Criminal: Judicial Notice, Learned treatise exception — Stanley Stokes v. Com. of Kentucky (SC 12/18/2008)

Stanley Stokes v. Com. of Kentucky (260)
Criminal:  Judicial Notice, Learned treatise exception
Questions Presented:
Trial court did not abuse its discretion by taking “judicial notice” of a medical dictionary as a “learned treatise” and in taking judicial notice of a definition contained therein, where the accuracy of the definition was readily ascertainable. KRE 803(18), KRE 201. Trial court’s answer to jury question, regarding truth in sentencing, did apply to facts and a point of law relevant to the case.
Date Rendered: 12/18/2008
McCracken County – Judge Craig Clymer

Opinion by Justice Noble; all sitting; all concur. Justice Abramson concurs by separate opinion. Stokes was convicted of two counts of sodomy and was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. The victim was a 12-year-old relative. At trial, Stokes testified that he suffered from impotence and entered into evidence medical records to support his testimony. However, these records also indicated that there was no physical cause for Stokes’ condition and characterized the problem as “psychogenic.” During the prosecution’s rebuttal, the trial court took judicial notice that a medical dictionary was a learned treatise and allowed the prosecutor to read the definition of “psychogenic” to the jury. The judge admonished the jury that the definition was reliable and could be considered during deliberations. On appeal, Stokes argued the trial court abused its discretion by taking judicial notice that the medical dictionary was a learned treatise. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding KRE 201 permits courts to take judicial notice of a definition of a word as an adjudicative fact where that definition is “capable of accurate and ready determination by resorting to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” 

The second issue concerned additional factual and legal information given by the trial court to the jury once penalty phase deliberations were already underway. During deliberations, the jury sent a note to the trial judge asking if Stokes’ previous conviction was also “on a child.” After discussion with counsel, the trial court concluded this information should have been given to the jury during the penalty phase proceedings and advised the jury that Stokes’ prior offense involved subjecting a person less than 14 years of age to sexual contact. The trial judge defined sexual contact as “any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of either party.” The Supreme Court held that the trial court had gone beyond the “general description” of the prior offense permitted under Robinson by giving the jury more specific information than necessary to ascertain the nature of the offense. However, the Supreme Court held that any error by the trial court was harmless. 

More problematic for the Court was the introduction of new evidence after the jury had begun its deliberations. While recognizing that the practice is authorized under RCr 9.74, the Court urged that such instances should be rare and carefully thought out since juries may place undue emphasis on that portion of the proof. In affirming, the Court, held that the presentation of the additional evidence in this case did not create a fundamentally unfair trial by placing undue emphasis on the evidence admitted after jury deliberations had begun. In her concurrence, Justice Abramson underscored that the trial court is not “a safety net for counsel, standing ready to supply what they have inadvertently omitted.” 

Digest from SC Case Monthly Summary Report for December

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