People v. Cain, Docket No. 149259.

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtMARKMAN, J.
Citation869 N.W.2d 829,498 Mich. 108
PartiesPEOPLE v. CAIN.
Decision Date23 July 2015
Docket NumberDocket No. 149259.,Calendar No. 2.

498 Mich. 108
869 N.W.2d 829

PEOPLE
v.
CAIN.

Docket No. 149259.
Calendar No. 2.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued March 11, 2015.
Decided July 23, 2015.


869 N.W.2d 831

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, Kym L. Worthy, Prosecuting Attorney, Timothy A. Baughman, Chief of Research, Training, and Appeals, and Thomas M. Chambers, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people.

Kristina Larson Dunne, for defendant.

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, and B. Eric Restuccia, Deputy Solicitor General, for the Attorney General.

Peter Jon Van Hoek, for the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan.

Opinion

MARKMAN, J.

498 Mich. 112

This case presents a fundamental question that appellate courts often confront: whether to afford relief on the basis of a claim of error not raised in the trial court. As a general rule, appellate courts will not grant relief on belated claims of error unless the proponent establishes, among other things, that the unpreserved error seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings. Defendant here, who raised for the first time on appeal a claim that the trial court gave the wrong juror's oath, has failed to meet this burden. Our review of the record reveals that the jurors were conscious of the gravity of the task before them and the manner in which that task was to be carried out, the two primary purposes served by the juror's oath. Thus, we cannot say that the error here of failing to properly swear the jury seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings. We therefore vacate the Court of Appeals' order holding to the contrary and reinstate defendant's convictions and sentences.

I. FACTS AND HISTORY

On February 28, 2012, Ashley Conaway and Abreeya Brown were abducted, tortured, and murdered. A month later, their bodies were found buried in a shallow grave, and defendant Brandon Cain and four others were charged in connection with the victims' deaths.1 All five men were tried at a single trial with two separate juries, one for Cain and a codefendant

498 Mich. 113

and another for the remaining codefendants. After three days of jury voir dire, defendant's jury was selected. At the start of trial, the court instructed the jury, “I will now ask you to stand and swear to perform your duty to try the case justly and to reach a true verdict.” The clerk proceeded to swear in the jury, but mistakenly read the oath given to prospective jurors before voir dire:

869 N.W.2d 832
The Clerk: You do solemnly swear or affirm that you will true answers make to such questions as may be put to you touching upon your qualifications to serve as jurors in the cause now pending before the Court [sic]? [ 2 ]
[Jurors ]: (Collectively) I do.

There was no objection to the failure to administer the proper oath, although no one disputes that the oath given was incorrect.3

A lengthy trial followed, at the end of which the jury convicted defendant as charged. He was sentenced to mandatory terms of life in prison without parole for the murder convictions and various lesser term-of-years sentences for the remaining convictions. On appeal, defendant raised for the first time a challenge to the trial court's failure to properly swear the jury. Defendant's appellate counsel filed a motion for peremptory reversal of his convictions, which the Court of Appeals granted in an order, stating, “The failure to properly swear the jury is a structural error requiring a new trial. People v. Allan, 299 Mich.App. 205, 829 N.W.2d 319 (2013).” People v. Cain, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered May 2, 2014 (Docket No. 314342). The Court remanded “for a new trial with a properly sworn jury.” Id.

498 Mich. 114

The prosecutor then sought an appeal in this Court, and we granted leave to appeal on the following question:

[W]hether the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the failure to properly swear the jury, even in the absence of a timely objection, is a structural error requiring a new trial. [People v. Cain, 497 Mich. 861, 852 N.W.2d 898 (2014).]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Whether the failure to properly swear the jury, even in the absence of a timely objection, requires that the defendant be afforded a new trial is a question of law, and such questions are reviewed de novo. People v. Chenault, 495 Mich. 142, 159, 845 N.W.2d 731 (2014).

III. ANALYSIS

A. UNPRESERVED ERRORS

Defendant did not object to the trial court's failure to properly swear the jury. His claim on appeal and the Court of Appeals' decision to afford relief therefore implicate the general and longstanding rule in Michigan that “issues that are not properly raised before a trial court cannot be raised on appeal absent compelling or extraordinary circumstances.” People v. Grant, 445 Mich. 535, 546, 520 N.W.2d 123 (1994). The essential justification for this rule is fairness, both to litigants, who are best equipped to respond to alleged errors at the time they occur, and to the public, which must bear the cost of new trials that could have been avoided with a timely objection. See People v. Carines, 460 Mich. 750, 764–765, 597 N.W.2d 130 (1999) (“[A] contemporaneous objection provides the trial court ‘an opportunity to correct the error, which could thereby obviate the necessity of further legal proceedings and

498 Mich. 115

would be by far the best time to address a defendant's constitutional and nonconstitutional rights.’ ”), quoting Grant, 445 Mich. at 551, 520 N.W.2d 123. As this Court recently explained in People v. Vaughn, 491 Mich. 642, 653–654, 821 N.W.2d 288 (2012) : “This Court ‘has long recognized the importance of preserving issues for appellate

869 N.W.2d 833

review.’ As a result, ‘[t]his Court disfavors consideration of unpreserved claims of error,’ even unpreserved claims of constitutional error.” (Citations omitted; alteration in original.)

