Friday, July 16, 2010

New trial in Lyon County Jessica's Law case

Carl Folsom won in State v. Magallanez, No. 99,694 (Kan. July 16, 2010), obtaining a new trial in three consolidated Lyon County sex offense prosecutions, including rape, aggravated indecent liberties, and aggravated criminal sodomy. Carl filed a brief with fifteen issues; the KSC held that five of the issues cumulatively required a new trial. The KSC summarized it findings:

This court has recognized often that the federal and state constitutions do not guarantee a perfect trial, but they do guarantee a fair one, even when the defendant stands accused of unspeakably horrendous crimes. This case is one of the rare ones in which cumulative error dictates reversal of the defendant's convictions and remand for further proceedings, because it is our view Magallanez did not get a fair trial and the evidence was not so overwhelming as to overcome the error. The five errors that, viewed collectively, substantially prejudiced Magallanez and denied him a fair trial were: prosecutorial misconduct, the overbreadth of the trial court's shotgun limiting instruction under K.S.A. 60-455, the redaction of J.P.'s letter to Magallanez, lack of jurisdiction to convict on aggravated indecent liberties as to S.S., and the inclusion of the "burden on both sides" language in the Allen-type instruction.

We have discussed already the potential danger when prosecutors embellish the burden of proof required in criminal cases, and the prosecutor committed this error by diluting the reasonable doubt standard in this case. Our prior case law also recognizes a defendant is entitled to have guilt determined solely based on the evidence introduced at trial, not other circumstances. This right was impaired by the misleading portion of the Allen instruction indicating that another trial would burden both sides. This trial was further tainted by evidentiary and argument issues; the prosecutor's improper comment that "you trust children until you have reason not to" exacerbated the district judge's error in barring admission of the very evidence proving that one of the victims had lied before about her sexual activity. Furthermore, the district judge failed to properly instruct the jury on limiting use of the evidence of Magallanez' prior crimes. Each error, viewed independently, would not have been enough to require reversal, but we cannot hold Magallanez received a fair trial when the errors are aggregated.
There is a lot of good language in this decision on each of the errors found by the KSC. We were a little skeptical that improperly restricting the defense presentation, by itself, would be harmless error. But it's under the bridge after the cumulative error finding.

Here is coverage from the Emporia Gazette.

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