Court of Appeals: Div. III – Fifth Amendment Violation Was Harmless Error in Conviction of Child Rape
Mr. Epefanio was a teacher’s aide and basketball coach at Salk Middle School in Spokane, Washington. Apparently Mr. E had a thing for the young girls at the school. He asked Brianna Summers to help him with the basketball team and they started a sexual relationship when Brianna was 15 years old. Mr. E was 25!
Eventually Brianna got pregnant, moved in with Mr. E, and then the honeymoon was over. Brianna was now 18 years old (probably too old for Mr. E). After the couple separated, Brianna determined that what Mr. E did was wrong. She was older and wiser! She sued the school district and reported Mr. E to the police. Mr. E was charged with Sexual Misconduct in the First Degree and Rape of a Child in the Third Degree.
At the criminal trial, Brianna testified about her sexual history with Mr. E. A friend of Brianna’s testified that she hung out with the couple and witnessed them having sex. Brianna’s boyfriend Jared (she had a boyfriend through all of this?!) testified that he had found out about the relationship, told Brianna’s parents, and then confronted Mr. E in front of Brianna’s parents.
Mr. E moved to dismiss the case after the State rested. The court dismissed the misconduct charge, but not the rape charge. On defense, Mr. E took the stand in his own behalf and denied having sex with Brianna when she was 15. He would never do such a thing! He waited until she was 16 and then knocked her up. When the State attempted to cross-examine Mr. E about Jared’s confrontation, the defense objected as it was outside the scope of direct examination. The court agreed. However, the State called Mr. E as a rebuttal witness and examined him on the same subject (the confrontation) and the court allowed it.
The jury convicted Mr. E and returned a special verdict that the offense was "part of an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse of the same victim under the age of 16 years manifested by multiple incidents over a prolonged period of time." The stand range for this crime is 12 to 14 months, but with the special verdict, the court imposed an exceptional sentence of 20 months. Mr. E also moved for relief from judgment based on the argument that the State violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination when he was called as a rebuttal witness. The court denied the motion. Mr. E appealed the conviction and the exceptional sentence.
The Court of Appeals held that there was sufficient and persuasive evidence to convict Mr. E. They also held that it was a violation of Mr. E’s Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination to call him as a rebuttal witness regarding testimony outside the scope of direct examination. HOWEVER, "If the untainted evidence is so overwhelming that it necessarily leads to a finding of the defendant's guilt, the error is harmless." State v. Koslowski. So even if you remove the tainted evidence (Mr. E’s testimony about his confrontation with Jared), there was still ample evidence to convict him. HARMLESS ERROR!! The Court of Appeals also confirmed the exceptional sentence.
I’m sure the prison population will help Mr. E straighten out his penchant for young girls.