Legal Blog

The Knife found on OJ’s Property and Double Jeopardy

In a story that has made headlines all over the world, literally, news broke today that almost 20 years ago, a knife was recovered from the property of OJ Simpson.  While the origin of the knife is not totally clear, it is entirely possible that this knife could yield further evidence about the murders of which OJ was accused.

In what was easily one of the most, if not the most, famous criminal trials of the 20th century, OJ Simpson was accused of murdering his wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman.  After a 7 month trial, OJ was found not guilty on all charges.  Even though news of the knife is fresh, I have already been asked by many people; what if the knife has Nicole’s blood on it?  The answer is two fold.  With respect to the families of the victims, this may give them some final piece of mind.  With respect to OJ’s criminal case, it means nothing.

The double jeopardy clause of the US Constitution (located conveniently in the 5th Amendment) states that “[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…”  Translated into today’s English, once you have been tried for a crime you cannot be tried again for the same crime.  Of course, as with anything in the legal world this one sentence is not the final word on this issue.

The double jeopardy clause of the 5th Amendment does not “attach” itself when a person is arrested, charged, or even after they’ve made several court appearances.  At any of these points a case may be dismissed and then brought again.  Jeopardy only “attaches” at two distinct points.  In a jury trial “jeopardy” attaches when the jury is sworn in.  In a bench trial (a trial where the judge sits as the trier of fact and there is no jury), “jeopardy” attaches when the first witness is sworn in before testifying.

But simply saying that a defendant cannot be tried twice for the same crime is not the end of the story.  For example, if a defendant is found guilty of a crime, but the conviction is later overturned because of an error in the trial, the defendant may (and probably will) have to go through the trial again.  The fact that he was already tried once does not mean he cannot be tried again, in this instance.  However, if a defendant is found “not guilty” by a judge or a jury (which obviously happens after jeopardy has attached), then that is the final word and the defendant cannot be tried for the offense again…even if the prosecutor was able to, let’s say, find a murder weapon linking the defendant to a killing.

While this brief synopsis of double jeopardy only scratches the surface of issue of double jeopardy, I hope that it explains why, for the purposes of the criminal case, the discovery of this knife will have no impact on any criminal proceedings.

New Michigan Gun Law


On March 4, 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill that would change the way concealed pistol licenses (CPL) were issued.  Yesterday that bill went into effect.  According to the Governor, the new bill will “streamline” how CPL’s are issued.  However some, including those at Nessel & Kessel Law, are concerned that the new law will allow for more potentially dangerous persons to possess and conceal weapons.

Under the “old system” each county had a 3 member “gun board” that would consider applications for CPL’s.  The board’s were comprised of various law enforcement officials; one of which was usually a member of the County Sheriff’s office.  If the applicant was not expressly prohibited by law from receiving a CPL, the board could still request an interview with the applicant.  The application could then be granted or denied based on the interview.

Under the new law, these gun boards have been dissolved.  When a person applies for a CPL, the clerk’s office has 45 days to issue a CPL.  If the applicant does not receive a denial after 45 days, his or her application will actually serve as a valid, temporary permit.  Additionally, now it is the county clerks and state police that will take responsibility for the application process. Applicants must disclose whether they’ve been diagnosed with any mental illness.  However, federal law prohibits the Michigan state police (which will now determine an applicant’s eligibility) from gaining access to mental health records.  The only exception is if the applicant was involuntarily ordered to receive treatment by a court.   Thus it’s likely no one will catch an applicant if he or she lies.

All this means that it will now become easier for citizens of Michigan to obtain CPL’s.  Unfortunately the minimal training required to receive a CPL does not do nearly enough to prepare a person in the event that they are forced (or simply choose to) use their firearm.  It is all too often that a person who legally owns and conceals their firearm will find themselves charged with a crime based on their use of the weapon.  It only takes a few seconds and a person can find themselves facing gun charges like Felonious Assault, Brandishing a Firearm, Reckless Discharge of a Firearm, and Felony Firearm.

