Michigan Supreme Court rules Flint water crisis charges are invalid without preliminary examination

The Michigan Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that defendants charged in connection with the Flint water crisis are entitled to preliminary examinations. Three state employees, Nancy Peeler, Richard L. Baird and Nicolas Lyon, were charged for their roles in the Flint water crisis under Michigan’s “one-man grand jury statute.” The law allows a single judge to consider evidence in private chambers and issue an indictment authorizing criminal charges.

The one-man grand jury charged the defendants with misconduct in office, perjury, willful neglect of duty, obstruction of justice and more than nine counts of manslaughter. The defendants argued that Michigan law requires a prosecutor, not a judge, to issue indictments in a public courtroom so that a defendant is aware of what he’s being charged with and has an opportunity to present evidence to defend himself. The State argued that a preliminary examination would be redundant because the judge must already decide if there is probable cause.

Ultimately, the Michigan Supreme Court found that if a court uses a one-man grand jury, the defendant is entitled to a preliminary examination, and that a judge may not issue an indictment authorizing criminal charges. The cases were remanded to the state district court.