Academic journal article Michigan Law Review

Disentangling Michigan Court Rule 6.502(g)(2): The "New Evidence" Exception to the Ban on Successive Motions for Relief from Judgment Does Not Contain a Discoverability Requirement

Academic journal article Michigan Law Review

Disentangling Michigan Court Rule 6.502(g)(2): The "New Evidence" Exception to the Ban on Successive Motions for Relief from Judgment Does Not Contain a Discoverability Requirement

Article excerpt

Introduction

An alarming trend has emerged in postconviction litigation in the state of Michigan. Michigan courts have become confused by the relationship between two distinct legal doctrines that happen to share similar language. This confusion has led Michigan courts to conflate two separate legal tests. In doing so, courts have imposed significant unintended and adverse consequences on criminal defendants.

The first of the two legal doctrines that courts conflate involves the procedures governing postconviction litigation. Like all states, Michigan recognizes that a criminal conviction has serious ramifications for a person's liberty and other interests.1 Consequently, Michigan created a set of court rules, known collectively as subchapter 6.500, which outlines the procedures a prisoner may use to challenge her conviction, even after her trial and direct appeal have ended.2 Legislators drafted these rules to accommodate competing interests. On one hand, Michigan recognizes that litigation must end at some point and consequently imposes a number of procedural barriers that may prevent review of a petitioner's claim.3 At the same time, Michigan recognizes that the costs of postconviction litigation and finality are outweighed by the needs to protect individual rights and ensure the litigation of colorable constitutional claims.4 Subchapter 6.500's rules governing when a convicted defendant can file a successive postconviction motion exemplify this balance. The rules provide that under most circumstances, a defendant can file only one postconviction 6.500 motion.5 This rule aims to reduce the amount of postconviction litigation.6 At the same time, the rules permit a defendant to bring a "second or subsequent" 6.500 motion if she has "new evidence" that was not previously discovered. Michigan adopted this new evidence exception to ensure that at least some successive motions raising colorable claims prevail. This new evidence exception to the ban on successive motions, codified in section 6.502(G)(2), is the first of the two legal doctrines that Michigan courts are confusing.

The second of the two legal doctrines is called a Cress "newly discovered evidence" claim.7 The Michigan Supreme Court acknowledged that sometimes new evidence emerges after trial that undermines a defendant's conviction.8 For example, a victim may recant,9 DNA tests may be conducted,10 or a new scientific breakthrough might occur.11 To provide redress for a defendant with newly discovered evidence that casts doubt on her conviction, the court outlined a legal claim for relief in People v. Cress.12 Cress established that if a defendant's evidence satisfies four elements, then she is entitled to a new trial "on the basis of newly discovered evidence."13

Although the term "newly discovered evidence" uses similar language to the section 6.502(G)(2) "new evidence" exception to the ban on successive motions, the two doctrines are quite distinct. Subchapter 6.500, including section 6.502(G)(2), operates as a set of procedural rules and applies every time a convicted defendant challenges her conviction in postconviction proceedings.14 In contrast, Cress establishes a substantive claim for relief.15 If a convicted defendant has newly discovered evidence, she is entitled to a new trial as long as she meets the four elements of Cress.16 As a substantive doctrine, a Cress "newly discovered evidence" claim can be raised at any time after conviction. A defendant does not necessarily have to raise her Cress claim through a 6.500 motion; she can also raise it on direct appeal or in a motion for a new trial immediately after her conviction.17

Although these two legal standards are distinct, Michigan courts frequently apply the Cress four-prong test to successive 6.500 motions. Judges apply this test even if a petitioner does not raise a Cress newly discovered evidence claim but rather asserts a constitutional claim, such as an allegation that her counsel was unconstitutionally ineffective or that the state suppressed favorable evidence in violation of due process. …

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