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Kareem Swilley

Dec 2023



From Imran Syed, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic:
"I am pleased to announce the Michigan Innocence Clinic's 42nd successfully concluded case: Earlier today, our client, Kareem Swilley took a nolo plea to manslaughter in exchange for a time served sentence. This conclusion comes at the end of a long battle for Kareem—longer than you'd think would be possible for a guy who is still only 27 years old.

Kareem was 16 years old in 2012 when a man was shot and killed in his neighborhood in Saginaw, Michigan. Kareem was very clearly not involved: in fact at the time of the murder, he was at city hall with his sister and grandparents (his grandmother was transferring a house to her grandchildren's name because she had terminal cancer). He did know the young men who committed the shooting, and the perpetrators texted him about it afterward. The texts seemed to confirm again that Kareem had not been at the scene of the shooting. Nevertheless, he was tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison back in 2014.

Kareem's case was referred to me as a pro bono matter in 2016 by an attorney who strongly believed in his innocence. She provided prior briefing and case documents, enabling me to quickly work to file a leave application to the Michigan Supreme Court. I recall filing that application electronically on election day 2016. Clearly the biggest thing that happened that day. Anywhere in America.

A couple of years later, after taking additional briefing, the Mich. Supreme Court granted oral arguments in the case on the issue of judicial misconduct. I've attached the supplemental briefing if anyone is interested (video of the oral argument available here, (for you diehard fans) ( , but the crux of the argument was the prosecutorial questioning undertaken by the trial judge, which we argued pierced the veil of judicial impartiality.

The Mich. Supreme Court issued an opinion in July 2019 vacating the conviction on the basis of judicial misconduct. The full opinion is here--> . The majority held a structural error had occurred, while the concurrence believed a materiality analysis was required, but relief was warranted nonetheless.

At this point, Mr. Swilley became a client of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. We had hoped that the prosecution might dismiss the case, but they held firm on an intent to retry Mr. Swilley. We moved for bond in the fall of 2019, but it was denied. As the COVID pandemic took hold, we moved for bond again. The trial court delayed for months, but eventually, being directed by the COA, the judge granted bond to Kareem in late 2020.

Kareem has been out on bond/electronic tether for nearly three years. In that time, his retrial date has been set and pushed back about a million times. Today, with an exceptionally lenient plea offer on the table, and a desire to finally move on with his life, Kareem made the very difficult decision to plead no contest to manslaughter in exchange for a time served sentence.

A somewhat bittersweet victory, but it's made better by how thoughtful Kareem was in his decision-making and how confident he ultimately was in the decision. A big thank you from me to the attorney who referred this case to me and to my students and colleagues at the Mich. Innocence Clinic who assisted on the case over the years (even Dave). "

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