In Taylor, the Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant’s rights to present a defense and to compulsory process could be forfeited by his attorney’s failure to follow procedural rules.
During Taylor’s trial for attempted murder, the prosecution presented several witnesses who testified that Taylor shot the victim, Bridges, during a brawl; Taylor called two witnesses who testified that Bridges’s brother accidentally fired the shot. Midway through the trial, Taylor’s attorney announced that he would call another witness, Wormley, who would testify that Bridges and his brother carried guns just before the incident. The judge refused to allow Wormley to testify because Taylor’s attorney knew of Wormley before trial but had not listed him as a potential witness. Taylor was subsequently convicted.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Taylor’s conviction by a vote of six to three. The Court agreed, as it had in Washington v. Texas (388 U.S. 14, 1967) and Chambers v. Mississippi (410 U.S. 284, 1973), that Taylor had a constitutional right to present defense witnesses. However, the Court concluded that the trial judge acted reasonably in excluding Wormley’s testimony as a sanction for defense counsel’s deliberate failure to disclose Wormley’s existence until midtrial. The majority responded to the dissenters’ complaint that it was unfair to punish Taylor for his attorney’s misconduct by pointing out that defendants are often bound by their attorneys’ tactical decisions. Taylor thus recognizes that a defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense may be limited by reasonable procedural rules designed to assure the fairness of the trial process.
DAVID A. MORAN
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973); Defense, Right to Present; Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14 (1967)