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Jun 2020
08
June 08, 2020

Warner Wins Landmark Michigan Supreme Court Criminal Case

Attorneys from Warner Norcross + Judd’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice Group have secured a landmark victory from the Michigan Supreme Court in a criminal case that could reshape police procedures.

 
For the first time in history, the Michigan Supreme Court has held that improper police procedure in obtaining an eyewitness identification required the defendant to be granted a new trial. This decision affirms a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to have law enforcement use a proper lineup in the suspect identification process.
 
The Warner team defending Travis Travon Sammons was led by partner Gaëtan Gerville-Réache and included associate Kelsey Dame and Lucy McManaman, a third-year law student at Michigan State University College of Law.
 
“This trial serves as a critical example of the importance of following proper police procedures,” said Gerville-Réache. “Each individual has the right to a fair trial based on evidence that has not been tainted by law enforcement — this is fundamental to our legal process. It is also important to public safety. 
 
“Stopping a criminal investigation based on corrupted and unreliable evidence not only increases the risk an innocent person will be convicted, it also increases the risk that the guilty will go free. That does a disservice to us all.” 
 
Warner represented Sammons, who was accused of murdering Humberto Casas in Saginaw in a broad daylight drive-by shooting. Although there were several witnesses, only one gave a detailed description of the alleged perpetrators to the police. This witness was brought in for questioning after police had apprehended two suspects they thought fit the description.
 
Rather than following well-established procedure of asking the witness if he could identify the culprit in a “lineup” of multiple people with similar features, the detective instead performed a “showup.”  In this case,  the witness was asked to look in an interrogation room where Sammons was sitting alone and say whether he “recognized” Sammons.
 
At trial, the same detective testified the eyewitness identified Sammons as the shooter. The witness testified he did not. Despite these conflicting accounts, Sammons was convicted – and that decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
 
However, with multiple factors showing the witness’s identification was unreliable, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the showup procedure resulted in a substantial likelihood of misidentification and that presenting the corrupted identification to the jury violated Sammons’ right to due process.
 
Reversing the Court of Appeals’ decision, the Michigan Supreme Court has remanded the case to the original court for a new trial and sent a strong message to law enforcement that failing to use lineup procedures when there is time to do so is unethical.
 
The ruling noted: “The detective sergeant did not just jeopardize the fate of a potentially innocent man, he also might have compromised his investigation and tainted the testimony that could have proved to be the prosecution’s best evidence. Not only was conducting a showup unnecessary, it was counterproductive to efforts to obtain the most accurate and reliable evidence.”
 
Warner’s national appellate practice represents clients across Michigan and throughout the United States. The firm’s attorneys are recipients of multiple awards for Michigan Supreme Court advocacy and are regularly listed in Best Lawyers in America and Michigan Super Lawyers for appellate litigation.
 
About Warner
By providing discerning and proactive legal advice, Warner Norcross + Judd builds a better partnership with its clients. Warner is a corporate law firm with 230 attorneys practicing in eight offices throughout Michigan: Grand Rapids, Southfield, Midland, Macomb County, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Lansing and Holland. To learn more, visit www.wnj.com, follow us on Twitter @WNJLLP or connect on LinkedIn.
 
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