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Jason Dalton evidence hearing set for the Michigan Court of Appeals

Jason Dalton evidence hearing set for the Michigan Court of Appeals. (WWMT/File)

The Michigan Court of Appeals will hear arguments Tuesday on whether incriminating statements made by Jason Dalton can be used as evidence at trial.

A former part-time Uber driver, Dalton is accused of killing six people and seriously injuring two others in a shooting rampage that terrorized Kalamazoo County February 20, 2016.

After two years of legal Ping-Pong, Dalton’s defense team and an appellate attorney with the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office will square off Tuesday morning before the Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids.

The three-judge panel will hear arguments on whether Dalton’s confession can be used as evidence at trial or if investigators violated Dalton’s Miranda Rights.

The defense argues Dalton repeatedly asserted his right to remain silent and right to counsel, but police continued to question him.

“I believe fundamentally everyone is entitled to those same rights regardless of the seriousness of the crime, otherwise the rights really don’t have any meaning,” said Anastase Markou. A criminal defense attorney out of Kalamazoo, Markou assisted Dalton’s trial attorney in the appeals process.

Prosecuting attorney Jeffrey Williams argues police continued to question Dalton under a public safety exception to the law and out of concern more victims could have been in need of help.

Williams said, “It's basically going to come down to how the Court of Appeals interprets the law and applies it.”

Six people were killed, two others seriously injured in the shooting rampage. Markou doesn’t think the public safety provision is applicable to this case and the questioning.

“He [Dalton] was in custody, no longer a danger to the public, taken to a room, interviewed for a substantial period of time, repeatedly asserted his Miranda Rights and they still continued to question him,” Markou said.

If the Michigan Court of Appeals rules in favor of the prosecution, Markou said he feels ethically bound to file an appeal to take the issue to the State Supreme Court, which would further delay a trial.

Williams said, “It’s frustrating for us, it’s frustrating for the community it’s especially frustrating for the victims but we firmly believe it’s more important to do it right than to do it fast.”

If the three-judge panel sides with the defense, Williams said the need for a conclusion to this case will play a big role in the prosecution’s decision on whether to appeal or proceed to trial without Dalton’s statements.

“We have a significant amount of evidence with Mr. Dalton and obviously, statements are a very important part of it and we would like to have those if we can but if not, I'm still very confident in the case,” Williams said.

The Dalton case has been on desk for 2.5 years, but when it comes to delays, Williams said, the legal Ping-Pong hurts the victims and their families most.

“This something that really profoundly impacted their lives personally and their trying to deal with that, they're trying to managed it and move their lives on and every time we have to go back to court, every time we have to go back to reopen wounds that's really tough on them and that's the biggest disadvantage,” Williams said.

The opinion by the state’s Court of Appeals will be an important factor in what happens next, however, written opinions can take weeks or months to come down.

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