The State of Tennessee appealed a lower court’s ruling denying their request to admit evidence of a video-recorded interview of a minor victim. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the lower court made a mistake by reaching the constitutional question before it was ripe for review and the ruling was vacated and remanded for reconsideration.
Barry D. McCoy was charged with seven counts of rape of a child and submitted to a bench trial. The state moved to introduce a video interview of the victim as evidence. McCoy objected and the lower court ruled that it would not be admitted on three grounds: 1) the video was hearsay and was not covered by any exception; 2) admission of the video would violate McCoy’s right to confront a witness against him; and 3) the code at issue in the case, T.C.A Section 24-7-123, was unconstitutional as legislative overreach into judicial authority. The court believed that by enacting such a statute the legislature had violated the separation of powers doctrine by engaging in what is clearly a judicial function.
The Court of Criminal Appeals says that lower court jumped ahead of itself. The court should not have ruled on the constitutionality of the statute without first having reviewed the video recording to determine whether it would actually qualify for admission under the terms of the statute. The court could not know then if the statute was applicable to the case. If it didn’t apply, then the constitutionality of the statute is moot. Because the trial court did not determine the statute’s applicability to the video in this case, the Court found that the constitutional challenge was not yet ripe for review and the lower court’s ruling was vacated.
To read the full opinion, click here.