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GA Court of Appeals Reinstates Conviction in Molestation Case

November 14, 2014

In State v. Martinez-Palomino, the defendant was convicted of the offenses of kidnapping, aggravated child molestation, and child molestation. The trial court then granted his motion for new trial finding that the court erred in permitting the jury to reexamine the child's forensic interview during deliberations.

The Georgia Court of Appeals, however, reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated the defendant’s convictions. The Court held that there was no error in allowing the video of the forensic interview to be played for the jury during deliberations.

At trial, the State admitted a videotaped forensic interview of the alleged victim into evidence. The video was admitted in its entirety without objection from the defendant. A portion of the video was played for the jury, but the video was stopped because of poor audio quality. The forensic interviewer testified that she made a detailed report of the interview.

While the jury deliberated, it requested to see the forensic interview again. The defendant did not object. After the video ended, the jury returned to deliberations. The defendant was convicted of kidnapping, aggravated child molestation, and child molestation. He filed a motion for new trial asserting that the court erred in allowing the jury to see the video during deliberations. The motion was heard by a different judge than the one that heard the trial. The new judge granted the motion for new trial and the State appealed.

The Court of Appeals analyzed whether the trial court abused its discretion in playing the video during jury deliberations. It is “well-established that it is permissible” for a trial judge to allow a jury to rehear requested parts of evidence during deliberations. Thus, in order for the defendant to establish that the court abused its discretion, he had to show that special circumstances here made it unjust to allow the jury to see the video.

The defendant argued that jurors heard improper character evidence concerning his proclivity for violence and sexual promiscuity during the video that they did not hear the first time the video was played. The Court noted that the Child Hearsay Statute allowed the jury to consider the child’s out-of-court statements. That the evidence incidentally concerned the defendant’s character did not make it inadmissible. Additionally, because the victim testified at trial and was subject to cross-examination, the defendant’s confrontation rights were not violated. Trial counsel for the defendant also testified at the new trial hearing that he did not object to playing the video because he believed that inconsistencies between the child’s trial testimony and the interview would make her seem less credible.

Thus, the Court of Appeals held that the defendant failed to show that there were special circumstances that made it unjust for the trial court to replay the video during deliberations.

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