State Supreme Court to hear oral arguments April 4-5

A Michigan State University ordinance that makes it a crime to disrupt "the normal activity" of any MSU employee is at issue in an appeal that the Michigan Supreme Court will hear argued next week.

In People v Rapp, the defendant, an MSU law student, was charged with and convicted of violating MSU Ordinance 15.05, "Disruption or molestation of persons, firms, or agencies" after he confronted an MSU parking enforcement employee over a parking ticket. The university employee called police after the student, who had stopped his car in front of the employee's work vehicle, yelled at the employee and asked for his name. The student challenged his conviction, arguing that the ordinance violated his free speech rights under the First Amendment. The circuit court agreed and struck down the student's conviction, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the ordinance was not unconstitutional on its face. The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied. The defendant argues in part that the ordinance is overly broad and vague, while the prosecution contends that the ordinance does not focus on speech, but on disruption of MSU employees at their work.

Another constitutional challenge is at issue in People v Nunley, in which the defendant was charged with driving with a suspended license, second offense. To establish that the offender was notified of the first suspension -- an element of the offense -- the prosecutor sought to introduce into evidence a Department of State certificate of mailing, which states that the defendant was notified by first-class mail the first time that his license was suspended. But the district court held that the certificate could not be admitted into evidence unless the person who prepared it appeared at trial to testify and to be subject to cross-examination. The circuit court agreed and the Court of Appeals affirmed in a 2-1 decision, with the majority finding that the defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause would be violated if the certificate was admitted without witness testimony. The majority said that the certificate of mailing was proof of an element of the crime of driving with a suspended license and, therefore, it was "functionally identical to live, in-court testimony." The dissenting judge disagreed, saying that the certificate was non-testimonial in nature, adding "to hold that the certificate of mailing here is testimonial runs contrary to the purpose of the confrontation clause -- to ensure the reliability of evidence through vigorous cross- examination--because cross-examination here would elicit little or nothing of value to ensure that reliability."

The Supreme Court will also hear In re Estate of Mortimore, a will dispute between the deceased's daughter and son and the woman who claims to be the father's second wife, although the marriage certificate she produced was not filed until six days after the father's death. The deceased's children maintain that the woman -- who allegedly became their father's constant companion almost immediately after their mother's death -- exercised undue influence over their father, causing him to make a new will in her favor. The probate court did not find undue influence, noting in part the testimony of the deceased's doctor, who asserted that the man retained his independence and made his own decisions. But the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the probate court failed to recognize a mandatory presumption of undue influence, based on the woman's fiduciary relationship with the deceased. The evidence showed that the deceased entrusted his financial affairs to his companion, that she had the opportunity to influence his decisions, and that she benefitted from the new will, all giving rise to the presumption of undue influence, the Court of Appeals said. The Court of Appeals also determined, as a matter of law, that the woman failed to offer sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of undue influence.

The five remaining cases the Court will hear involve criminal, governmental immunity, insurance, and professional malpractice law issues.

The Court will hear oral arguments in its courtroom on the sixth floor of the Michigan Hall of Justice on April 4 and 5, starting at 9:30 a.m. each day. The Court's oral arguments are open to the public. The arguments will also be broadcast on Michigan Government Television (mgtv.org).

Published: Tue, Apr 3, 2012

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