Spotlight On: Delicia Taylor Coleman-Morson

Please tell us about your background, where you practice, your areas of practice, and how long you have been involved with criminal defense.

I am a loving mother of a combined seven (by blood and love), and I am married to Theo Morson, who is a native Detroiter, attorney, and financial consultant. I am a loyal Detroiter whose two birth children are products of Detroit Public Schools: Cass Tech and University of Detroit Jesuit High School. I am a devout Christian and member of Brightmoor Church. In my first year of law school, I became the co-guardian/mother for two black male youths, at 14 and 16 years of age, that were orphaned and due to become wards of the state. I met and assisted mentoring them through the Big Brother/Big Sister Program. With the assistance of God, family, Big Brother/Big Sister, and friends, I gave them the stability, love, and guidance needed to help them grow, graduate from high school, and become productive members of society. My birth children are currently pursuing degrees at Western Michigan University and Wayne Community College; our youngest daughter will be attending on-line at Salem High School due to the pandemic.

I actively serve in my community as a mentor for the Midnight Golf Program, prior Board Member of BLAC magazine, and previous executive Board member for Serenity Services. I am a regular career day speaker with the Detroit Board of Education and participate in Pro Bono legal services through local Bar Associations. I am currently a member of the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association, Black Women’s Law Association, ABA, and NAACP. In 2017, I was privileged to be nominated as one of top 10 “Best in Black” attorneys by Michigan Chronicle.

My first job was with the Misdemeanor Defender’s Office, and eventually I was also an Assistant City Attorney for 2 years but always maintained a thriving criminal defense practice.

I have an active trial practice for over 24 years, primarily in criminal (misdemeanor, felony and federal law), but also family, real estate, civil (several small business clients), probate and juvenile law. I am a vocal advocate for reform of the criminal justice system to incorporate restorative justice along with fairness, equality, and respect for all coming before the court.

What drew you to criminal defense?

From early on, I knew that practicing law was my passion and initially believed that the area of civil rights law would be my primary focus, but then I found that the criminal defense practice allows the immediate fight for equality and justice, by fighting for those who cannot fight for their rights themselves.

Please tell us about one of your interesting cases.  What were the issues?

I had an “identification” issue case in 2017-2018. My client was a 6’4”, 27-year-old black American male in Eaton County, no prior offenses, charged with armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. No co-conspirator was charged. My client went into the restroom of a Dollar General store that was subsequently robbed moments after he went into the restroom in the back of the store. The State charged him as the look out, stating that he waved the robber in, even though another patron was at the check-out counter and numerous other people were still in the store. There was NO evidence that he knew or had anything to do with the two (2), under 5’10” black men that robbed the location with masks. The preliminary exam was everything wrong with the “probable cause” standard that allows the weakest and most incredible evidence to proceed to trial. The circuit court judge acknowledged it was a “very close call” in the motion to quash. The matter took almost 2 years to come to trial; after the first year, he was at least released from tether. After the People closed their case, the judge granted a motion for directed verdict of acquittal. I spoke with some jurors afterwards, who could not see any connection or crime by my client, and some were outraged that my client had even been charged.

What trends – good or bad – have you noticed in Michigan criminal jurisprudence?

The worst trend that I have noticed over the years is that too many that are sworn to uphold and seek justice, i.e., prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, police, and probation/parole officers, are complicit or complacent in allowing clear injustices to occur. Many take the “easy” way out,  often times by ignoring an incredible complainant or by not making a ruling on a substantive issue or manipulating reports and ignoring evidence to align with a certain perspective. Plea bargains are pushed with little regard for justice and aggressively fighting for a defendant’s rights is for the “crazy” attorneys.

I think a fundamental lack of understanding that the people we represent are actual human individuals that deserve respect and the same diligence as if it were ourselves or our loved ones being represented is missing. The “ivory tower” perspective of appellate and Supreme Court opinions are an issue that trickles down to allow things like “qualified immunity” in practice to be unchecked police brutality.

How can our criminal justice system be improved?

To make EVERYONE involved in the criminal justice system responsible for making sure it works equitably for all. That it does what it is supposed to do – effectuate justice with equity, equality and integrity. If it is failing, it is because not enough of us are standing up and fighting together to have it succeed. Specifically, we need to “say something” when we “see something wrong” and truly if not now when this pandemic has magnified the disparities in every crucial system in this nation – health, wealth, criminal justice, and educational – THEN WHEN. We need to put people who are representative of all in crucial positions of this nation to make the sustaining changes, not relying on the “old guard,” but a combination of old and new with strength of conviction and character.

Do you have any specific advice for attorneys new to the practice of criminal law?

All new attorneys should shadow an experienced attorney, seriously be an apprentice. There are many resources that should be utilized such as webinar training sessions and get involved in bar associations and community associations. To effectively represent your client, you have to have empathy, understanding, and some “stick to it-edness,” lol. Just know that prosecutors, police, judges, clerks, and sometimes especially your clients are going to fight you, but you can’t give up or give in.

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor