Court not ruling in case where screen hid witness

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- The Michigan Supreme Court has decided not to make a ruling in an appeal challenging the use of a screen during a child's testimony at a sexual-assault trial.

The court accepted written briefs and heard arguments Oct. 5. But in a brief order released Saturday, the court said it's "no longer persuaded that the questions ... should be reviewed." There was no elaboration.

The case involves Ronald Rose, a western Michigan man who's in prison for at least 25 years for sexually assaulting a girl. During a 2008 trial in Allegan County, a one-way screen was used to prevent the 8-year-old from seeing Rose while she testified. Experts say the girl was afraid of him and had suffered from nightmares.

Rose claimed his constitutional right to face his accuser was infringed because she couldn't see him. He also said the screen spoiled his chances with the jury. A screen was not used with another young witness.

Rose's attorney, Scott Grabel, said he's perplexed by the Supreme Court's lack of action.

"It's not even worth putting words on paper? I'm not chastising them. I just don't understand," said Grabel, who plans to take the case to federal court. "The issue needs to be addressed to protect future defendants."

The lone dissenter, Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, said Rose deserves a new trial because the screen branded him with an "unmistakable mask of guilt" in front of the jury.

"By allowing the screen to be placed between the witness and defendant, the court highlighted the witness's apparent fear of directly facing defendant," Kelly wrote. "Permitting the screen sent the jury the message that the court deemed the witness to be worthy of protection from the defendant."

She said Michigan law provides alternatives, such as testimony through video. Under that setting, she noted, jurors might believe a child simply is scared of a courtroom, not a defendant.

By leaving the appeals court decision intact, the Supreme Court has allowed a "constitutionally defective procedure for shielding child witnesses from their accusers despite the fact that the Legislature has endorsed other constitutionally acceptable means of doing so," Kelly said.

Published: Tue, Dec 13, 2011