Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Cumulative error in evidentiary rulings, thus new trial

Division 2 rules that a trial court erred in a number of evidentiary rulings, thus denying the defendant (who was accused of murdering his wife) a fair trial and requiring a new trial. State v. Cahill, 2006 WL 620478 (Wash. App. March 14, 2006), Westlaw (unpublished) (Houghton, J.; Quinn-Brintnall, C.J., dissenting).

There were ER 404(b) issues with several items -- that the defendant had used drugs in the weeks before the murder, that he spent two days with a prostitute around the time of the murder, and that he ordered pay-to-view adult movies in the days after the murder.

The majority found that the trial court did not engage in the proper four-step analysis for each of these:

it must (1) determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the prior bad act occurred; (2) determine the purpose for admission; (3) determine whether the evidence is relevant to prove an element of the crime charged or to rebut a defense; and (4) balance, on the record, the probative value of the evidence and its prejudicial effect.
The appellate court also found it error to admit several hearsay statements -- the wife's statements about marital difficulties and her plans to go to a doctor's appointment and the bank.

Finally, the majority found two witnesses' statements about their suspicions of the defenant to be improper opinion testimony. The witnesses were the victim's daughter and the detective.

Although Judge Quinn-Brintnall "share[e] the majority's concern that Cahill's trial was less than perfect," she would have found some of the questioned evidence admissible. She would have found the other rulings to be harmless error, given the strong evidence present in the case.

On the opinion testimony, the dissent commented:
[W]hen the jury properly knows that a detective investigating a missing person report has obtained a search warrant for the defendant's home and a warrant for the defendant's arrest, testimony from the detective that he believed that the defendant committed the crime with which he has been charged is little more than a redundant statement of the obvious. To hold * * * that such a redundant statement is a manifest error of constitutional magnitude depriving the defendant of his right to a jury trial by usurping the jury's ability to independently determine the credibility and weight of the other evidence of the defendant's guilt shows disrespect to the intelligence and integrity of the 12 people who by their oaths make up the jury and safeguard the public's interest in a fair trial.
Filed in: , , , , , , , ,

No comments: