New Service Rule Applicable to the State Prosecuting Attorney Per Misc. Docket No. 19-012
1. “The First Court erred in holding the trial court abused its discretion in excluding impeachment evidence. As the dissenting justice pointed out, the appellant’s offer of proof failed to establish a causal or logical relationship between the excluded evidence and the witness’s alleged bias. The First Court’s opinion provides precedent for appellate courts to reverse trial courts based on speculation of what cross-examination might have revealed, rather than what the offer of proof showed it would reveal.”
2. “The First Court erred by failing to consider the weakness of the defensive evidence in conducting its harm analysis. The First Court looked only at the State’s evidence, and ignored the fact that the appellant failed to produce evidence that would support a jury’s finding that he acted in self-defense.”
Jones was indicted for felony family violence assault for assaulting Jimenez, his live-in girlfriend and mother of his baby. Jimenez’s mom, Gonzales, witnessed the altercation and testified for the State at trial. Jones testified to his own version of events, and Jimenez did not testify at all. Jones also sought to cross-examine Gonzales about whether she would be awarded custody of the baby if CPS terminated Jones’s parental rights. He argued such evidence would “go to motive.” The trial court denied Jones’s request. In his offer of proof, Jones asked Gonzales whether she had an interest in or preference about whether CPS terminated his and Jimenez’s parental rights. Gonzales did not understand Jones’s first question and said that she did not “have any say” in the CPS matter. She testified that her sister currently looked after the baby. She also testified she wanted the baby to be safe.
On appeal, Jones argued that the trial court’s refusal to let him cross-examine Gonzales about the custody issue violated his right to confrontation. A majority of the court of appeals agreed and concluded that “this is a classic Confrontation Clause case.” In finding harm under a constitutional harm analysis, the majority applied the factors considered in Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673 (1986), which center around the testimony of the witness whose cross-examination was limited and the overall strength of the prosecution’s case. The dissent would have held the offer of proof inadequate to demonstrate bias.
The State argues the offer of proof failed to show that cross-examination about custody was relevant. There was no evidence that Gonzales would be awarded, or even wanted, custody. Numerous cases require that a party wanting to cross-examine a witness about bias must show a logical connection between a fact that could give rise to potential bias or motive to testify falsely (like a pending charge) and the existence of bias or motive. While Jones showed that there was an ongoing CPS case against Jones and Jimenez and that Gonzales wanted safety for the baby, there was no logical connection between those facts and actual bias on Gonzales’s part. The State also contends that the court of appeals’s harm analysis should have considered that Jones admitted in his testimony to assaulting Jimenez after she hit or kicked the phone in his hand and that he never raised any evidence he acted in self-defense. These were part of the circumstances that “logically inform an appellate determination whether ‘beyond a reasonable doubt [that particular] error did not contribute to the conviction or punishment.’” Snowden v. State, 353 S.W.3d 815 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011).