If you or a friend or family member has been charged with a gun crime, contact the defense attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law.


Attempted Murder Charges Dismissed

Attempted murder, felony firearm, and reckless discharge of a firearm were just some of the charges that were dismissed after a preliminary exam held by defense attorney Chris Kessel, in the district court in the City of Taylor, Michigan.  It was alleged that our client, JM, had used a shotgun to shoot his son in the arm, in an attempt to kill him.  The allegations were supported by witness statements that claimed that the client had raised the weapon at his son, who was standing in a hallway in the family home, and fired a single shot, hitting him in the arm. 

During the exam the prosecutor continually tried to elicit testimony to show the defendant had acted intentionally.  The complaining witness (our client’s son) testified that there was a fight earlier in the day, which lead to a confrontation over the weapon that was later fired.  The prosecutor went over where the two men were standing, the position of their hands on the firearm, and spent a considerable amount of time on the significant injuries that the complaining witness sustained.  

Despite the allegations, the complaining witness, on cross examination, testified that he believed that the shooting was an accidental one.  The judge appeared skeptical at first, but then attorney Chris Kessel, with the help of the witness, reinacted the shooting for the court.  After the reenactment the judge told Chris Kessel that he found the demonstration most helpful…he then proceeded to dismiss all the charges.  The prosecutor tried to get the judge to add additional misdemeanors to the charging document, but the judge refused.

Our client went from looking at a possible prison term of a minimum of over 10 years to being home for dinner that night. 

If you or a friend or family member has been charged with any offense, make sure you have the best representation possible.  Contact the attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law today for a free consultation. 

New HYTA Law

Recently, the Michigan Legislature made what some what call a surprising move…they made life a little bit easier for young criminal defendants.  For years, criminal defendants aged 17-20 have able to take advantage of HYTA – the Holmes Youthful Training Act – as a way of avoiding a criminal conviction from staining their record.  When a youthful offender pled guilty to a certain offense, he or she, upon successful completion of that probation, would have the conviction suppressed from their criminal record.  The determination of whether or not HYTA status would be granted was in the sole discretion of the judge.  However, the new HYTA statute, while not perfect, has opened the door for more youthful offenders to be granted HYTA status.

Under the new statute, offenders up the age of 24 are eligible for HYTA probation.  However, there is a catch…for those aged 17-20, the decision regarding HYTA still resides with the judge.  For those aged 21-23, the decision to allow for HYTA rests not with the judge, but with the prosecutor.  This gives the prosecutors more leverage in negotiating pleas for those who wish to receive HYTA probation.

Defendants who enter guilty pleas to life offenses, traffic offenses, major drug offenses, or criminal sexual conduct charges, are disqualified from receiving HYTA probation.

Those placed on HYTA probation may be required to complete school, maintain employment, be placed on electronic tether, or be subject to a number of other requirements.  There is also the possibility of spending time a special branch of the MDOC, for up to 3 years.  However, there are certain offenses for which a defendant may NOT be sentenced to a term of incarceration.

If you or a family member of friend believe you may be eligible for HYTA probation, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law.

Why you need a second-parent adoption.

Having your name on the birth certificate is not enough; you need a second-parent adoption.

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates their 14th Amendment rights; specifically the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. This meant that once these same-sex couples were issued licenses and were officially married, they would have the same rights as their opposite sex counterparts. As counties across Michigan began issuing marriage licenses and couples began getting married, those same couples were left unsure as how to proceed with respect to their children; specifically what is the best way to protect the second – non-biological – parent’s rights as a parent to a child born during the course of their marriage?

Initially, the consensus was that if the non-biological parent was placed on the birth certificate, they would simply become the second “legal” parent, thus their parental rights would be protected. However, this is absolutely not the case. In fact, the non-biological parent in a same sex marriage is particularly susceptible to losing their status as legal parent of their non-biological child, regardless of whether their name is on the child’s birth certificate.

In order to better understand the problem, it is necessary to understand two legal issues: 1) the definition of “parent” in accordance with Michigan’s Custody Act; and 2) the rebuttable presumption of paternity.

