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January 29, 2016

COA exposes uncertainty on impact of prosecutor knowingly offering perjured testimony

In People v. Schrauben, No. 323170, the Michigan Court of Appeals implied that a defendant is not entitled to a new trial based solely on the prosecutor knowingly presenting perjured testimony. The Defendant was convicted of forgery and fraudulent insurance acts related to business transactions entered into contrary to his business partner’s knowledge. Defendant argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on his business partner’s perjured testimony. In rejecting Defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals began its analysis by noting that the Defendant did not explain how the prosecutor knowingly presented perjured testimony. Yet, after citing precedent holding that it is “well settled that a conviction obtained through the knowing use of perjured testimony offends a defendant’s due process protections,” the Court indicated that the culpability of the prosecution is irrelevant. Instead, the Court intimated that, while never expressly held by the Michigan Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, it is not the culpability of the prosecutor that necessarily warrants a new trial, but the “misconduct’s effect on the trial . . .  which is the crucial inquiry for due process purposes.” As the Court of Appeals found sufficient evidence of Defendant’s guilt without regard to the perjured testimony, it affirmed the trial court’s denial of his motion for a new trial.
 
The Court also quickly struck down the statutory requirement within MCL 769.34 that a trial court articulate substantial and compelling reasons to depart from an intermediate sanction. After the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Lockridge, a trail court no longer needs to provide such justification to depart from the applicable guideline range and an intermediate sanction is no longer mandatory.
 
Judge Krause, concurring in part and dissenting in part, took issue with the majority implying—without outright stating—that “perjured testimony that affects the fairness of the trial entitles a defendant to a new trial irrespective of whether the prosecutor bears any blame.” Yet, Judge Krause agreed with the majority’s implicit proposition, but disagreed that that the perjured statement did not affect the fairness of Defendant’s trial.

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