This year, we have published several blogs dedicated to “frequently asked (criminal law) questions”. Whenever possible, we endeavor to avoid legalese by providing articles in layman’s terms. The focus of this blog is pretrial conferences in Macomb County District Courts.
What is a pretrial conference?
A pretrial conference is a meeting that is attended by the attorneys for the parties in a criminal or civil case. The major purposes of a pretrial conference are to facilitate resolution of a case, management of a case for trial or management of a case regarding pertinent issues (as listed below). A pretrial conference is scheduled after either a criminal or civil case is filed with the court, a case number and a Judge are assigned. In Macomb County, criminal pretrial conferences are held soon after the arraignment. For misdemeanors, which occur in Macomb County, the pretrial conference will always be held at the district court (click here for complete listing of links to Macomb County District Courts). Felony pretrial conferences can occur on the date scheduled for a preliminary examination and again after the case is bound over to the circuit court. A person charged with a crime (the defendant) is required to be present on the date scheduled for pretrial conference. However, he or she is usually not allowed in the conference room with the attorneys. On the other hand, police officers and victim’s rights advocates with court business are allowed in the conference room. Likewise, an alleged victim may be present at the pretrial conference as the prosecutor must obtain the victim’s consent for a plea bargain in most criminal cases.
Every drug crime requires the element of “possession”. In fact, drug crimes rank high on the list of frequently occurring felony cases in Michigan. Drug crimes include: “possession” or “possession with intent to deliver” marijuana, heroin, cocaine, MDMA or analogues.
Whenever someone is charged with any drug crime, our criminal defense attorneys will question whether the accused legally possessed the alleged drugs. Michigan Courts Define Possession In Criminal Cases
In Michigan, a person must knowingly and intentionally possess an illegal drug to be charged with possession of a controlled substance under Michigan’s drug possession statute. But what does that mean?
The courts in Michigan consolidate possession into two categories
1. Actual possession: an individual has drugs on their person (pocket or shoe)
2. Constructive possession: individual has the right of control and dominion over the controlled substance
Actual possession is simple. If the drugs are in a person’s pocket, that person possesses the drugs. But what if the drugs are found in a home where multiple people are present? What about in a car with more than one occupant? What if the person was unaware the drugs were in the car? Determining whether or not the individual had a right of control or dominion over the drugs, or over the premises (car, apartment, house) in which the drugs were found, is critical in these situations. However, an individual’s presence in the same house or automobile as the drugs is insufficient to establish possession; a connection between the drugs and the individual must be found as well. When a person is merely present at a place where drugs are found or is an innocent bystander, our firm will argue that there is insufficient evidence to establish the element of possession.
Michigan Courts broadly interpret possession:
People v Nunez (2000): In this case, police entered a home and discovered, along with several occupants, a large stash of cocaine. Although Mr. Nunez didn’t have the cocaine on his person, he was charged and convicted of possession of cocaine. The police arrived at their conclusion by observing the apartment and its contents. Mr. Nunez had a key for the apartment and stayed at the apartment most of the time. His name was also found on bills within the apartment. The connection between Mr. Nunez and the drugs was straightforward in this case.
People v Meshell (2005): In this case, police observed a man emerging from a garage in which they later discovered methamphetamine. Upon entering the area, police noticed a strong chemical odor coming from the garage. Mr. Meshell was the only person in the area of the garage and when police ran his record, they discovered past issues with methamphetamine. Because Mr. Meshell had past issues with meth, it was obvious that he knew the smell. He was also the only one in the area at the time police observed him exiting the garage.
People v McKinney (2003): In this case, police entered a home and discovered a large amount of cocaine. Police found crack in drawers containing women’s clothing, and linked the drugs to Ms. McKinney because she was frequently staying at the apartment. Drugs were also found within the pockets of women’s clothing in the bedroom she was sharing with the owner. By using the drug’s location as evidence, the police were able to successfully charge and convict Ms. McKinney of possession of cocaine.
As you can see from the cases above, police can use the surrounding circumstances to establish an individual’s possession of a controlled substance:
1. Any past drug-related criminal activity 2. The smell of the drugs, particularly marijuana 3. Whether or not the person was alone 4. Utility bills for the home in which the drugs were found Continue Reading
St. Clair County is located in the south eastern part of the thumb area of Michigan. It is the gateway county to the northern thumb and the Great lakes. It is known as the Blue Water Area. St. Clair County borders Macomb, Lapeer and Sanilac Counties and is just a short distance (across the Port Huron River via the Blue Water Bridge) from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. The Blue Water Bridge is a major international crossing from Canada into the United States. Interstate expressway I-94 runs north and south through St. Clair County, I -69 runs east and west and ends in the City of Port Huron. M-29 is the highway that is located on the eastern shoreline of St. Clair County which takes you in and around the St. Clair River and Anchor Bay. Map of St. Clair County Link.
The eastern side of St. Clair County consists of shoreline on the St. Clair River, Lake Huron, Anchor Bay and Lake St. Clair. The major cities which border these bodies of water are Port Huron (the county seat), St. Clair, Marine City and Algonac. One can enjoy views on the river (freighters, Canada) in any of the cities along these shoreline cities.
Click this link for a live web-cam of the Port Huron River and the Blue Water Bridge.
Recreational attractions in this area include boating, hunting and fishing. The City of St. Clair would be my top pick for dining (Charly’s River Crab, St. Clair Inn) or enjoying the charm of a small town with a large park area dedicated along the river. In 2012, more than 50,000 visitors are expected to attend the Blue Water Fest which occurs just prior to the Port Huron to Mackinac Race.
St. Clair County is well guarded and policed because of its international border with Canada and heavy recreational traffic. The courts in St. Clair County see a fair amount of cases associated with recreation violations, DNR violations, border crossing issues (on both the US and Canada side) and drunk driving cases. A drive along the winding highway of M-29 which meanders along the St. Clair River is not a place to be if you have had any alcohol or drugs. In some places, the road is only a matter of feet from the water. Unfortunately, a fair share of accidents and OWI cases occur on this road.
A traffic violation, drunk driving or criminal case (such as domestic violence, disorderly conduct, boating under the influence, drug crimes) in St. Clair County will wind up in the 72nd District Court in either Port Huron or Marine City:
72nd District Court (Port Huron)
201 McMorran Blvd.
Room 2900 Port Huron MI 48060
72nd District Court (Marine City)
2088 South Parker (M-29)
Marine City, MI 48039
The courts and law enforcement officers in St. Clair County tend to be protective of their communities. They have the responsibility of keeping order in an area which has an international border and hosts recreational activities which often involve alcohol. (Jobbie Nooner). Our experience in these courts has been positive. I find the Judges to be reasonable when it comes to first time offenders of criminal acts such as drunk driving, disorderly conduct or simple drug possession charges. Often, such an offender is looking at probation. If the offense involves a first time drug charge or the offender is age 17 but under age 21, a dismissal is possible special Michigan statutes (HYTA and MCL 333.7411). Continue Reading