Michigan Attorney General Plan Would Erode Right to Fair Trial, Charges ACLU

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
May 10, 2005 12:00 am

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DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today expressed concern over reports that Attorney General Mike Cox is pushing for legislation that would significantly alter the judicial process and jeopardize due process rights by doing away with preliminary examinations in most felony cases.

“We’ve learned that Mr. Cox plans to support a bill, soon to be introduced, that would eliminate preliminary exams for most defendants charged with felonies,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “There are many reasons why Mr. Cox’s plan is a very bad idea, not the least of which is that we are all entitled to a fair trial.”

As recently reported in local news outlets, Cox’s plan would do away with Michigan’s long-standing preliminary exam system, in which a district court judge determines if there is enough evidence to send a case to trial.

In a letter sent to Cox, the ACLU noted that preliminary exams provide an important screening and discovery procedure, which makes it easier for judges to weed out cases that are not supported by probable cause or appropriately reduce the charge in those cases in which the defendant has been over-charged. The ACLU also said that the exams provide an important opportunity to identify information in order to prepare a defense, and provide both the prosecution and defense the opportunity to assess the credibility of key witnesses in a case.

“Preliminary exams are valuable to the truth-seeking function of a trial to ensure that memories of events are fresh and not changed over time,” added Moss.

According to news reports, Cox is lobbying judges and legislators to support the legislation, claiming that doing away with preliminary examinations would streamline the criminal process and save money. However, in its letter, the ACLU said that such an argument is not valid and concerns about efficiency can be addressed through pre-exam conferences, which some courts currently use.

“Streamlining the judicial process may seem like a good idea,” said Moss. “But streamlining our rights to a fair trial is not.”

To read the entire letter sent to Attorney General Cox, go to: www.aclumich.org/attachments/prelimexamcox.pdf.

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