Spotlight On: James M. Maceroni

Please tell us about your background, where you practice, and about your practice.

I grew up in Romeo the youngest of four.  My parents (and, for a time, my older siblings) were raised on the East side of Detroit.  I graduated from Michigan State University in 1996, and Wayne Law School in 2000.  I lived in Ireland for a half a year while doing an overseas study through Michigan State.  I lived in Detroit while I attended law school and for a year or so after that.  I have lived in St. Clair Shores for the past 12 years.

I have a solo practice with an office in Mt. Clemens.  I practice primarily criminal defense, and some family law.  I practice mainly in Macomb County, however, I am also in Wayne, Oakland, and occasionally St. Clair.  I also practice in federal court.

When I graduated from law school I went into practice with my sister Patricia Maceroni and we shared an office in Mt. Clemens until 2012.  Patty also does primarily criminal defense and having her and other criminal defense attorneys as mentors over the years has been invaluable.

Please tell about one of your interesting or unusual cases. 

I defended a young man, a kid really, who was charged with operating under the influence of drugs causing death.  Essentially, he lost control of his car in the snow and got in an accident.  His passenger died in the crash.  There was no indication that he was “under the influence” of marijuana in any manner.  However, his blood results indicated a minute amount of THC.  Based on the current state of the law, the government does not have to prove that the driver was in any way affected by the marijuana, only that any amount was present in his system.  The case went on for two years.  I filed several motions to dismiss based in part on the conflict between the medical marijuana act and the charge, as well as an equal protection argument.  The case went up to the Court of Appeals on an interlocutory appeal and then came back down.  Ultimately it went to trial this past summer and he was convicted.  It was a bit more difficult to deal with than an average loss because of the absurdity of the law.  I don’t believe that the minute amount of marijuana present in his system had anything to do with the car accident and his passenger’s death.  And neither did the jury.  However, based on the current state of the law in Michigan if they believed the results were valid they were instructed to convict.  That is truly a case where the same situation could happen to anyone of us, or at least could have during our younger days.

Have you seen any trends in Michigan jurisprudence in recent years?

Probably the most disappointing trend I have seen, at least with respect to Macomb County, is the inability of a prosecutor working a file to handle a case in a manner that is just.  When I first started, if a prosecutor handling a file believed that based on the particular facts of the case and/or the background of the defendant a case should be resolved in a manner that everyone agreed with and made sense under the circumstances, they could resolve it.  Now, for all intents and purposes they have no ability to resolve a case.  You may as well have a robot sitting across from you at the “plea negotiation” stage.  And this is not a “knock” on individual prosecutors, I am sure they hate it as much if not more than the defense attorney sitting across from them.  

How could the criminal justice system be improved?

Handling cases in a manner that is fair and just to the parties involved in a case as opposed to the dictates of an office “policy” that bears little if any sense to the particular charge or defendant is one way.  Another would be to improve Michigan’s public defense delivery systems.  We as public defenders need an increase in funding for resources as well as something a step above a laughable wage.  There must be an improvement in training and access to training for new and seasoned attorneys.  Our legislature did pass legislation aimed at addressing these issues; time will tell if progress is made.

Do you have advice for other defense attorneys?

Don’t be afraid to advocate for your client.  We have a difficult job.  Essentially, everyone is working against you: the police, the prosecutor, and very often the judge.  It can become easy to “go along to get along” as far as not filing a motion or not pushing a case to trial because the prevailing attitude in the court room can be that you are insane and have no case.  The system is slanted to give you that impression, dockets are full and prosecutors and judges want to “process” cases as quickly as possible.  Don’t forget it is not about them, it is about your client specifically and a fair system of justice in general.  Dictates from Lansing regarding docket control have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Any special advice for new attorneys?

Have fun, be creative, and speak up.  Recently a federal Court of Appeals’ nominee was not confirmed based on the fact he had once successfully defended a man accused of shooting a police officer.  That is obscene.  John Adams was a defense attorney, Abraham Lincoln was a defense attorney.  Throughout our nation’s history defense attorneys have been an integral part of social movements and social progress.  Be proud to be a criminal defense attorney.  You are not only defending a person, you are defending and maintaining our system of justice.  You are defending the Constitution of the United States of America, and jam that down their self-righteous throats whenever you can.

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor