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Benton Harbor man cleared after two years in prison

BENTON HARBOR, Mich., A Benton Harbor man's convictions cleared. After Rev. Edward Pinkney spent months in jail for election forgery the Michigan Supreme Court has decided it should have never happened.

Rev. Pinkney was found guilty by a jury of five counts of election-law forgery under Michigan code, MCL 168.937. He says he knew all along it wouldn’t hold up.

“There was not a doubt in my mind that they was going to rule in our favor. Matter of fact, there never should have been a trial,” said Pinkney.

Rev. Pinkney was charged in January 2014 after turning in 62 petitions with more than 700 signatures in support of a recall against the mayor of Benton Harbor, James Hightower.

“As far as the recall itself, it was necessary…because he was a puppet for the Whirlpool Corporation,” said Pinkney.

When Berrien County Sheriff’s Department reviewed the signatures they found several of the dates had been changed.

Michigan State Police confirmed the alterations.

After an eight-day jury trial---he was found guilty of election-law forgery under Michigan code 168.937.

“I said well that’s not a charge. That’s a penalty after you get convicted, then you throw that in. I told them!” said Pinkney.

Rev. Pinkney was sentenced to 30 to 120 months in state prison.

“I did two and a half years of my time that was taken from me,” said Pinkney.

Once he was free, he appealed his conviction---to the state supreme court.

It ruled in essence that Pinkney was right.

The code he was charged under isn't supposed to be used as a charge at all, but only as a guideline for how to punish people found guilty of election forgery.

With a six to zero vote the supreme court overturned his conviction.

“Supreme Court, bless your heart. Bless your heart. I knew it, so I’m good. No complaints,” said Pinkney.

Michigan does have a Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, which allows people to be paid for their time spent wrongfully behind bars.  The reverend says that’s not his focus right now.

“My main objective is to show people that if you do the right thing, good things will happen, and this is what I’m going to show this community,” said Pinkney.

The Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic released the following statement:

Yesterday, May 1, 2018, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the statute under which Edward Pinkney was convicted in 2014 was not a substantive law section but rather simply a penalty section. Many of Michigan’s statutory codes have sections that prohibit certain conduct, but then at the end of the particular code (the Mobile Home Park Code and Motor Vehicle Code, for instance) there is generally a penalty provision. The Michigan Election Code had been amended by the Legislature many times over the years. The patchwork amendments by the Legislature removed the substantive sections to which the penalty section referred. The penalty section referred to forgery of election documents, however, did not set forth with particularity the details normally found in a substantive statute.

This was an issue decided by several courts in the judicial branch prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling. The trial judge in the Pinkney case denied motions by defense at the trial court level and ruled it was a substantive law section, as did the Michigan Court of Appeals. And, another panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled it was a substantive section in another case in another county.

The Supreme Court said that rendering a statute as having no meaning, as it did in this case, is not only unusual but “exceedingly rare”.

It should also be noted that the court did not in any way disturb the finding of the jury that Pinkney changed the signature dates on the recall petitions so as to qualify additional needed names to his petitions.

In summary, the hole left in the Election Code by prior amendments, permits one to forge recall or petition documents without recourse. It is my belief that the Legislature did not intend this result (nor do I believe the citizens of Michigan find this result acceptable) and thus, I implore the Legislature to fill this gap by the passage of amendments to the Election Code specifically prohibiting such conduct.

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