Court considers challenge of exclusion of testimony

A man accused of murdering his brother and sister-in-law in their Livingston County home, and who confessed to the killings to police, seeks to reverse a trial judge’s ruling barring him from presenting expert testimony regarding false confessions, in a case that the Michigan Supreme Court will hear in oral arguments this week.

In People v Kowalski, the accused sought to introduce testimony from two expert witnesses regarding the phenomenon of false confessions, and the interrogation techniques and psychological factors that tend to generate them.

But the trial judge did not allow the testimony, partly out of concern that the experts could in effect be telling the jury that the defendant’s confession was false.

The jurors could make that determination on their own, the trial judge decided.

The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the trial court in a 2-1 decision; the dissenting judge would have allowed testimony from one expert, who would have addressed the defendant’s personality and explained the defendant’s mental state during the confession.

The Supreme Court will also hear two criminal sexual conduct cases, People v Watkins and People v Pullen, in which each defendant was charged with performing sexual acts with minors.

In each case, the prosecution sought to introduce evidence that the defendant committed sexual acts with another minor; MCL 768.27a provides that, “in a criminal case in which the defendant is accused of committing a listed offense against a minor, evidence that the defendant committed another listed offense against a minor is admissible and may be considered for its bearing on any matter to which it is relevant.”

But the defendants argue that the evidence should be excluded, partly because of an evidence rule that bars even relevant evidence “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury ....”

Also before the court is People v Buie, in which the defendant, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman and two children, argues that his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him was violated when two expert witnesses for the prosecution were allowed to testify for the trial via two-way videoconference.

The remaining nine cases the court will hear include constitutional, contract, criminal, environmental, medical malpractice, municipal, negligence and tort law issues.

The court will hear oral arguments in its courtroom on the sixth floor of the Michigan Hall of Justice today, and again Wednesday and Thursday.

The court’s oral arguments are open to the public.