July 22 • 02:36 AM

Area students are part of Supreme Court visit

Court's 'Community Connections' program debuts in Lapeer

September 19, 2007
LAPEER — Just what is an "excited utterance?"

No need to check with an attorney for the answer—three local students can probably give you a pretty good take on the answer after hearing oral arguments before Michigan Supreme Court justices in the Historic Courthouse on Friday.

The unprecedented visit by the justices is part of a new 'Community Connections' program initiated by the Supreme Court and launched for the first time through Friday's stop in Lapeer.

District Court Judge Laura Barnard helped arrange the visit to coincide with the renovation of the Historic Courthouse downtown. Barnard called area high schools to make sure students could be part of the historic event.

Imlay City High School senior Chris Walters and schools Supt. Gary Richards, Almont High School student Kirsten Clark and Dryden High School junior Shelby Couch and English/world history teacher Judy Best were among the chosen few who enjoyed breakfast and an art tour with Chief Justice Clifford Taylor at Gallery 194.

After that, attorney Mike Delling of the Lapeer County Bar Association took the stage at the PIX Theater to kick off a student and local media press conference featuring Taylor.

After presenting certificates to area essay contest winners, Taylor discussed the "hearsay" question that would later be considered by the court.

Supreme Court Justice Clifford Taylor shows his sense of humor during student press conference. photo by Catherine Minolli.

Taylor said generally cases brought before the supreme court are "murky and difficult," and the case they would consider in the historic Lapeer County courthouse was no different.

"In the big picture there is witness testimony and there is hearsay," Taylor said. "There is a great trick in trying to find the truth after an event happened in every culture throughout time."

Taylor, who recently marked 10 years on the supreme court bench, explained the evolution of the justice system with roots dating back to 12th Century England.

Moving through the formation of juries, the introduction of depositions, witness testimony and cross examination, Taylor explained the debate regarding hearsay evidence, which includes "excited utterances."

"Hearsay is very tricky," Taylor says. "Who knows what context? If the witness is not there then they're not subject to cross examination."

As for "excited utterances," Taylor said they're words that were spoken during or immediately following an incident that likely wouldn't be spoken if they weren't true.

The "excited utterances" becomes an issue, Taylor explained, if the witness later refuses to testify.

At 4 p.m., the students experienced firsthand the "murky difficulty" Taylor reffered to earlier as they listened to oral arguments in the case of the People of the State of Michigan v. David Carl Barrett.

The appeal was filed by the Livingston County prosecutor, who is seeking reversal of a district judge's suppression of hearsay evidence—an "excited utterance" in a 2005 trial involving domestic assault.

Taylor said the victim in the case decided not to testify against her alleged attacker, and prosecutors attempted to introduce statements the victim made to a 911 dispatcher and police, which was disallowed by the district judge.

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