The Attorney Generalís Office won a significant victory at the US Supreme Court today. The court held that a statement to an informant, concededly elicited in violation of the Sixth Amendment, was admissible to impeach a defendantís inconsistent testimony at trial.
ďTodayís decision by the US Supreme Court will give law enforcement and prosecutors the direction and tools they need to fight crime in Kansas and across the country,Ē Attorney General Six said.† ďIím proud our office was able to claim victory in front of our nationís highest court.Ē
In Kansas v. Ventris, Donnie Ray Ventris and Rhonda Theel were charged with murder and other crimes. Prior to trial, an informant planted in Ventrisís cell heard him admit to shooting and robbing the victim, but Ventris testified at trial that Theel committed the crimes. When the State sought to call the informant to testify to his contradictory statement, Ventris objected. The State conceded that Ventrisís Sixth Amendment right to counsel had likely been violated, but argued that the statement was admissible for impeachment purposes. The trial court allowed the testimony. The jury convicted Ventris of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery. Reversing the conviction, the Kansas Supreme Court held that the informantís statements were not admissible for any reason, including impeachment.
The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
Before the US Supreme Court, the Attorney Generalís Office argued that even when a constitutional violation like the one in this case occurs, the truth-finding function of our criminal justice system would be undermined if a defendant could testify falsely at trial without fear that his contradictory statements may be used to expose the false testimony.† After todayís decision, when a defendant gives false testimony at trial, prosecutors can impeach the defendantís trial testimony with the defendantís own prior statements, even if those prior statements were obtained through means that technically violated the Sixth Amendment.† If the US Supreme Court had not reversed the Kansas Supreme Court in this case, a defendant who made incriminating statements to an informant or other police agent could testify falsely at trial without fear that his prior statements would be exposed.
As a result of the Supreme Courtís decision today, Ventrisís conviction and 20-year sentence for aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery are reinstated and the case will continue for further proceedings in the Kansas courts.
Solicitor General Stephen R. McAllister argued on behalf of Kansas on January 21, 2009.