People v. Severance

Decision Date25 October 1972
Docket NumberNo. 3,Docket No. 12345,3
Citation204 N.W.2d 357,43 Mich.App. 394
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Phillip Lawrence SEVERANCE, a/k/a Phillip Lawrence Foster, Defendant-Appellant
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Frederic F. Balgooyen, Muskegon Heights, for defendant-appellant.

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Robert A. Derengoski, Sol. Gen., Paul M. Ladas, Pros. Atty. For plaintiff-appellee.



Defendant Phillip Lawrence Severance was convicted by a jury of rape contrary to M.C.L.A. § 750.520; M.S.A. § 28.788. He was sentenced to prison and is now appealing as of right.

Defendant raises five issues and we deem it necessary to consider only two of these, the others not being of substance.


Was it reversible error to allow a police officer to testify that after defendant had been warned of his constitutional rights, he remained silent, despite the absence of objection thereto?

The now-objected-to testimony brought out by the prosecuting attorney on direct examination of police officer Swope is as follows:

'Q. (by the prosecutor): You indicated that you advised Mr. Severance of his rights. By that what do you mean?

'A. (by police officer Swope): Gave him the Miranda warning.

'Q. And what warnings did you give him?

'A. I read it from the card--you have a right to remain silent. If you choose to waive your right to remain silent anything you say, any answers you give will be used against you in Court. You have a right to talk to an attorney or other person of your choice. If you want an attorney but can not afford one, an attorney will be appointed. If you give up your rights to remain silent and your right to an attorney, at any time during the questioning you decide you want an attorney, then we will stop until you have talked to one. If you give up your right to remain silent at any time you say that you don't want to answer anymore questions the questioning will stop. Do you understand what I have just told you? And, he replied, 'Yes.'--'Do you want an attorney?', he replied: 'No.'--'Do you wish to waive, give up your right to remain silent?', he said, 'I will talk.'

'Q. Now, you stated that both you and your partner at the time you stopped this vehicle were acquainted with Mr. Severance?

'A. That is correct.

'Q. OK. You stopped him initially and gave him a ticket for no operator's license. Is that correct?

'A. That's correct.

'Q. What was Mr. Severance' demeanor at the time you made the initial stop, originally, to talk to him?

'A. He was quite jovial. We know him. We had several occasions to meet Mr. Severance on traffic stops. He had received quite few tickets.

'Q. He was pretty jovial at this time?

'A. That's right.

'Q. When you advised him of his rights and started to talk about this particular case what was his attitude?

'A. He didn't say anything. I advised him of his rights and after that, then he says, 'What's this all about?'--and I told him what it was about and then he shut up and he didn't say anything.'

The rule is not firmly established that the prosecution may not use at trial the fact that a defendant exercised his privilege of silence in face of accusation, for such would penalize the defendant for exercising the privilege. People v. Jablonski, 38 Mich.App. 33, 195 N.W.2d 777 (1972). The people assert that inasmuch as defendant failed to object at trial he has not preserved the issue for appeal. This is generally true; however, such failure to object does not preclude review of an alleged violation of a constitutional right. People v. Cotton, 38 Mich.App. 763, 197 N.W.2d 90 (1972).

In the case of People v. Graham, 386 Mich. 452, 458, 192 N.W.2d 255, 258 (1971), it is stated:

'In our holding today, we stress that the defendant's refusal to speak during interrogation is admissible only to impeach his own inconsistent statements at trial.'

Admission of such testimony is reversible error unless we can say that it is harmless error under the ruling in Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967), reh. den. 386 U.S. 987, 87 S.Ct. 1283, 18 L.Ed.2d 241 (1967).

In People v. Jablonski, 38 Mich.App. 33, 38--39, 195 N.W.2d 777, 780 (1972), our Court stated:

'The admission of such testimony obviously was error. The only question is whether or not it was harmless error. For the reasons set forth in State v. Stuart, Supra (456 S.W.2d 19 (Mo.1970)), it would not appear that it could be said that it was harmless error. Also, since the prosecutor failed to file a brief in opposition, the inevitable conclusion is that he agrees that reversible error was committed. People v. Walma, 26 Mich.App. 326, 182 N.W.2d 110 (1970). It would appear that the better rule is that there is absolutely no probative value in eliciting that the defendants were informed of their rights unless the prosecutor intends to offer a confession or statement made by the defendants. Since there is a potential prejudicial effect even from the mere mention of the rights statement, even in the absence of testimony that the defendant wished to exercise those rights, such statements should be excluded. Where there is an objection to such testimony, the trial court, in an attempt to alleviate the error, should immediately strike the testimony and instruct the jury that they should not consider it, and should then prohibit the prosecutor from making any further reference to the defendant's exercise of his right to remain silent.

'Continued expansion of the harmless error rule will merely encourage prosecutors to attempt to get such testimony in, since they know that, if they have a strong case, such testimony will not be considered to be reversible error, yet if they have a weak case, they...

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12 cases
  • People v. Minor
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • 6 Octubre 1995
    ...analysis. Chapman, supra; Bushard, supra; People v. Johnson, 427 Mich. 98, 115, n. 14, 398 N.W.2d 219 (1986); People v. Severance, 43 Mich.App. 394, 204 N.W.2d 357 (1972). In finding that the error in this case does not require automatic reversal, we are substantially influenced by our conc......
  • Younie v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • 22 Julio 1974
    ...of words with every idle straggler who may choose to accuse him to his face.' A Michigan appellate court in People v. Severance, 43 Mich.App. 394, 204 N.W.2d 357, 359 (1972) 'The rule is now firmly established that the prosecution may not use at trial the fact that a defendant exercised his......
  • People v. Swan
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • 8 Octubre 1974
    ...386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967); People v. Robinson, 386 Mich. 551, 194 N.W.2d 709 (1972); People v. Severance, 43 Mich.App. 394, 204 N.W.2d 357 (1972). The standards by which we measure error to determine whether it is reversible, or merely harmless, have become well 'Wher......
  • State v. Canada, 55944
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • 14 Noviembre 1973
    ...v. Patterson, 475 F.2d 1066, 1068 (10th Cir. 1973); Fowle v. United States, 410 F.2d 48 (9th Cir. 1969); People v. Severance, 43 Mich.App. 394, 204 N.W.2d 357, 358--360 (1972). Noticeably, however, defense counsel voiced no objection to the last above stated question put to Dolan. Neither w......
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