Hiltonv. Commonwealth, 2015-SC-452, to be published
Murder. Life sentence. Arising from an auto accident attributed to defendant’s intoxication.
Despite extensive pre-trial publicity, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying a change of venue. Court provides a thorough analysis re-iterating appropriate factors the trial court should consider on this issue.
7.24 duty to disclose defendant’s own statement. The trial court did not err by admitting a statement attributed to the defendant by a witness at the scene of the accident, to wit: “don’t call 911.” The Commonwealth pulled the 911 call log and found the witness’s phone number. During the Commonwealth’s interview, the witness disclosed defendant’s statement. The trial court found that the Commonwealth had disclosed the statement as soon as they received it. Also, the court found the statement to 911 was not in the possession of an agency over which the Commonwealth Attorney exercised control. The 911 call sheets were maintained by the Hardin County 911, which is owned and operated by county government, not a law enforcement agency. Any 911 calls regarding the vehicle collision were a matter of public record and available to all parties. Further, the court noted Hilton had failed to explain to the court how he was prejudiced by Hall’s testimony, even when offered an opportunity to present his argument in camera so as not to reveal trial strategy pre-trial.
Trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying a continuance; failing to strike certain jurors for cause; and failing to declare a mistrial when the jury heard about defendant’s pre-trial incarceration.
During the trial’s penalty phase, the Commonwealth asked the victim’s family what sentence they would like the defendant to receive. The Court found the recommendation of a sentence by the victim’s family during their testimonies was an issue of first impression. The Court found this evidence was not appropriate victim impact testimony. However, the court found the error harmless due to Hilton’s “serious criminal history” which included multiple DUIs. The Court held “simply put, prosecutors should avoid this type of evidence.”
Contributed by Euva Blandford