Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Case Name: Proffit v. State
Citation: 2008 WY 114
Docket Number: S-07-025
Appeal from the
Representing Appellant: Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Kerin, Appellate Counsel.
Representing Appellee: Bruce A. Salzburg,
Facts/Discussion: Appellant Proffit raised five issues in the appeal of his conviction on eight counts of third-degree sexual assault.
State Witness Testimony Regarding Polygraph: The transcript from the trial provided the record of the exchange with the State’s witness who talked about Appellant’s decision to decline the polygraph test.
Cross-Examination as to Whether Other Witnesses Lied: The Appellant raised the issue of improper questioning techniques in regard to the questioning of his expert witness and in regard to his own cross-examination. There were no trial objections to the line of questioning asking witnesses whether others were lying. The Court quoted extensively from Jensen v. State as well as Beaugureau v. State. The admonition against asking the appellant whether other witnesses lied applies equally to asking any witness whether another witness has lied. Such questions invade the province of the jury to determine witness credibility. By bringing in the testimony from the other trials, and quizzing the appellant as to whether those witnesses were lying, the prosecutor was allowed improperly to bolster B.C.’s credibility. The Court considered the errors together with all of the other errors that occurred in the trial of this case and in doing so, was not convinced that absent the errors, the verdict might not have been more favorable to the appellant.
Cross-Examination as to Prior Convictions: In Wyoming, the courts have given effect to the presumption in favor of exclusion where the witness is the accused by holding that a testifying defendant is required to give answers only as to whether he had previously been convicted of a felony, as to what the felony was, and as to when the conviction was had. A review of the record showed the prosecutor “hearsayed in” testimony from two murder trials, told the jury that the other juries had convicted Appellant of those crimes, and then told the jury that B.C. was murdered because he was going to be the witness in the present trial. The Court considered whether Appellant’s direct examination opened the door to the prosecutor’s questions. It determined that the jury’s focus was shifted from the facts of the present case to the facts of the two prior murders. The district court never made a determination that the probative value of the evidence of the prior convictions outweighed its prejudicial effect. The Court determined that was plain error requiring reversal.
Shifting the Burden of Proof to Appellant: The Court reviewed the prosecutor’s argument and stated it was not so far outside the realm of appropriate argument as to be misconduct. Appellant testified and the prosecutor’s statements were comments upon that testimony.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: The defendant must show that counsel’s performance was deficient. The defendant must also show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.
Failing to Make Appropriate Objections: The Court reviewed the record in the instant case observing the tenet that trial counsel is to be given the benefit of the doubt when considering whether a “failure” to object is actually a strategy. The Court could not accept counsel’s performance as adequate. It had no confidence that the guilty verdicts were based upon the admissible evidence and could not countenance defense counsel’s failure to object or the decision not to object to the highly prejudicial and objectionable testimony that was admitted.
Inquiring Into the Investigators’ Opinions as to Appellant’s Credibility: Appellant argued that not only did defense counsel fail to object when the prosecutor elicited the investigators’ opinions that Appellant was guilty, but that he emphasized those opinions by further inquiry about them during cross. The Court concluded the issue was part of the cumulative ineffectiveness of defense counsel.
Failure to Demand Notice of or Object to Uncharged Misconduct Evidence: The admissibility of uncharged misconduct evidence should be tested before trial – preferably via a defendant’s demand for notice of the State’s intent to introduce such evidence, the State’s identification of such evidence and a pretrial hearing. The State produced uncharged misconduct evidence at trial including the evidence of a sexual assault by Appellant upon B.C. outside
District Court’s Response to Jury Question: The jury asked the judge a question regarding State Exhibit 2 which was the Judgment Upon Jury Verdict holding Appellant guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of B.C. The district court responded stating that State’s Exhibit 2 was a piece of evidence which should be given as much weight as the jurors deemed appropriate. The district court’s response could only be justified if defense counsel’s failure or decision not to object made the document admissible beyond the limited purpose of impeaching credibility.
Holding: Plain error occurred when a State witness testified that Appellant had refused to take a polygraph examination, when the State questioned Appellant and one of Appellant’s witnesses as to whether other witnesses were lying, and when the State improperly used prior conviction evidence in the cross-examination of Appellant. Plain error did not occur when the State, during rebuttal closing argument pointed out the lack of evidence supporting Appellant’s theory of the case. Appellant received ineffective assistance of counsel when defense counsel failed to make numerous meritorious objections to evidence, when defense counsel invited prejudicial error by inquiring into the investigators’’ opinions as to Appellant’s credibility and guilt, by failing to demand notice of uncharged misconduct evidence and failing to object to the introduction of such evidence, and by failing to obtain a limiting instruction that would have prevented the jury from using prior conviction evidence as substantive evidence of guilt.
C.J. Voigt delivered the decision.
Link: http://tinyurl.com/3ml2ct .
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