WA Legal Roundup: Division II
State v. Johnson
Johnson was convicted of 2nd degree child molestation. He appeals the conviction arguing that the court impermissibly allowed opinion testimony from a law witness, ineffective counsel for failing to object to the testimony, the court impermissibly commented on the evidence, and the trial court improperly imposed an exceptional sentence.
The State introduced testimony that the wife of the accused had a conversation with the victim and that the victim admitted a sexual relationship with the accused and that based on that information the wife tried to commit suicide. The trial court gave an instruction that stated that the defendant’s story does not need to be corroborated to be convicted.
Johnson argued that the trial court should not have allowed the testimony of his wife’s conversation with the victim and her alleged suicide attempt after because it was improper opinion testimony to his guilt and introduced only for the reason that his wife believed that he was guilty. This was not raised at trial and therefore the court looks to determine if a manifest Constitutional error occurred. The court finds three problems with the testimony; first that it did not shed light on the credibility of any witness or evidence, that the evidence is collateral and a witness should not be impeached on a collateral matter, and finally that it was very prejudicial. The court also finds that this is a Constitutional error because it implicates Johnson’s right to a fair trial and actually affects his right to a fair trial. The court explicitly holds that the testimony was inadmissible and served no other purpose but to prejudice the jury.
The court reverses on the above argument but also holds that the instruction given by the trial court was not a erroneous comment on evidence.