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Molestation Conviction Reversed Due to Improper Character Evidence

February 5, 2016

In Gaskin v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals granted a new trial to a defendant in a child molestation case finding that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of the defendant’s prior arrests for crimes that did not relate to his character for truthfulness.

The defendant was convicted of two counts of child molestation following an allegation made by his girlfriend’s teenage daughter. At trial, the defense presented testimony from the defendant’s girlfriend regarding his character for truthfulness.

On cross examination of the girlfriend, the State attempted to attack the defendant’s truthful character by asking her about his previous arrests. Over defense counsel’s objection, the trial court permitted the State to ask about the defendant’s arrests for marijuana possession, simple battery, criminal damage to property and obstructing a person making a 911 call.

The Court of Appeals held that it was error to admit evidence of the defendant’s prior arrests for offenses not related to his character for truthfulness. Specifically, the Court found that “acts probative of untruthfulness” include crimes such as forgery, perjury, and fraud.

In determining the harmfulness of the error, the Court noted that reversal is not required when it is highly probable that the error did not contribute to the judgment and when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming to an extent that there is no reasonable probability that the verdict would have been different absent the trial court’s error.

The Court did not find overwhelming evidence of guilt in this case, which presented the jury with a classic “he said, she said” scenario. Further, the Court held that it could not say that the defendant’s prior arrests did not contribute to the jury’s evaluation of the defendant’s testimony and ultimately to the final verdict.

As a result, the Court reversed the defendant’s convictions for child molestation and granted him a new trial.

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