Partial read-back of testimony results in a new trial

Gormady v. State, 2D14-1497 (January 20, 2016)

The Second District held that the court erred by permitting the jury to hear a partial read-back of testimony of a key witness, which had the effect of placing undue emphasis on particular statements.

The jury requested a read-back of the defendant’s interview with a detective with an emphasis on the defendant’s alleged “confession.”  The Court granted the read back; however, there was discussion amongst counsel indicating that the entire testimony should be read because the cross-examination questioned whether the statements were “confessions.”  The Court agreed to the request, but then instructed the jury that they could listen to the entire testimony, or they could stop the read-back whenever they chose.  The Court explained how long the entire process would take.  The defense objected; however, the Court overruled the objection.  The jury then stopped the read-back after most of the direct had completed, but before any of the cross.

Partial read-backs are improper if it is misleading or places undue emphasis on particular statements.  Here, the Court’s decision to allow the jurors to decide to stop the read-back prior to hearing the entire testimony placed undue emphasis on the State’s version of the events, and essentially bolstered the State’s theory.  Thus, reversal was required for a new trial.

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