Evidence introduced in a criminal trial is usually preserved by a transcript of the witness testimony and preservation of exhibits. Using a good court reporter is the preferred and most reliable way of recording the witness testimony. However, if no court reporter is present to create a transcript of the testimony, it is still possible to file a written statement of the evidence, agreed to by the parties, with disputes resolved by the trial court judge. Though people convicted of a crime at trial have a right of appeal of that conviction, an appellate court can only review the case if there is a reliable record of what happened in the trial court. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Reller, E2012-01842-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 8-6-2013), an appeal of a criminal conviction was dismissed because there was no transcript or statement of the evidence in the record for the appellate court to review.
The Defendant in the Reller case was convicted of DUI and violating implied consent. On appeal, the Defendant sought to argue that exculpatory information was withheld, that the trial court improperly excluded his alibi defense, and that the evidence presented was insufficient to convict. Apparently, the Defendant had elected to represent himself at trial and on appeal. The Defendant did not hire a court reporter. And because there were no felony charges, a court reporter was not provided at state expense. No transcript or exhibits were filed with the record. The Defendant claimed to the Court of Criminal Appeals that he filed a statement of the evidence. But it was not in the record, nor was there a certificate of service indicating a statement had been served on the opposing party.
A party seeking relief on appeal must make sure there is an adequate record from which the appellate court can review the case. If the appellate court cannot determine what evidence and arguments were presented at trial or what happened there, it cannot review the case. Absent an adequate record to review, the appellate court will presume the trial court's rulings were correct.
For more information on how to create and preserve an evidentiary record in a criminal trial, contact Hindman & Associates.