Mathews v. Commonwealth, 97-SC-000053-MR

Decision Date25 March 1999
Docket Number97-SC-000053-MR
Citation997 S.W.2d 449
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky


997 S.W.2d 449








Kentucky Supreme Court




March 25, 1999

[7] Counsel For Appellant David T. Eucker Department of Public Advocacy 100 Fair Oaks Lane Suite 302 Frankfort, KY 40601 Counsel For Appellee A.B. Chandler III Attorney General Perry T. Ryan Assistant Attorney General Office of Attorney General Criminal Appellate Division 1024 Capital Center Drive Frankfort, KY 40601 Christopher Hancock Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Second Floor 400 East Main Street Bowling Green, KY 42101 [8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Graves [9] MODIFIED: AUGUST 26, 1999
[10] TO BE PUBLISHED [11] AFFIRMING [12] Appellant, Nefchevious Mathews, was convicted in the Warren Circuit Court of intentional murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He appeals to this Court as a matter of right. After hearing oral arguments and reviewing the record, we affirm. [13] On October 25, 1995, Appellant and Dalton Morrow engaged in an argument which escalated to the point that there was an exchange of gunfire. Appellant's gunfire missed Morrow, but fatally struck an innocent bystander who was standing some distance away. A Warren County jury found that Appellant fired first with the intent to kill Morrow, and convicted him of intentional murder. [14] Appellant's first claim of error is the trial court's refusal to suppress his statement to the arresting officer. He argues that the prosecution withheld this statement in violation of a discovery order. Appellant claims that the court's refusal to suppress this statement precluded his testifying and thereby denied him due process and a fair trial. [15] At the close of its case-in-chief, the Commonwealth called Darlene Lackey, a detective with the homicide unit of the Cincinnati Police Department. Defense counsel objected and claimed surprise because there was no motion to secure the attendance of Detective Lackey and there was not a returned subpoena in the file. At sidebar, defense counsel was informed that Detective Lackey was prepared to testify not only as to the date and location of Appellant's arrest, but also to Appellant's oral statement given after signing a waiver of his constitutional rights. Appellant told Detective Lackey that he did not shoot the victim, but that a third party fired the fatal shot. Prior to Detective Lackey being called, Appellant apparently planned to claim self-defense. [16] The trial court ruled Detective Lackey could testify during the Commonwealth's case-in-chief only as to when and where she arrested Appellant, because the testimony was relevant to show flight; however the trial court further ruled that if Appellant chose to testify, and claimed self-defense, the Commonwealth could introduce the statement during rebuttal to show a prior inconsistent statement. Appellant argues this ruling prevented him from testifying, thereby "gutting" his self-protection defense. [17] Appellant contends he was entitled under RCr 7.24(l) to have the Commonwealth provide in pretrial discovery the substance of his own alleged statement. Appellant also cites the Commonwealth's constitutional duty to provide an accused with any exculpatory evidence. Eldred v. Commonwealth, KY., 906 S.W.2d 694, 701 (1995). Citing McGinnis v. Commonwealth, KY., 875 S.W.2d 518, 521 (1994), overruled on other srounds, Elliott v. Commonwealth, 976 S.W.2d 416 (19981, Appellant argues a defendant's own testimony is essential to the presentation of a self-protection defense. Additionally, Appellant points to RCr 7.24 (9), which allows a trial court to direct a party to permit discovery, grant a continuance, prohibit the introduction of undisclosed evidence, or "enter such other order as may be just under the circumstances." [18] The Commonwealth responds that Appellant, on the advice of counsel, made a strategic decision, based upon the facts and circumstances as they existed at the time, not to testify and risk impeachment. The Commonwealth further contends that Appellant could have chosen to testify by avowal under RCr 9.52 and, since no record was made of what Appellant actually would have testified to, this Court has no way to determine whether Appellant's testimony would have been inconsistent with his prior oral statement. We agree. [19] RCr 7.24(l) states in relevant part: [20] Upon written request by the defense, the attorney for the Commonwealth shall disclose the substance of any oral incriminating statement known by the attorney for the Commonwealth to have been made by a defendant to any witness, and to permit the defendant to inspect and copy or photograph any relevant . . . written or recorded statements or confessions made by the defendant, or copies thereof, that are known by the attorney for the Commonwealth to be in the possession, custody, or control of the Commonwealth . . . . (Emphasis added). [21] In Anderson v. Commonwealth, KY., 864 S.W.2d 909, 914 (1993), we held the oral statement of one defendant which was recorded in a social worker's notes was clearly discoverable under RCr 7.24. However, this Court stated in Berw v. Commonwealth, KY., 782 S.W.2d 625, 627 (1990), "RCr 7.24 applies only to written or recorded statements." This portion of Berry dealt with the defendant's claim of a discovery violation where the prosecution had not provided prior to trial a witness's statement identifying the defendant. At best, this would have been a claim of violation of RCr 7.24(2), which deals with statements made by witnesses, not 7.24(l), which deals with statements made by the defendant. However, in