DEFENDANT HAS A RIGHT TO TRUTH-IN-EVIDENCE, EVIDENCE CODE SECTIONS 780 AND 1103
“[The] suppression of substantial material evidence bearing on the credibility of a key prosecution witness is a denial of due process within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (People v. Ruthford (1975) 14 Cal.3d 399, 408.) Furthermore, The Right to Truth-in-Evidence Law (Cal. Const., art I, § 28, subd. (d)), provides in pertinent part that “relevant evidence shall not be excluded in any criminal proceeding.” Evidence Code section 780:
Except as otherwise provided by statute, the court or jury may consider in determining the credibility of a witness any matter that has any tendency in reason to prove or disprove the truthfulness of his testimony at the hearing, including but not limited to any of the following:
(e) His character for honesty or veracity or their opposites.
(f) The existence or nonexistence of a bias, interest, or other motive.
. . .
(h) A statement made by him that is inconsistent with any part of his testimony at the hearing.
(i) The existence or nonexistence of any fact testified to by him.
. . .
(k) His admission of untruthfulness. (emphasis added.)
Evidence Code section 1103 provides that in a criminal action, evidence of a trait of character in the form of specific instances of conduct of the alleged victim of the crime for which the accused is prosecuted is not made inadmissible if offered to prove conduct of the victim in conformity with the trait of character. (Cal. Evid. Code § 1103(a), emph. added.) Legislative policy favors a rule that “collateral” evidence of relevant “traits of character” may generally be admissible for impeachment of a witness’ credibility. (People v. Wall (1979) 95 Cal.App.3d 978, 987; emphasis added.)
People v. Lavergne (1971) 4 Cal.3d 735, 742, further instructs that:
Section 780 of the Evidence Code provides that, except as otherwise provided by statute, the court or jury in assessing the witness’ credibility may consider ‘any matter that has any tendency in reason to prove or disprove the truthfulness of [the witness’] testimony. . . .’ That section sets forth ‘a convenient list of the most common factors that bear on the question of credibility.’ (Law Revision Com. Comment on Evid. Code, § 780.) Among those matters which the jury or judge may consider is the ‘existence or nonexistence’ of any fact testified to by the witness. (§ 780, subd. (i).) The nonexistence of a fact testified to is relevant insofar as it is an indication of the witness’ general truthfulness and credibility on the witness stand. (Ibid., italics in orig.)
Significant also, in relation to the policy under discussion, is the rationale expressed by Jennings v. Superior Court, supra., 66 Cal.2d 867, 877: “[W]herever possible [a witness] examination “should be given wide latitude, particularly in cases involving ‘a witness against a defendant in a criminal prosecution.‘” (Italics added.)
In People v. Reyes (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 53, 63, an objection was made to evidence of specific instances of conduct offered to prove nonexistence of a fact testified to by a witness. The evidence had a “relevancy to attack [his] credibility as a witness.” The court said: Collateral evidence of specific instances of a complaining witness’ conduct as proof of a trait of character tending in reason to disprove the truthfulness of his testimony is admissible. (People v. Wall, supra., 95 Cal.App.3d 978.) The exclusion of evidence bearing on the credibility of complaining witnesses is prejudicial error. (People v. Randle (1982) 130 Cal.App.3d 286.)
In Randle, a police officer was convicted for forcible oral copulation. (Id.) The incident allegedly occurred at a bar. (Id.) Defense counsel learned that a witness read of the case and gave information to the police concerning the complaining witness’s habits and reputation. (Id.) Twenty declarations were made by 17 different individuals from the area, men and women with a variety of occupations but with one thing in common: “they knew the complainant’s reputation.” (Id.) The “declarations detailed specific instances of public drunkenness, dishonesty, and public sex acts” by the complaining witness and undermined her credibility. In addition, on two prior occasions the complaining witness had falsely asserted she was a victim of a purse snatch and kidnapping. (Id.) Based on the aforementioned information, defense counsel moved for a new trial. (Id.) The Court of Appeal overturned Randle’s conviction, because the trial court committed reversible error when it excluded the testimony attacking the complaining witness’ credibility. (Id.)
The right of cross-examination is implicit in the constitutional right of confrontation. “The Confrontation Clause commands that reliability be assessed in a particular manner: by testing in the crucible of cross-examination.” (Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36.) Here, MR. BROWN asserts his right to cross-examine witnesses on specific instances of conduct showing proof of a character trait that belies their truthfulness while testifying.
At Jay Leiderman Law, we have proven results over years of practice, and we are uniquely qualified to represent you in your time of need. We are situated in Ventura, California but we handle cases throughout the state. We have the expertise, experience and skill to handle numerous types of legal matters. Jay Leiderman is one of only a few CERTIFIED CRIMINAL LAW SPECIALISTS in the area. He handles every kind of criminal law case. He is famous for defending medical marijuana cases and computer hacking cases, though the bulk of his practice is a generous mix of those cases plus serious felonies and misdemeanors. Read more at his Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Leiderman or his homepage www.jayleiderman.com
This post does not create an attorney-client relationship and does not constitute legal advice. Moreover, the law changes over time. Always consult an attorney before determining what motion s to file and what the current law is as to any particular topic.
Criminal defense attorney and author Jay Leiderman, a California State Bar Certified Criminal Law Specialist can be contacted through the contact page of this website: https://www.jayleiderman.com/contact/