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The State of Michigan vs. Lorinda Swain - Michigan Supreme Court

Lorinda Swain was convicted in 2002 in Calhoun County of four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly sexually assaulting her adopted son. She was sentenced to 25-50 years in prison. Though her son recanted his testimony immediately after the trial, Lorinda spent the next 8 years in prison until her case was picked up by the Michigan Innocence Clinic. She was allowed to leave prison, pending her appeal. For the last 7 years she has had the threat of returning to prison to serve out her remaining time, a stress few can imagine. On April 6th, 2016, she was in attendance as her case for a retrial was argued before the Michigan Supreme Court by Dave Moran of the Michigan Innocence Clinic (MIC).

The oral argument presented in its entirety:

MIC’s David Moran, supported by Caitlin M. Plummer and Imran J. Syed, argued several issues related to the motions for relief from judgment. They presented strong arguments that a new trial should be ordered, including that the original trial judge ordered a retrial and he is in a much better position to determine that then the Court of Appeals.

Jennifer Kay Clark, Assistant Calhoun County Prosecutor, aided by Aaron Lindstrom, Michigan Solicitor General, represented the State. Assistant Prosecutor Clark tried repeatedly to vacate the barrister table when unable to answer the Court’s questions, but was recalled each time.

 

Background

The crux of the matter is that the prosecution withheld key evidence favorable to Lorinda, namely the occurrence of an undisclosed detective interview with her ex-boyfriend, which, along with her son’s recantation, exonerats her of the crime.

Prior to the hearing, Lorinda reported that "I am the most encouraged I have been for all of these 15 years," according to the Battle Creek Enquirer (4-4-16), as she fought on despite facing a succession of prosecutors who worked to uphold the original conviction.

Supporting her is a diverse group which includes the Detroit News (4-3-16), who editorialized that “The Supreme Court with this case could send a strong message to Michigan’s legal system that its primary mission is not to get a conviction and stand stubbornly by it, but to get justice right, no matter how long it takes.”

It may not hurt Lorinda’s chances that just prior to her hearing, the Court heard a case where parents were damaged by improperly implanted or reinforced false childhood memories.

Arguments

Notwithstanding the News’ exhortation, many of the arguments involved legal minutia regarding the applicability of Brady (defendant challenges his/her conviction arguing that prosecution withheld evidence from the criminal defendant) or Cress (a four-part test that governs motions for a new trial) in determining what can be appealed and when. 

Justice Bridget Mary McCormack recused herself from the hearing because of her prior involvement with the Michigan Innocence Clinic and actually being Swain's counsel. Most of the justices appeared to agree that the Brady claim seems good, and that the Cress claim is less persuasive, which coincides with Moran’s argument. The Prosecutor’s complaint about serial motions for relief of judgement did not appear to have any effect. Justice Bernstein’s exclamation that the length of the 50-year sentence compels the justices’ attention seemed to resonate. The Assistant Prosecutor argued that the evidence withheld by the prosecution was not important. 

This appeal and argument appear to be the best chance yet to overturn Lorinda’s conviction: Moran (in appeal) argues that Michigan’s  prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment and guarantee of due process of law mandate addressing this situation because “the most fundamental injustice is the conviction of an innocent person.”

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In 2012 Ken Wyniemko was a special guest of Richard Bernstein, who served as co-host with the late Angelo Henderson on 1200 AM Detroit Radio. This segment of the show was dedicated to understanding wrongful convictions and what can be done to free the wrongfully convicted and prevent others from this fate.

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For Those Desiring PI to look at Your Case

 

At this point in our development, PI is only taking on cases in cooperation with other innocence projects. If you have been wrongfully convicted and your case involves DNA evidence, we recommend you contact the Cooley Innocence Project at Western Michigan Cooley Law School. If your case does not involve DNA, please contact the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. A third member of the Innocence Network is SADO, the State Appelate Defense Organization. For cases outside of Michigan, here is a list of innocence projects by state.