Evidence, Exclusion of Evidence of Conduct of Victim

Unless otherwise indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

State of Tennessee v. Dunn,  No. E2021-00343-CCA-R3-CD, p. 19 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 5, 2022) (cross examination of victim regarding pending criminal charges).

A defendant’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses includes the right to conduct meaningful cross-examination. Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39, 51 (1987); State v. Brown, 29 S.W.3d 427, 430-31 (Tenn. 2000). The denial of a defendant’s right to effective cross-examination is “‘constitutional error of the first magnitude’” and may violate the defendant’s right to a fair trial. State v. Hill, 598 S.W.2d 815, 819 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1980) (quoting Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 318 (1974)). “The propriety, scope, manner and control of the cross-examination of witnesses, however, rests within the sound discretion of the trial court.” State v. Dishman, 915 S.W.2d 458, 463 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1995) (citing Coffee v. State, 216 S.W.2d 702, 703 (Tenn. 1948); Davis v. State, 212 S.W.2d 374, 375 (Tenn. 1948)).

A defendant’s right to confront witnesses does not preclude a trial court from imposing limits upon the cross-examination of witnesses, taking into account such factors as “harassment, prejudice, issue confusion, witness safety, or merely repetitive or marginally relevant interrogation.” State v. Reid, 882 S.W.2d 423, 430 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1994); see also Tenn. R. Evid. 611(a) (stating that the trial court has authority to “exercise appropriate control over the presentation of evidence and conduct of the trial when necessary to avoid abuse by counsel[]”). Absent a clear abuse of discretion that results in manifest prejudice to the defendant, this court will not interfere with the trial court’s exercise of its discretion on matters pertaining to the examination of witnesses. State v. Johnson, 670 S.W.2d 634, 636 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1984) (citing Monts v. State, 379 S.W.2d 34 (Tenn. 1964)).

“Tennessee Rule of Evidence 608(b) provides that specific instances of conduct may be used to impeach a witness during cross-examination if the conduct is probative of the witness’s character for truthfulness or untruthfulness.” State v. Julio Ramirez, No. M2009- 01617-CCA-R3-CD, 2011 WL 2348464, at *13 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jun. 8, 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 21, 2011). Before a witness may be cross-examined on specific instances of conduct, the trial court must, upon request, hold a hearing outside the jury’s presence and must determine that the alleged conduct has probative value and that a reasonable factual basis exists for the inquiry. Tenn. R. Evid. 608(b)(1). When the trial court complies with the procedural requirements of Rule 608(b), we review the trial court’s decision under an abuse of discretion standard. Julio Ramirez, 2011 WL 2348464, at *14.

State of Tennessee v. King, No. W2020-01628-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 8, 2022).

The admission of evidence [concerning conduct of the victim] is left to “the sound discretion of the trial judge,” Otis v. Cambridge Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 850 S.W.2d 439, 442 (Tenn. 1992), and “[r]elevancy is always a judicial question to be determined according to the issue which is to be tried.” Randolph v. State, 570 S.W.2d 869, 872 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1978) (quoting Ellison v. State, 549 S.W.2d 691, 696 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1976)). We review a trial court’s admission of evidence under an abuse of discretion standard and will reverse the decision to admit evidence only if “the court applied an incorrect legal standard, or reached a decision which is against logic or reasoning” and admission of the evidence “caused an injustice to the party complaining.” State v. Gilliland, 22 S.W.3d 266, 270 (Tenn. 2000) (quoting State v. Shirley, 6 S.W.3d 243, 247 (Tenn. 1999)) (internal quotation marks omitted).


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