People v. Kennedy

Citation502 Mich. 206,917 N.W.2d 355
Decision Date29 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 154445,154445
Parties PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Johnny Ray KENNEDY, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtSupreme Court of Michigan

502 Mich. 206
917 N.W.2d 355

PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Johnny Ray KENNEDY, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 154445

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued December 6, 2017
Decided June 29, 2018

917 N.W.2d 357

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, Kym L. Worthy, Prosecuting Attorney, Jason W. Williams, Chief of Research, Training, and Appeals, and Timothy A. Baughman, Special Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people.

State Appellate Defender (by Erin Van Campen and Jacqueline J. McCann) for defendant.

Michigan Innocence Clinic (by Imran J. Syed, David A. Moran, and Rebecca L. Hahn) for amici curiae, Shawn Brown, Terry Ceasor, Juwan Deering, Milton Lemons, and Karl Vinson.


Viviano, J.

502 Mich. 210

In this case, defendant claims that the trial court violated his constitutional right to present a defense when it denied his request to appoint a DNA expert. The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that defendant failed to show that expert testimony would benefit his defense, as required by MCL 775.15 and People v. Tanner .1 We take this opportunity to clarify that MCL 775.15 does not apply in this context; instead, we hold—as we must—that Ake v. Oklahoma2 is the controlling law. And, to assist trial courts in determining whether a defendant has made a sufficient showing to be entitled to expert assistance under Ake , we adopt the reasonable probability standard from Moore v. Kemp .3

Accordingly, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, we vacate the Court of Appeals’ decision and remand to that Court for further proceedings.

502 Mich. 211


In November 1993, the body of Tanya Harris was discovered in an abandoned building in Detroit. The cause of death was strangulation. Attempts to find Harris’s murderer stalled for nearly two decades until 2011, when various swabs taken from Harris’s body were tested. The swab from Harris’s left fingernail included a mixture of DNA profiles—from Harris and three male donors. Defendant’s DNA profile matched the major donor’s. Vaginal and rectal swabs taken from Harris also matched defendant’s DNA profile. By this time, defendant was already incarcerated for having admitted to strangling another woman in 1996 under similar circumstances.

Defendant was charged with Harris’s murder. Defense counsel requested the appointment of Brian Zubel as a DNA expert to help understand the evidence, although counsel did not expect Zubel would testify at trial. Specifically, defense counsel noted that the DNA evidence "poses an especially technical and complex range of issues for defense counsel, as the essence of the prosecutions’ [sic] case is the presentation of a report from a qualified technician or scientist." In order to provide effective assistance and

917 N.W.2d 358
zealously confront the witnesses and evidence called in the prosecution’s case in chief, [defense counsel] must be educated ... in the science and accepted protocols of DNA extraction, preservation, testing, as well as the dangers of contamination and the steps and measures taken to document a particular test, and to maintain the proper calibration of testing equipment.

The court denied defendant’s request, stating: "I’m not going to appoint him for that. You can talk to him[;] you can read up on him and go to the

502 Mich. 212

conference which all the rest of us have done that[.]"4

A jury ultimately convicted defendant of first-degree premeditated murder. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court’s denial of his motion to appoint an expert violated his constitutional right to present a defense. The Court of Appeals, in a split opinion, affirmed his conviction and found no abuse of discretion or constitutional error in the trial court’s denial of defendant’s request for an expert.5 The majority noted that defendant did not provide enough evidence that an expert would have aided the defense, nor did defendant raise any specific concerns with the evidence.6 In dissent, Judge STEPHENS argued that the majority’s analysis "begs the question of why defendant would need an expert" because "defendant does not know the inherent concerns with DNA evidence or all the ways in which it may be flawed without an expert to bring those issues to light."7 Thus, the dissent concluded that the trial court’s refusal to appoint an expert violated defendant’s due process rights.8

This Court ordered oral argument on the application, directing the parties to file supplemental briefing "addressing whether the trial court abused its discretion under MCL 775.15 and/or violated the defendant’s

502 Mich. 213

constitutional right to present a defense when it denied his request to appoint a DNA expert."9


This Court reviews de novo a question of constitutional law.10 The interpretation and application of statutes present questions of law that are also reviewed de novo.11


We must first determine what law applies to defendant’s claim that the trial court violated his due process rights when it denied his request for the appointment of a DNA expert. Then we consider what

917 N.W.2d 359

showing defendant must make to be entitled to the appointment of the expert.


