Ukwuachu v. State, No. 10-15-00376-CR, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 5783 (July 10, 2019).
10/16/2019Samuel Ukwuachu, a student-athlete at Baylor University was criminally charged with, and later convicted of sexual assault of a female student-athlete who also attended Baylor. The State’s case against Ukwuachu revolved around the issue of consent. Ukwuachu argued his roommate was in the apartment at the time of the incident and would have heard any potential struggle or cry for help from the alleged victim had there been a lack of consent. The State used Ukwuachu’s roommate’s cell phone records to refute the fact that the roommate was in the apartment at the time of the incident. However, the State mischaracterized the nature of the cell phone records by strongly implying the records definitively showed the roommate was across town at the time of the incident. Although the court excluded the cell phone records from evidence, the prosecution referenced them in the both the cross-examination of Ukwuachu’s roommate, as well as their closing argument. In doing so, the State impermissibly led the jury to believe the cell phone records definitively showed Ukwuachu’s roommate was absent from their apartment at the time of the incident, when in reality the records were less than conclusive.
Ukwuachu appealed his conviction, alleging the State had violated his due process rights at trial by using false testimony. A violation of an individual’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights occurs where the State uses false testimony to obtain a conviction, regardless of whether it is done knowingly or unknowingly. Ex parte Robbins, 360 S.W.3d 446, 459 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011) (citing U.S. Const. amend. XIV). The State’s use of false testimony to obtain a conviction violates an individual’s due process rights when the testimony is both false, and material. Here, the court found the State mischaracterized the cell phone records by referencing them in a manner that suggested they definitively showed Ukwuachu’s roommate’s location, when they realistically did not. This mischaracterization ultimately led the jury to falsely believe Ukwuachu’s roommate could not have been home at the time of the incident, satisfying the first element of a due process violation. The court also found the second element of a due process violation present, because the false testimony was material. False testimony is material when there is a reasonable likelihood that it will affect the judgment of the jury. Here, the State’s use of false testimony allowed it to discredit Ukwuachu’s alibi that his roommate was home and would have heard a struggle or cry for help. There is a reasonable likelihood that the jury would not have convicted Ukwuachu if they understood the phone records did not definitively place his roommate outside the apartment at the time of the incident. Therefore, the use of materially false testimony to discredit Ukwuachu’s version of the facts helped the State secure a jury verdict in its favor.
The court ultimately found Ukwuauchu’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated by the State’s use of false testimony that was reasonably likely to affect the judgment of the jury. Thus, the court reversed Ukwuachu’s conviction and remanded the proceeding for a new trial.