The legal collection of evidence in a criminal defense matter is crucial. So is its presentation. In a recent Supreme Court case, the Court discussed a Nevada matter and the appropriateness of exclusion of evidence for the defense during trial.
The case of Nevada v. Jackson, describes a personal relationship between Calvin Jackson and Annette Heathmon. Ms. Heathmon made several attempts to end the relationship. In October, 1998, Mr. Jackson allegedly raped and assaulted Ms. Heathmon. After the rape, a witness observed Mr. Jackson pulling Ms. Heathmon by the hair and neck into the parking lot. Injury to the scalp and neck of Ms. Heathmon was evident to police. Mr. Jackson was arrested.
During the trial Mr. Jackson sought to bring into evidence previous unsubstantiated allegations of sexual assault made by Ms. Heathmon over the course of their relationship. While allowed to cross-examine Ms. Heathmon about the incidents, the trial court did not allow introduction of police reports or testimony to support or explain police response to the claims. Mr. Jackson was convicted and was given a life sentence.
Appealing his conviction, Mr. Jackson noted his defense had been incomplete and the trial court had erred in not allowing him to offer extrinsic evidence that supported his claims about false allegations made by Ms. Heathmon. The Nevada Supreme Court rejected the argument.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Nevada Supreme Court ruling, noting extrinsic evidence supporting possible false allegations by Ms. Heathmon was critical to the defense.
The Supreme Court of the United States noted the Constitution guarantees criminal defendants a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. The Court also noted States have the right to create rules to exclude evidence from criminal trials. In this case, the Court discussed a Nevada rule that precludes the admission of extrinsic evidence of specific instances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting the witness’ credibility, other than conviction of crime.
While the defendant had the right to present evidence of false allegations in a sexual assault case, that evidence must first be the subject of a properly noticed hearing on the matter. In this case, no motion was filed, and no hearing was held. The Court noted the Supreme Court of Nevada had correctly applied the rule. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Ninth Court and the conviction of Mr. Jackson was reinstated.
Defendants have the right to present a complete defense — within the bounds of established rule and procedure. By failing to take advantage of a motion to present extrinsic evidence, Mr. Jackson lost that opportunity. In any criminal matter, always seek reputable, well-experienced legal counsel.