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Leading up to a hearing in the Patrick Lyoya murder case, Sarissa Montague says judges rarely dismiss second-degree murder charges, but it can happen

judges gavel and lady justice

The day before a Circuit Court judge denied a motion request to dismiss the second-degree murder charges against former Grand Rapids Police officer Christopher Schurr, accused of killing Patrick Lyoya in 2022, Criminal Defense Attorney Sarissa Montague told WZZM 13 and WOOD TV8 that it would be rare for a judge to toss a case, but it does happen.

“It’s not common for it to happen, but it does happen,” Montague said during her interview with WOOD TV8 on Thursday, Feb. 2. “I’ve had it happen in cases. We all have.” Montague, who has experience representing police officers, is not involved in the Schurr case.

On Friday, Feb. 3, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Christina Elmore heard arguments from Schurr’s attorneys and Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker about whether to throw out the murder case against Schurr, who is accused of shooting and killing Lyoya during a traffic stop last April.

In a 45-page motion filed in January, the defense asked the judge to quash the case, saying a lower court judge was wrong to send it to trial. Meanwhile, Becker later wrote that a jury should decide whether Schurr should be convicted of second-degree murder. Both the prosecution and the defense claim the other side isn’t interpreting Michigan law correctly.

“It’s competing interests,” Montague told WOOD TV8. “It’s competing interpretations of the law. That’s why we have judges. It’s up to the judges to decide which standard applies and which should go forward.”

The defense says the district court was wrong to suggest a police officer can only use deadly force if they fear for their life or great bodily harm.

“Under Michigan common law, Officer Schurr had the right to use deadly force to effect the arrest. Indeed, it was his duty to arrest Lyoya,” attorneys Matthew Borgula and Mark Dodge wrote. “The district court erred when it took this right away from Officer Schurr and held that Officer Schurr could only use deadly force in response to force that put him in fear for his life or in fear of great bodily harm.”

Instead, they argue police officers can use deadly force to make an arrest when they’re met with force or resistance.

“Michigan common law permits active-duty police officers to use deadly force when confronted with force by a person resisting a lawful arrest not only when they are in fear of harm or death,” they wrote.

The prosecutor also wrote that the evidence shows Lyoya was not actively escaping when Schurr shot him, but the jury should decide whether that’s the case and if self-defense was justified.

“Whether Lyoya’s actions constituted ‘flight’ and whether it was necessary to use deadly force to prevent his escape are appropriate questions of fact for the jury, and, thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion in binding the second-degree murder charge over to this Court on this basis,” Becker explained.

Montague said defense attorneys have the right to use their “statutory and constitutional rights to the fullest extent they can.”

“It’s not game-playing,” Montague said in her interview with WOOD TV8. “There are statutes in place. There are constitutional rights that are in place. It is our job as defense attorneys to make sure those rights, no matter where they come from, are upheld and followed.”

In her interview with WZZM 13 on Thursday, Feb. 2, Montague said: “Each criminal charge has elements. There has to be evidence found on each element. And in this case, it was found that there was probable cause on each element of the offense, and therefore, was bound over to Circuit Court.”

During the Friday, Feb. 3, hearing, the defense asked the Circuit Court to review the District Court’s finding.

“She (Circuit Court Judge Elmore) is going to read them carefully -- they were well written pleadings of both of them -- and then listen to argument and make a decision about which standard applies and then apply whichever one it is to the facts as she sees them,” Montague told WZZM 13.

After hearing both arguments on Friday, Feb. 3, Judge Elmore denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the second-degree murder charges against Schurr. He will now stand trial, which is scheduled to begin March 13.

Watch Sarissa Montague’s interviews:

WZZM 13: Judge to rule on motion to quash in Schurr case Friday

WOOD TV8: Judge to decide on motion to toss murder charge in Lyoya death

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