Sunday, January 17, 2016

Rev. Pinkney Did Not Receive Constitutionally Required Fair Warning

Rev. Pinkney was charged and convicted by an all white jury, with deeply rooted and unrevealed prejudices, that was motivated by something other than the truth. He was convicted of violating MCL 168.937. Since it is not reasonable to assume that statute gave him notice that his alleged acts were crimes, his due process rights were violated and his conviction must be reversed.
MCL 168.937 provides: Any person found guilty of forgery under the provision of this act shall, unless herein otherwise provided, be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000.00 or by imprisonment in the state prison for a term not exceeding 5 years or by both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the Court.
On its face, the language suggests that the statute's only purpose is to specify a penalty for forgery crimes created and defined by the election law. However, in People v. Hall 2014 WL5409079 an unpublished opinion per curium of the Court of Appeals (issued October 23, 2014 Docket No. 321045) appended the court for purposes of that case by holding that case MCL 168.937 is a statute that creates a substantive forgery crime.
In this case, the critical question is whether Rev. Pinkney could reasonably have been expected to discern that the statute in question was something other than a penalty statute. Notwithstanding its conclusion in Hall, the Court of Appeals recognized that its own conclusion was not obvious and it was necessary to resolve the issue.
The language of the challenged statutes in the cited case is vague and therefore distinguishable from the statue in the instant case which contains language that is clear and precise. Nevertheless the evil of lack of fair warning is no less great when the uncertainty arise from judicial construction rather than from the vagaries of the statutory language itself.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, holding that an individual who lacks fair warning because of a judicial construction subsequent to the purported criminal conduct is deprived of due process. In fact, the court explained that depriving an individual of notice in this manner is even more troubling than charging a person under a statue that is void for vagueness. In case at bar Rev. Pinkney found himself in the same situation as the civil right activist in Bouie. He could not have known that the acts he is accused of committing were proscribed by MCL 168.937 and he could not have known that until the trial court allowed the prosecutor to proceed against him using that statute. Therefore, a denial of his due process rights and his conviction must be reversed.