Government and Law

State Supreme Court opens oral arguments to students

October 23, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Reality check
The seal of the Michigan Supreme Court on the sixth-floor rotunda of the Hall of Justice in Lansing. Photo via

An educational program for high school students has led to a real hearing by the Michigan Supreme Court at the Gerald R. Ford Museum this Thursday.

A collection of firearms owned by a convicted felon, and his efforts to force police to turn the guns over to his mother, are at issue in the case. Oral arguments will be heard with 200 Kent County students in attendance, as part of the Supreme Court’s Court Community Connections program.

“Compared to the trials we see depicted in films and television, the appellate process is pretty short on glamour and drama,” said Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. “But appellate courts set legal precedents that affect not only one case, but many others, and often for years to come. Through this program, students come to appreciate the importance of this part of the legal process.”

The high court started Court Community Connections in 2007 to foster a better understanding of how the state’s appellate courts work and affect people’s lives.

While the Michigan Supreme Court normally convenes at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, the program has taken the justices to 10 other locations throughout Michigan to hold oral argument. The program is principally aimed at helping educate high school students. All those attending the Kent County hearing are participants in an annual nationwide educational competition called We The People, produced by the nonprofit Center for Civic Instruction in California.

The case being presented here is People v Minch, in which Fruitport Township police seized 87 firearms from the home of Kurtis Ray Minch in 2009. Minch had terrified his girlfriend with a starter pistol, which she believed was a real gun, at one point holding it to her head and pulling the trigger. When police later raided his home, they found his gun collection — one of which was an illegal short-barreled shotgun.

After pleading guilty and being sentenced for possession of the shotgun, and for possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, Minch requested that all the other guns be turned over to his mother. The prosecutor argued that the police could not deliver the firearms to the defendant’s mother, or any other person he designated, without violating Michigan law, which makes it illegal for a convicted felon to possess a firearm.

However, the prosecutor did not bring forfeiture proceedings against the legally-owned guns, a legal process for the state to take property used in criminal activity. Over the prosecutors’ objections, the Muskegon County Circuit Court ordered the guns turned over to Minch’s mother and the Michigan Court of Appeals later backed up the Circuit Court. The case then made it to the state Supreme Court.

The Kent County students will watch as attorneys in People v Minch argue their cases to the Court’s seven justices. Afterwards, the students will meet with the attorneys for a debriefing.

Kent County Circuit Chief Judge Donald A. Johnston III and Judge Paul J. Sullivan, who invited the Supreme Court to Grand Rapids, praised the Kent Intermediate School District, the Ford Museum, and the Grand Rapids Bar Association for their involvement.

“We’ve had great cooperation from everyone involved,” Johnston said. “We’re all looking forward to this program, which we think is a tremendous opportunity for our students.”

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