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150994 - People v Lorinda Irene Swain

The People of the State of Michigan,
Jennifer Kay Clark
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Calhoun – Sindt, C.)
Lorinda Irene Swain,
Caitlin Plummer


Following a jury trial in 2002, defendant Lorinda Swain was convicted of four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexually assaulting her adopted son when he was under the age of 13. This appeal concerns a successive motion for relief from judgment that Swain filed in 2009. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that Swain made a successful “claim of new evidence,” as required by MCR 6.502(G)(2), and that she was entitled to a new trial. The trial court also ruled that a new trial was warranted due to the strength of Swain’s claim of actual innocence, and in the interests of justice. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. It relied on the test for “newly discovered evidence” set forth in People v Cress, 468 Mich 678 (2003), and found that Swain’s new evidence – a potentially exculpatory witness – did not satisfy the test. The appeals court concluded that, because Swain and her attorney knew at the time of trial that the witness had information concerning the allegations against Swain, the evidence was not “newly discovered,” and the trial court erred in granting her successive motion.
On September 30, 2015, the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal to consider several issues relating to successive motions for relief from judgment under MCR 6.502(G), including (1) whether the test set forth in People v Cress, 468 Mich 678, 692 (2003), for determining whether a defendant is entitled to a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, applies in determining whether a second or subsequent motion for relief from judgment is based on “a claim of new evidence” under MCR 6.502(G)(2); (2) by what standard(s) Michigan courts consider a defendant’s assertion that the evidence demonstrates a significant possibility of actual innocence in the context of a motion brought pursuant to MCR 6.502(G); (3) whether the Michigan Court Rules provide a basis for relief where a defendant demonstrates a significant possibility of actual innocence; and (4) whether, if MCR 6.502(G) does bar relief, there is an independent basis on which a defendant who demonstrates a significant possibility of actual innocence may nonetheless seek relief under the United States or Michigan Constitutions.