Michigan Court Discusses Prosecutorial Misconduct in Criminal Trials

In criminal proceedings, the prosecution’s aim is to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors must comply with the law, however, and if they engage in misconduct during a trial, it might constitute grounds for arguing a conviction or sentence is unlawful. Recently, a Michigan court discussed the standard of review for claims that prosecutorial misconduct warrants relief in a case in which the defendant filed a petition of habeas corpus following his conviction for criminal sexual conduct. If you are charged with a sex crime, it is in your best interest to meet with a skilled Michigan criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options.

History of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant was charged with engaging in acts of sexual penetration with his minor daughter. He was tried for first-degree criminal sexual misconduct, and during the trial, the prosecutor commented on the defendant’s lifestyle and romantic encounters. The jury convicted the defendant, after which he appealed, arguing in part that the prosecutor’s comments were improper and unduly prejudicial, which warranted a new trial.

It is reported that the appellate court rejected the defendant’s arguments and affirmed his conviction, after which he filed a petition of habeas corpus, asserting that the appellate court applied the incorrect standard for adjudicating claims of prosecutorial misconduct.

Establishing Prosecutorial Misconduct

The district court ultimately denied the defendant’s petition. It noted that while the Michigan Court of Appeals found that some of the prosecutor’s comments were improper, the misconduct was not sufficiently prejudicial to warrant a new trial. The court explained that while the prosecutor’s suggestions that the defendant’s romantic history demonstrated that he believed he could get away with anything he wanted with a woman or girl, the prosecutor did not persist in this line of reasoning or make any other similar arguments. Further, the court found the defendant did not establish that the comments were prejudicial.

The district court noted that the standard for adjudicating claims of prosecutorial misconduct was well-established, and the Court of Appeals’ application of the standard was not unreasonable. The district court explained that claims of prosecutorial misconduct are viewed deferentially on habeas review. Thus, a prosecutor’s behavior will only violate a defendant’s constitutional rights if the conduct infected the trial with unfairness to such a degree that the resulting conviction constitutes a denial of due process.

In other words, a habeas petitioner seeking relief on a prosecutorial misconduct claim must show that the state court’s rejection of the claim was so devoid of justification that no fair-minded person could disagree. The court found that the defendant failed to meet this burden and, therefore, denied his petition.

Meet with a Skillful Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer

Prosecutors are prohibited from engaging in certain behaviors during the course of a criminal proceeding, and if they act inappropriately, it may result in an unjust ruling. If you are charged with a crime, it is critical to meet with an attorney as soon as possible. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help you to seek the best outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact Mr. Bernstein via the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to set up a conference.


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