Monday, June 20, 2005

Other suspect evidence, plus a couple of other issues

[CASE] Division 1 affirms a conviction, saying the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the defense's evidence that someone else was the perpetrator of the crime. State v. Howard, --- P.3d ---, 2005 WL 1367356 (Wash. App. June 6, 2005) (published in part), Find Result - 2005 WL 1367356

Four men invaded and robbed the victim's apartment. The victim knew and identified one of the men, but did not know the other three. The one she knew identified his three accomplices, including Edward Howard. The victim identified Howard in a photo montage. At trial, a jury convicted him of first degree robbery and first degree burglary but acquitted him of an assault charge.

On appeal Howard argued that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that another man, known as "Smoke Lock," was the fourth participant in the robbery. Division 1 disagreed:

11 A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to present a defense consisting of relevant, admissible evidence. In order to be relevant, and therefore admissible, the evidence connecting another person with the crime charged must create a train of facts or circumstances that clearly point to someone other than the defendant as the guilty party. The evidence must establish a nexus between the other suspect and the crime. The defendant has the burden of showing that the "other suspect" evidence is admissible. The admission or refusal of evidence lies largely within the sound discretion of the trial court and is reviewed only for an abuse of discretion. Howard mischaracterizes the trial court's ultimate refusal to permit Lyne's testimony as an improper credibility determination.

13 Although the court noted that it found Lyne not credible as a matter of law, the permissible basis for the court's ruling was that the nexus between "Smoke Lock" and the crime was insufficient to support admission of "other suspect" evidence.
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16 Based on the initial testimony, the court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to allow the admission of "other suspect" evidence. * * *

17 The court considered the more fully developed record--both the testimony of Howard and the revised testimony of Lyne--and found there was an insufficient nexus between "Smoke Lock" and the crime. This was a proper exercise of discretion by the court. Howard simply failed to establish sufficient evidence to support his claim that "other suspect" evidence should be admitted. This record does not support that claim.

Other issues addressed include:
  • hearsay (someone would have testified that he met a man who might have been introduced as "Smoke Lock").

  • impeachment with prior testimony (the court did not allow the defense to call the known robber in order to impeach his testimony with inconsistent statements).

  • unanimous jury verdict (possible confusion in jury instructions).

  • firearm enhancement jury instruction.

  • ineffective assistance of counsel. (This is the part of the opinion that's unpublished.)
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