Walls v. State (1999)
- CRIMINAL LAW—SENTENCING—RELEVANCY OF VICTIM-IMPACT EVIDENCE.—Arkansas case law has primarily dealt with the relevancy of victim-impact evidence in the context of murder victims; it has been held that relevant victim-impact evidence is evidence that informs the jury of the toll of the murder on the victim's family; when victim-impact evidence is unduly prejudicial, it may render the trial fundamentally unfair and violate the Due Process Clause.
- EVIDENCE—SENTENCING—VICTIM-IMPACT EVIDENCE GOVERNED BY RULES OF ADMISSIBILITY.—The circuit judge erred when he twice overruled objections by defense counsel and stated that the rules of evidence did not apply to sentencing hearings or to victim-impact evidence in particular; the evidence listed in Ark. Code Ann. § 16-97-103 (Supp. 1997), including victim-impact evidence, must be governed by the rules of admissibility and exclusion for the proceedings to pass constitutional muster.
- CRIMINAL LAW—SENTENCING—RELEVANT EVIDENCE BENCH TRIAL DIFFERENT FROM JURY TRIAL.—It has been emphasized in both civil and criminal cases that the circumstances of a bench trial are different with respect to relevant evidence because a judge is better equipped to sort out what is pertinent to the issue at hand.
- CRIMINAL LAW—SENTENCING—BENCH TRIAL—SUBSEQUENT OBJECTIONS TO TESTIMONY NOT NECESSARY.—Where evidence in a bench trial has been contested by defense counsel by a motion in limine and the motion has been overruled, unlike a jury trial, subsequent objections to the testimony are not necessary; if a contemporaneous objection is not made at the time the evidence is offered during a jury trial, the proverbial bell will have been rung and the jury prejudiced; however, when the contested evidence is mentioned during a bench trial, there is no risk of prejudice because a trial judge is able to consider evidence only for its proper purpose.
- CRIMINAL LAW—BENCH TRIAL—CONTINUOUS OBJECTIONS TO SAME TESTIMONY NOT NECESSARY—ISSUE PRESERVED FOR REVIEW.—Where a bench trial is involved and where the ruling has been made, continuous objections to the same or similar testimony on relevancy grounds are not required; here, the issue of whether appellant's culpability for the murders was irrelevant, and unduly prejudicial victim-impact evidence was properly preserved for review.
- CRIMINAL LAW—EVIDENCE—INTRODUCTION OF AFTER OBJECTIONS OVERRULED.—Counsel does not waive an objection made in a motion in limine, if after the motion is overruled, counsel then presents the evidence that was the subject of the motion; there is no reason why, once the matter of admissibility has been settled, either party may not use the evidence in question.
- CRIMINAL LAW—CROSS-EXAMINATION OF WITNESS AFTER OBJECTIONS OVERRULED—OBJECTION NOT WAIVED.—Where the circuit judge's ruling allowed the prosecutor to develop appellant's role in the murders, defense counsel's cross-examination of one rape victim about appellant's role in the murders did not constitute a waiver of his objection to this evidence; after the judge's ruling, the door was open, and defense counsel were obliged to protect their client on the issue as best they could.
- EVIDENCE—SENTENCING—RELEVANT VICTIM-IMPACT EVIDENCE.—In murder cases, prejudice has been considered to be part of the analysis of what is relevant victim-impact evidence under the sentencing statute.
- CRIMINAL LAW—SENTENCING—EVIDENCE OF ANOTHER CRIME CLOAKED AS VICTIM-IMPACT EVIDENCE EVIDENCE IRRELEVANT & PREJUDICIAL.—In a sentencing hearing for multiple rapes where appellant had never been charged in connection with the multiple murders and the record did not reveal any notice to defense counsel that the issue of appellant's responsibility for the murders was to be tried to the circuit judge for sentencing purposes, the circuit judge heard evidence of these crimes, cloaked as victim-impact evidence, that led him to conclude that appellant was responsible for the murders, this evidence of other crimes was not legitimate victim-impact evidence; it was both irrelevant and prejudicial.
- CRIMINAL LAW—SENTENCING—WHEN EVIDENCE OF PRIOR UNCHARGED CRIME ADMISSIBLE.—Evidence of a prior, uncharged robbery attempt is admissible in the sentencing phase as an aggravating circumstance under Ark. Code Ann. § 16-93-103(6), following a guilty plea for robbery against the same victim; however, such relevant evidence should only come in "in the absence of prejudice."
- CRIMINAL LAW—SENTENCING—EVIDENCE OF PRIOR UNCHARGED CRIME INADMISSIBLE.—Solicitation-to-murder evidence was not admissible as an aggravating circumstance under Arkansas sentencing law where appellant was, without question, prejudiced by the evidence.
- CRIMINAL LAW—SENTENCING—CIRCUIT JUDGE ABUSED DISCRETION—REVERSED & REMANDED.—The circuit judge abused his discretion (1) when he allowed the testimony about the murders in as victim-impact evidence, and (2) when he held appellant responsible for those murders in fixing his sentence; the case was reversed and remanded.
Appeal from Lonoke Circuit Court; Lance L. Hanshaw, Judge; reversed and remanded.
Hubert W. Alexander and Jon Johnson, for appellant.
Winston Bryant, Att'y Gen., by: Sandy Moll, Asst. Att'y Gen., for appellee.
[Opinion of the court by Justice ROBERT L. BROWN. Dissenting opinion by Justice LAVENSKI R. SMITH, joined by Justices TOM GLAZE and DONALD L. CORBIN.]
- Glaze, Corbin, and Smith, JJ., would grant.