Friday, July 24, 2009

"Hasty generalization" warrants new trial

Meryl Carver-Allmond earned her first published win in State v. Smith, No. 99,655 (Kan. App. July 24, 2009), reversing a Douglas County conviction for robbery. The COA held that the district court abused its discretion in denying trial counsel’s motion to withdraw because an irreconcilable conflict existed between trial counsel and Smith.

Smith wanted to present evidence at trial that he was physically unable to commit the robbery and that he did not have a financial motive for the crime. However, trial counsel believed that Smith was the person in the surveillance video of the robbery. Prior to trial, counsel filed a motion to withdraw, informing the court (at a hearing outside the presence of the State) that he could not present Smith's evidence because he believed that Smith was the suspect shown in the surveillance video. The trial court denied the motion to withdraw, finding that any attorney would be precluded from presenting false evidence.

The COA rejected the trial court's analysis. The court held:

The issue before this court is whether the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to appoint Charles Smith new counsel. Based on the lone assertion of Smith's attorney who refused to present potentially relevant defense evidence on Smith'[s] behalf because he believed that a suspect shown in a crime surveillance video was Smith, the trial court developed a general rule covering all attorneys who could have represented Smith, thus committing the logical fallacy known as a hasty generalization. Just because Smith's attorney believed that the suspect shown in a crime video was the defendant, it does not follow that all attorneys would have viewed that video in the same way as Smith's attorney, especially when the assertion is based on the sense of sight. More important, this generalization theorizes that all attorneys would have refused to present potentially relevant evidence in Smith's defense. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
The COA also noted that the police officer who viewed the surveillance video should not have been allowed to tell the jury that he believed that Smith was the person in the video. The court held that this type of testimony invades the province of the jury, “because the normal experience and qualifications of lay jurors would permit them to compare the defendant sitting before them to the images shown in a videotape or photographs.”

[Update: the state filed a PR on August 20, 2009.]

[Further update: the KSC granted the PR on May 19, 2010. The case will likely be argued late fall 2010 or possibly early spring 2011.]

[Further update: here is a Lawrence Journal-World article reporting on the upcoming argument.]

[Further update: on February 11, 2011, the KSC reversed and remanded for new trial. Here is the blog entry reporting that decision.]

No comments: