Not Guilty Verdict and MCR 6.419

Michigan Defense Attorney Explains MCR 6.419

While the Michigan Court Rules changed many years ago, there are many a Michigan defense attorney (and judge) who are still unaware that there are two ways to receive a not guilty verdict during a bench trial.  There’s always a question in an attorney’s mind as to whether to present a case or to simply attack the prosecutor’s case.  But there’s a maneuver that can allow an attorney to avoid making that call.  However, before we get into the technicalities, let’s take a step back.  For those who don’t know, a “bench trial” is a trial where instead of there being 12 jurors there is one judge who will decide the verdict.  There is one obvious advantage and disadvantage to conducting a bench trial instead of a jury trial, which is that only one person is making the biggest decision of your client’s life. 

Now, in a jury trial, normally each side will present their case and then the jury decides whether or not the prosecutor has proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, before a Michigan defense attorney has the chance to present a case the defense has an opportunity to make a motion for a directed verdict.  This means that the judge must make a decision as to whether or not the evidence already submitted can sustain a guilty verdict as decided in the “light most favorable to the prosecution.”  This is legal-speak for saying that it’s almost impossible to win a not guilty verdict in this manner.  It means that the judge must look at things in a way most favorable to the prosecution, i.e. that all of their witnesses were telling the truth.  However, while this is a very high hurdle…things are much different in a bench trial. 

MCR 6.419 states “In an action tried without a jury, after the prosecutor has rested the prosecution’s case-in-chief, the defendant, without waiving the right to offer evidence if the motion is not granted, may move for acquittal on the ground that a reasonable doubt exists. The court may then determine the facts and render a verdict of acquittal, or may decline to render judgment until the close of all the evidence. If the court renders a verdict of acquittal, the court shall make findings of fact.” 

What this means is that after the prosecutor has rested their case, your Michigan defense attorney has the chance to argue to the judge that the prosecutor has not proven her case beyond a reasonable doubt.  Remember, in a jury trial the defense must convince the judge that the evidence “in the light most favorable to the prosecution” could not support a conviction.  This difference makes the odds of the motion being granted are much, MUCH greater.  It also means that, if the judge decides not to grant the motion, the defense knows that it has more work to do, i.e. it must present a case to show the judge that there is reasonable doubt.

Unfortunately, many lawyers and judges are not aware of this standard of asking for a directed verdict in a bench trial.  Yet as you can see, it makes a very significant difference in the strategy that will be used by defense counsel. 

The experienced and knowledgeable defense attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law are skilled both in litigating facts and applying those facts to the law.  You should expect nothing less from a top Michigan defense attorney.  When you want an attorney who isn’t afraid of taking a your case to trial to protect your rights, you want attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law.  If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Michigan, contact a Detroit defense attorney  at Nessel and Kessel Law for a free consultation.


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