State v. Santos
When a claim regarding an evidentiary ruling is of constitutional magnitude, the state has the burden of proving that the constitutional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Richard Santos, Jr. was convicted of crimes, including assault in the first degree, for stabbing Kewon Potts at a crack house rented to E.P. The defendant appealed, first claiming that his right to confront an adverse witness, E.P., was compromised by the trial court's limitations on the disclosure and use of E.P.'s psychiatric records. The majority of the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment, concluding that any error in the limited disclosure was harmless. Several eyewitnesses, including Potts, testified that the defendant stabbed Potts. The defendant's girlfriend testified, including to hearing the defendant call multiple people and tell them he stabbed someone. She noticed blood specks on his sneakers. The defendant admitted to participating in a serious assault of Potts. He testified that he was fighting "to win" and carried a knife, but could not recall whether it was in his possession then. The defendant did not deny stabbing Potts, he simply claimed he did not remember stabbing Potts. The defendant was able to cross-examine E.P about his mental illness to some extent. The jury heard evidence regarding E.P.'s history of schizo-affective disorder, bipolar disorder and his experiencing hallucinations. E.P's credibility was effectively impeached many times over regarding his mental health, substance abuse, conviction for his own role in the stabbing, inconsistent statements, significant criminal history and admitted desire for a sentence modification. The majority found it exceedingly unlikely that the jury relied uncritically on E.P.'s testimony. Given the defendant's rather devastating testimony and that of multiple eyewitnesses, the majority found the state met its burden of proving that any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The majority further concluded that the trial court properly declined to give an adverse inference instruction regarding two kitchen knives seized on the premises and destroyed pursuant to a court order after the state's case against E.P. concluded. Judge Borden dissented, finding that the trial court violated the defendant's constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him by precluding access to most of E.P.'s psychiatric records and precluding defense counsel from showing the records to an expert and that the rulings were not harmless.