These cases never seem to end with the trial, do they? We've covered the trial of William Balfour, the man accused and convicted of murdering family members of R&B star and actress Jennifer Hudson, pretty extensively.
Just last month, the trial ended and Balfour was convicted. However, his attorneys are now seeking a new trial on the basis of Jennifer Hudson's testimony. They claim that her testimony was irrelevant and overly prejudicial, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
It's an interesting argument.
The Illinois Rules of Evidence allow relevant evidence to be admissible, unless it is overly prejudicial. Relevance is defined as "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." It's a wordy, yet pretty self-explanatory definition.
The arbiter of whether evidence is relevant or irrelevant is the judge. Judges have broad discretion, so a finding of error is rare.
However, it really is a good question if Hudson's testimony was relevant to Balfour's guilt. She testified that both her family, and Hudson personally, opposed the marriage between Balfour and her sister. The reason given was merely that they "didn't like him."
From skimming the testimony, available here via CBS Chicago, there don't seem to be any allegations of domestic violence, or of anything that would make it more or less likely that Balfour was guilty of murder.
The family's feelings toward Balfour were the crux of the first part the testimony; the news of the murder and the emotional impact was the second part. The emotional impact would be relevant to sentencing, but not guilt. Sentencing happens next month. So let's say, for argument's sake, that it was irrelevant.
It was also certainly prejudicial. Any evidence that shows guilt is technically prejudicial, but the emotional impact of hearing someone describe identifying the bodies of her family members seems like it might even be overly-prejudicial.
Jennifer Hudson was the first witness, and set the emotional tone of the prosecutor's case. Her testimony connected the jury with her pain, and probably made them want to convict someone.
Whether or not you agree with the strategy, it almost certainly helped with the conviction.
Does that mean Balfour's likely to get a new trial? Maybe not. The harmless error rule still applies. Even if the judge screwed up by letting Hudson testify, it might not have been harmful enough to be cause for a new trial.
The justification behind the rule is that not all errors are equal. If every trial was overturned on every error, cases would be overturned daily over asinine paperwork issues. We like our criminals in prison, not on the streets.
The judge has set a hearing for July 24th. If the retrial is denied, Balfour could be sentenced on that day, reports NBC Chicago.
- Find a Chicago Criminal Law Attorney (FindLaw)
- Jennifer Hudson Avoids Courtroom While Grisly Images are Shown (FindLaw's Chicago Criminal Law Blog)
- Harmless Error: Everyone Knows the Cops Think Your Client 'Did It' (FindLaw's U.S. Ninth Circuit Blog)
- First Degree Murder Penalties and Sentencing (FindLaw)