Huffington v. State

Decision Date01 September 1984
Docket NumberNos. 64,s. 64
Citation304 Md. 559,500 A.2d 272
PartiesJohn Norman HUFFINGTON v. STATE of Maryland. Sept Term 1984, 133
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Michael Braudes, Asst. Public Defender (Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender and George E. Burns, Jr., and David R. Durfee, Jr., Asst. Public Defenders, on brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Valerie J. Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen., on brief), Baltimore, for appellee.


SMITH, Judge.

We shall affirm the conviction and sentence of John Norman Huffington in this, his third trip to this Court, the second after a death sentence. His first trip was reported in Huffington v. State, 295 Md. 1, 452 A.2d 1211 (1982), where we reversed and remanded for a new trial. Upon the remand after that reversal the case was removed to the Circuit Court for Frederick County for trial. In Huffington v. State, 302 Md. 184, 486 A.2d 200 (1985), we rejected his contention that to again try him would place him in double jeopardy. After our per curiam order in that case (but before the filing of the opinion) Huffington was tried in the Circuit Court for Frederick County. A jury convicted him of two counts of first degree murder, breaking and entering, and handgun offenses. The same jury sentenced him to death for each murder. The case reaches us under the provisions of Maryland Code (1957, 1982 Repl.Vol.) Art. 27, § 414 providing for automatic review by this Court whenever the death penalty is imposed.

The facts surrounding the incident leading to Huffington's conviction are fully set forth in our earlier opinion. We shall here set forth only such facts as are necessary to a clear understanding of each of the issues presented by Huffington in his appeal. We shall consider his contentions seriatim.

i. Refusal to admit the testimony given by Rassa at the

trial of Kanaras

Deno Kanaras was the alleged accomplice of Huffington in the incidents here in question. Kanaras was convicted by a Kent County jury of felony murder, theft, and daytime housebreaking. See Kanaras v. State, 54 Md.App. 568, 460 A.2d 61, cert. denied, 297 Md. 109 (1983). At Kanaras' trial Stephen Rassa testified in rebuttal as a State's witness. Prior to that rebuttal testimony Kanaras had testified that he had been free from drugs for some time before the homicides in question. The purport of Rassa's testimony was that a few days before the incident in question Kanaras was still involved with drugs. Rassa told of a visit made by him and Kanaras to the homicide victims for the purpose of purchasing cocaine. At Kanaras' trial Rassa testified that Kanaras "said he wouldn't mind robbing Joe Hudson and killing him." Rassa said that five days before Hudson and Becker, the victims in the case at bar, were actually killed, when Rassa and Kanaras approached Hudson's trailer for the purpose of purchasing cocaine, Kanaras entered first armed with a gun and with a knife.

After laying a foundation of unsuccessful attempts to subpoena Rassa as a witness, Huffington offered the record of Rassa's testimony at the Kanaras trial in Kent County. He sought its admission as prior evidence to establish that Kanaras might have killed the victims in the case at bar. The trial judge denied admission, stating:

"The whole thrust of the cases in this area is that the right of cross-examination be fully afforded, and if it has not been afforded, then it is not only a violation of Article 21 of the Maryland Constitution but also before [sic] the amendment to the United States Constitution. It's clear from the proffered testimony in this case, and I find as a fact, that in the trial in which the Rassa transcript is sought to be used, Mr. Rassa was the State's witness, and accordingly, to grant your motion I would be depriving the State of its right to cross-examine fully Mr. Rassa in this case, which is a different case from the present case. The case in which the transcript is from, as I understand it, is the State v. Kanaras rather than the State v. Huffington, and so the situation is entirely different from the situation which caused me to grant the State's motion in connection with the Bognani testimony. Accordingly, the motion is denied."

There is no dispute here on the issue of Rassa's availability as a witness.

