April 25, 2016

An amicus brief filed by the firm in a criminal case on appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court has received a great deal of media attention in connection with the case’s oral argument on April 6, 2016.  The case, People of the State of Michigan v. Lorinda Swain, involves a woman who was convicted in 2002 of the sexual abuse of her adopted son, who was 14 years old when he made the accusation.  Ms. Swain served more than seven years of a 25- to 50-year sentence in prison before her son, as an adult, recanted his story.  After a confirming polygraph and corroborating testimony, the original trial judge granted her motion for relief from judgment and set aside her four convictions. 

Since then the Michigan Court of Appeals has twice reversed her efforts to obtain a new trial.  The case is finally before Michigan’s highest court which, in granting leave to appeal, requested briefing on the possible legal pathways and corresponding standards for relief that should apply to claims of actual innocence within the State of Michigan.

The firm filed the amicus brief on behalf of nine current and former Michigan prosecutors, including one who previously prosecuted the case.  Submitted at the request of the court, the brief examines the question, under Michigan law, what are the standards that must be met by a defendant alleging wrongful conviction to be granted a new trial?  The brief, which was referenced by Ms. Swain’s attorney during the rebuttal portion of his argument, argues for a broad reading of Michigan’s statute and court rules to provide relief from convictions where there is substantial evidence that a person is actually innocent and discusses policy implications surrounding the interpretation of the law.

The team that authored the brief was led by Associate Chad J. Ray, who was supervised and guided by Partners Sara Tonnies Horton and Paul D. Margolis.

News of the case and the amicus brief was reported by NPR, The Detroit News, WIN 98.5 and The Daily Kos.  The Innocence Network website and the Battle Creek Enquirer also carried news of Ms. Swain’s appeal.  For more information about the case, including additional briefs that were filed and an audio recording of the oral arguments in the Michigan Supreme Court, please click here.