Court Should Have Let Man Cross-Examine Wife

     (CN) – A New York man should have been allowed to cross-examine his wife about why she turned him in to the police on a weapons charge, the Second Circuit ruled.
     The July 15 decision notes that the arrest occurred while Donato Nappi was out on parole after serving a 26-year sentence for a previous crime.
     He and his wife of 36 years, Janice, slept in separate bedrooms after his return. Janice often kept her room deadbolted.
     When Janice told Nappi’s parole officer that her husband possessed a gun, he was arrested again.
     Nappi was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and Janice was the key witness against him.
     Janice testified that she had allowed the gun into their home on the condition that only she would know where it was stored.
     At trial, Nappi cross-examined Janice about why she reported him. Nappi suggested that she wanted to continue a relationship with another man, whom she had bailed out of jail with $50,000, using her house as collateral.
     Prosecutors theorized that Janice reported the gun because she feared for her life, while Nappi’s counsel argued that she had planted the gun to put Nappi back in prison so she could be with the other man.
     The trial ended in a hung jury.
     Nappi was not allowed to cross-examine his wife during his second trial, and he was convicted.
     When a state appeals court affirmed, Nappi petitioned for federal habeas relief. He claimed that his confrontation rights were violated when the court disallowed the cross-examination.
     U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton Jr. denied his petition, but a three-judge panel with the Second Circuit in Manhattan reversed Wedesday.
     “We conclude that the limitation imposed on Nappi’s ability to cross-examine the key witness against him at trial was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court Confrontation Clause jurisprudence,” Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for the court.
     The trial court’s error was not harmless, according to the ruling.
     “If defense counsel had been permitted to elicit testimony establishing that Janice had motive to implicate Nappi in the illegal possession of a weapon – which she knew was a violation of his parole – this would have been of significant importance, and the exclusion of this evidence could certainly have rendered the verdict questionable,” Jacobs wrote.

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