The rule applicable to prior testimony was set forth for the Court by Chief Judge Murphy in Crawford v. State, 282 Md. 210, 383 A.2d 1097 (1978):

"Our predecessors have consistently held that testimony taken at a former trial may as a general rule be admitted at a subsequent trial where it is satisfactorily shown that the witness is unavailable to testify. Contee v. State, 229 Md. 486, 184 A.2d 823 (1962); Bryant v. State, 207 Md. 565, 115 A.2d 502 (1955); Hendrix v. State, 200 Md. 380, 90 A.2d 186 (1952). These cases generally recognize that where an opportunity was afforded to the accused to cross-examine the witness at the former trial, there is no violation of the state or federal constitutional right of confrontation. The rule has generally been applied without distinction between the admissibility of testimony given at a former trial and testimony given at a preliminary hearing since, as Professor McCormick states:

'If the accepted requirements of the administration of the oath, adequate opportunity to cross-examine on substantially the same issue, and present unavailability of the witness, are satisfied then the character of the tribunal and the form of the proceedings are immaterial, and the former testimony should be received....' McCormick, Evidence § 258 (2d ed. 1972).

Other text writers are in accord. See 2 Jones on Evidence § 9.22 (6th ed. 1972); 3 Wharton's Criminal Evidence § 650 (13th ed. 1973.). 282 Md. at 214-15, 383 A.2d at 1100.

The rule was recognized ninety years ago in a criminal context by the Supreme Court. See Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 15 S.Ct. 337, 39 L.Ed. 409 (1895). The Court discussed such testimony in the context of a claim that admission of testimony would violate the constitutional provision relative to confrontation of witnesses:

"The primary object of the constitutional provision in question was to prevent depositions or ex parte affidavits, such as were sometimes admitted in civil cases being used against the prisoner in lieu of a personal examination and cross-examination of the witness in which the accused has an opportunity, not only of testing the recollection and sifting the conscience of the witness, but of compelling him to stand face to face with the jury in order that they may look at him, and judge by his demeanor upon the stand and the manner in which he gives his testimony whether he is worthy of belief. There is doubtless reason for saying that the accused should never lose the benefit of any of these safeguards even by the death of the witness; and that, if notes of his testimony are permitted to be read, he is deprived of the advantage of that personal presence of the witness before the jury which the law has designed for his protection. But general rules of law of this kind, however beneficent in their operation and valuable to the accused, must occasionally give way to considerations of public policy and the necessities of the case. To say that a criminal, after having once been convicted by the testimony of a certain witness, should go scot free simply because death has closed the mouth of that witness, would be carrying his constitutional protection to an unwarrantable extent. The law in its wisdom declares that the rights of the public shall not be wholly sacrificed in order that an incidental benefit may be preserved to the accused." 156 U.S. at 242-43, 15 S.Ct. at 339-40, 39 L.Ed. at 411.

On the issue in question see Annot., 15 A.L.R. 495 (1921), and the supplements thereto, 79 A.L.R. 1392 (1932), 122 A.L.R. 425 (1939), and 159 A.L.R. 1240 (1945). Obviously, as pointed out in 15 A.L.R. at 559, there can be no constitutional objection to admission of evidence on behalf of an accused in a criminal proceeding. The further observation is made that in admitting testimony on behalf of an accused courts generally have followed the rules which they have adopted with respect to permitting or rejecting testimony in favor of the prosecution.

On the problem at hand E. Cleary, McCormick's Handbook of the Law of Evidence, § 254 (3d ed. 1984) states "Usually called 'former testimony', this evidence may be classified, depending upon the precise formulation of the rule against hearsay, as an exception to the hearsay prohibition on the one hand, or as a class of evidence where the requirements of the hearsay rule are complied with, on the other. The former view is accepted generally by the courts, rules, and textwriters; the latter was espoused by Wigmore." Id. at 759-60.

On cross-examination McCormick states in § 255:

"More important, and more often drawn in question, is the requirement that the party against whom the former testimony is now offered, or a party in like interest, must have had a reasonable opportunity to cross-examine. Actual cross-examination, of course, is not essential, if the opportunity was afforded and waived. The opportunity must have been such as to render the conduct of the cross-examination or the decision not to cross-examine meaningful in the light of the circumstances which prevail when the former testimony is offered." Id. at 761-62.

McCormick also mentions another frequent issue in § 256, that of identity of parties:

"[T]he natural next step is to recognize, as progressive courts have done, that neither identity of parties nor privity between parties is essential. These are merely means to an end. Consequently, if it appears that in the former suit a party having a like motive to cross-examine about the same matters as the present party would have, was accorded an adequate opportunity for such...

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