EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

To Hell & Back: Court of Appeals of Kentucky Finds No Error With Rejected Stipulation

According to the Legal Dictionary,

During the course of a civil lawsuit, criminal proceeding, or any other type of litigation, the opposing attorneys may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation. Courts look with favor on stipulations because they save time and simplify the matters that must be resolved

Sometimes, parties agree on a stipulation without any goading by the court. For instance, the prosecution and defense might agree to stipulate that the alleged victim was a minor in a statutory rape case, with the only dispute being whether the defendant engaged in prohibited sexual acts with that minor. In other cases, one party wants to stipulate to a certain fact, the other party wants to prove that fact through evidence/testimony, and the court has to decide whether the stipulation is preferable.

Probably the most famous example of this latter situation is Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172 (1997), in which the defendant was charged with being a former felon in possession of a firearm. The defense wanted to stipulate that the defendant was a former felon. The prosecution wanted to prove this prior felony conviction through evidence/testimony. The district court allowed the prosecution to present its evidence/testimony, and the Supreme Court later reversed the defendant's conviction, finding that the stipulation would have told the jury all that it needed to know: that the defendant was a former felon. So, why didn't the Court of Appeals of Kentucky reach a similar conclusion in Anglin v. Commonwealth, 2013 WL 2257829 (Ky.App. 2013)?

In Anglin,

On or about March 18, 2009, under false pretenses, [Wesley] Anglin convinced Corey Vincent to drive him and Joseph Meredith to meet someone. Vincent borrowed a car and picked up Anglin and Meredith and several pieces of luggage. Vincent was directed to drive the pair to the Gates of Hell Cemetery near the Breckinridge County–Hardin County line. Upon arriving at the cemetery, Anglin and Meredith attacked Vincent repeatedly, placed him in a sinkhole, covered his body with debris, left him for dead, and left the cemetery in Vincent's vehicle. On their way out of town, Anglin and Meredith picked up a juvenile and drove as far as Texas before being arrested and extradicted to Kentucky.

Anglin was thereafter indicted on one count of first-degree robbery and being a persistent felony offender. After he was later convicted, Anglin appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred in allowing witnesses to refer to the scene of the robbery as "The Gates of Hell" Cemetery. According to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky,

Anglin and Meredith attacked Vincent in a cemetery very near the boundary line between Breckinridge and Hardin Counties. To prove venue, the Commonwealth needed to establish the location of the cemetery which is known variously as Grand View Cemetery and Kasey's Cemetery, but is most commonly called "The Hell's Gate Cemetery" or "The Gates of Hell Cemetery."

Anglin, however, "filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude the cemetery's nickname because it connoted negative images, was irrelevant, and was too prejudicial to be admitted under KRE 401 and 403." Thereafter,

The Commonwealth opposed the motion, stating Anglin told Vincent to drive to "Gates of Hell" and the cemetery's "name is the name." When the trial court asked whether the witnesses would know the spot is named "Kasey's Cemetery," the Commonwealth responded, "probably not."  

During a break in testimony, the prosecutor stated he wanted to avoid a venue issue and would call the Property Valuation Administrator to establish the location of the cemetery. Defense counsel offered to stipulate the cemetery was in Breckinridge County if the Commonwealth would not refer to it as "Hell's Gate." The Commonwealth declined the stipulation.

The Court of Appeals of Kentucky found no error with the trial court subsequently allowing reference to the name "Hell's Gate," concluding that

The robbery in this case occurred in one of many cemeteries located in Breckinridge County. To establish venue, it was necessary to identify where the crime occurred. We discern no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decision to allow the cemetery to be called by its nickname since that is the name by which it is commonly known.

I disagree. Venue is a yes/no question. Either the crime occurred in the relevant jurisdiction or it did not. The defense's stipulation ostensibly would have told jurors all that they needed to know about the issue. Why did jurors need to hear that the alleged robbery took place at Hell's Gate? An analogy can be drawn to Old Chief. In that case, jurors simply needed to know whether the defendant was a former felon. The defense's proposed stipulation gave them that information. There was no need for the jurors to hear the nature and quality of that former felony conviction.



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