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June 20, 2017

MSC grants MOAA regarding whether a district court abuses its discretion in dismissing charges at a preliminary examination based on witness credibility

In People v. Anderson, Case No. 155172, the Michigan Supreme Court granted mini-oral argument regarding a district court’s ability to consider the credibility of witnesses at a preliminary examination, specifically when determining whether to bind over a defendant. The court’s holding in a previous case, People v. Yost, mandates that a magistrate should not refuse to bind over a defendant simply because the evidence conflicts or raises a reasonable doubt. The court will therefore hear arguments from the parties addressing the manner in which a magistrate can consider witness credibility in light of Yost.
In Anderson, after an argument between the defendant and the victim, the defendant allegedly fired gunshots at the victim as he fled the scene, which led to several charges. But the district court refused to bind over the defendant for trial because the victim was the only witness to testify during the preliminary examination, and the court determined that he was not a credible witness because his testimony was unbelievable and was “all over the place everywhere.”
The prosecution appealed.  In weighing whether the district court abused its discretion, the Court of Appeals noted that, during a preliminary examination, a district court considers the weight and competency of the evidence and the credibility of witnesses. Yet in People v. Yost, 468 Mich 122, 128 n 8 (2003), the Michigan Supreme Court noted that a district court may not refuse to bind over a defendant for trial simply because the evidence is conflicting or raises a reasonable doubt regarding the defendant’s guilt. The Court of Appeals was left to reconcile these potentially conflicting rules.
Ultimately the Court of Appeals held that the district court was within its discretion to weigh the credibility of the prosecution’s witness and refuse to bind the defendant over to circuit court. Additionally, it held that the district court was within its discretion to weigh whether the prosecution had presented any corroborating evidence for the one unreliable witness—here, the prosecution had not. As such, the district court’s decision to refuse to bind over the defendant was upheld.  Judge Saad dissented.
The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments addressing the legal issues decided by the Court of Appeals, and it has ordered the parties to submit briefs by July 21, 2017.

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