This is an appeal by defendant from a conviction of the offense of assault by a prisoner.
The incident involved arose in the maximum security facility of the Utah State Prison. The assault itself is not generally in dispute but the events leading up to the same are substantially in dispute. The victim, Michael William Hart, maintained at trial that he was struck several times in the face by defendant's fists and that the assault was in response to his request for payment of money owed him by defendant. Defendant maintained that he was "jumpy" because he believed someone was trying to harm him, he being concerned for his personal safety by reason of a prior incident that occurred in the kitchen, and by reason of the fact he had been stabbed before in prison. He further maintained while watching television with an earphone in one ear he heard a fellow prisoner call, "Watch Out!" as he was simultaneously struck on the shoulder with some commissary slips. He then whirled and struck the victim, Hart, instinctively in self-defense. He makes no effort to refute the evidence of the medical expert that the victim was struck a number of times as evidenced by the abrasions, bruises and lacerations observed on the victim as well as defendant's swollen hands.
Defendant here asserts the trial court committed error by (1) refusing to allow cross-examination of the victim concerning agreements with the prosecution in return for testimony, the same being a denial of due process, and (2) refusal to instruct the jury on his theory of the case, that of self-defense.
The right to cross-examine is an invaluable right embodied in Article I, Section 12 of the Utah Constitution and in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution
The trial court's obligation to control the trial to prevent prejudice and waste of time must of course be weighed against the competing right of confrontation and the limiting of cross-examination is within the sound discretion of the court.
In Hutchings v. State
This court has long recognized the particular significance of cross-examination and the fact that the interest of a witness is a matter which the jury must weigh against his credibility.
In this case the following colloquy was engaged in by Hart and Larry Keller, appellant's counsel:
Further cross-examination of Hart by appellant's counsel resulted in the following colloquy:
Sergeant Ken Miles of the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office was cross-examined by appellant's counsel in regards to an interview that Sergeant Miles had with the victim Michael Hart. The following colloquy ensued:
From the foregoing it is evident that not only did Mr. Keller's questions imply that there may have been an agreement between the state and the witness, but in addition thereto, the testimony of Sergeant Miles also addressed the same contention. While neither Hart nor other witnesses were actually asked whether any promise was given, the implication that one may have been was clearly before the jury.
Courts have found no prejudice where information that may be brought out by further questioning was already before the jury either from the testimony of others or by implication from the witness' own testimony.
Here, the jury was aware of Hart's desire not to remain in maximum security at the Utah State Prison, was also aware of conversations with a law enforcement officer about his care, and was no doubt aware of his possible motivation for testifying as he did. Hence, while there may have been error in limiting the cross-examination as to bias or motive, such was not prejudicial error, nor does it appear that additional cross-examination would have further aided the jury in determining Hart's credibility.
Turning now to the second assignment of error, that of failure to instruct the jury on defendant's theory of self-defense, the law is well-settled that a defendant is entitled to have an instruction on his theory
In State v. Castillo
This court also observed in State v. Talarico,
Defendant admits striking Hart saying such was "necessary" for the following reasons: (1) he was in prison and such made him more fearful of his personal safety than if in a normal environment; (2) that he had been stabbed before in prison; (3) that Hart came from behind striking him ever so slightly with some papers just as a fellow inmate sounded a warning. The State's evidence was substantially contrary, Hart claiming he approached defendant from the side, handed the papers to him, went on handing additional papers to two other inmates, and was looking for a wash bucket at which time he was struck. The medical evidence was that Hart sustained abrasions, lacerations and bruises indicative of several blows and that defendant's hands were swollen. Also, defendant had previously stated he had hit Hart because of a remark made causing him to lose his temper.
Based on the foregoing the trial court determined there was no substantive evidence to warrant a self-defense instruction and we agree.
The trial court instructed the jury that in order to convict the defendant they must find that he acted intentionally and knowingly and in doing so that they must consider the nature of his conduct, the circumstances surrounding it and its result. In addition, the jury was further instructed that to warrant a conviction the evidence must exclude from their minds every reasonable hypothesis other than guilt.
A careful examination of the record compels the conclusion that the result reached would not have been different had the jury been instructed on the theory of self-defense. As was stated in State v. Talarico, footnote 12 supra, the question of self-defense was all theory without substantive evidence to support it.
ELLETT, C.J., and CROCKETT, J., concur.
WILKINS, Justice (dissenting):
I respectfully dissent. The District Court's refusal to allow defense counsel to cross-examine Witness Hart, a fellow inmate and alleged victim, concerning any agreements he may have made with the State in return for his testimony, was, in my opinion, prejudicial error. I suggest that a careful reading of these examinations, cited in the main opinion, of both Witnesses Hart and Miles (a Sergeant in Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office) shows that the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination
Nor did Sergeant Miles' answer of "I would say no" to defense counsel's question "He (Hart) did demand of you certain conditions
The cross-examination concerning motivation of Hart's testimony was thwarted unreasonably, causing an impermissible incursion into the precious right of confrontation,
MAUGHAN, J., concurs in Justice WILKINS' dissent.