Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Olden v. Kentucky case brief (488 U.S. 227) Evidence, Cross Examination of a Witness.

Olden v. Kentucky case brief summary
(488 U.S. 227)

-The Petitioner and Harris, both black, were indicted for kidnapping, rape, and forcible sodomy. 
-The victim, Starla Matthews, was a young white woman and was married at the time of the incident.
-Ms. Matthews gave inconsistent accounts of what happened, and her testimony was only corroborated by one witness, Bill Russell.
-Petitioner argued that Ms. Matthews and Mr. Russell were involved in an affair with each other and Mr. Matthews lied to Ms. Russell about what happened to protect their relationship. The Petitioner contended the sex with Ms. Matthews was consensual. The Petitioner sought to introduce evidence that Ms. Matthews and Mr. Russell were living together at the time of the trial in order to show her motive to lie.
-During trial, Ms. Matthews testified she was living with her mother.
-The trial court granted to prosecutor’s motion to not allow the evidence.
-Mr. Harris was acquitted on all charges and the Petitioner was convicted of forcible sodomy. 8.  The Petitioner claimed that the trial court’s failure to allow him to impeach Ms. Matthew’s testimony deprived him of his Sixth Amendment constitutional right to confront the witness. The appellate court upheld the conviction finding that the probative value of the evidence was outweighed by the possibility of prejudice against Ms. Matthews.

1.  Was the Petitioner denied his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witness who was against him?
2.  If the Petitioner was denied his Sixth Amendment right, was it a harmless error?

The Sixth Amendment constitutional right to be confronted with the witnesses against the accused, includes the right to conduct reasonable cross-examination.

1.  Yes, Petitioner was denied his right to confront the witness.
2.  No, the error was not harmless.

The Petitioner consistently maintained that he and Ms. Matthews engaged in consensual sex. Ms. Matthew’s testimony was crucial to the prosecution’s case, and is, thus, appropriate to allow a cross-examination that exposes the credibility, or lack thereof, of the testimony.
In determining whether the error was harmless, the court examined the following factors:
a.  The importance of the witness’ testimony for the prosecution’s case.
b.  Whether the testimony was cumulative.
c.  The presence or absence of corroborating or contradicting material evidence.
d.  The extent of cross examination allowed, and
e.  The overall strength of the prosecution’s case.
Taking into account these factors, the court found it could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless.

Sheds light on the credibility of the direct testimony of a witness.
1.  Test – perception of the witness.
a.  Examine to see if the witness had the ability to perceive, e.g., heard something (noise, where was the noise, how did he hear it?
b.  Saw something?  How was the lighting?
c.  Offer evidence to impeach perception.
2.  Test - witness memory.
a.  Does the witness remember the event accurately?
3.  Test - narration.
a.  Is the language sufficient to convey memory that the witness had?
4.  Test - sincerity.
a.  Is the witness biased, truthful, sincere, or does he have a bad character trait?
Willingness + capacity to tell the truth (e.g., distorting, exaggerating?)

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