Law School Case Brief
Clark v. Commonwealth - 223 S.W.3d 90 (Ky. 2007)
Since a trial court's unique role as a gatekeeper of evidence requires on-the-spot rulings on the admissibility of evidence, an appellate court may reverse a trial court's decision to admit evidence only if that decision represents an abuse of discretion. For a trial court's decision to be an abuse of discretion, an appellate court must find that the decision was arbitrary, unreasonable, unfair, or unsupported by sound legal principles.
A jury in Kentucky commonwealth court convicted defendant Daniel Clark of two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree for which he was sentenced to a total of 10 years' imprisonment. Clark was found guilty of sexually abusing two boys, to whom he was a friend of the family. A divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed Clark's convictions. The Supreme Court of Kentucky granted discretionary review where lark contended that the trial court erred: (1) by refusing to instruct the jury on sexual abuse in the second degree; (2) by permitting the Commonwealth to present testimony to the jury of Clark's prior sexual misconduct involving another victim, and; (3) by refusing to permit him to play for the jury a social worker's videotaped interviews of the alleged victims.
Did the trial court err by refusing to instruct the jury on sexual abuse in the second degree?
The Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that because the dates of the sexual abuse as to one of the boys were not described with particularity in either the indictment or the testimony such that a reasonable juror could have concluded that the victim was either 11 or 12 years of age when the abuse occurred, the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on both first and second-degree sexual abuse. The court further determined that the trial court abused its discretion by permitting the Commonwealth to present testimony to the jury of Clark's prior sexual misconduct involving another victim while he was a priest because, though the acts involved Clark reaching his hands down the pants of three victims who were all of the same approximate age without asking the victim to reciprocate the sexual contact, by contrast, there were numerous differences in Clark's conduct toward all three victims. Thus, the court reversed Clark's convictions for sexual abuse in the first degree and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. The court noted, however, that it found no error in Clark's third contention (refusing to permit him to play a videotape for the jury) because the videotapes were not in the record for it to review.
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