LITTLE ROCK — A former Pine Bluff police officer who was convicted of second-degree sexual assault is entitled to a new trial because his lawyer was improperly prevented from introducing certain evidence at his trial, the Arkansas Court of Appeals said Wednesday.
The appeals court reversed the conviction of Maurice Hopkins, who was sentenced in Jefferson County Circuit Court to 12 years and six months in prison for a 2014 sexual encounter that he said was consensual and prosecutors said was assault.
Before the trial, the state requested and obtained an order barring Hopkins’ lawyer from asking the alleged victim during cross-examination whether she had consulted with a lawyer about a possible civil lawsuit in the matter.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals said in its opinion Wednesday that ruling was in error and said the error was not harmless, meaning it could have affected the outcome of the trial.
Hopkins should have been able to inform the jury that the alleged victim made an inquiry about a possible action that would have involved a pecuniary interest, the court said.
“Witness credibility is a linchpin in cases such as this where the jury is essentially confronted with a swearing match,” the court said in an opinion written by Judge David Glover. “The case turns entirely on whom the jury believes. The severity of the charges and the diametrically opposed accounts make witness credibility a critical ingredient.”