People v. Tanner, Docket No. 123414.

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation671 N.W.2d 728,469 Mich. 437
Docket NumberDocket No. 123414.
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Hattie Mae TANNER, Defendant Appellee.
Decision Date25 November 2003

671 N.W.2d 728
469 Mich. 437

PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Hattie Mae TANNER, Defendant Appellee

Docket No. 123414.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

November 25, 2003.


Michael A. Cox, Atty. Gen., Thomas L. Casey, Sol. Gen., John A. Hallacy, Prosecuting Atty., and Katherine K. Miller, Asst. Prosecuting Atty., Battle Creek, for the people.

Arthur James Rubiner, West Bloomfield, for defendant.

PER CURIAM.

This case concerns when, under M.C.L. § 775.15, a defendant is entitled to have expert assistance appointed at public expense in a criminal proceeding. Defendant sought expert assistance regarding deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and serology evidence, even though the DNA evidence excluded defendant and the serology evidence

671 N.W.2d 729
suggested only that defendant was one of 2.9 million people who could have been the source of the blood found at the crime scene. Further, defendant failed to give any specific reason why this expert assistance was necessary. The trial court refused defendant's request, ruling that the appointment of an expert was not necessary for defendant to safely proceed to trial. The Court of Appeals reversed defendant's conviction on the ground that she could not have safely proceeded to trial without expert assistance.1 We agree with the trial court; therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the circuit court for reinstatement of defendant's conviction and sentence

I. Facts

A. The DNA and Serological Evidence

In the early hours of March 22, 1995, bartender Sharon Watson was stabbed to death during a robbery at a bar. Hattie Mae Tanner first became a suspect in the case when the police learned that she spent the evening with a man who was one of the last people to see the victim alive.

When questioned by the police, defendant implicated herself. She admitted that a knife found at the bar "look[ed] like one of [her] knives" because of its unique characteristics. She also explained that her fingerprints would be on the knife because she had handled it three or four weeks before the homicide. Also, defendant admitted that she was on the bar premises that evening.

The physical evidence collected from the bar included the knife, a bloodstained napkin, a diluted bloodstain on the sink directly behind the bar, a bloodstained cloth, and, on the victim's shirt, six bloodstains. The prosecutor arranged for DNA and serological analyses of this evidence.

The DNA evidence excluded defendant.2 Some evidence that could not be tested for DNA was subjected to serological testing for both blood type and phosphoglucomutase (PGM), an enzyme found in human blood.3 This testing established that the diluted bloodstain found on the bar sink was of the same blood type and PGM subtype as defendant's blood. The prosecution's expert clarified, however, that a comparison of the two blood profiles did not confirm that the blood was defendant's. Rather, the evidence established that defendant and about four percent of the African-American population have the same blood profile. The prosecution's serology expert testified that African-Americans constituted twenty-six percent of the United States population of 280 million people, and that "[p]ossibly millions" would have the same blood type and PGM subtype as defendant.4

B. Circuit Court Proceedings

Defendant filed a pretrial motion under M.C.L. § 775.15 for expert assistance in DNA and blood typing. This statute authorizes payment for an expert witness, provided that an indigent defendant is able

671 N.W.2d 730
to show "that there is a material witness in his favor within the jurisdiction of the court, without whose testimony he cannot safely proceed to a trial...." Id. If the defendant makes this showing, the judge "in his discretion" may grant funds for the retention of an expert witness. Id.

At the hearing, defense counsel informed the trial court that he did not want to retain an expert to reanalyze the blood samples or repeat the testing conducted by the prosecution's experts. He stated that he wanted an expert to help him better understand the DNA evidence and possibly to testify at trial. After the prosecution pointed out that the DNA evidence was exculpatory, defense counsel asked for money to "consult the DNA expert, and then based on that consultation if I can persuade you that some money should be kicked in for him to testify then we can revisit that area...." The trial court denied the request.

The case proceeded to trial. The jury found defendant guilty of second-degree murder, felony murder, and armed robbery. The trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment for felony murder and vacated the other two convictions.

C. The Court of Appeals Decision

Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals, which vacated her conviction and remanded the case for retrial. The Court concluded that the "trial court erred in depriving defendant of expert assistance in the areas of DNA and serology because she could not otherwise proceed safely to trial without such assistance." 255 Mich. App at 404, 660 N.W.2d 746. It characterized the role of DNA and serology evidence in the case as "critical." Id. at 405, 660 N.W.2d 746. A DNA expert was needed so that defendant could "develop and argue the point that the DNA evidence exculpated her." Id. at 405-406, 660 N.W.2d 746. A serology expert was needed so that defendant could "defend herself against the effect" of the serology evidence, or "diminish its force by explaining that it constituted an anomalous test result." Id. at 406, 660 N.W.2d 746.

Further, the Court held that, without this expert assistance, defendant received a fundamentally unfair trial. Because it could not say that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, it reversed defendant's conviction and remanded for a new trial. The dissent stated that defendant had not shown that "the absence of an expert jeopardized her ability to prepare a defense," id. at 425, 660...

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  • People v. Agar, Docket No. 321243.
    • United States
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    • February 2, 2016
    ...to provide funds for the appointment of an expert on demand.” Carnicom, 272 Mich.App. at 617, 727 N.W.2d 399, citing People v. Tanner, 469 Mich. 437, 442, 671 N.W.2d 728 (2003). Under MCL 775.15, the defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that “there is a material witness in his favor ......
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    ...expense. We disagree. We review the trial court's decision whether to appoint an expert for an abuse of discretion. People v. Tanner, 469 Mich. 437, 442, 671 N.W.2d 728 (2003).MCL 775.15 authorizes payment for an expert witness, provided that an indigent 879 N.W.2d 289 defendant is able to ......
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