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155184 - People v Ryan Lashawn Chatman

The People of the State of Michigan,
Timothy A. Baughman
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Wayne – Callahan, J.)
Ryan Lashawn Chatman,
Gary D. Strauss


Defendant was charged with assault with intent to murder and various weapons offenses arising from an incident in which Kevin Lawless was shot at the house of a mutual friend. At trial, Lawless testified that the shooting was preceded by an argument that started because defendant was playing around with a handgun and refused Lawless’ request to put the gun away. Lawless explained that, although he and defendant were arguing 10 feet apart, defendant slapped him. He testified that defendant then pointed the gun at him and fired. Defendant did not dispute that he shot Lawless, but he testified that Lawless was angry at him after defendant refused to lend him money. Defendant said that they had a heated argument and that when Lawless grabbed a chair and charged at him, he fired his gun in self-defense or accidentally. In front of the jury, the trial judge questioned three prosecution witnesses—Lawless, a witness who was present at the scene, and a police detective. The defense did not object to the questioning. The jury convicted defendant as charged. In a split unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals majority held that the trial judge’s questioning pierced the veil of judicial impartiality warranting reversal of defendant’s convictions and a new trial before a new judge. The Supreme Court has directed oral argument on the prosecutor’s application for leave to appeal to address whether the trial judge’s questioning of witnesses improperly influenced the jury by creating the appearance of advocacy or partiality against a party.  See People v Stevens, 498 Mich 162 (2015)