The Michigan Custody Act (MCA) defines a “parent” as “the natural or adoptive parent of a child.”

The rebuttable presumption of paternity is a fairly simple concept; a child born while a couple is married is presumed to be the biological child of the married couple. This presumption is codified in MCL 700.2114(a), where the “parent and child relationship” is defined follows:

“If a child is born or conceived during a marriage, both spouses are presumed to be the natural parents of the child for purposes of intestate succession. A child conceived by a married woman with the consent of her husband following utilization of assisted reproductive technology is considered as their child for purposes of intestate succession. Consent of the husband is presumed unless the contrary is shown by clear and convincing evidence. If a man and a woman participated in a marriage ceremony in apparent compliance with the law before the birth of a child, even though the attempted marriage may be void, the child is presumed to be their child for purposes of intestate succession.”

However, this presumption may be rebutted by another party, who may claim that they are the actual, natural parent of a child. This is where things can get complicated and where merely having a second parent’s name on a birth certificate (instead of performing a second parent adoption) can get couples into trouble.

The MCA is clear about what defines a parent in the state of Michigan: a person must be either the “natural or adoptive” parent of a child. Having a name on a birth certificate is not good enough. It may be a nice document to get framed, but it does not protect the second – non-biological parent – from having their parental rights stripped.   This could happen in the form of a third party, claiming to be the actual parent, who wants custody of a child. Sadly, this could also come when a same sex-couple’s relationship dissolves and the natural parent does not want the second – non-biological parent – to be in the life of their child. See the case Dana Nessel argued in Harmon v Davis, 489 Mich 986 (2011) for context about the devastating realty of this scenario. Detroit Free Press article

The issue is even more apparent when examined through the lens of the rebuttable presumption of paternity. The rebuttable presumption may be challenged by showing that the second – non-biological – parent is not the “natural” parent of the child. The reason this is such a problem for same-sex couples is obvious as only one spouse in a same-sex couple can be the biological parent of a child.

Fortunately, there is an incredibly simple way to avoid the very serious complications and pitfalls of not being considered a true parent even when your name is already on a child’s birth certificate. Second-parent adoption is not only the easy solution, it is the only solution to the problem. Once you complete a second-parent adoption, you are considered a parent to your child under Michigan law. Problem solved.

The area surrounding the legal rights of same-sex couples and their families is a new and sometimes confusing one. However, the attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law are the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys in the State of Michigan on these matters. If you wish to discuss second-parent adoption to protect yourself and your family, contact us at (313) 556-2300 or email us today.


You Might Quality to Have Your Name Removed from Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry

Recently, the laws surrounding Michigan’s sex offender registry have come under intense scrutiny. Proponents of such a classifying system argue that registries help parents and other upstanding citizens keep track of violent sexual offenders and pedophiles who prey on children, but those opposed point to research that suggests otherwise.

Sex offender registry lists may, in fact, do little to protect communities from danger, and instead create trouble and torment for those nonviolent offenders who are unlikely to reoffend. (It’s interesting to note that the state of Michigan has the fourth highest per capita number of offenders on its list; and is only one of four that requires those convicted of public urination to register — seems crazy, right?)

Many argue that Michigan’s sex offender registry laws are too broad, and maybe even downright unconstitutional. That: That’s for someone else to decide on a different day, and here what we’ll talk about instead is this:

How to Remove Your Name from Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry

If you were convicted of a sex crime in Michigan, and were required to add your name to the list of sexual offenders in the state, know that you may qualify to petition the court, to have your name removed from the sex offender registry.

Do you know what kind of information the state has on you?

More than you might think.

The sex offender registry in Michigan contains:

  • Your name
  • Your place of employment,
  • Your mugshot,
  • The crime(s) that put you on the list
  • Your car’s make, model, color and license plate.

Do I qualify to petition the court to have my name removed?


Thanks to the Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA), Public Act 17 and Public Act 18, of 2011, certain sexual offenders in Michigan can petition to have their names removed from the state’s sex offender registry; prior to the Act’s passage in 2011, this was not possible, for any reason whatsoever.

