Understanding the Right to “Confront” the Evidence Against You in a Misdemeanor Case

March 30th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Misdemeanor Crimes

In a trial involving misdemeanor crimes, the defendant has the same constitutional rights as in felony cases. This includes, among other things, the right to “confront” and cross-examine the witnesses against them in court. But the right of confrontation is subject to certain procedural limits.

Houston Appeals Court: Business Records Not “Testimonial”

A recent decision from the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Stuart v. State, demonstrates one of these limitations. The defendant, in this case, is a Galveston woman charged with misdemeanor theft. More precisely, prosecutors accused her of stealing money while working as a cashier for an “annual winter light festival.”

At trial, the festival’s president testified. He told the jury about the procedures that cashiers used when handling cash and recording transactions. The president also explained how an office manager uses software to “generate a report of the amount of cash and credit sales that occurred for each cashier individually.”

These reports provided critical evidence for the prosecution, as they purportedly showed the defendant did not return all of the money she was supposed to at the end of her shift. The defendant objected to the introduction of the reports, however, on constitutional grounds. She argued that since the reports were actually compiled by an outside company hired by the festival, a representative from that company should have testified. In other words, the defendant argued that she had a right to “confront” the people who actually generated the report.

Neither the trial court nor the 14th District agreed with the defendant on this point. The Court of Appeals, upholding the defendant’s misdemeanor conviction, said the reports were not “testimonial,” and therefore not subject to the constitutional right of confrontation. The reason for this was that the records were not created for purposes of establishing any facts at the defendant’s trial. They were ordinary business records that would exist even if the defendant was not on trial.

Separately, the 14th District also rejected the defendant’s attempt to challenge her conviction based on the racial composition of her jury. The defendant is African-American. The jury was drawn from a 24-person “all-white” panel, even though the defendant pointed out roughly 14 percent of Galveston County. The appeals court said this did not prove there was any “systematic exclusion of African-Americans” from Galveston juries. Rather, it was simply a random draw using a computer program. And the mere fact there was “[d]isproportionate representation in a single panel does not demonstrate systematic exclusion of distinctive groups.”

Speak with a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

A misdemeanor conviction can land you in jail for up to one year depending on the specific charge. That is why it is critical to assert your rights to a fair trial before an impartial jury of your peers. An experienced Houston criminal defense attorney can help protect your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today if you need to speak with a lawyer today. Or call 281-280-0100

 

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