The CCA held 9-0 in this case that they would not consider whether the trial court could have excluded evidence under 403 because the trial court ruled the evidence was irrelevant.
Does this overrule all the cases we have relied upon which held that a trial court ruling excluding evidence would be upheld if it was correct for any reason? It looks like it to me. That would be truly awful. This seems like a horrible waste of resources -- isn't the judge almost certain to exclude this evidence again on remand under Rule 403? Do we need to make trial judges pronounce a laundry list of theories every time they exclude or admit evidence? Maybe the correct-for-any-reason doctrine needs to be protected by the Legislature.
Generally, the std of review employed for a trial court's ruling admitting or excluding evidence is abuse of discretion. Indeed, the Court recognizes this when it observes that if the trial court had exercised its discretion under Rule 403, the issue would be reviewed for abuse of discretion. But somehow it reaches the conclusion that de novo review is appropriate when a trial court exercises its discretion and rules that evidence is irrelevant. Does anyone else find this inconsistent or inexplicable? Has the court also confined the "zone of reasonable disagreement" language to Rule 403 rulings?
Couldn't we start asking our judges to not state the reason for overruling the objection to the admission of the evidence, leaving open all reasons?
Or, if the only objection made by the defendant is relevance, couldn't we also ask the judge to rule that, even if the evidence were relevant, it is inadmissible pursuant to Rule 403? Appellate courts do this all the time to protect themselves ("There was no error, but even if there was error, it was harmless.")
Then, the Court of Criminal Appeals would have to consider the ruling under an abuse of discretion standard.
Williamson County, Texas
The court does not say it will not consider any other reason that might support exclusion of the evidence, only that before an abuse of discretion standard or zone of reasonable disagreement test will be used, the trial court must have been exercising discretion. Maybe one could argue the ruling is dramatically changing evidence or preservation law, but that certainly does not seem to be their intent. The reasoning may be needlessly requiring a new punishment hearing for Mr. Sunbury, but I don't think it should be interpreted as requiring the trial judge to completely explain all bases for his ruling. The other basis has to supported by the record. Here a 403 balancing analysis theory is not supported by the record because of how the court ruled on the 37.07 issue.
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