People v. Hughes

Decision Date15 July 2014
Docket Number317272.,317158,Docket Nos. 316072
Citation855 N.W.2d 209,306 Mich.App. 116
PartiesPEOPLE v. HUGHES. People v. Harris. People v. Little.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, Kym Worthy, Prosecuting Attorney, Timothy A. Baughman, Chief of Research, Training, and Appeals, and David A. McCreedy, Lead Appellate Attorney, for the people.

Goldpaugh & Associates, PC, Detroit (by Donald H. Stolberg ), for Nevin Hughes.

Steven Fishman, Detroit, for Sean Harris.

Pamella Szydlak, for William Little.

Before: METER, P.J., and JANSEN and WILDER, JJ.



In these consolidated appeals, the prosecution appeals by leave granted the circuit court's order denying its motion to reinstate the obstruction-of-justice charge against defendant Nevin Hughes,1 as well as the circuit court's ruling affirming the district court's dismissal of the obstruction-of-justice charges against defendants Sean Harris and William Little.2 For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we reverse and remand to the district court for reinstatement of the obstruction-of-justice charges against all three defendants.


These appeals arise out of a police-citizen interaction on November 19, 2009, involving Dajuan James Hodges–Lamar and defendants. Defendant Hughes, a Detroit police officer, approached Hodges–Lamar at a Detroit gas station and asked him questions regarding his license, registration, and the presence of drugs in his car. Hughes then opened the door of Hodges–Lamar's automobile, pulled Hodges–Lamar out by the collar, slammed Hodges–Lamar against the car, and searched him. Defendants Harris and Little, also Detroit police officers, were standing nearby. Hughes pushed Hodges–Lamar toward Harris and Little. Hughes subsequently punched Hodges–Lamar in the throat with an open hand, punched him again, pushed him to the ground, picked him up by the collar several times, slammed him onto the car, and finally pushed him back toward Harris and Little. Hodges–Lamar never alleged that Harris and Little assaulted him.

Defendants arrested Hodges–Lamar and searched his car. Hodges–Lamar received tickets for failure to wear a seatbelt, no proof of registration, and no proof of insurance. Eventually, the tickets were dismissed. Hodges–Lamar sought medical attention and another police officer took his statement at an area hospital.

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners Office of the Chief Investigator (OCI) investigated the incident and interviewed defendants in July and August 2010. The OCI provided defendants with a standard departmental constitutional-rights form. The fourth paragraph of the form stated: “If I refuse ... to answer questions ... I will be subject to departmental charges which could result in my dismissal from the police department.” The fifth paragraph stated: “If I do answer ... neither my statements nor any information or evidence which is gained by reason of such statements can be used against me in any subsequent criminal proceeding.” Defendants also received a reservation of rights form, which provided, in relevant part:

It is my further belief that this Statement and the Preliminary Complaint Report will not and cannot be used against me in any subsequent proceedings other than disciplinary proceedings within the confines of the Department itself. For any and all other purposes, I hereby reserve my Constitutional rights to remain silent under the FIFTH and FOURTEENTH AMMENDMENTS [sic] to the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, and Article I, Section 17 of the MICHIGAN CONSTITUTION.

Defendants made statements under the threat of dismissal from their jobs. Harris and Little denied that Hughes had any physical contact with Hodges–Lamar, with the exception of a pat-down search. Hughes admitted that he pulled Hodges–Lamar out of the car, but maintained that he did not use any force against Hodges–Lamar.

The investigation was closed. Hodges–Lamar hired an attorney, who ultimately obtained a video recording of the assault and battery from the security camera at the gas station. The video recording was provided to the Detroit Police Department Internal Affairs Section. The prosecution subsequently charged Hughes with felony misconduct in office, MCL 750.505, misdemeanor assault and battery, MCL 750.81, and obstruction of justice, MCL 750.505. The prosecution charged Harris and Little each with one count of obstruction of justice, MCL 750.505. The video recording was played for the district court by stipulation of the parties. The district court dismissed the obstruction-of-justice charges against all three defendants, relying on the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and § 3 of the act concerning the disclosure of certain statements by law enforcement officers,3 MCL 15.393. The circuit court affirmed the district court's dismissals and declined to reinstate the obstruction-of-justice charges.


