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Use of Irrelevant Evidence of 'Goth' Lifestyle Leads to Reversal of Murder Conviction

Via Siouxsie Law I came across an interesting recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Georgia that reversed a murder conviction because the trial court allowed the prosecution to introduce "irrelevant and highly prejudicial character evidence" about a teenage defendant's "goth" lifestyle.

The court stated that during the trial of Courtney Boring, a teenage girl who was convicted of murdering her mother, the state introduced evidence seized from the girl's bedroom, including:

photographs of appellant with dyed black hair and dark make-up; a document bearing the words of a "curse" to be recited "while burning the letter over a black candle"; and seven different inscriptions, one typewritten and the rest handwritten on the bedroom walls, of song lyrics and quotations attributed to various singers and other artists, bearing themes of anguish, enslavement, atheism, and violence.

The court observed that although prosecutors did not produce additional evidence or testimony regarding the "import of these items, the State explicitly sought in both opening and closing to link these items with the so-called 'gothic lifestyle' and to characterize them as evidence of 'satanic influences.'" The prosecutor stated in closing argument that while the various goth items did not "prove" that the girl killed her mother, "[i]t's not the point. The point is ... that these are pieces of a puzzle, and you have to consider all of the evidence together."

The court disagreed, holding that

In sum, "one is left with the feeling that the [evidence in question] was employed simply because the jury would find these beliefs morally reprehensible." Dawson v. Delaware, 503 U.S. 159, 167 (112 SC 1093, 117 LE2d 309) (1992). ... In admitting this evidence, which bore no specific connection with the crime and operated merely to impugn appellant's character by suggesting she held satanic beliefs, the trial court abused its discretion. Both because the nature of this evidence was highly inflammatory, and because the evidence of appellant's guilt was entirely circumstantial and not overwhelming, "'we cannot say that it is highly probable that the error did not contribute to the jury's verdict....'

Posted by Bruce Carton on June 8, 2011 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)


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