Monday, February 19, 2018

KYSC - Huddleston - Parole Eligibility Information

Huddlestonv. Commonwealth, 2016-SC-673, to be published
Murder. Attempt Murder. Other related crimes. LWOP.
Huddleston shot and killed his estranged girlfriend and her brother. Huddleston claimed extreme emotional disturbance due to the recent break up with his girlfriend caused him to “snap.”

Exclusion of parole eligibility information during the death penalty phase is not required. The Court overruled Perdue v. Commonwealth, 916 S.W.2d 148 (Ky. 1995) which had previously held that parole eligibility information “ha[d] no place in a death penalty hearing.” In this case, the defense wanted to introduce parole eligibility to demonstrate that a term of years could result in a lengthy sentence and was a better option than a death sentence. Noting that the trial court was constrained by Perdue, the Court did not apply is new analysis retroactively to this case. Further, the Court found no prejudice. “We see no reasonable probability that the jury which bypassed [LWOP 25] might have otherwise opted for imprisonment for a term of years with an even earlier parole date.”

Prior acts against the family were properly admitted. Defendant’s prior acts including stabbing the victim, threatening her family, stealing her mom’s cell phone and setting mom’s car on fire. The trial court admitted the evidence listing the possibilities from 404(b)(1) without any explanation or analysis for the relevance of the evidence. The Court took issue with the trial court’s “scattershot approach” and recommended a “precisely targeted explanation” by the court. Despite the trial court’s inadequate analysis, the Court found no error. The Court re-iterated the 3 step analysis for 404(b) issues delineated in Bell v. Commonwealth, 875 S.W.2d 882 (Ky. 1994)

Even though the witness was 3 years old when he witnessed the crime and 6 years old when he testified, the trial court did not err by allowing him to “testify” he saw the shooting and by allowing him to identify the defendant as the shooter. Court discusses KRE 601 analysis noting “age is not determinative of competency.”

Failure to administer oath to child witness was not palpable error. KRE 601 discussion. The child’s testimony was “merely cumulative” to other testimony and consistent with defendant’s admissions. Further, the prejudicial effect of the child’s testimony did not outweigh its probative value.

DISSENT by Cunningham cautioning prosecutors about using a “child of such tender years to solicit evidence which was not that critical to the Commonwealth’s case.”

Contributed by Euva Blandford