Appeal from Harvey District Court; RICHARD B. WALKER, judge.
1. An unreasonable limitation on the defendant's cross-examination of adverse witnesses violates the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution.
2. The limitation of cross-examination is unreasonable when the district court precludes cross-examination of the victim about sexual assaults that occurred during the same time period that the defendant was alleged to have assaulted her and the State tries to prove its charges in part based on the victim's adverse behavioral changes during this time period.
3. The limitation of cross-examination is unreasonable when the district court precludes cross-examination about the victim's statement to police that no one other than the defendant had touched her improperly even though two others were convicted of doing so during the same time period that defendant's crimes were alleged to have taken place.
4. When a defendant's confrontation rights have been violated, a new trial must be ordered unless the error was harmless. To find harmless error, the appellate court must have a firm belief beyond a reasonable doubt that the error had little, if any, likelihood of changing the results of the trial. In making this determination, the court must consider how important the witness was to the State's case, whether the testimony was cumulative, whether there was corroborating or contradictory evidence on key points, the extent of other cross-examination that was allowed, and the overall strength of the State's case.
5. On the facts of this case, the credibility of the victim was a key issue at trial. As such, the violation of the defendant's confrontation rights was not harmless.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leben, J.
Before MARQUARDT, P.J., LEBEN, J., and KNUDSON, S.J.
One of the most important rights in American criminal justice is the right to confront one's accuser. As a practical matter, that right depends upon the ability of the defendant--usually through an attorney--to cross-examine the witnesses who testify against him. Thus, an unreasonable limitation on the defendant's cross-examination of adverse witnesses violates the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. Olden v. Kentucky, 488 U.S. 227, 231, 102 L.Ed. 2d 513, 109 S.Ct. 480 (1988).
Darrell Jackson claims that unreasonable restrictions on his attorney's cross-examination of the key witness against him led to his conviction on five counts of aggravated criminal sodomy and four counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. The district court did not allow Jackson's attorney to cross-examine the alleged victim about the nearly identical allegations of sexual assaults by other individuals against her during the same general time period. But the State's case included evidence and argument that the victim's behavior had worsened--presumably based on the assaults by Jackson--during and after the time period that he had assaulted her. In that context, Jackson's right to confront the witnesses against him was violated by precluding cross-examination about similar assaults as other potential causes of her behavioral changes. Because we are unable to say beyond a reasonable doubt that the trial result would have been the same had this additional evidence been heard by the jury, we must reverse Jackson's convictions.
Jackson's Assaults Were Alleged to Have Occurred from July 1999 until January 2002, But Other Charges of Sexual Misconduct Against A.C. Involved Acts That Occurred During the Same Time Period.
Jackson's crimes were alleged to have occurred between July 1999 and January 2002. The alleged victim in all of the charges was A.C., a girl who was between 10 and 12 years old when the crimes were alleged to have occurred. She was 15 at the time of trial.
Jackson was a family friend, and he had acted generally as a babysitter for A.C. during the time at issue. The State's allegations generally were that Jackson licked A.C.'s vagina and had A.C. masturbate him. A.C. testified that such acts had occurred more than 50 times. A.C. testified that Jackson sometimes gave her money or presents; both A.C. and her mother also testified that Jackson had threatened A.C. Jackson was convicted of five counts of aggravated criminal sodomy and four ...