The Constitution protects a person’s fundamental right to present a criminal defense
That an accused has a fundamental right to present a criminal defense is something most people would take for granted. However, in State v. Page, the South Carolina Court of Appeals took up this very issue. The Court held that the Constitution protects the right of a criminal defendant to present a criminal defense. Protect your right to a criminal defense by contacting a criminal defense lawyer at Pisarik Law Firm today. 803-415-2733
Whether the trial judge erred by not allowing a criminal defendant to call a witness to testify in his criminal defense about a potentially exculpatory statement the witness made but later recanted.
Victim 1 and Victim 2 (Victims) alleged that Appellant and Appellant’s brother sexually assaulted them at the apartment of Victim 1. The Appellant’s story, in great contrast to the story of the Victims, was that the sexual encounter was a consensual encounter in exchange for drugs. Before trial, a Witness left a voicemail on Victim 1’s phone which stated in part that he, “would tell the police what you [Victim 1] told me the last three weeks about your case – and I mean that’s the word on the street anyway – that you guys invited them in to smoke crack, smoke crack, trade sex all night and then get mad at y’all selves in the morning.” The Witness went on to say, “You know, and that’s going by what you told me. I’ll tell the truth. You’re making up sh[**]. Later, the Witness recanted this statement saying that the message was made in “spite” and that the message was a “complete fabrication” he pulled out of the air. The Witness stated that any similarity the voicemail had with the Appellant’s version of events was merely a “lucky guess.”
At trial the Appellant attempted to call the Witness in his criminal defense. However, the trial judge determined that the Witness’ testimony was not relevant and excluded it from the trial. The Appellant was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals held that the trial judge abused his discretion by not allowing the Appellant to call the Witness to testify during his criminal defense. The Court cited to Washington v. Texas, for the proposition that, “the right to offer the testimony of witnesses… is in plain terms the right to present a defense, the right to present the defendant’s version of the facts as well as the prosecution’s to the jury so it may decide where the truth lies.” Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 19 (1967). “Accordingly, a defendant has a fundamental constitutional right to offer relevant witness testimony.” Id. at 23.
Here, the question was whether the Witness’ testimony was relevant in this criminal case. The standard for determining relevance in a criminal trial is whether the evidence, “has any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable that it would be without the evidence.” Rule 401, South Carolina Rules of Evidence.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals determined that despite the fact the Witness stated that his voicemail was a “complete fabrication” and only coincidentally matched the story told by the Defendant, that the testimony would, nonetheless, be relevant to whether Appellant’s encounter with either Victim involved consensual sex. The Court also held that the testimony of the Witness would be relevant to the credibility of Victim 1, because the testimony of Victim 1 conflicted with what she allegedly told the Witness.
Further, the Court again held that witness credibility is a determination to be made by a jury and not by a judge. Here the Court found that the trial judge “ostensibly made a credibility determination” which should have been made by the Jury. Appellant’s conviction was overturned and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
Protect your right to present a criminal defense by contacting a criminal defense attorney at Pisarik Law Firm
State v. Page is important because it protects an accused’s fundamental right to present a defense at trial. To discuss your criminal defense options, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Pisarik Law Firm today. Criminal defense consultations are free of charge. 803-415-2733