Conviction Overturned for Prosecutor’s Failure to Elicit Allegations

The Washington Court of Appeals has overturned a child molestation conviction because the child complainant did not include the criminal allegations in her testimony.

The State prosecuted Jeffrey Kinzle for molesting two sisters—an eight-year-old and a four-year-old. Before trial, a child interview specialist interviewed both sisters, and each girl described being molested by Kinzle. At trial, the prosecutor asked the older sister about the incident, and she testified consistently with her pretrial interview.

However, the prosecutor did not ask the younger sister about the incident. He instead asked if she had seen anyone in the courtroom before, if she had talked to police, and if she had talked to any doctors. The younger sister answered in the negative to each of the questions, in contrast with her pretrial interview. Nonetheless, the trial court admitted in evidence, under a hearsay exception, both girls’ pretrial interviews.

The Court of Appeals found the trial court had erred by admitting the younger sister’s interview and reversed his conviction concerning her. It ruled this violated Kinzle’s Sixth Amendment confrontation rights.

The Confrontation Clause, part of the Sixth Amendment, guarantees a criminal defendant the right to cross-examine witnesses presented against him. “Full and effective cross-examination is possible only if the State asks the witness during direct examination about the incident and his or her prior statements about the incident.” The prosecutor never asked the younger sister direct questions about the molestation incident, so she never testified in court that Kinzle had molested her. Court rules allowed Kinzle’s attorney to cross-examine the younger sister only within the scope of the prosecution’s direct examination. Thus the defense was unable to cross-examine the girl about these allegations.

The Court of Appeals held that the pretrial interview was wrongly admitted because the scope of the younger sister’s in-court testimony did not include the molestation allegations contained in the pretrial interview. Since the pretrial interview was admitted and Kinzle’s attorney was unable to question the younger sister about the allegations contained within it, Kinzle was denied his Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine the younger sister.

The Court of Appeals affirmed Kinzle’s conviction involving the older sister.