The Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Villagran v. State this week. I do not say it often (enough) but the Court of Appeals got it wrong. Judging from the opinion, it appears the Court honestly did not read Villagran’s briefs or the Record. Rarely does an appellate court get the facts wrong, but they certainly did here.
Villagran had two issues on appeal: 1) trial court erred in failing to suppress the statements made after invoking the right to counsel; and 2) trial court erred in excluding a witness who would have testified that the eyewitness was biased.
On the first issue, the Court did not address whether Villagran invoked his right to counsel (but did say it was a close call) and instead held that the statements were used as impeachment, which is allowed even if the statements were taken in violation of the right to counsel. The only problem is the statements were NOT used as impeachment. They were used to affirmatively attack Villagran. The Court missed the whole point of Kansas v. Ventris, 556 U.S. 586 (2009), which says that the defendant must first “testify in a way that contracts prior statements.” Villagran never testified in a contradictory way. The Court got it wrong and there will be a Petition for Rehearing filed shortly.
On the second issue, the Court held that the eyewitness was never given an opportunity to admit or deny bias; therefore, extrinsic evidence of his bias is not allowed. First, the Court is incorrect because you only have to be given a chance to admit or deny the facts that would show bias. Here, those facts would be that the eyewitness is in the fake identification market, which Villagran is as well. The Court’s blunder is because the eyewitness was asked if he sold fake identifications and it was quoted in the Reply Brief. “Isn’t it true that you and your brother used these cards, used different names, put your phone numbers in those and that’s how you sold your fake IDs and you didn’t never let people know your true names?” To which the eyewitness responded, “I don’t know anything about that.”
It isn’t the end of the world but it is pretty disappointing when a man’s life is at stake and so many people have worked so hard to give him a fair trial, meanwhile the Court of Appeals fails to recognize facts that were quoted in the briefs.