Murder Conviction Affirmed Despite Erroneous Testimony

State v. Hughes

Hughes was released from jail on unrelated charges, and soon after, his mother was found dead in her home. At trial, there was testimony that the victim feared Hughes. This testimony, according to the Court of Appeals, was admitted in error. The Court notes that “while the present state of the declarant’s mind is admissible as an exception to hearsay, the reason for the declarant’s state of mind is not.” The Court further notes that when a trial court admits these kinds of statements, it must “narrowly limit” them, “to declarations of condition – ‘I’m scared’ – and not belief – ‘I’m scared because [someone] threatened me.'” In other words, a witness may testify that the deceased was afraid, but not that the deceased was afraid of the defendant.

Despite the erroneous admission of this testimony, the Court declines to reverse Hughes’ conviction, because (1) the objection was not preserved, (2) Hughes elicited similar testimony, and (3) the remaining evidence of guilt was overwhelming.

The Court also addresses Hughes’ claim that the State’s closing argument – which was divided into two parts – was a due process violation in that it allowed the State to “sandbag” Hughes, and prohibit Hughes from having an opportunity to reply. The Court finds that “the bulk of the State’s closing argument was confined to content that had already been raised in Hughes’s closing argument.” The Court concluded that any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Read the full opinion here.


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