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June 18, 2010
Rapier, Not Blunderbuss: Court Of Criminal Appeals Of Texas Clarifies Scope Of Davis v. Alaska
Texas Rule of Evidence 609(d) provides that
Evidence of juvenile adjudications is not admissible, except for proceedings conducted pursuant to Title III, Family Code, in which the witness is a party, under this rule unless required to be admitted by the Constitution of the United States or Texas.
So, when does the Constitution require the admission of evidence of juvenile adjudications? According to the appellant in Irby v. State, 2010 WL 2382594 (Tex.Crim.App. 2010), any witness, including a juvenile, who is on probation may be cross-examined about that status to show a potential bias or motive to testify for the State. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas disagreed.
In Irby, Christopher Irby was charged with the sexual assault of W.P., a sixteen-year-old child, enhanced with a prior conviction for indecency with a child. After W.P. testified against him, Irby sought to cross-examine W.P. about his juvenile deferred-adjudication probation. The trial court, however, precluded such impeachment, and this ruling formed a partial basis for Irby's appeal.
As part of that appeal, Irby cited the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308 (1974) "and its Texas progeny for the proposition that any witness, including a juvenile, who is on probation may be cross-examined about that status to show a potential bias or motive to testify for the State." The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas found, however, that Irby "read these cases too broadly."
The court noted that, in Davis, a juvenile witness in a burglary prosecution, Richard Green, was on probation for burglarizing two cabins. And the Supreme Court found that the Confrontation Clause required the admission of Richard's juvenile adjudications because
Richard may have felt that the police would suspect him of the burglary both because he had a prior burglary adjudication and because the emptied safe was found on his family's property. Based upon these particular facts, Richard had a possible motive to divert suspicion from himself to another. Further, the police might also have brought undue pressure upon Richard to make an identification of someone-anyone-because he was in "a vulnerable relationship" by virtue of being on probation for burglary, a fact that the investigating officers may also have known and used in questioning him. Richard's possible motives were directly related and connected "to issues or personalities in the case at hand."
In his concurring opinion, however, Justice Stewart cautioned that Davis neither "holds nor suggests that the Constitution confers a right in every case to impeach the general credibility of a witness through cross-examination about his [or her] past delinquency adjudications or criminal convictions."
The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas then found that the trial court properly precluded Irby's proposed impeachment because Irby failed to show that W.P.'s probationary status created a particular motive for him to testify against Irby and in favor of the State. According to the court,
In sum, Davis v. Alaska, is not a blunderbuss that decimates all other evidentiary statutes, rules, and relevance requirements in matters of witness impeachment. It is a rapier that targets only a specific mode of impeachment-bias and motive-when the cross-examiner can show a logical connection between the evidence suggesting bias or motive and the witness's testimony. We therefore reject appellant's absolutist position that “[a] probationer, particularly a probationer whose guilt has not yet been adjudicated, is always in a vulnerable relationship with the State” and that mere status is always automatically relevant to show a witness's possible bias and motive to testify favorably for the State as inconsistent with Texas and United States Supreme Court precedent.
June 18, 2010 | Permalink
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