Cudjo v. Ayers

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 09-28-2012
  • Case #: 08-99028
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge N.R. Smith for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski; Dissent by Circuit Judge O’Scannlain
  • Full Text Opinion

Chambers v. Mississippi “clearly establishe[s] that the exclusion of trustworthy and necessary exculpatory testimony at trial violates a defendant’s due process right to present a defense.”

Armenia Cudjo was convicted of first-degree murder of Amelia Prokuda. The trial court excluded evidence implicating Gregory Cudjo as the person responsible for the murder based on lack of reliability. The California Supreme Court determined that, even though the evidence was admissible, it did not implicate the federal Constitution. Therefore, the court reviewed for harmless error under California state law and concluded that no prejudice occurred. On appeal from the district court’s denial of habeas corpus, the Ninth Circuit noted that in Chambers v. Mississippi, the U.S. Supreme Court “clearly established that the exclusion of trustworthy and necessary exculpatory testimony violates a defendant’s due process right to present a defense.” In balancing the accused’s interests against the government’s interests, the Court concluded that “no government interest outweighed the value of admitting relevant evidence highly necessary to [Cudjo’s] presentation of his defense.” This was so because the alternate suspect’s confession was “probably true” and “the testimony had substantial probative value, was highly material, highly necessary and there was no other comparable direct evidence of Gregory’s guilt.” Because Cudjo’s case is indistinguishable from Chambers, the Court concluded that “the California Supreme Court’s decision was ‘contrary to...clearly established Federal law.’” In considering whether the constitutional error was harmless, the Court concluded that, because it had “grave doubts as to the harmlessness of [the] error,” it must rule for Cudjo. Due to the exclusion of the testimony at issue, Cudjo had to rely on his own testimony to support his defense. The Court reasoned that the prosecutor’s use of an inflammatory racial comment to discredit Cudjo’s testimony made the exclusion of the testimony even more prejudicial, thereby “dramatically increasing the likelihood that its exclusion ‘had [a] substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.” REVERSED and REMANDED.

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