In Ake v. Oklahoma ,12 the Supreme Court addressed "whether the Constitution requires that an indigent defendant have access to the psychiatric examination and assistance necessary to prepare an effective defense based on his mental condition, when his sanity at the time of the offense is seriously in question."13 The Court began its analysis with an overview of the law in this area:

502 Mich. 214
This Court has long recognized that when a State brings its judicial power to bear on an indigent defendant in a criminal proceeding, it must take steps to assure that the defendant has a fair opportunity to present his defense. This elementary principle, grounded in significant part on the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process guarantee of fundamental fairness, derives from the belief that justice cannot be equal where, simply as a result of his poverty, a defendant is denied the opportunity to participate meaningfully in a judicial proceeding in which his liberty is at stake.[14 ]

After reviewing several of its precedents affording various rights to indigent criminal defendants, the Court observed that

[m]eaningful access to justice has been the consistent theme of these cases. We recognized long ago that mere access to the courthouse doors does not by itself assure a proper functioning of the adversary process, and that a criminal trial is fundamentally unfair if the State proceeds against an indigent defendant without making certain that he has access to the raw materials integral to the building of an effective defense. Thus, while the Court has not held that a State must purchase for the indigent defendant all the assistance that his wealthier counterpart might buy, it has often reaffirmed that fundamental fairness entitles indigent defendants to an adequate opportunity to present their claims fairly within the adversarial system. To implement this principle, we have focused on identifying the basic tools of an adequate defense or appeal, and we have required that such tools be provided to those defendants who cannot afford to pay for them.[15 ]

Turning to the issue presented—i.e., "whether, and under what conditions, the participation of a psychiatrist is important enough to preparation of a defense to

502 Mich. 215

require the State to provide an indigent defendant with access to competent psychiatric assistance in preparing the defense"16 —the Court considered the three-factor due process test set forth in Mathews v. Eldridge17 : (1) "the private interest that will be affected by the action of the State," (2) "the governmental interest that will be affected if the safeguard is to be provided," and (3) "the probable value of the additional or substitute procedural safeguards that are sought, and the risk of an erroneous deprivation of the affected interest

917 N.W.2d 360

if those safeguards are not provided."18

The Court made quick work of the first two factors. In relation to the first, it observed that "[t]he private interest in the accuracy of a criminal proceeding that places an individual’s life or liberty at risk is almost uniquely compelling."19 Thus, the Court concluded that "[t]he interest of the individual in the outcome of the State’s effort to overcome the presumption of innocence is obvious and weighs heavily in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
47 cases
  • People v. Propp, 343255
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • October 3, 2019
    ...defendant a fair opportunity to confront the prosecution's evidence and present his 330 Mich.App. 160 defense. See People v. Kennedy , 502 Mich. 206, 226-227, 917 N.W.2d 355 (2018).2 946 N.W.2d 793 A. WHETHER DEFENDANT WAS ENTITLED TO A STATE-FUNDED EXPERT WITNESS At the time that the trial......
  • People v. Parks
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 28, 2022
    ...over 18 years old at the time of the offense. A. STANDARD OF REVIEW We review questions of constitutional law de novo. People v Kennedy, 502 Mich. 206, 213; 917 N.W.2d 355 (2018). Moreover, we alone are "the ultimate authority with regard to the meaning and application of Michigan law." Bul......
  • People v. Warner
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • October 7, 2021
    ...and the risk of an erroneous deprivation of the affected interest if those safeguards are not provided. [ Id. ]In People v. Kennedy , 502 Mich. 206, 210, 917 N.W.2d 355 (2018), our Supreme Court held that the United 339 Mich.App. 146 States Supreme Court's decision in Ake "is the controllin......
  • Barnes v. Stoddard
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
    • March 28, 2023
    ...that the comment regarding presentism relates to the court's mention of the Michigan Supreme Court's decision in People v. Kennedy, 917 N.W.2d 355 (Mich. 2018). Kennedy, a relatively recent decision at the time of the trial court's bench opinion, held that the decision whether or not to fun......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT