June 4, 2010 By Wallin & Klarich

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District recently held that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of a criminal defendant to due process, which includes the right to a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. In Lunbery v. Hornbeak, No. 08-17576, Kristi Lunbery was convicted of second-degree murder of her past husband, Charlie Bateson. Bateson was murdered in 1992, but the case was reopened in 2001. Upon interrogation, Lunbery initially denied the allegations but eventually admitted to the crime. Lunbery was indicted for first-degree murder but she denied her guilt and repudiated her confession. The jury, however, found her guilty of second-degree murder due to lack of evidence of premeditation. Lunbery then appealed the conviction by filing a petition for habeas corpus. The decision was reversed and remanded.

The heart of the appeal was the evidence of third party culpability that the trial court had excluded. By not permitting certain pieces of evidence to be entered into trial, Lunbery argues that she was not given a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. A confidential informant told police that the murder was a case of mistaken identity. Another individual, Rory Keim, corroborated that story with a statement by Henry Garza, who was linked to a drug conflict and admitted that the murder was a mix-up. The trial court found this evidence as inadmissible hearsay and was never presented before the jury.

The U.S. Court of Appeals, however, found that the trial court’s denial of admitting this evidence was in error. In Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284, the Supreme Court held that exclusion of probative admissible evidence that another person may have committed the crime is a violation of an individual’s constitutional rights to due process. The omission of this evidence denies Lunbery her due process rights to a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. Garza was linked to the drug deals, his statement was against his interest, and was dead at the time of the trial. Under these circumstances, Keim’s account of Garza’a statement should have been admissible hearsay.

The criminal law system can be intimidating and overwhelming, but it is always important to know that you have protected rights. With over 30 years of experience, the Southern California Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are familiar with the laws and the legal system. It is absolutely necessary for you to hire the best defense attorney to work for you and defend your case. Call us at (888) 280-6839 or contact us on our website at www.wklaw.com. We will be there when you call.

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