Admission of Jail Disciplinary Records at Criminal Trial May Violate Confrontation Clause
by David M. Reutter
The Texas Court of Appeals, First District, held in December 2013 that the admission of jail disciplinary records at a penalty phase hearing in a criminal trial violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. A new hearing was ordered as a remedy.
Cornell Smith, Jr., who was 16 years old when charged with capital murder, was convicted as an adult and sentenced to 40 years.
He raised six issues on appeal. In one of those issues, Smith challenged the admission into evidence of disciplinary records from the Harris County Jail, the Harris County Probation Department and the Texas Youth Commission during the punishment phase of his trial. The Court of Appeals found that issue had been preserved for appeal.
The Court cited precedent holding that jail “incident reports” and “disciplinary reports” are inadmissible if they contain testimonial statements that amount to “ex parte affidavits of government employees,” without allowing the defendant to cross-examine the employees who made the statements. It also cited another case that allowed the admission of “sterile recitations of appellant’s offenses and the punishments he received for those offenses.”
The disciplinary reports admitted at Smith’s punishment phase hearing contained testimonial statements, which the Court of Appeals held violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. The appellate court further held it could not conclude “beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute” to the sentence that Smith received, as the evidence was not cumulative of other witnesses and the state made several references to the disciplinary reports during its closing argument.
Therefore, although the Court of Appeals affirmed Smith’s conviction, it ordered a new punishment hearing. See: Smith v. Texas, 420 S.W.3d 207 (Tex. App. 1st Dist. 2013), petition for review denied.
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Related legal case
Smith v. Texas
|420 S.W.3d 207 (Tex. App. 1st Dist. 2013), petition for review denied
|State Supreme Court