In State v. Enich, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly granted the defendant's motion for new trial on the ground that the defendant should have been permitted to impeach a witness for the State with evidence of her pending first offender probation.
The defendant was charged with the offenses of child molestation and rape. He is mentally challenged and, at the time, lived with the alleged victim and her mother. The mother was the designated payee for the defendant’s Social Security disability benefits. He accused the mother of misusing his benefits which led to an argument. The defendant then left the house for a short time and when he returned, the mother called the police and stated that the defendant had tried to rape her daughter.
At trial, the defendant attempted to introduce evidence that the mother was serving probation under the first offender act for an unrelated forgery and theft by receiving offense. The State objected to the introduction of this evidence and the trial court sustained the objection. In granting the defendant’s motion for new trial, the trial court reversed its position and held that he should have been allowed to present this evidence. The court reasoned that if the jury had been made aware of the mother’s other criminal conduct, which also involved the misappropriation of funds belonging to others, it could have created a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt.
The Court of Appeals agreed. It first noted that the offenses which landed the mother on probation were committed before the time of the argument with the defendant. Shortly after he accused her of misappropriating his disability benefits, she initiated the molestation charges against him. She was then placed on first offender probation right before the defendant’s trial.
The Court found that this timeline was particularly relevant and agreed with the trial court’s reasoning that the mother’s accusation could have been motivated by a desire to “eliminate [the defendant’s] ability to cause [her] trouble in the future” with a second charge of theft that could have a negative impact on her first offender probation.
As a result, the Court held that the defendant was entitled to a new trial on his rape and child molestation charges.
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