Witness Has a Felony Charge Pending – Where the witness has a felony charge pending, the Defendant may cross as to the punishment range of the charge as to show the influence the State has over that witness.
See Johnson V. State, PD-0473-13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014)
– “it is not within a trial court’s discretion to prohibit a defendant from engaging in ‘otherwise appropriate cross-examination designed to show a prototypical form of bias on the part of the witness,'”
– Nor may a trial court prevent a defendant from “pursu[ing] his proposed line of cross examination” when it can be said that “[a] reasonable jury might have received a significantly different impression of [the witness]’s credibility had . . . counsel been permitted” to do so.
– until it can be “determine[d] that the cross examination satisfied the Sixth Amendment, the [trial] court’s discretion” simply “does not come into play.” This qualification of a trial court’s discretion to limit cross-examination for bias appropriately accounts for the fact that “the exposure of a witness’ motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination[,]” and is “always relevant as discrediting the witness and affecting the weight of his testimony.”
– in those circumstances in which the defendant seeks to “impeach a witness with evidence of pending criminal actions,” we have said that the trial court does have discretion to place limits on those areas of cross-examination in which the defendant fails to “establish some causal connection or logical relationship between the pending charges and the . . . ‘vulnerable relationship'” alleged.
– unlike the nature of a charged offense, the range of punishment attendant to a charged offense does have an incrementally greater impact on the jury’s ability to assess the witness’s motive to alter or fabricate his testimony. A jury privy to the considerable extent to which the State might seek, were it so inclined, to have the witness punished in the pending matter would at least be in a better position to assess a witness’s motive–if not his actual intent–to color his testimony in favor of the State. And from the jury’s perspective (again, other things being equal), a witness accused of a felony carrying the potential of a life sentence would be that much more likely–if only by a “brick”–to seek to mollify the State than a witness merely facing some undifferentiated “felony” charge.