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141122 - People v Hill (Naykima)

People of the State of Michigan,
 
Randy L. Price
 
Plaintiff-AppellantCross-Appellee,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Saginaw – Crane, W.)
 
Naykima Tinee Hill,
 
Gail O. Rodwan
 
Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
 

Summary

​On the morning of March 7, 2007, Sherry Crofoot and her 13-year-old daughter were at their home in Saginaw, along with Crofoot’s 80-year-old grandmother. A woman wearing a brown coat with fur-trimmed hood knocked at the door, asking to use the phone and to get a ride. When Crofoot refused and tried to shut the door, the woman pushed her way in, knocking Crofoot into the room. Once inside, the woman punched the grandmother several times in the face, then grabbed a knife, demanding money. Eventually, after Crofoot gave her some money and the grandmother’s purse, the woman left.

A Michigan State Police trooper responded; with his police tracking dog, he followed a trail that led first to a nearby house. When police later investigated the house, they found a brown coat with a knife in the pocket; both the knife and the coat matched descriptions given by Crofoot, her daughter, and her grandmother. The trail then led to another house; Saginaw police were already there responding to complaints of a “loud and boisterous” woman, Naykima Tinee Hill. Hill was arrested; before going to the police station, Hill was taken to the Crofoot home, where all three victims identified her as their attacker.

All three victims testified at trial. In addition, police witnesses testified about the dog’s tracking and their investigation. One officer testified that an out-of-court witness told him that Hill was wearing a brown hooded coat with fur around it on the day in question. Hill testified in her own defense and denied being at Crofoot’s house, claiming that the victims were mistaken in identifying her. The jury found Hill guilty of first-degree home invasion, assault and battery, unlawful imprisonment, extortion, and three counts of armed robbery. She received concurrent prison terms of 25 to 60 years for the armed robberies; 20 to 30 years each for the home invasion and extortion; 14 to 22 years for the unlawful imprisonment; and three months for the assault and battery.

Hill appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed her convictions, holding that the admission at trial of the out-of-court statement was a preserved constitutional error that the court could not conclude was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant has a constitutional right to be confronted with the witnesses against him, the panel explained. The United States Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v Washington, 541 US 36, 53-54 (2004), clarified that this right is violated when the testimonial statements of a witness who did not testify at trial are admitted against the defendant, unless the witness was unavailable and defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness. In this case, the Court of Appeals held, admission of the out-of-court witness’ statement violated Crawford. Without the out-of-court statement, the panel said, it was possible that the jury might have concluded that the victims made a mistake in identifying Hill as their assailant. “Because we cannot say that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse and remand for a new trial.” The Court of Appeals did not find merit to Hill’s claim that the trial court erred in qualifying a police officer as an expert in dog handling. The prosecutor appeals.