Michigan Supreme Court, in the unanimous Pagano opinion, held that information provided to and by the officer failed to establish a “reasonable and articulable suspicion” either that a traffic violation had occurred or that criminal activity was afoot. While the Court acknowledged that the 911 caller was able to appropriately identify the individual involved and the car being driven by her, the tip still did not give rise to anything more than, at best, an “inchoate or unparticularized suspicion” of criminal activity. Otherwise, there was nothing in the record to suggest that the police officer making the traffic stop corroborated the 911 caller’s mere assertion that the driver was drunk.  There was no bad driving observed by the police officer, and the stop was based only on the information provided to the 911 caller.  After all, said the Court, parents can obnoxiously yell at their children without being drunk, and the 911 called also did not indicate that any bad driving was observed.

In this Michigan Intoxicated driving causing death, the defendant Willett entered a no contest plea thereby admitting that he was operating a motor vehicle with the presence of any amount of marijuana in his body, and that the operation of his vehicle caused the death of another, under Michigan Compiled Laws § 257.625(4)(a)and (8).

Mr. Willett was sentenced to 4 to 15 years of imprisonment. Prior to sentencing the defendant, the court questioned him about his marijuana use, and the defendant, then 21 years of age, admitted he used marijuana daily and had started using marijuana at age 14 or 15.  The court concluded the pre-sentencing colloquy by admonishing the defendant and stating to him that it was his use of the drug that lead to the horror of the accident and death. On appeal the defendant argued that the court’s sentence was based on inaccurate information, and the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed.  The case was reversed and remanded.

The facts of this case include an admission from the defendant, at the roadside, that while he was driving, he was getting sleepy and closed his eyes. He crashed into the car in front of him immediately after opening his eyes, creating a multi-vehicle accident leading to the death of one of the vehicle’s occupants.

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals panel reversed a conviction for Criminal Sexual Conduct First Degree, commonly called rape, due to improper witness vouching. The case involved three expert witnesses, all of whom testified for the government.  In different and sometimes subtle ways, each expert made improper statements about the complaining witnesses (CW) credibility that amounted to their “vouching” for the CW’s credibility.

According to the standard jury instructions utilized in Michigan sex crimes cases it is up to the jury to judge and weigh a witness’s credibility.  In reaching this determination, the jury will be instructed to consider a variety of factors including how well the witness was able to see and hear things and was there anything that might have distracted them; how good is their memory; how do they look and act while testifying and do they seem to be telling the truth or are they trying to evade answering and arguing with the lawyers, do they have any personal interest in how the case is decided, and how reasonable is their testimony when compared with all of the other evidence in the case. See M Crim JI 2.6.

Notice that “what do other people think about the witness’s credibility” is not among the factors for the jury to consider.  Vouching is improper therefore because it “invades the province” of the jury by substituting someone else’s opinion for the jury’s collective determination.

Prosecutors and investigators for the United States Department of Justice and the State of New York announced last week an indictment on federal health care fraud charges on a licensed pharmacist and business owner in New York. The basic allegations are that the pharmacy owner paid off customers (in other words, provided kickbacks) to fill fake prescriptions at his pharmacy. The pharmacy would then bill the prescriptions to Medicaid and Medicare. However, the government alleges that either prescriptions drugs were never actually given to the customers or that drugs of lesser value were given, and that it was a scheme to fraudulently get reimbursed by Medicaid and Medicare.

What is a kickback under federal law?

The prescription fraud lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm have provided a detailed discussion about the Federal Anti-Kickbacks Statute previously.  The statute refers to a kickback payment as “remuneration.” Remuneration basically means cash or anything else in value. For example, in this case, the government alleges that the pharmacy owner gave customers coupons valued up to $5,000.00 in exchange for customers submitting fraudulent prescriptions.

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