This firm recently won a criminal appeal in the case of State v. Andre Lester. Mr. Lester had been convicted of statutory rape of a child, statutory sex offense with a child, and indecent liberties with a child. He was sentenced to serve between 28 and 39 years in prison. Mr. Lester’s family retained this firm after attending the trial and concluding that, while they couldn’t explain it exactly, “so many things” went wrong. It turns out they were right.
The identity of the perpetrator was the main issue at trial. The victim, a teenaged girl, lived with her older brother. The brother often invited others into the home to use drugs. One of these visitors came to the home when the victim was home alone. After they talked for a while, the victim invited the man to have sex with her. They then did have sex, even though the victim was underaged. The man left, and the victim never saw him again.
Years later, as part of an interview at a mental health clinic, the victim reported the sexual activity with the man, and the police became involved. The victim knew the man only by a nickname; she never knew his name. The police investigated and eventually arrested Mr. Lester on the theory that he was the unnamed man with whom the victim had had intercourse.
At trial, the State used a number of different methods to try to establish that Mr. Lester was one and the same with the perpetrator. The victim was allowed to identify Mr. Lester in court as the perpetrator, but the defense objected that the State had tainted the witness by pointing out Mr. Lester to the victim as he sat at the defense table during pre-trial proceedings. The State also introduced phone records between the victim and the perpetrator and then attempted to link Mr. Lester to those records. The defense objected to the phone records. It was apparent from the records that some of them were not original records produced by the carrier. Further, the State failed to produce documentation to show that the phone records were authentic and therefore not hearsay.
All in all, this firm raised five separate issues on appeal, all of which had merit and could have “won the day” even apart from the other issues. The Court of Appeals focused on one issue concerning the phone records and found error. Because the error had a Constitutional aspect under the Confrontation Clause, the State had to show that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The State did not meet that burden, so the Court vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial. Because the Court found reversible error on that one issue, it did not even discuss the other four issues, since any error there would be redundant of the phone record error.
The Court’s full decision is available HERE.