Law

Stories regarding the legal system

The family situation of a juvenile can play a role in the decision to sentence them to life without parole.
Thomas Hawk / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

 You might remember the story in the news recently that told of the release of a young man who had been sentenced to life without parole.

Davontae Sanford was convicted and sentenced at age 14 for four murders. The courts recently found he was wrongfully convicted.

In 2012 the Supreme Court banned the use of mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles. 

But that doesn't mean it's completely banned.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Court of Appeals says convicted felons must be sentenced in person, and not via a video hookup between the jail and the courthouse.

Video links are commonly used for early procedures like arraignments, because it’s less expensive and more secure than moving defendants between the jail and the courthouse. 

Using video links for sentencing is still rare. But in this case out of Hillsdale County, defendant Trenity Heller was sentenced via video from jail while everyone else – including his lawyer – was at the courthouse.

iphone
iphone / Chuong Le [LeSy]

A new law will help victims of domestic violence get out of shared cell phone plans with their accused abusers. Prior to this law, victims did not have a way to cancel or change their cell phone plans unless they were the primary account holder. Under the new law, victims who have a personal protection order would be able to get a court order from a judge to cancel or transfer their cell phone or data plan that they share with an accused abuser. 

Carla Blinkhorn, CEO of the YWCA West Central Michigan, says cell phones can be dangerous for individuals in a violent relationship.

Davontae Sanford was wrongfully convicted of four murders at age 14. He was released from prison last month after spending nine years behind bars.
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

The case goes back to a grisly quadruple homicide in Detroit in 2007.

Police interrogated 14-year-old Davontae Sanford, who says he was coerced into giving a false confession.

Former Detroit police commander James Tolbert was one of the cops who questioned Sanford. He testified in court that Sanford was able to draw a crime scene sketch for police of where the murders took place.

But later, Tolbert admitted to police that he actually drew most of the sketch.

Still, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced late Tuesday there's insufficient evidence to charge Tolbert with perjury. Her office says even if Tolbert changed his statements about evidence, it’s really hard to actually prove perjury, because you have to prove that somebody intentionally lied under oath.

The Berrien County Courthouse.
Berrien County / Facebook

The bailiffs killed Monday in a shooting at the Berrien County Courthouse ran toward the sounds of chaos to protect others in the building, according to Berrien County Circuit Judge Charles LaSata. 

"I heard some shouting, and my bailiff ran to the disturbance," LaSata told Chad Livengood of the Detroit News.

Stateside 7.11.2016

Jul 11, 2016

Today, on our Next Idea series, we discuss public spaces and how, if used creatively, they could make more Detroiters feel like they belong in their own city. And, we talk about what to do if you're pulled over with a concealed weapon in Michigan.

To hear individual interviews, click here or see below:

Screenshot of Facebook post by Det. Nate Weekley
Detroit police department

A white Detroit police detective has been demoted for his reaction to the Dallas shootings last week.

Detective Nate Weekley blamed Black Lives Matter for the murders of five Dallas police officers in a Facebook post, although the killer was not actually part of the otherwise peaceful protest. 

Weekley called members of Black Lives Matter "racists" and "terrorists." 

He was demoted to officer and is being reassigned. 

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette

 

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette faces complex legal hurdles in civil lawsuits against a water company and an engineering company, along with their parent companies.

 

The lawsuit claims that Veolia North America of Delaware and Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam of Texas failed to take proper steps in the Flint water crisis and created a public nuisance. The suit aims to collect money for damages.

 

But legal experts say there are a number of issues that could stand in the way of a potential win for the attorney general in trial or in a settlement.

Tensions have heightened between police departments and communities across the country.
Flickr user Matthew Sutherland / Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

 

It’s been a tough week for the nation. It saw numerous tragedies, such as the police shootings that killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the shootings in Dallas that killed five police officers.

These events have heightened unrest between police and their communities, and protests were seen across the country in places like Baton Rouge, Chicago and New York City.

Sgt. Terry Dixon, the public information officer for the Grand Rapids Police Department, joined us to talk about his department's response to last week's tragedies and its effort to bring diversity into law enforcement.

Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey addresses the media after today's shooting.
screen grab / WOOD-TV

Update 9:56 a.m.

Authorities say the man who killed two courthouse bailiffs in Berrien County before being killed by other officers was probably trying to escape.

taliesin / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

State Senator Mike Kowall plans to introduce legislation called "Uniformed Lives Matter."  

The bills make it a hate crime to assault someone in law enforcement.

It's Kowal's response to the murders of Dallas police officers last week.

Kowall says he doesn't intend to upset people in the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan appeals court says a woman has no parental rights to a child born during a long same-sex relationship but before gay marriage became legal in 2015. 

The court overturned decisions by a Washtenaw County judge, who had granted parenting time to Michelle Lake.

Lake and Kerri Putnam ended a 13-year relationship in 2014. During that time, Putnam gave birth to a boy, who's now 8.

New Detroit police officers receiving their badges
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Eighteen new officers officially joined the ranks of the Detroit Police Department today, but the celebration was tempered by what their chief called a “troubling day.”

There was a mix of music, cheers and somber prayer during the graduation ceremony for the members of class “2016C.”

Chief James Craig said the sniper attack that killed five Dallas police officers has put all law enforcement on a “heightened state of alert,” but won’t change how his department does business, or approaches dangerous situations.

An Occupy Wall Street protester records police in 2011.
flickr user Paul Stein / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

We likely would not know about the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge or Philando Castile in Minnesota if not for the video recordings. 

In April, MLive published a story that dives into the question of whether police can order you to delete a recording on your phone after you've captured video of a police action.

The story refers to a case in which two of the officers who are accused of beating and falsely arresting the wrong person were undercover. A uniformed officer told people who'd recorded the scene to "delete it for the safety of the officers."

ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg joined us today to talk generally about whether or not police can order you to delete a recording or seize your phone or camera. 

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

A federal judge in Detroit says more than 360 Michigan inmates convicted as juveniles and serving sentences of mandatory life without parole must get a chance at freedom.

This the latest chapter in a drama that’s played out over the past four years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life without parole for juveniles as unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge John O’Meara issued a temporary restraining order telling prosecutors they cannot seek the sentences again at new hearings granted under the ruling.

East Detroit school and community officials blast plans for state CEO takeover.
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

For the second time, a Macomb County judge has issued a second restraining order to stop a CEO takeover of some East Detroit public schools.

And it’s apparently because of a legal decision made by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.

Last month, the state school reform office appointed Gary Jensen as CEO, with a mission to turn around four low-performing East Detroit schools.

Gov. Rick Snyder
gophouse.com

A recent legislative overhaul to Detroit Public Schools is being challenged in court.

Governor Snyder signed bills that split the old school district in two last month, avoiding a potential bankruptcy.

But members of Detroit’s elected school board say there are a number of problems with those bills.

Thomas Bleakley, the board’s attorney, says one problem is the laws are written so that they only apply to Detroit — and the state constitution is clear about the process for passing “local acts.”

Thetoad / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A federal judge says a Michigan law that takes aim at political fundraising by unions violates the constitution.

The law says unions cannot use payroll deductions to collect donations to a union political action committee. The law still allows businesses to use payroll deductions for donations to corporate political committees.

  

Andrew Nickelhoff is a union attorney. He says that goes against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree.
Wayne County

Some breaks for Michigan homeowners struggling to pay property taxes have expired.

Governor Snyder signed laws in 2015 that reduced interest and other penalties on delinquent taxes. They also reduced back taxes for some homeowners who owed much more than their properties were worth.

That was largely meant for Wayne County, and especially Detroit, where tens of thousands of properties enter the tax foreclosure process every year.

The Kent County Prosecutor has warned Zach Sweers to stop his video vigiliantism for fear of the dangers involved
Wikimedia user Colin / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

How far should a citizen go in trying to bust online predators?

Zach Sweers is a 23-year-old West Michigan man who goes online posing as an underage girl. He meets men online, records everything as he sets up encounters, and then posts it all on YouTube.

