Sunday, September 30, 2012
Forfeit Victory, Take 2: Court Of Appeals Of Michigan Finds Statements From DV Complaints Improperly Admitted Under Forfeiture Doctrine
Following up on yesterday's post about the possibility of a different rule for domestic violence cases under the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing, I present to you the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Michigan in People v. Logan, 2012 WL 3194222 (Mich.App. 2012).In Logan,
Defendant and the victim had a son in common and shared custody of him, but were no longer in a dating relationship. At approximately 2:00 p.m. on April 11, 2010, the victim drove to defendant's house in order to pick up their son. Defendant was sitting on the front porch with a loaded gun in his pocket when the victim arrived. The victim parked her car, and exited, speaking to defendant from a distance. After a short period of time, defendant's mother exited the house, with the couple's son in her arms, intending to bring the child to the victim. Defendant pushed past his mother and walked toward the victim. As he approached her, defendant drew his gun and shot the victim four times. The victim was able to run to a neighbor's house, and defendant fled the scene. The victim died in the hospital several days later. At trial, defendant acknowledged that he shot and killed the victim, but claimed that he blacked out and did not have the requisite intent for first-degree murder. The defense's sole argument was that defendant lacked premeditation and that the jury should convict defendant of the alternate lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter or second-degree murder.
At trial, the prosecution used the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing to introduce into evidence "the victim's written statements from her previous domestic violence complaints and petitions for personal protection orders...."
After he was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and related charges, the defendant appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing was inapplicable because he did not kill the victim with the intent of rendering her unavailable at trial. The Court of Appeals of Michigan agreed, concluding that
Although a defendant may forfeit his right to confrontation when he engages in conduct that causes the declarant to be unavailable, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the forfeiture by wrongdoing doctrine requires that defendant's conduct be intended or "designed to prevent the witness from testifying."...The prosecution did not argue and the record fully supports that defendant did not murder the victim for the purpose of preventing her from testifying. Under Giles, defendant did not forfeit his right to confrontation and we conclude the admission of the victim's written statements violated his Confrontation Clause rights.
Nonetheless, the court deemed the admission of the subject statements harmless error and thus affirmed the defendant's conviction.