Michigan Court Explains Burdens of Proof in Criminal Matters

Certain crimes include an element of intent. As such, if the prosecution is unable to demonstrate that the defendant possessed the state of mind needed to commit the crime, it should not be able to obtain a conviction. Recently, a Michigan court discussed burdens of proof with regard to intent in criminal matters in an opinion issued in a case in which the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder. If you are faced with criminal charges, it is advisable to confer with a skilled Michigan criminal defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that first responders found the victim dead in her bed. The defendant, who had a tumultuous romantic relationship with the victim, placed the 911 call but gave differing accounts as to what happened. The autopsy revealed that she died due to neck compression. The defendant was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. At the trial, the defendant asserted that the victim’s death was caused by erotic asphyxiation and was accidental and requested the assistance of an expert to prove his assertion. The court denied his request, finding that as the defendant set forth an affirmative defense, he bore the burden of negating intent. The jury convicted the defendant, and he appealed.

Establishing Intent in Criminal Matters

The salient issue on appeal was whether the defendant’s assertion that the victim’s death was accidental and was caused by erotic asphyxiation was an affirmative defense and therefore required the defendant to negate the element of intent. The court ultimately determined that it was not and vacated the judgment.

The appellate court explained that intent is an element of first-degree murder and that the intent to kill must be premeditated and deliberate. A defendant who alleges a death was accidental does not bear the burden of establishing that they lacked the intent that is an element of the crime. In other words, because intent to kill is an element of first-degree murder, the prosecution bore the duty of establishing intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

The appellate court clarified that the defense that the victim’s death was accidental was not an affirmative defense because it did not impose the burden of negating intent on the defendant. As such, the appellate court found that the trial court erred in applying the standard for affirmative defenses to the defendant’s request for the assistance of an expert. Thus, the court vacated the trial court’s ruling on the issue and remanded for further proceedings.

Speak with a Capable Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

First-degree murder is one of the most serious crimes a person can be accused of committing, but if the prosecution cannot prove the defendant intended to cause another person’s death, it should not be able to obtain a guilty verdict. If you are accused of first-degree murder or any other crime, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is a capable Michigan criminal defense lawyer who can advise you of your options and help you to seek a favorable outcome. You can contact Mr. Bernstein through the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to set up a meeting.

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