So far, Sweers' efforts have led to the arrests of seven men.

Michigan Democrats call for "common sense gun laws"

Jun 30, 2016
Daniel Weber / Flickr

Democrats in Michigan's Congressional delegation are pushing for a pair of gun safety laws. 

One bill, dubbed "No Fly, No Buy," would prevent people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. The other would expand background check policies.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, says it's time to do something about gun violence. 

"We have it within our power to take action. Will it prevent all violence? No. Could it have an effect on the next terrible event? Perhaps," Kildee says.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announces charges in his team's investigation into the Flint water crisis on April 20, 2016.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says lawyers hired by Governor Rick Snyder won't turn over documents demanded by his Flint investigation team. 

As of now, taxpayers are paying for both the AG's special investigation as well as Governor Snyder's attorneys, which, at least from the AG's special investigator Todd Flood's point of view, are not cooperating fully with the investigation. 

Michigan Department of Corrections

DETROIT (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a request by former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to overturn his corruption conviction and 28-year prison sentence.

   The court announced its decision not to review the case Monday. The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from a lawyer for Kilpatrick.

   Kilpatrick's request was made after a federal appeals court said in October it had no interest in taking a second look at the case.

Marijuana
USFWS

A group of medical marijuana patients has filed a class-action lawsuit against Michigan State Police crime labs and Oakland County.

The lawsuit filed earlier this week says crime labs are testing marijuana in oil and edible form then reporting it as synthetic, even if it isn't.

Defense attorney Michael Komorn says this practice has resulted in the wrongful arrest and detention of people who should have only been charged with misdemeanors.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan police officers can never be criminally prosecuted for statements they are compelled to make during internal investigations — even if those statements turn out to be lies that amount to perjury or another crime.

That’s what the Michigan Supreme Court decided this week, in the case of three Detroit officers charged with obstructing justice.

ICE SWAT agent preparing for a raid
public domain/Wikimedia

Advocates for undocumented immigrants say a Supreme Court decision hurts millions of families in the U.S.

In a tie vote, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that blocked the president's executive order on immigration.

President Obama wanted to stop deportations of undocumented parents with legal resident children.  

Attorney Ruby Robinson is with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. Robinson says undocumented residents of the U.S. live with tremendous day-to-day insecurity and fear.

Charles Pugh in 2010.
Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Former Detroit City Council president and Fox 2 news anchor Charles Pugh was arrested today in New York City. He was charged with six counts of criminal sexual conduct. The charges stem from Pugh's contact with a 14-year-old boy between September 2003 and May 2004.

More from a press release from the Wayne County Prosecutor's office:

Ingham Co. Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings faces 15 charges related to soliticing prostitutes.
CREDIT STEVE CARMODY / MICHIGAN RADIO

Stuart Dunnings, Ingham County's disgraced prosecutor, has filed an application to begin receiving his pension benefits.

Dunnings will officially step down on July 1, after he was accused of paying prostitutes for sex hundreds of times. 

He faces 15 charges in three separate counties. Preliminary exams in the cases have not yet been scheduled.

Dunnings' pension plan, Municipal Employees Retirement System of Michigan (MERS), says it will not disclose how much he will receive.

Charles Picket Jr.
Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office

A prosecutor says a man accused of plowing his pickup truck into a group of Kalamazoo-area bicyclists, killing five, was under the influence of drugs.

The disclosure was made Wednesday as new charges were filed against Charles Pickett Jr., who already faces second-degree murder charges in the June 7 crash in Kalamazoo County.

Authorities say the bicyclists were riding in a group on a rural road in Cooper Township when Pickett struck them.

Michigan Radio

The allegations in a civil lawsuit may prompt the city of Flint to reconsider a contract with a firm hired to help it with its drinking water.

The city of Flint has paid Lockwood, Andrews and Newman, or LAN, nearly $3.5 million as it transitioned from Detroit water to the Flint River and back again.

In a civil suit filed this week, Michigan’s Attorney General accuses LAN of “botching” the job, with damaged pipes and lead tainted tap water the result.

Mayor Karen Weaver says it’s “absolutely unbelievable”.

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