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. Phillips, 607 P.2d 56 (Kan. 1980).
This case answers the question:
Can a new trial be granted for highly prejudicial errors?
This specific case discusses whether the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to grant defendant a new trial for failure of the prosecution to hand over witness tapes. In exercising its discretion in ruling upon a motion to strike the testimony of a witness for failure of the prosecution to produce a statement pursuant to K.S.A. 22-3213(2), should consider why the statement was not produces; if it was lost, the facts and circumstances surrounding the loss; the negligence or fault on the part of the state; the nature, relevance and importance of the statement; the risk of prejudice to the defendant; the essentiality of the testimony to the state; and the other evidence in the case.
The defendant Phillips picked up a friend, Jenkins, and told him they were going to go fishing. Phillips showed Jenkins a pistol and asked where Mitchell lived, but it does not appear that he ever threatened Jenkins with the pistol. Once the two arrived at Mitchell’s house, Phillips told Mitchell that the two needed to talk. They talked for a short time while sitting on the curb and at the back of the truck. Phillips then told Mitchell to get into the truck, and Phillips proceeded to pistol whip and hit Mitchell about the face and head. On the final blow with the pistol, the gun fired, much to Phillips’ surprise. Phillips drove Mitchell to the hospital, but he unfortunately died.
Phillips appealed from a jury conviction of aggravated kidnapping and felony murder where he was sentenced to two life terms. On cross-examination at trial, Jenkins mentioned a taped statement given to the police on August 1, 1978. The defense requested the tape, and the court order the prosecution to turn the tape over. The defendant moved to strike Jenkins’ testimony because the State did not produce the taped statement, and the trial court overruled the motion to strike.
The evidence that is withheld must be clearly and unquestionably exculpatory and the withholding of the evidence must be clearly prejudicial. Evidence that materially affects credibility may fall under the category of exculpatory evidence. Defendant argues that the taped statement varies significantly from the testimony given at trial. In this case, the court noted that the taped evidence varied from the witness’s testimony at trial greatly enough to affect his credibility. This means that the jury needs to be allowed to hear both in order to weigh the inconsistencies and establish for themselves what the witness’s credibility is. In other words, the evidence of the withheld tapes is material because it affects the credibility of the witness.
The trial court abused its discretion in refusing to grant defendant a new trial. Therefore, the ruling of the trial court was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.