The prosecution argues that the district court should have admitted at the preliminary examination defendants' statements made during the OCI investigation because neither Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493, 87 S.Ct. 616, 17 L.Ed.2d 562 (1967), nor MCL 15.393 prohibits the use of an officer's false denials in a subsequent obstruction-of-justice prosecution. We agree.


We review for an abuse of discretion the trial court's decision whether to admit evidence, but review de novo the trial court's decision on any preliminary question of law. People v. Gursky, 486 Mich. 596, 606, 786 N.W.2d 579 (2010). “A trial court abuses its discretion when its decision falls ‘outside the range of principled outcomes.’ People v. Feezel, 486 Mich. 184, 192, 783 N.W.2d 67 (2010), quoting People v. Smith, 482 Mich. 292, 300, 754 N.W.2d 284 (2008). “A trial court necessarily abuses its discretion when it makes an error of law.” People v. Waterstone, 296 Mich.App. 121, 132, 818 N.W.2d 432 (2012). “A district court's ruling that alleged conduct falls within the scope of a criminal law is a question of law that is reviewed de novo....” People v. Henderson, 282 Mich.App. 307, 312, 765 N.W.2d 619 (2009). We similarly review de novo questions of constitutional law and statutory interpretation. People v. Brown, 294 Mich.App. 377, 389, 811 N.W.2d 531 (2011).


The district court abused its discretion by excluding defendants' statements under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Fifth Amendment provides that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This prohibition “not only permits a person to refuse to testify against himself at a criminal trial in which he is a defendant, but also ‘privileges him not to answer official questions put to him in any other proceeding, civil or criminal, formal or informal, where the answers might incriminate him in future criminal proceedings.’ [People v. Wyngaard, 462 Mich. 659, 671–672, 614 N.W.2d 143 (2000), quoting Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 420, 426, 104 S.Ct. 1136, 79 L.Ed.2d 409 (1984), in turn quoting Lefkowitz v. Turley, 414 U.S. 70, 77, 94 S.Ct. 316, 38 L.Ed.2d 274 (1973).]

To invoke the protection of the Fifth Amendment, a witness must only possess a reasonable belief that the evidence could be used against him or her in a criminal prosecution. Maness v. Meyers, 419 U.S. 449, 461, 95 S.Ct. 584, 42 L.Ed.2d 574 (1975) ; People v. Bassage, 274 Mich.App. 321, 324–325, 733 N.W.2d 398 (2007). The state constitutional right against self-incrimination is interpreted no differently than the federal right.” Bassage, 274 Mich.App. at 324, 733 N.W.2d 398.

In Garrity, 385 U.S. at 494, 87 S.Ct. 616, the New Jersey attorney general's office interviewed police officers about “fixing” traffic tickets. Before the interviews, the attorney general's office warned the police officers that anything they said might be used against them in subsequent criminal proceedings and that they had the right to refuse to answer. Id. However, they were also warned that if they refused to answer, they would be subject to termination from their positions. Id. The attorney general's office later used the police officers' answers to prosecute them for conspiracy to obstruct the administration of the traffic laws. Id. at 495, 87 S.Ct. 616. The United States Supreme Court held that “the protection of the individual under the Fourteenth Amendment against coerced statements prohibits use in subsequent criminal proceedings of statements obtained under threat of removal from office....” Id. at 500, 87 S.Ct. 616.

Since its decision in Garrity, the United States Supreme Court has held that the Fifth Amendment does not protect a defendant from a subsequent prosecution for perjury predicated on statements that the defendant made on the stand after being granted immunity from prosecution regarding the underlying crime. See United States v. Wong, 431 U.S. 174, 178, 97 S.Ct. 1823, 52 L.Ed.2d 231 (1977) (holding that “the Fifth Amendment privilege [against self-incrimination] does not condone perjury” and that [i]t grants a privilege to remain silent without risking contempt, but it ‘does not endow the person who testifies with a license to commit perjury’) (citation omitted); see also United States v. Apfelbaum, 445 U.S. 115, 117, 131, 100 S.Ct. 948, 63 L.Ed.2d 250 (1980) (holding that “proper invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination allows a witness to remain silent, but not to swear falsely” and that “neither the immunity statute nor the Fifth Amendment precludes the use of [a defendant's] immunized testimony at a subsequent prosecution for making false statements, so long as that testimony conforms to otherwise applicable rules of evidence”).

Similarly, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has observed that, as a general rule, “the Fifth Amendment permits the government to use compelled statements obtained during an investigation if the use...

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