The United States Supreme Court has also long recognized the importance of preserving issues for appellate review. As it has explained:

If an error is not properly preserved, appellate-court authority to remedy the error (by reversing the judgment, for example, or ordering a new trial) is strictly circumscribed. There is good reason for this; “anyone familiar with the work of courts understands that errors are a constant in the trial process, that most do not much matter, and that a reflexive inclination by appellate courts to reverse because of unpreserved error would be fatal.”
This limitation on appellate-court authority serves to induce the timely raising of claims and objections, which gives the district court the opportunity to consider and resolve them. That court is ordinarily in the best position to determine the relevant facts and adjudicate the dispute. In the case of an actual or invited procedural error, the district court can often correct or avoid the mistake so that it cannot possibly affect the ultimate outcome. And of course the contemporaneous-objection rule prevents a litigant from “ ‘sandbagging’ ” the court—remaining silent about his objection and belatedly raising the error only if the case does not conclude in his favor. [Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129, 134, 129 S.Ct. 1423, 173 L.Ed.2d 266 (2009) (citations omitted).]

This is why the United States Supreme Court and this Court adopted the plain-error test in

498 Mich. 116

United States v. Olano , 507 U.S. 725, 735–737, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993), and Carines, 460 Mich. at 763, 597 N.W.2d 130, respectively, and why Vaughn, 491 Mich. at 655, 821 N.W.2d 288, held that “[a]lthough the violation of the right to a public trial is among the limited class of constitutional violations that are structural in nature,” a defendant is still not entitled to relief unless he or she can satisfy the four requirements set forth in Carines.

Appellate courts may grant relief for unpreserved errors if the proponent of the error can satisfy the “plain error” standard, which has four parts (the “Carines prongs”). The first three Carines prongs require establishing that (1) an error occurred, (2) the error was “plain”—i.e., clear or obvious, and (3) the error affected substantial rights—i.e., the outcome of the lower court proceedings was affected. Carines, 460 Mich. at 763, 597 N.W.2d 130. If the first three elements are satisfied, the fourth Carines prong calls upon an appellate court to “exercise its discretion in deciding whether to reverse,” and (4) relief is warranted only when the court determines that the plain, forfeited error resulted in the conviction of an actually innocent defendant or “ ‘ “seriously affect[ed] the fairness, integrity or public...

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109 practice notes
  • People v. Sardy, Docket No. 319227.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 29, 2015
    ...witness is not a structural error. Peak v. Commonwealth, 197 S.W.3d 536, 547 (Ky., 2006). Moreover, our Supreme Court in People v. Cain, 498 Mich. 108, 118 n. 4, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015), recently explained that structural error has only been found in a very limited class of cases—“complete de......
  • People v. Wood, Docket No. 159063
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 28, 2020
    ...be traced from the Latin word for "jury," jurare , meaning "to swear." See Oxford English Dictionary (2d ed.); see also People v. Cain , 498 Mich. 108, 134, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015) ( VIVIANO , J., dissenting) (underscoring that "the 506 Mich. 129 etymological roots of the word ‘jury’ " "can b......
  • People v. Beck, Docket No. 152934
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 29, 2019
    ...which must exist in order to subject the defendant to a legally prescribed punishment must be found by the jury.").24 People v. Cain , 498 Mich. 108, 129, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015) ( Viviano , J., dissenting), quoting 4 Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, p. *350.25 3 Blackstone, C......
  • People v. Wood, No. 342424
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 11, 2018
    ...jurors" has no bearing on what the Legislature meant when it used the term "juror" in a statute.4 Additionally, neither People v. Cain , 498 Mich. 108, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015), nor 326 Mich.App. 575 Jochen v. Saginaw Co. , 363 Mich. 648, 110 N.W.2d 780 (1961), supports defendant’s argument. N......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
109 cases
  • People v. Sardy, Docket No. 319227.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 29, 2015
    ...witness is not a structural error. Peak v. Commonwealth, 197 S.W.3d 536, 547 (Ky., 2006). Moreover, our Supreme Court in People v. Cain, 498 Mich. 108, 118 n. 4, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015), recently explained that structural error has only been found in a very limited class of cases—“complete de......
  • People v. Wood, Docket No. 159063
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 28, 2020
    ...be traced from the Latin word for "jury," jurare , meaning "to swear." See Oxford English Dictionary (2d ed.); see also People v. Cain , 498 Mich. 108, 134, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015) ( VIVIANO , J., dissenting) (underscoring that "the 506 Mich. 129 etymological roots of the word ‘jury’ " "can b......
  • People v. Beck, Docket No. 152934
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 29, 2019
    ...which must exist in order to subject the defendant to a legally prescribed punishment must be found by the jury.").24 People v. Cain , 498 Mich. 108, 129, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015) ( Viviano , J., dissenting), quoting 4 Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, p. *350.25 3 Blackstone, C......
  • People v. Wood, No. 342424
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 11, 2018
    ...jurors" has no bearing on what the Legislature meant when it used the term "juror" in a statute.4 Additionally, neither People v. Cain , 498 Mich. 108, 869 N.W.2d 829 (2015), nor 326 Mich.App. 575 Jochen v. Saginaw Co. , 363 Mich. 648, 110 N.W.2d 780 (1961), supports defendant’s argument. N......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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