I’ve been doing criminal appeals for 26 years and lately I realized that my favorite issue is that the defendant was denied his opportunity to present a defense whether because he was refused an instruction, not allowed to adduce certain evidence, or denied appropriate cross-examination. I see this happening all too often in the courts of this state and I’m mesmerized by televised trials from other states where this never seems to be a problem. So, anyway, if this is happening to your client, here are some cites you can use to, if nothing else, preserve the error:
Mississippi law has emphatically upheld the right of a defendant to present his theory of the case to the jury. Murphy v. State, 566 So.2d 1201, 1206 (Miss. 1990). Similarly, the right to present a defense is a right guaranteed by the federal constitution. Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, 302, 35 L. Ed. 2d 297, 93 S. Ct. 1038 (1973). The United States Supreme Court has long held that an accused’s right to “establish a defense” is a “fundamental element of due process.” Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 19, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1967).
right to present a defense via instructions: Lanier v. State, 684 So.2d 93, 95-97 (Miss. 1996) (error to refuse defendant a lesser included instruction reflecting his theory of the case).
right to present theory of defense via evidence: Williams v. State, 54 So.3d 212, 214 (Miss. 2011) (error to exclude witness for discovery violation who would have corroborated defendant’s theory that victim had a gun just before he was shot).
right to cross-examine to establish theory of defense: Shaffer v. State, 740 So. 2d 273, 281-282 (Miss. 1998) (error to refuse to allow defendant to cross-examine pathologist about his statements during autopsy that contradicted his opinion that killing was an intentonal murder).
And then this case decided by the Ct. of App. on Jan. 14, 2014 involving hearsay that supported the defendant’s case:
Hartfield v. State; – three people, Hartfield, Dixon and Graham, were indicted for the murder of Hartfield’s wife, Tabitha. Dixon testified against Hartfield and Graham in separate trials. It is difficult to know why Graham didn’t plead guilty since she’s the one who called the police and confessed to killing Tabitha, her cousin, and took police to her body. Graham was called to testify at Hartfield’s trial and she invoked her 5th right to remain silent. Hartfield attempted to introduce letters that Graham had sent to Hartfield and Graham’s boyfriend and mother – letters that inculpated Graham and exculpated Hartfield. The prosecution objected that the letters were hearsay. The Miss. S.Ct. reversed on the basis of its decision in Lacy v. State, 700 So.2d 602, 607 (Miss. 1997). The statement should have been admitted pursuant to MRE 804(h)(3) a statement against interest where there were corroborating circumstances that indicating trustworthiness. Since Graham had admitted guilt and had made statements that she and Dixon murdered Tabitha, the letters should have been admitted. Indeed, it was an abuse of discretion to exclude them.