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RI Criminal Defense Practice Manual CoverRHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald







“.since the purpose of cross-examination is to impeach a witness’ credibility, the general rule that confines the scope of cross-examination to facts brought out during direct examination is inapplicable when the questions are designed either to explain, contradict, or discredit any testimony given by the witness on direct examination or to test his accuracy, memory, veracity or credibility.”

State v. Crowhurst, 470 A.2d 1138, 1143 (R.I. 1984).

State v. Roderigues, 656 A.2d 192 (R.I. 1995). In a second-degree child molestation case, the defendant called a social worker to testify about the complainant’s smiley face drawing. On cross, the state elicited testimony that complainant was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of sexual abuse received by defendant. R.I.S.C. reversed.

  • State’s cross-examination exceeded the scope of direct. Rule 611 limits cross-examination to “the subject matter of the direct examination.Also permitted on cross-examination are the questions designed to explain, contradict, or discredit any testimony by a given witness on direct examination, or test his accuracy, memory, veracity or credibility.When the witness is an expert who has given opinion testimony, the scope is expanded so as to allow questions touching matters testified to in direct examination as well as inquiries purposed upon testing the qualifications, skills or knowledge of the witness or the accuracy or value of his opinion, or the methods by which he arrived at or the data upon which he based his conclusion.” Id. at 194.
  • Here, the witness was not an expert. The cross-examination exceeded the scope of direct and amounted to impermissible bolstering of the complainant.

State v. Freeman, 473 A.2d 1149 (R.I. 1984). In a murder case in which the only witness that observed the incident was defendant’s girlfriend, the trial judge’s refusal to allow cross-examination as to her status as a detained arrestee on the evening she gave her second inculpatory statement constituted reversible error.

  • “.the partiality of a witness is subject to exploration at trial, and is always relevant.” Id. at 1153 (citing Davis v. Alaska, 94 S. Ct. 1105 (1974)).
  • Because the girlfriend’s “credibility was vital in establishing defendant’s guilt, the trial justice, by totally precluding the defendant from raising and probing the issues of motive, bias, or prejudice, effectively cut off the defendant’s right to test [her] credibility fully and adequately.” Id. at 1154.

State v. Texter, 594 A.2d 376 (R.I. 1991). The trial judge’s refusal to allow cross-examination of the complainant and her husband’s potential grudge against defendant was reversible error. Defendant had accused complainant’s husband of stealing money from the church and threatened to report him. The accusations against defendant came shortly thereafter.

  • Inquiry into this area would have made the existence of bias or motive more or less probable; therefore, the line of inquiry was relevant. Also, the complainant was the only witness against defendant, thus her credibility was a crucial issue at trial.

, 644 A.2d 1287 (R.I. 1994). In a first-degree murder trial, the defense was precluded from cross-examining a state witness as to a prior inconsistent statement. The state argued and the trial judge agreed that the written statement was missing some punctuation marks that would render it consistent with the witness’s testimony at trial. R.I.S.C. reversed.

  • “This court and the trial court must not engage in guessing whether the police detective who typed Morris’ statement mistakenly omitted a comma or what Morris may have meant by the statement. Such factual determinations are strictly within the purview of the jury or the trier of fact.” Id. at 1290.

State v. Clark, 974 A.2d 558 (R.I. 2009). Trial judge granted the state’s motion in limine to preclude the defendant from cross-examining the victim about his alcohol consumption on the night defendant allegedly assaulted him. R.I.S.C. held that trial judge did not err in granting the motion.

  • Whether alcohol consumption is an issue within the scope of cross-examination depends on the intended purpose of the questioning.
    • When the purpose goes to credibility, neither party may question a witness to show that he or she consumed a “potentially intoxicating substance” prior to an event at issue in the case, “because of the undue potential. to cause confusion and to be unfairly prejudicial.” Id. at 583 (quoting State v. Rice, 755 A.2d 127, 148-49 (R.I. 2000)).
    • When the purpose is to impeach the witness’s perception and memory of the event, the evidence can be introduced to show intoxication if the party can first produce “evidence such that different minds can naturally and fairly come to different conclusions on the question of intoxication.” Id. (quoting Handy v. Geary, 252 A.2d 435, 442 (R.I. 1969)).


  • At the evidentiary hearing on the issue, the trial judge in this case found that defendant’s evidence of the victim’s alcohol consumption (including police testimony that the victim smelled of alcohol and told the officer he drank ten to twelve beers) was not sufficient to create a dispute that the victim had reached intoxication. It was not sufficient to overcome other testimony showing that victim could function and communicate normally.


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