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Zoerner v. State

June 18, 1998

RONALD A. ZOERNER
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI



Before Prather, C.j., Roberts And Mills, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Prather, Chief Justice, For The Court:

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/14/96

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT H. WALKER

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HANCOCK COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY

MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:

MANDATE ISSUED:

I. INTRODUCTION

¶1. This case arises from a September 17, 1994, automobile accident on Lake Shore Road in Hancock County, in which a pedestrian (Marguerite Richardson) was killed. On May 1, 1995, Ronald A. Zoerner was indicted for felony driving under the influence and negligently causing Richardson's death. Zoerner was tried, convicted, and sentenced to twenty years in prison by the Hancock County Circuit Court in March, 1996. On appeal, Zoerner raises the following issues for consideration by this Court:

A. Whether the trial court erred in granting the State's motion to limit the cross-examination of the witness, Michael Moran, prohibiting inquiry as to these previous convictions and interest, bias or motive as such matters might affect his credibility?

B. Whether the trial court erred in allowing into evidence the results of the intoxilyzer tests in the absence of the testimony of the officer who calibrated the machine and over the objection of defense counsel; thereby, depriving the defendant of his constitutional right of confrontation?

C. Whether the trial court erred in allowing rebuttal testimony by the investigating officer concerning the results of a Mississippi Crime Lab test report; thereby depriving the defendant of his constitutional right of confrontation?

D. Whether the State failed to disclose possible exculpatory evidence in the nature of an eyewitnesses to the accident?

¶2. The dispositive issue in this case is the exclusion of the prior burglary convictions of the State's main witness, Michael Moran. This Court finds that the trial Judge erred in excluding Moran's prior burglary convictions, because the circumstances surrounding the convictions were extremely probative of Moran's propensity to tell the truth and his bias or motivation to testify in favor of the State. For this reason, the case is reversed and remanded. The other issues raised by Zoerner are without merit, but will be addressed, to the extent that discussion of these issues could provide guidance on remand for a new trial.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Whether the trial court erred in granting the State's motion to limit the cross-examination of the witness, Michael Moran, prohibiting inquiry as to these previous convictions and interest, bias or motive as such matters might affect his credibility?

¶3. Zoerner first contends that the trial Judge erred by granting the State's motion in limine to exclude evidence of Moran's three prior burglary convictions. The record reflects that, on January 13, 1995, Moran pled guilty to three counts of burglary. The State recommended that Moran be sentenced to ten years in prison on the first count, to run consecutively with seven years in prison on the second count, to run concurrently with seven years in prison on the third count, and that the sentence be suspended and Moran placed in the house arrest program, with three years probation to follow. The trial Judge deferred sentencing, so that Moran could be evaluated for the house arrest program.

ΒΆ4. Approximately five months after Zoerner's accident, on February 7, 1995, the authorities took Moran from his cell and asked him to give a statement regarding Zoerner. Moran, who was awaiting sentencing on the burglary charges gave a recorded statement, which implicated Zoerner in Richardson's death. On March 29, 1995, the trial court determined that Moran was not eligible for house arrest, and Moran was placed on probation. On April ...


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