Can You “Point the Finger” At Someone Else In A Criminal Trial?
Television courtroom dramas often portray cases where the defendant tries to “point the finger” at someone else whom they believe was the “real” criminal. Is this a real legal strategy? Can you actually suggest someone else committed a crime as a defense at trial?
Basically, yes. The Constitution guarantees your right to present evidence in your defense. This can include evidence that an “alternative perpetrator” committed the crime. But there are limits on such evidence. In Texas, the courts have said that such defense evidence must be sufficient to “show a nexus between the crime charged and the alleged alternative perpetrator.”
Appeals Court Rejects Efforts to Shift Blame for Infant Assault to Child’s Father
A recent decision from the Texas Third District Court of Appeals, Coulter v. State, illustrates how this nexus requirement can work in practice. This case involved a defendant charged with a first-degree felony–knowingly causing serious bodily injury to a child. Essentially, prosecutors charged the defendant with shaking a baby that was placed in her daycare and causing him severe injuries.
At trial, the defendant put forth an alternative-perpetrator theory. More precisely, the defendant argued the child’s father was the actual culprit. To that end, the defense sought to introduce evidence regarding the father’s prior arrests and convictions for domestic violence. The judge allowed evidence of the prior convictions, but not of the “circumstances surrounding them.” When the father testified as part of the prosecution’s case, the defense again asked the judge for permission to bring up his “prior bad acts,” but again the court refused.
The jury ultimately found the defendant guilty and she received a 14-year prison sentence. On appeal, the Third District said the trial judge properly excluded the defense’s alternative-perpetrator evidence. The main problem, the appellate court said, was that none of the father’s prior bad acts concerned the period around the time of the attack on the child. The domestic violence convictions occurred long before this attack. And the Third District said it was improper to admit this older evidence simply to prove the father’s bad character. Indeed, the Court emphasized that the “required nexus” between a crime and an alternative perpetrator “does not require” proving any trait or aspect of character. As such, the trial court did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights by barring her efforts to identify the father as the actual suspect.
Contact Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
Despite the outcome of this particular case, it is not uncommon for police to arrest the wrong suspect. Oftentimes, officers will develop tunnel vision and focus on one suspect to the exclusion of credible evidence pointing to someone else. That is why, if you find yourself wrongfully accused of a crime, it is important to work with an experienced Pearland criminal defense lawyer who will zealously represent your side in court. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.