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People v. Anderson

Supreme Court of Michigan

March 16, 2018

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
TREMEL ANDERSON, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued on application for leave to appeal January 10, 2018.

         Syllabus

         Tremel Anderson was charged in the 36th District Court with assault with intent to commit murder, MCL 750.83; carrying a concealed weapon, MCL 750.227; felonious assault, MCL 750.82; and carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony, MCL 750.227b, following an incident that allegedly occurred between her and Michael Larkins, the father of her child. The only evidence presented at the preliminary examination was Larkins's testimony. According to Larkins, defendant was driving him home when they got into an argument. Larkins testified that defendant threatened to kill him, grabbed a gun from between her legs, and pointed it at him for about five minutes before pulling over to the side of the road near Larkins's home, where defendant and Larkins continued to argue while defendant kept the gun pointed at him. Defendant then demanded that Larkins return a spare set of keys to her car, while Larkins sought to negotiate a trade of the keys for Christmas gifts that were in defendant's car. When Larkins refused to give defendant the keys, defendant called the police, and Larkins yelled for help. Larkins testified that defendant then attempted to fire the gun at him, but the gun failed to discharge, and he jumped out of the car and ran away as defendant fired three more shots in his direction. Larkins stated that he reached a neighbor's home and called the police. The district court, Shannon A. Holmes, J., found Larkins's testimony not credible and therefore dismissed the complaint. The prosecutor appealed this decision in the Wayne Circuit Court, where the judge, Alexis A. Glendening, J., treated the claim of appeal as a motion and denied it without further explanation. The Court of Appeals, Jansen and M. J. Kelly, JJ. (Saad, P.J., dissenting), affirmed in a split decision. People v Anderson, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued Nov 29, 2016 (Docket No. 327905). The prosecutor sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, which ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other peremptory action. 500 Mich. 1011 (2017).

         In a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Markman, the Supreme Court, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, held:

         A magistrate's duty at a preliminary examination is to consider all the evidence presented, including the credibility of witnesses' testimony, and to determine on that basis whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a crime; in other words, whether the evidence presented is sufficient to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief of the accused's guilt. Because the magistrate in this case did not abuse her discretion by determining that Larkins's testimony was not credible and there was no other evidence presented during the preliminary examination, the district court's order dismissing the charges against defendant was affirmed.

         1. In Michigan, a criminal defendant has a statutory right under MCL 766.1 to a prompt examination and determination by an examining magistrate. MCL 766.4(6) provides that at this preliminary examination, the magistrate shall examine the complainant and the witnesses in support of the prosecution on oath concerning the offense charged and in regard to any other matters connected with the charge that the magistrate considers pertinent. Under MCL 766.13, if the magistrate determines at the conclusion of the preliminary examination that a felony has not been committed or that there is not probable cause for charging the defendant with committing a felony, the magistrate shall either discharge the defendant or reduce the charge to an offense that is not a felony. If the magistrate determines at the conclusion of the preliminary examination that a felony has been committed and that there is probable cause for charging the defendant with committing a felony, the magistrate shall bind the defendant to appear within 14 days for arraignment before the circuit court of that county, or the magistrate may conduct the circuit court arraignment as provided by court rule. Thus, a magistrate is required to determine at the conclusion of the preliminary examination whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a crime. The use of the word "determine" communicates that the magistrate must exercise some judgment in analyzing the evidence at the preliminary examination when deciding whether there is probable cause to bind over a defendant. MCL 766.13 provides that a magistrate's determination regarding the existence of probable cause must be made at the conclusion of the preliminary examination. This strongly suggests that the magistrate must consider the totality of the evidence presented at that juncture even if evidence introduced at the outset of the preliminary examination initially appears to have satisfied the elements of a criminal offense. In sum, MCL 766.13 requires a magistrate to consider all the evidence presented and on that basis to determine whether there is a quantum of evidence sufficient to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief of the accused's guilt. During a preliminary examination, the magistrate has not only the right but also the duty to pass judgment on the weight and competency of the evidence and on the credibility of the witnesses. A magistrate may not decline to bind over a defendant when there is a conflict of evidence or when there is a reasonable doubt regarding the defendant's guilt, but must leave such questions for the jury at trial. Contrary to the prosecutor's argument, nothing in MCL 766.1 et seq. suggests that a magistrate's consideration of credibility at a preliminary examination should be limited to whether testimony was so far impeached that it was deprived of all probative value or contradicted indisputable physical facts or defied physical realities, and the adversarial nature of a preliminary examination would be largely meaningless if a magistrate were required to accept as true any testimony that met this standard. While this limitation makes sense in the context of a motion for a new trial because it is the jury's constitutional duty as the trier of fact to assess credibility and to render the ultimate factual findings necessary to convict a defendant, a preliminary examination is a statutory creation in which the magistrate is the trier of fact, thus making it the magistrate's duty to determine whether there is probable cause to bind over a defendant. A necessary corollary of this general duty is the duty to pass judgment not only on the weight and competency of the evidence, but also on the credibility of the witnesses.

         2. The magistrate in this case articulated several reasons in particular for finding Larkins's testimony not credible, including the fact that he claimed to be negotiating for Christmas gifts while defendant was pointing a gun at him, that he freely entered the car with defendant despite allegedly having been threatened by defendant in the past and not having access to a cell phone to seek help, that he had never called the police to report defendant's earlier threats, and that his testimony was "all over the place everywhere." These reasons, considered in light of the magistrate's superior ability to observe Larkins's demeanor while testifying, afforded the magistrate a principled basis for concluding that Larkins's testimony was not credible, and therefore the magistrate's credibility determination was not outside the range of principled outcomes.

         Affirmed.

          Chief Justice: Justices: Stephen J. Markman Brian K. Zahra Bridget M. McCormack David F. Viviano Richard H. Bernstein Kurtis T. Wilder Elizabeth T. Clement

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

          OPINION

          Markman, C.J.

         The issue in this case concerns the manner in which a magistrate may consider the credibility of witnesses' testimony in determining whether to bind over a defendant. We hold that a magistrate's duty at a preliminary examination is to consider all the evidence presented, including the credibility of witnesses' testimony, and to determine on that basis whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a crime, i.e., whether the evidence presented is "sufficient to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief of the accused's guilt." People v Yost, 468 Mich. 122, 126; 659 N.W.2d 604 (2003) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Because the magistrate in this case did not abuse her discretion in determining that the complainant's testimony was not credible and there was no other evidence presented during the preliminary examination, we affirm the district court's order dismissing the charges against defendant.

         I. FACTS AND HISTORY

         Defendant, Tremel Anderson, was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, MCL 750.83; carrying a concealed weapon, MCL 750.227; felonious assault, MCL 750.82; and carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony, MCL 750.227b. At the ...


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