WHEN CAN A NEW TRIAL BE GRANTED FOR NEWLY DISCOVERED EVIDENCE?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Smith, 176 P.3d 997 (Kan. Ct. App. 2008).
This case answers the question:
When can a new trial be granted for newly discovered evidence?
When is the evidence newly discovered by the defendant grounds for a new trial? In determining whether to grant a new trial due to newly discovered evidence, the defendant must show two things: (1) that this new evidence could not have been produced at trial with reasonable diligence; and (2) that there is a reasonable probability that the newly discovered evidence would produce a more favorable result upon trial.
In this case, Smith and others were at a party on the evening of June 27, 2005 at Wendolyn Barnum’s house. The party ended when Amber Razlaff went through a bedroom window, and the police were called. Ratzlaff and Smith left, came back with no answer at the door, and then Smith returned Ratzlaff to her house. Smith picked up his girlfriend Karen Casey, and they returned to Barnum’s house. At this point, the stories become drastically different. Smith and Casey claim that Barnum came out of the house with a knife and attacked them chasing them into their vans. It ended with Smith hitting Barnum with a cement clod to thwart her advances. Casey and Smith left the scene in Smith’s van, and it is uncertain if Casey’s van was present at the scene or not. On the other hand, Barnum claims that Smith hit her in the head with a brick when she opened the door to her house causing her to fall to her knees.
At the scene of the incident, Casey made no mention of any knife scratches on her van. The original case resulted in a mistrial because of a hung jury. On the retrial, Casey stated that there were scratches on her van’s driver side door from Barnum’s knife. A witness, Emily Taft, who purchased Casey’s van stated that there were no scratches on the van. After being convicted for aggravated battery, Smith moved for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. In this case, the newly discovered evidence was testimony of a different witness claiming a statement made by Taft about the existence of scratches on a van. The comment was made during jury deliberations, and calls into question the credibility of Taft.
The district court denied the motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence. The district court ruled that it was unlikely that one more piece of evidence regarding a small scratch somewhere on the van would have changed the result of the trial. The Court of Appeals of Kansas is deciding whether it was an error for the district court to deny the motion for new trial.
In determining whether to grant a new trial due to newly discovered evidence, the defendant must show two things: (1) that this new evidence could not have been produced at trial with reasonable diligence; and (2) that there is a reasonable probability that the newly discovered evidence would produce a more favorable result upon trial. The court noted that the first element was easily met since the evidence did not exist until after the jury started deliberations. The court ruled that the second element was not met. The court reasoned that the new evidence was not relevant because it did not prove a material fact. In the issue of whether Barnum attacked Casey by her van, the new evidence does not support Casey’s statement that there were scratches on the van’s driver side door. In fact, the statement made by Taft that there were scratches on the van do not suggest that the scratches were even on the driver’s side door. The court concluded that there was enough evidence supporting Barnum’s theory of the chain of events, and the jury accepted this version.
The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence since the evidence was only one piece of disputed evidence of dubious value.