Partin v. Commonwealth, Ky., 918 S.W.2d 219, 224 (19961, we upheld Berrv in a RCr 7.24(l) context. In Partin, a police detective revealed for the first time at trial that the defendant had said, "Oh, well," when he was informed of the state in which his estranged paramour's corpse was found. Id. This Court found no harm in the admission of this statement and, despite paraphrasing the relevant portions of RCr 7.24(l), found the above quoted sentence from Berrv applicable so that no error occurred. Id. [22] Concerning the nature of Appellant's statement, there is a distinction between the cited case law and the facts at hand. Clearly, claiming that another was responsible for the shooting does not constitute an incriminating statement so as to fall under the guise of RCr 7.24(l). Further, although Appellant's statement could be considered exculpatory, he was aware that he, in fact, made such an assertion to Detective Lackey. Appellant's failing to reveal the statement to his counsel can only be viewed as a strategic decision. [23] An additional consideration is the fact that defense counsel chose to reserve opening statement and Appellant ultimately did not testify. As such, although Appellant had alluded to a self-protection defense, we have no way of knowing what Appellant's testimony would have actually been. In Lute v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (19841, defendant Lute moved the trial court to preclude the prosecution from using a prior conviction to impeach him if he testified. The trial court denied the motion and Lute did not testify. On appeal, he argued that the trial court's ruling effectively precluded him from testifying. Disagreeing with Lute's position, the United States Supreme Court ruled that (1) in order for an appellate court to review the error, Lute had to testify so the court could determine whether there was any prejudicial effect; (2) any possible harm from the trial court's decision was wholly speculative since Lute did not testify; (3) because Lute's decision whether to testify did not likely turn on one single factor, the appellate court could not assume the adverse ruling motivated his decision not to testify; and (4) to raise and preserve for review a claim of improper impeachment of the defendant, the defendant must testify. Id. at 39-43, 105 S.Ct. at 461-469. [24] Kentucky has a procedure enabling a criminal defendant to testify by avowal in the event he believes it necessary to place his testimony into the record out of the presence of the jury. RCr 9.52. Appellant did not avail himself of this remedy. In the absence of anything in the record to indicate the substance of Appellant's testimony, had he chosen to testify, this Court is unable to review such testimony to determine whether it would have been consistent or inconsistent with the prior statement. Appellant simply has failed to demonstrate that the trial court's ruling precluded his testifying. A defendant does not have the right to present testimony free from the legitimate demands of the adversarial system. [25] Appellant next claims that the trial court committed palpable error in the sentencing phase when the trial court erroneously instructed the jury to consider imposing a penalty of life without probation or parole for twenty-five years when such a penalty was not authorized due to the lack of any aggravating circumstances. KRS 532.025(3). However, after deliberating an hour and a half, the jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment. Appellant claims the error in the sentencing phase instruction "skewed what was clearly a compromise sentencing verdict." Appellant argues the jury sought to impose the penultimate penalty which, under the correct instructions, would have been imprisonment for a term of years, not life. Therefore, the sentence would not have been the same had the error not been committed. Appellant cites RCr 9.54(l) for the proposition that the court must instruct the jury only on the law of the case. This claim of error is unpreserved. Appellant, therefore, seeks review under RCr 10.26. [26] The Commonwealth responds that RCr 9.54(2) precludes this Court from reviewing this error on appeal because the error in the instruction ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
8 cases
  • Chestnut v. Com., No. 2007-SC-000154-MR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky
    • April 24, 2008
    ... 250 S.W.3d 288 ... Julian CHESTNUT, Appellant, ... COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee ... No. 2007-SC-000154-MR ... Supreme Court of Kentucky ... April ... However, although we upheld these previous decisions in Mathews v. Commonwealth, 997 S.W.2d 449, 451 (Ky.1999), overruled on other grounds by Hayes v ... ...
  • Shepherd v. Com., No. 2006-SC-000450-MR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky
    • February 21, 2008
    ... 251 S.W.3d 309 ... Michael Merrall SHEPHERD, Appellant, ... COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee ... No. 2006-SC-000450-MR ... Supreme Court of Kentucky ... February ... Mathews v. Commonwealth, 997 S.W.2d 449, 453 (Ky.1999), overruled on other grounds by Hayes v ... ...
  • Shepherd v. Commonwealth, No. 2006-SC-000450-MR (Ky. 5/22/2008)
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky
    • May 22, 2008
  • Lynn v. Commonwealth, No. 2007-CA-000844-MR (Ky. App. 10/10/2008)
    • United States
    • Kentucky Court of Appeals
    • October 10, 2008
    ... ...         The Commonwealth relies on Mathews v. Commonwealth, 997 S.W.2d 449 (Ky. 1999) and argues that the statement is neither inculpatory nor exculpatory but rather is ambiguous. We find ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT