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A Better Partnership
October 27, 2011

COA Opinion: A trial court does not need to discredit victim's statements to police in a domestic violence case.

In People v. Meissner, No. 298780, the Court of Appeals considered an appeal from a defendant's convictions for domestic violence, first-degree home invasion, and obstruction of justice. The victim told the police that after several incidents of physical abuse, the defendant had sent threatening text messages to the victim, threatening to kill her in one and threatening to beat her for involving the police in another. On one occasion, the defendant broke into the victim's bedroom at night, pushed her, and threw coins at her. At trial, the victim recanted her statements to the police. A jury convicted the defendant on all three counts. On appeal, the defendant raised several issues.

First, the defendant argued that the victim's statements to police should not have been admitted at trial. MCL 768.27c(1) allows a victim's statements to be admitted in domestic violence cases, if those statements describe the domestic violence, are made near the time of the incident, and are made to police under circumstances indicating the statement's trustworthiness. The defendant argued that too much time elapsed between the charged incident and the victim's report to police later that day. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, finding that the defendant had misinterpreted the statute; the trial court 'was not required to calculate or consider the number of hours that had elapsed.' The defendant also argued that the victim's statements were not made in circumstances indicating their truthfulness. The court again disagreed, finding that there was no need to discredit the victim's statements to police. The victim's statements were corroborated and believable, and the mere fact that the statements were made to the police did not make them untrustworthy statements made in anticipation of litigation.

The defendant then argued that the evidence against him was insufficient to sustain his convictions on the home invasion charge and the domestic violence charge. Both charges require a showing that the defendant assaulted the victim, which the defendant alleged that the prosecution failed to show. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that under Michigan's definition of assault, the prosecutor had presented sufficient evidence to prove that defendant had assaulted the victim. The defendant also argued that there was insufficient evidence supporting a conviction for obstruction of justice; however, the court found that the defendant's statements threatening to beat the victim for calling the police were enough to support that conviction.

Next, the defendant alleged that the prosecutor's opening and closing statements constituted prosecutorial misconduct. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the trial court cured any prejudice created by the prosecutor's statements with its instruction to the jury that those statements did not constitute evidence. Finally, the defendant argued that the jury instructions themselves were erroneous and that his counsel was ineffective. The court disagreed, finding that the defendant had waived any right to object to the jury instructions, and that the defense counsel's trial strategy did not constitute ineffective counsel.

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