Law School Case Brief
People v. Conley - 270 Mich. App. 301, 715 N.W.2d 377 (2006)
The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Michigan Constitution guarantee a defendant the right to a fair and impartial trial. The Michigan Court of Appeals has set forth the following analysis for determining whether a trial court's comments or conduct deprived a defendant of his right to a fair and impartial trial: Michigan case law provides that a trial judge has wide discretion and power in matters of trial conduct. This power, however, is not unlimited. If the trial court's conduct pierces the veil of judicial impartiality, a defendant's conviction must be reversed. The appropriate test to determine whether the trial court's comments or conduct pierced the veil of judicial impartiality is whether the trial court's conduct or comments were of such a nature as to unduly influence the jury and thereby deprive the appellant of his right to a fair and impartial trial.
After an altercation with another man, defendant Aaron Conley was charged with various crimes. At trial, defendant interrupted the court proceedings several times before the trial court issued its threat that it would have his mouth taped shut. However, the trial court did not tape defendant's mouth shut, and it appears that the trial continued in an orderly fashion. After the jury convicted defendant of first-degree home invasion, felonious assault, and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony. Defendant appealed, arguing that he was denied his due process right to an impartial and fair trial because the trial court lacked impartiality.
By threatening to tape defendant’s mouth, did the trial court judge display impartiality, thereby, denying defendant his due process right to an impartial and fair trial?
The appellate court reviewed the record and affirmed the convictions, finding that the trial court did not deny defendant's right to a fair trial under U.S. Const. amend. VI and the Michigan Constitution where it properly warned him of what actions it could take if defendant continued to disrupt the trial proceedings. According to the Court, if a defendant was unruly, disruptive, rude, and obstreperous, a trial court is within its discretion to gag a defendant where repeated warnings have been ineffective.
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