Now, things are different.

Tier I offenders — those whose offenses were the least severe (e.g., indecent exposure, most cases of fourth degree criminal sexual misconduct, and possession of child pornography) — may petition the court to have their names removed from the Michigan sex offender registry list after 10 years. Before 2011, such offenders would be required to wait 15 years.

Tier III offenders are those whose crimes were more severe (e.g., first degree criminal sexual misconduct, and child molestation), and are required to register for life. However, under SORA, Tier III offenders may petition the court to reduce their registration sentence to 25 years — but only if the offender was a juvenile at the time of offense.

With that in mind, juvenile offenders — those convicted before July 1, 2011, and those who were under the age of 14 at the time of conviction — may petition the court to have their names removed entirely.

You might qualify to have your name removed from the sex offender registry.

The Sex Offender Registry Act of Michigan makes it possible to have your name removed from the sex offender registry, so there is hope. But it’s not a perfect process, nor an easy one. And you only get one shot. This is why it’s absolutely necessary to have an experienced attorney in your corner as you petition the court for removal from Michigan’s sex offender registry.

New Expungement Bill Signed

In a rare move by the Michigan Legislature and Governor Snyder, a bill was signed into law today that actually makes like a bit easier for those with a criminal record.  The new bill makes it possible for a person with 2 misdemeanors OR 1 NON-VIOLENT felony to have the convictions removed from their record.

Under the new law, once 5 years from the date of sentencing have passed (or 5 years after any release from incarceration, whichever is later) a person may begin the process for an expungement.  If your criminal record consists of 2 misdemeanors and 1 felony, you can now petition to have the felony expunged.  Further, if a person has 2 misdemeanors on their record, they may now petition to have 1 or both convictions set aside.  The new law also allows for an expungement even for an assaultive crime, which was not permitted before.  It requires that the prosecution notify the victim and that he/she be allowed to be present and speak at the expungement hearing.  There are, of course, certain exceptions for crimes that will not be expunged.  These include convictions involving Criminal Sexual Conduct (though not CSC 4, depending on the circumstances), major drug crimes, human trafficking, and any crimes where the punishment is up to life in prison. 

Everyone knows that having a clean criminal record is key to gaining employment, entering higher education, and even a basic sense of dignity.  If you, a family member, or friend believes they may be eligible for an expungement, contact the attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law today.


Here is a link to a story in the Free Press as well as a link to the new bill.

Use of Force by Law Enforcement

Generally we at Nessel and Kessel Law will refrain from editorializing on our blog.  We find it’s more useful to cite new updates in the law, discuss our own cases, or discuss meaningful cases that are pending cases before the United States Supreme Court.  However, considering the recent developments in Missouri and New York, we feel it’s time to comment.

It should first be said that the majority of law enforcement officers correctly, legally, and properly do their duty.  However, as is always the case, a few spoiled apples will ruin the bunch. 

In the Michael Brown case, the prosecutor who was in charge of presenting the evidence explained to the nation that there was an abundance of conflicting testimony.  He also mentioned that the some of the testimony conflicted with the physical evidence.  He said that based on these two factors, as well as others, that there was no enough evidence to show probable cause that the officer committed a crime.  Now here’s where I (Chris Kessel) get lost…every day in Michigan courts hold preliminary exams.  These are hearings where the prosecutor presents testimony in the hopes that they are able to establish probable cause that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed that crime.  Day after day defense attorneys impeach the credibility of witnesses that are called by the prosecutor.  We (attorneys) are able to show that the testimony of witnesses conflicts with the physical evidence, sometimes in very obvious ways.  When it comes to argument, we will vigorously argue that the only evidence against our client is the “suspect” testimony presented by the state.  We are then told by judges, of all races and ages, “well counselor, the burden of the people is only ‘probable cause’ and the witnesses testified that the defendant did _____.  Even though you pointed out several inconsistencies, that’s a question of fact for the trier of fact…”  Let me be clear, as long as a witness testifies that the defendant did SOMETHING illegal, despite the fact that they have been impeached by the physical evidence as well as their own testimony, the case will be sent to trial because the witness testified to X. 

