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Conviction overturned due to jury instruction error

Everyone who is charged with a serious crime in Michigan is entitled to a jury trial. A jury is supposed to be made up of adult members of the community who are as neutral about the case as possible. This is so that the jury can objectively examine the evidence presented and not bring any personal prejudices into the deliberation room. For the defendant, a neutral jury can mean the difference between a conviction and a not guilty verdict.

A former member of the Michigan State Police who was convicted of sex crimes in 2011 has had his conviction overturned by the state Court of Appeals. The appellate court found that the trial judge gave incorrect instructions to the jury during the deliberation stage, and that the defendant's attorney at the time failed to point out that fact.

The then-trooper was accused of criminal sexual conduct involving a 12-year-old girl. Following the trial, the jury went into deliberations, but could not reach a verdict after the first day. On the second day, they sent the judge a note disclosing a startling fact: one of the jurors had admitted that he had been investigated on similar accusations years before. The juror had not disclosed this during the jury selection phase.

The judge dismissed the juror and replaced him with an alternate. He then instructed the jury to begin deliberations from where they had left off. But Michigan law requires the judge to tell the jury to start over their deliberations in this situation. The defendant was convicted of two felonies and sentenced to 20 months in prison. He was paroled in March.

On appeal, the convicted man argued that he received ineffective counsel at trial. His attorney should have objected to the judge's instruction to the jury after the juror substitution. The appellate court found that proceeding as the judge ordered skewed the jury's verdict. It pointed to evidence of "peer pressure" against those jurors who were opposed to conviction.

Though the man is now out of prison, this decision will remove the felonies from his record, which may help him get a job, apply for a passport and in other situations.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Ex-Michigan state trooper's sex case conviction overturned on appeal," David Jesse, Aug. 30, 2013

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