Cases for Argument – October, 2017

The following cases are scheduled to be argued before the Michigan Supreme Court at its October session.

OCTOBER 11-12, 2017

People v Boban Temelkoski, Docket No. 150643

Issues: (1) whether this case should be held in abeyance pending final action by the United States Supreme Court in Does #1-5 v Snyder, 834 F3d 696 (CA 6, 2016); (2) whether a criminal defendant is denied due process of law if a statute offers a benefit in exchange for pleading guilty, the defendant’s plea is induced by the expectation of that benefit, but the benefit is vitiated in whole or in part; and (3) whether the Wayne Circuit Court had jurisdiction over the defendant’s SORA claim.

Summary: In 1993, the 19-year-old defendant committed second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He pled guilty to the offense under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA), which allows a young offender to be placed on probation for a number of years, and if probation is successfully completed, to avoid a felony conviction. At the time, “success” also guaranteed that a trainee would suffer no civil disability because of HYTA status and the record of criminal proceedings would be closed to the public. While the defendant was still on probation in 1995, the Legislature enacted the Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA), which required a defendant convicted of second-degree criminal sexual conduct to register with the police for 25 years. That registration later became public. The Legislature subsequently imposed additional requirements on registered offenders and, in 2011, required lifetime registration for certain offenders, including the defendant. The defendant seeks removal from the registry, arguing that registration has become cruel and unusual punishment and that it is an ex post facto law. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion. The Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court granted leave to appeal in 2015, and heard oral argument in December 2016. In May 2017, in light of new developments, the Court voted to hear reargument. Argument: October 11, 2017 (morning).

People v Tia Marie-Mitchell Skinner, Docket No. 152448 (to be argued together with Hyatt, Docket No. 153081)

Issue: Whether the decision to sentence a juvenile to life without parole under MCL 769.25 must be made by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Summary: The 17-year-old defendant enlisted friends to kill her parents, and they succeeded in killing one of them. The defendant was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to mandatory life without parole. After the United States Supreme Court held in Miller v Alabama, 567 US 460; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012), that a mandatory sentencing scheme of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional, the Michigan Legislature enacted MCL 769.25, providing for a term of years for juveniles who commit first-degree murder (or certain other offenses), unless the prosecution files a motion seeking life without parole, and the trial court holds a hearing. In this case, following a hearing, the defendant was resentenced to life without parole, over defense objection that this decision could only be made by a jury under Apprendi v New Jersey, 530 US 466, 476; 120 S Ct 2348; 147 L Ed 2d 435 (2000), in light of Montgomery v Louisiana, 577 US ___; 136 S Ct 718; 193 L Ed 2d 599 (2016), and Miller v Alabama. In a split decision, the Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant and remanded for resentencing before a jury. Argument: October 12, 2017 (morning).

OCTOBER 11-12, 2017

People v Kenya Ali Hyatt, Docket No. 153081 (to be argued together with Skinner, Docket No. 152448)

Issue: Whether the Court of Appeals conflict-resolution panel erred by applying a heightened standard of consideration and review for sentences imposed under MCL 769.25.

Summary: The 17-year-old defendant helped family members to carry out a plan to rob a security guard of his firearm. During the robbery, the guard was fatally shot. The defendant was convicted of first-degree felony murder and, after a hearing on the prosecutor’s motion, the trial court sentenced him to life without parole under MCL 769.25. The Court of Appeals held that it was bound to follow People v Skinner, 312 Mich App 15 (2015), but declared a conflict, expressing its opinion that a jury need not make the sentencing decision. Subsequently, the Court of Appeals convened a conflict-resolution panel, which unanimously agreed that no jury is needed. However, a four-judge majority of the conflict panel nevertheless ordered resentencing, believing that the trial court had erred by failing to decide whether the defendant exhibited “irreparable corruption” so as to deserve life without parole. The conflict panel declared that sentencing courts must start with the understanding that, more likely than not, life without parole is not a proportionate sentence for a juvenile. The conflict panel also declared the appellate standard of review in these cases to be “abuse of discretion” based on the notion that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole is “inherently suspect” and probably disproportionate. Argument: October 12, 2017 (morning).

People v Theodore Paul Wafer, Docket No. 153828

Issues: Whether the trial court erred by denying the defense request for a jury instruction on the rebuttable presumption of MCL 780.951, which applies when a defendant uses deadly force against an individual who is in the process of breaking into the defendant’s dwelling, and, if there was instructional error, whether it was harmless.

Summary: In the early morning hours of November 2, 2013, 19-year-old Renisha McBride, appeared at the defendant’s Dearborn Heights home a few hours after being involved in a car accident. She pounded on the doors of the home—alternating between the front and side doors. The defendant woke up startled and retrieved a firearm he kept in his home. He would later tell the police that, when he opened the front door, McBride ran at him and he discharged his weapon, killing her. He called 9-1-1. In speaking with the police, the defendant gave inconsistent versions of the incident. At a trial on charges of second-degree murder, statutory manslaughter, and felony-firearm, the defendant claimed that he acted in self-defense, believing that someone was trying to break into his home. The jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. The Court of Appeals, in a split decision, affirmed. Argument: October 12, 2017 (afternoon).

People v Roderick Louis Pippen, Docket No.153324

Issue: Whether the defendant was denied the effective assistance of counsel based on trial counsel’s failure to adequately investigate and present the testimony of a witness who was present at the time of the alleged offense.

Summary: The defendant was arrested in 2008 after a police officer observed him and another man (Michael Hudson) both throw guns under a vehicle. It was later determined that the gun thrown by the defendant had been used during a carjacking in which the victim was fatally shot. The defendant was bound over to circuit court in 2010 on charges of first-degree felony murder, felon in possession of a firearm, and felony-firearm, but the circuit court granted his motion to dismiss the charges, finding that there was insufficient evidence presented to support the bindover. In 2011, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings, concluding that the evidence established probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the charged crimes. The Supreme Court denied interlocutory appellate review. The charges were reinstated and, at trial, a codefendant testified that he, the defendant, Hudson, and a fourth man were together on the night in question and that he saw the defendant shoot the victim. The jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. On the defendant’s motion for a new trial, an evidentiary hearing was held regarding his claim that appointed defense counsel rendered ineffective representation by failing to call Hudson as a defense witness at trial.  The trial court held that the defendant had failed to establish that counsel was ineffective where the trial strategy not to call Hudson was reasonable. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Argument: October 12, 2017 (afternoon).

OCTOBER 25, 2017

People v Thomas, Docket No. 155245

Issues: Whether the single photographic identification method used in this case was so suggestive that it created a substantial likelihood of misidentification, and, if so, whether the complainant’s in-court identification was admissible because it had an independent basis.

Summary: After the complainant was shot in the leg on a Detroit street, he was taken to a hospital where he identified defendant from a single cell-phone photo of defendant taken by a police officer. On defendant’s motion, the trial court suppressed the pre-trial identification as unduly suggestive and unnecessary. It also suppressed the complainant’s in-court identification of defendant, ruling that the identification had no independent basis. The prosecution appealed, and the Court of Appeals majority reversed and sent the case back to the circuit court for further proceedings. One judge dissented, stating that that “[t]here is not a single case in Michigan jurisprudence in which the prosecution has been permitted to introduce a one photo identification of a stranger.” Argument: October 25, 2017, 1:00 p.m., Cass Technical High School, Detroit, MI.

The above issues and summaries are taken or adapted from the summaries on the Michigan Supreme Court’s website. The full summaries and the briefs filed in the cases can be found at