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Amicus Analytica: September 19th, 2023

A weekly column dedicated to decoding Mississippi Supreme Court wisdom and providing a brief summary of the law.

Objection Sustained

Two weeks ago, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued two written opinions. However, this article will cover one in which Justice Jim Kitchens wrote for the Court regarding the potential violation of a Mississippi Rule of Criminal Procedure and whether hearsay denied a defendant's due process of law.

Joshua Dukes v. State of Mississippi, No. 2022-KA-00670-SCT

Justice Jim Kitchens presided over the appeal that Joshua Dukes presented to the Court regarding denying his due process by the admission of hearsay testimony and failure to disclose an alibi witness. In Joshua Dukes v. State of Mississippi, the Court ultimately affirmed the conviction of the Defendant following a review of the trial court's evidence, which determined that the introduction of evidence did not substantially affect the rights of the party, [Defendant], nor did the introduction result in prejudice that amounted to reversible error. (Miss. 2023)(citing Gales v. State, 151 So. 3d 632, 638 (Miss. 2014)(citing Alexander v. State, 610 So. 2d 320, 329 (Miss. 1992).

On February 13, 2016, James Hankins was tending to his home's front yard when he was shot in the back of the head, later transported to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and succumbed to his injuries. Dukes (Miss. 2023). His wife later testified at trial that she saw a "black male running towards Valley Park," located directly across the street from the Hankins' residence. Id. At the trial of this matter, the investigating officer testified that he spoke with a witness who saw a brownish car leaving the neighborhood, which picked up a black male wearing all black. Id. At the crime scene, Kimberly Moses, a Crime Scene Investigator for the Jackson Police Department, collected a spent shell casing and a bullet fragment near Hankins' vehicle. Id. A few weeks following the murder, a detective saw security footage from another residence of a brownish-colored Buick LaSabre with a mismatched bumper and later pulled over the vehicle upon pulling up behind it at a stop light. Id. The driver was identified as Joshua Dukes, and his passenger was his cousin, Charles Campbell. Id. Dukes and Campbell were arrested, though later released following their interview when the police determined insufficient information to continue holding them. Id. However, JPD received an anonymous tip that a weapon was hidden in the carpet of Dukes' vehicle. Id. Following a thorough search, officers discovered a 9-millimeter Glock pistol, which matched the casing found in James Hankins' yard. Id.

Dukes raised three issues on appeal:
(1) the trial judge erred by allowing the State to introduce testimony that was not disclosed, (2) the trial court erred by denying Dukes' mistrial motion, and (3) Dukes' trial was rendered unfair by hearsay and was denied his due process. Id. at 5, 8 and 13. First, Dukes argued that the trial court erred by allowing testimony of testimony to rebut his alibi witness and that disclosure of a rebuttal witness is required under Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure 17.4. Id. at 8. However, the State argued that it was introducing the testimony not as a rebuttal but as an attack of credibility to show bias, which is allowed by the Mississippi Rule of Evidence 616. Id. The Court agreed with the State's argument that introducing the testimony was not an error as it did not dispute the alibi testimony. Id.

Second, Dukes' argues that the order in limine prohibiting the State from disclosing to the jury the multiple counts of his indictment and the denial of his two motions for mistrial prejudiced him. Id. at 9. While the defense counsel objected at trial during the testimony of the investigating officer, stating that the testimony went into the other counts, which were protected by introduction by the order in limine, the trial court overruled the objection to assure the jury that the Defendant was not stopped without cause. Id. Throughout the testimony, the State attempted to introduce a snapshot of the security footage that captured the vehicle in question, and Dukes once again objected and moved for a mistrial on the grounds that the snapshot elicited testimony in regards to other counts of the indictment, which violated the order in limine. Id. at 10. The trial court elicited an oral opinion regarding how it did not open the door to whether it introduced the other counts but recessed to consider the motion for mistrial. Id. The trial court denied the motion on the grounds it was not warranted as there was no testimony connected to the other counts of the indictment. Id. at 11. It was held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion as the jury was unaware of the other counts included in the indictment. Id. Thus, the issue is without merit to continue. Id.

Lastly, Dukes argued that two hearsay testimony instances violated his right to due process. Id. at 13. The first testimony in question is that of one of the investigating detectives, who at trial mentioned that he believed the motive of Hankins’ murder could have been a robbery, as his wallet was missing, and this was learned from the officers that advised Hankins'Hankins' wife that the wallet was on him at. Id. at 14. The defense objected that this was a double hearsay issue, though the State contended it fell under the excited utterance exception. Id. The Court determined that the instance was properly addressed with a sustained objection. Id. Thus, a plain error analysis was not necessary nor appropriate, as there was no violation of Dukes' fundamental rights. The second instance of hearsay was regarding the State's questioning of another investigating detective who had interviewed Charles Campbell, Duke's cousin and passenger in his vehicle the day of his arrest. Id. at 15. The State questioned the detective on what he had learned during his interview with Campbell, and the defense objected on hearsay grounds. Id. The trial court overruled the objection, contending that "the officer can testify about what he learned during his investigation…[unless] he goes into saying that this person said this, then we do have a hearsay issue." Id. at 16. Mississippi Rules of Evidence 801(c) defines hearsay as "a statement that: (1) the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing; and 92) a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement." MRE 801(c). An officer testifying about the course of his investigation, not to prove the truth of the matter asserted, is not considered hearsay and thus is admissible testimony in trial. Id. Therefore, the trial court did not commit an error in introducing the testimony.

In summary, the Defendant was convicted of capital murder in Mississippi and raised three issues on appeal, which argued that the trial court, by allowing certain testimony, his trial was rendered unfair due to the violation of a court order and that hearsay during the trial denied him due process. The Court rejected these arguments, finding that the trial court did not err in allowing the testimony and that there was no unfairness or due process violation in the trial.

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