Court Holds Attorney Should Have Requested Specific Jury Instruction in Recent Michigan Homicide Case

Earlier this month, a state appellate court released an opinion in a Michigan homicide case involving the defendant’s claim that his attorney should have requested a jury instruction on involuntary manslaughter. Ultimately, the court agreed, vacating the defendant’s conviction and ordering a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police were called for a report of retail theft. Upon arriving at the scene, they saw the suspect get into the passenger seat of a Ford truck. The officer tried to pull the truck over, but the defendant, who was driving the truck, sped off. After a lengthy pursuit, the defendant crashed into another vehicle. As a result of the accident, one person died, and several others were seriously injured. The defendant was charged with several crimes, including second-degree murder.

At trial, the defendant’s main argument was that there was insufficient evidence to establish he was guilty of second-degree murder. The jury found the defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to 40 to 60 years on the murder charge. The defendant appealed on several issues.

One of the defendant’s issues on appeal was that his attorney should have requested the judge to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of involuntary manslaughter. The defendant argued that, had the jury received this instruction, it may not have found him guilty of second-degree murder.

The Court’s Opinion

The court began its analysis by outlining the elements of a second-degree murder charge. Specifically, the court explained that the prosecution must prove:

  1. a death occurred;
  2. the death was caused by the defendant’s actions;
  3. the defendant acted with malice; and
  4. the defendant did not have a lawful justification or excuse.

Here, the court noted that the defendant’s argument was that he did not act with malice, and that his counsel’s failure to request an instruction on the lesser-included offense of involuntary manslaughter deprived the defendant of the effective assistance of counsel.

The court explained that the elements for involuntary manslaughter are identical to those of second-degree murder, except that involuntary manslaughter is committed without malice. The court acknowledged that the decision to request an instruction for a lesser-included offense is generally a strategic one.

However, in this case, it was clear that the defense was that the prosecution failed to prove malice. Thus, the court held that the defense attorney should have requested the instruction. However, when asked, the defense attorney explained that he did not really “consider it.” Thus, while counsel’s decision not to request an instruction might be a strategic one in some cases, here, that was not the case. As a result, the court ordered a new trial.

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If you have been arrested for any serious crime, contact the dedicated Michigan criminal defense attorneys at Michigan Defense Law. Our attorneys aggressively represent clients facing all types of serious allegations, including Michigan homicide crimes, drug offenses, and more. We have extensive experience dealing with even the most complex and sensitive cases. With our help, you can rest assured that you – and your future – are in capable hands. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 248-451-2200 today.

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