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Exclusion of Evidence of Detective’s Child Molestation Arrest is Reversed

September 1, 2023

The Court held that the trial court failed to determine that the prejudicial effect of this evidence substantially outweighed its probative value.

In Ridley v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s exclusion of evidence concerning the arrest of the lead detective finding that the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard.


The defendant was accused of committing child molestation offenses against two alleged victims and the case was investigated by the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office. The lead investigator was Detective Steve Sorrells who worked in the Crimes Against Children Unit.

Det. Sorrells was responsible for interviewing the alleged victims and witnesses, scheduling and attending the forensic interviews, interviewing the defendant, and obtaining and executing search warrants. He eventually obtained an arrest warrant for the defendant and testified before the grand jury when the case was indicted.

While the case was pending, Det. Sorrells was then himself arrested on child molestation charges. As a result, he was fired from the Sheriff’s Office. His case was then indicted in Paulding County Superior Court – the same court where the defendant’s case was pending.

State’s Motion in Limine

Prior to trial, the State filed a motion in limine to prohibit the defense from mentioning or introducing evidence of Det. Sorrells’ arrest and his termination from the Sheriff’s Office. The State contended that the evidence was unfairly prejudicial and not probative of any issues in the case.

The trial court granted the motion. It held that the evidence was inadmissible bad character evidence under Rule 608 and should nevertheless be excluded because the evidence was “more prejudicial than probative.”

The defense then filed an interlocutory appeal.

Court of Appeals Analysis

The defense argued on appeal that the trial court’s exclusion of the evidence violates his Sixth Amendment right to cross examine the witnesses against him. The Georgia Supreme Court has previously held that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment gives the defendant the right to question a witness about pending criminal charges to show that the witness might have a bias or motive that could influence his testimony.

The concern is whether the witness might have a motive to shade his testimony in an effort to please the prosecution so that perhaps it could benefit him with his own criminal charges. This is a well-recognized exception to the exclusion of bad character evidence under Rule 608. Thus, the trial court’s finding that the evidence should be excluded on this basis was erroneous.

Trial courts, however, have the discretion under Rule 403 to prohibit this inquiry if the probative value of this evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Georgia appellate courts have held that the trial court’s discretion here “is an extraordinary remedy which should be used only sparingly.”

The Court of Appeals then compared the language of Rule 403 to the words used by the trial court when it excluded the evidence. The Court noted that the trial court found merely that the evidence was “more prejudicial than probative” and not whether the prejudice substantially outweighed any probative value.

Therefore, the Court held that the trial court applied the wrong legal standard and erred in its Rule 403 analysis. As a result, the ruling was vacated and the case was remanded back to the trial court to reconsider the State’s motion in limine using the correct legal standard.

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