Tag Archive | Judge Shirley Watts

Defense counsel’s opening statement didn’t open the door – Ford v. State

By Brad McCullough

Suppose defense counsel in a homicide trial gives an opening statement suggesting that the victim had been the aggressor and had initiated the fight that ultimately led to his death. Does that opening statement open the door to permit the prosecution, in its case-in-chief, to introduce evidence showing the victim’s character trait for peacefulness? That was one of the issues facing the Court of Appeals in Ford v. State, No. COA-REG-0011-2018 (Oct. 26, 2018).[i] In an opinion authored by Judge Shirley Watts, the Court held that defense counsel’s opening statement had not opened the door and that the trial court erred in allowing the State to introduce the character evidence in its case-in-chief. But the defense victory was pyrrhic, as the Court also held that the error was harmless and thus affirmed the conviction for second-degree murder.

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