Now as much as it pains me, the judges are usually correct…but my concern is this: if there is a probable cause when conflicting evidence arises, creating a “question of fact for the trier of fact” Michigan, why does the same standard not apply in Missouri?  

We know less about the unfortunate case of Eric Garner, mostly because the story is so fresh.  But for those that don’t know, Mr. Garner died at the hands of several members of the NYPD.  The entire incident was captured on film.  Yes, the ENTIRE event was filmed.  There is no need for speculation regarding the events in New York, we can see them unfold.  And not just part of the story or a section of events.  We can see the police approach Mr. Garner, try and subdue him, then choke him.  I was not on the grand jury (obviously), but I cannot imagine how there was not probable cause to charge this officer. 

This is not – should not – be about taking out frustration about police misconduct on a few rogue officers.  It’s about justice.  In both of these cases, men died and their killers don’t even have to face a jury of their piers.  That’s not justice.  It’s institutional protection.  Which is a serious problem. 


Detroit Attorney Dana Nessel Wins 2014 State Bar of Michigan Champion of Justice Award

Detroit Attorney Dana NesselGaining great ground in the fight for marriage equality inside Michigan courtrooms is certainly amongst attorney Dana Nessel’s most proud professional achievements, and legal leaders across the state are starting to take serious notice.

Last month, Nessel received word from the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners informing her that the legal team behind the landmark DeBoer v. Snyder case was to be honored as recipients of the 2014 Champion of Justice award. According to the organization’s website, only five of these prestigious awards are given each year to practicing attorneys and judges as nominated by the State Bar of Michigan.

The State Bar of Michigan takes into account the following criteria when considering award recipients:

  • Member in good standing of the State Bar of Michigan for at least ten years or more.
  • Strong adherence to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession with unwavering integrity.
  • Superior professional expertise.
  • Making an outstanding professional achievement that provides benefits to the local, state, or national community in which the lawyer or judge lives.

Nessel along with the other four winners will be honored at a banquet set to be held in Grand Rapids in mid-September 2014. The entire team at Nessel and Kessel Law is very proud of Dana, who has achieved so much not only for our firm but for the greater good of the community as well!

Obtaining a Same-Sex Divorce in Michigan

As the Mark Slackmeyer character once quipped in the Doonesbury comic strip, the reason we need gay marriage is so we can have gay divorce. The unfortunate fact is that some same-sex relationships, even of long duration, do not last. So until recently, without the right to marry, the rights and protections of divorce did not extend to same-sex couples.

While many states have now legalized same-sex marriage and some others now recognize marriages performed in other states and countries, questions are naturally starting to emerge about how this changing patchwork of laws applies to Michigan couples. For instance, if a lesbian couple residing in Michigan wishes to end their marriage, they must go to a jurisdiction that recognizes their marriage in the first place. That still leaves Michigan out, making the process potentially far more difficult and expensive, even when the couple has agreed to all terms.

Making matters more complicated, some states that may be willing to grant a divorce to same-sex couples require the couple to first establish residency there, effectively barring most couples from taking advantage of the law. On top of that, the laws change state by state on seemingly a weekly basis, and the courts are facing a wave of new cases in the near future. A lot remains to be settled.

Nessel and Kessel Law successfully argued the DeBoer v Snyder case before the Michigan Supreme Court, cementing their role as the leader in LGBT rights cases. While the federal and state courts sort out the implications of this landmark case, Nessel and Kessel Law has been exploring options for Michigan residents who wish to end their same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries, without having to travel there or establish residency. If either you or your spouse lives in Michigan and wish to dissolve your marriage, rely on the leadership and experience of Nessel and Kessel Law for guidance in these turbulent times. For the best legal advice and representation, committed to protecting the rights of LGBT couples, contact our law firm today at 313-556-2300.