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142031 - People v Watkins (Lincoln)

The People of the State of Michigan,
 
Timothy A. Baughman
 
Plaintiff-Appellee,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Wayne – Youngblood, C.)
 
Lincoln Anderson Watkins,
 
Gail Rodwan
 
Defendant-Appellant.
 

Summary

​Lincoln Watkins was charged with first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, based on allegations that he committed sexual acts with his then-12-year-old babysitter. The prosecution sought to admit evidence that Watkins had also committed similar sexual acts with a different girl who had occasionally babysat for Watkins’ children. Watkins was tried three times, with his first trial ending in a hung jury and the second in a mistrial. At a third trial, following a ruling from the Court of Appeals, the trial court allowed the evidence of the other babysitter to be admitted. The Court of Appeals cited MCL 768.27a, which states 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.” A jury convicted Watkins of four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. The trial court sentenced Watkins to concurrent prison terms of 25 to 40 years for each first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction, and to 10 to 15 years for second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Watkins appealed to the Court of Appeals. He argued that his right against double jeopardy was violated when the trial court tried him a third time, contending that the prosecutor’s misconduct caused the mistrial. Watkins also argued that his constitutional rights were violated when the court admitted the evidence of the other babysitter; MCL 768.27a violated his fundamental right to the presumption of innocence, Watkins maintained. Watkins also argued that the statute conflicted with Michigan Rule of Evidence 404(b), which excludes evidence of “other crimes, wrongs, or acts … to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.” Moreover, the statute infringed upon the Michigan Supreme Court’s authority to regulate the conduct of trial, Watkins said. He further argued that the trial court should not have admitted evidence under MCL 768.27a without first considering whether it was unfairly prejudicial and prohibited under MRE 403, which provides that even relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury ….”

But the Court of Appeals affirmed Watkins’ convictions in an unpublished opinion. The appellate court rejected his double-jeopardy argument, concluding that the record did not show that the prosecutor intended to provoke a mistrial. While agreeing that MCL 768.27a and MRE 404(b) conflict, the appellate panel noted that an earlier Court of Appeals panel had held that the statute prevails, allowing admission of the evidence in cases of sexual offenses against a minor. The Court of Appeals also held that, even if the trial court had conducted a balancing test under MRE 403, the evidence was admissible. Finally, the Court of Appeals was not persuaded that Watkins’ due process rights were violated by the admission of the evidence. Watkins appeals.