State justices to decide importance of jury oath

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Prosecutors urged the Michigan Supreme Court last week to reinstate the murder convictions of a Detroit-area man, even if jurors were given the wrong oath at the start of a six-week trial.

A court clerk gave the wrong oath to jurors when they were sworn in, one that’s typically given when they’re interviewed during jury selection before trial. Brandon Cain, 29, was convicted of killing two women and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2012, but the state appeals court has ordered a new trial.

“There was no effect on the fairness or reliability of the verdict,” said Wayne County assistant prosecutor Thomas Chambers, adding that jurors were “instructed incessantly” on how to measure evidence in the case.

But attorney Kristina Dunne, who discovered the error with Cain while reading his trial transcript, said a trial can’t start without a proper oath.

“This is such an important point. Without it, there is no trial,” she told the justices.

The Supreme Court has three justices who were trial judges in Wayne or Macomb counties. One of them, Justice David Viviano, could be on Dunne’s side.

“Jurors are never aware of what a trial is actually like ... until they go through it,” he said. “What we ask them to do is to raise their right hand and take an oath. Until they do that, they’re not charged with fully appreciating the undertaking that they’ve begun.”

Justice Stephen Markman said the public might think the “trial process has run askew” if a conviction in a major case can be overturned because of an oath mix-up. Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. said the court was struggling with whether it was a “consequential error.”

Cain remains in prison in the Upper Peninsula while the case is on appeal.

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