Sunday, May 27, 2012
Juvenile Record: Court Of Appeals Of North Carolina Finds Error In Allowing Impeaching Of Defendant Through Juvenile Adjudication
Evidence of juvenile adjudications is generally not admissible under this rule. The court may, however, in a criminal case allow evidence of a juvenile adjudication of a witness other than the accused if conviction of the offense would be admissible to attack the credibility of an adult and the court is satisfied that admission in evidence is necessary for a fair determination of the issue of guilt or innocence.
As the language of Rule 609(d) makes clear, juvenile adjudications are per se inadmissible to impeach the credibility of criminal defendants, which is why the Court of Appeals of North Carolina in State v. Lacy, 711 S.E.2d 207 (N.C.App. 2011), found that the trial court erred. But was that error reversible or harmless?
In Lacy, Richard Lacy stabbed Janine Renee McCorey 23 times after an argument and also stabbed a second person 7 times. Lacy was thereafter convicted of first degree deliberate and premeditated murder, felony murder. and attempted first degree murder. After he was convicted, Lacy appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the following exchange at trial between the prosecutor and a mental health expert improper:
Q: And in Port Smith, Virginia, what was he treated for?
[Defense Counsel]: Objection.
The Court: Overruled.
[Defense Counsel]: Your Honor, could we approach?
The Court: Yes.
(A bench discussion was held)
Q: Dr. Hilkey, what was the Defendant being treated for?
A: Do I need to answer that? He had been involved with inappropriate touching of a child and he was referred for treatment for that.
This testimony referenced Lacy's juvenile adjudication for a sex offense, and the Court of Appeals of North Carolina correctly found that evidence of the adjudication was per se inadmissible under Rule 609(d) because Lacy was a criminal defendant. The court also deemed the conviction inadmissible under North Carolina Rule of Evidence 404(b).
This left the question of whether the trial court's error was harmless, with the Court of Appeals finding that it was because the
Defendant confessed the crimes to the police, and the jury saw and heard Defendant's confession on videotape. Defendant admitted to being at Howard's home on 13 December 2007; to stabbing both Howard and Decedent; and to fleeing the home afterwards. Furthermore, the testimony of multiple witnesses at trial, fingerprint evidence found on a beer bottle at Howard's home, and DNA evidence discovered underneath Decedent's fingernails, linked Defendant to the crimes committed on 13 December 2007. We also find it telling that Decedent sustained twenty-three stab wounds, and Howard sustained seven stab wounds, one of which was “to [his] back,” and another which punctured his liver. Decedent's numerous wounds were described in the following way at trial: Decedent had a cut “from one part of her scalp to the other part”; a “gaping wound” on her “left shoulder”; wounds to her “left chest,” “right thigh,” “abdomen”; “part of her ear was missing”; one cut on Decedent's head went “straight down...and actually cut a groove into the underlying skull bone”; another wound on Decedent's head went “down to the bone but it d[id]n't actually make a cut in the bone”; another wound went “through the chest wall and actually cut a piece of cartilage off of the fifth rib,” went “down through the left lung and then [went] through the left ventricle of the heart [before coming] out the back side of the heart."