As Amended May 20, Aratani on the brief , Deputy Pros. Michael Castro was convicted of attempted murder and assault in the first degree following a jury trial in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit. He asserts on appeal that the judgment of conviction must be vacated because of a score of errors committed by the trial court. The scene of the violent episode leading to the prosecution of Michael Castro was the Gardenia Garden where his estranged girlfriend, Charlotte Harkin, was employed as a dancer.
On July 21, , after drinking beer at several other bars, the defendant and his brother Kalen went to the Gardenia Garden to see her. It was after midnight when they entered the nightclub. Harkin sitting in a booth. When she saw him, she went to apprise her employer of her fear of him. Harkin returned to the booth, Castro attempted to engage her in conversation.
Castro paid no heed to the advice and went back into the nightclub, joining his brother at the bar. Harkin was then at the jukebox, placing coins in it in preparation of her performance. Castro suddenly leaped from his seat, grabbed the woman by her hair, and yelled, "let's go. He testified at trial that he knew what was happening but just "couldn't stop. The assailant then released the victim and fled. Several medical technicians who fortuitously were present came to the victim's aid.
She had suffered a life-threatening neck wound and twelve back wounds from the attack. Meanwhile, other patrons of the nightclub and the police gave chase to the assailant. And he was apprehended shortly thereafter. The State served notice before trial of its intention to offer testimony describing the defendant's prior acts of violence. The trial court, however, ruled the acts of violence constituted relevant evidence and its probative value outweighed any prejudicial effect it could have.
Before the complaining witness took the stand, however, the State moved to have the defendant shackled. The witness, it claimed, was fearful that Castro would harm her if he could freely move about the courtroom. The trial court granted the request over the strenuous objection of the defendant, finding there was cause to restrain him. The court noted the assault weapon had been placed in evidence and could possibly be reached by the defendant, he had a history of violence, he was versed in martial arts, and he was in an emotional state, as evidenced by his sobbing while prospective jurors were being examined.
The cross-examination of the complaining witness consisted largely of questions related to her feelings about Michael Castro before and after the stabbing and her current relationships and sexual preferences. In the prosecutor's view the examination was damaging enough to warrant an effort to rehabilitate her through expert testimony.
The State therefore called Dr. Hall, a psychologist, to the stand, and he was permitted to give an opinion on her credibility when he evaluated her after the attack.
The trial court ruled such evidence was admissible under the test for the reception of expert testimony on witness credibility established in State v. The State also relied on Dr. Hall's testimony to refute a defense mounted by the defendant, that he was "under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there [was] a reasonable explanation" when he committed the armed attack.
There was an outburst from Castro while the psychologist was giving his opinion on the defendant's state of mind at the time of the attack.
After the close of evidence, the defendant sought to preclude the possibility of being convicted of two offenses by objecting to the proposed instruction rendering this possible. The State, however, maintained there was sufficient evidence to sustain convictions on both. It claimed the stab wounds to the victim's back constituted evidence of the first degree assault and the life-threatening neck wound was evidence of the attempt to murder. The acts causing the back wounds, it argued, were separated in time from the act causing the neck wound.
The trial court overruled the defendant's objection, and the jury subsequently returned verdicts of guilty on both attempted murder in the first degree and assault in the first degree. A dispositive issue on appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the jury to hear evidence of the defendant's prior acts of violence and aggression directed at the complaining witness.
We begin our analysis of the issue by scrutinizing the evidentiary rule governing the admission of evidence of "other crimes, wrongs, or acts," Haw. The framers of the rule recognized that "[c]haracter evidence is of slight probative value and may be very prejudicial.
For "[i]t tends to distract the trier of fact from the main question of what actually happened on the particular occasion. Yet even when the evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts tends to establish a fact of consequence to the determination of the case, the trial court is still obliged to exclude the evidence "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
Evidence of Michael Castro's earlier acts of violence and aggression was admitted on grounds that it was probative of several matters of consequence in the determination of the case and the probative value substantially outweighed the danger of unfair prejudice.
The decision to allow the jury to hear Ms. Harkin's account of Castro's prior conduct, in our view, amounted to an abuse of discretion. As we observed, when evidence of other crimes, wrongs, and acts is offered by the prosecution, the problem for the trial court is one "of classifying and then balancing[, if necessary]. If its purpose is only "to show some propensity to commit the crime at trial, there is no room for ad hoc balancing. The evidence is then unequivocally inadmissible[.
If it is probative of any other fact of consequence in the determination of the case, the court must then consider whether the prejudicial impact of the evidence would be substantially greater than its probative worth. And, [i]n deciding whether the danger of unfair prejudice and the like substantially outweighs the incremental probative value, a variety of matters must be considered, including the strength of the evidence as to the commission of the other crime, the similarities between the crimes, the interval of time that has elapsed between the crimes, the need for the evidence, the efficacy of alternative proof, and the degree to which the evidence probably will rouse the jury to overmastering hostility.
Arguably, the evidence of prior crimes, wrongs, and acts helped to prove the defendant's conduct was intentional. Yet, the introduction of such evidence can hardly be justified on the basis of need or the inefficacy of alternative proof. For there was much more from which an inference of intentional conduct could be drawn in the evidence of the offense for which the defendant was being tried. There was even less justification to deem the evidence in question relevant on grounds that it showed preparation, plan, knowledge, and modus operandi.
It often serves to establish identity. But the identity of the assailant was not disputed here, and we discern no other basis to consider the evidence admissible under the rubric of "preparation.
Like evidence of preparation, proof of the existence of a plan often serves "to identify the perpetrators of the crime. But we fail to see how such proof was of consequence to the determination of the case at hand.
The use of other crimes evidence is also permissible to show the act in question was performed with guilty knowledge. Michael Castro, however, did not claim the crime for which he was being tried was committed without such knowledge. Thus, the trial court's ruling that the evidence could be admitted because it established knowledge does not pass muster too.
Where "the characteristics and methodology of the prior crime or act [are] so strikingly similar to those of the crime or act being litigated as to support the inference that both were the handiwork of the very same person[,]" evidence of the prior crime or act may be admitted. Still, the identity of the perpetrator of the crimes was not denied, and the admission of the other crimes evidence as proof of modus operandi cannot be justified here.
We therefore would have to say the incremental probative value of the evidence in question was not great. The trial court's allowance on the prosecution's case-in-chief of evidence likely "to weigh too much with the jury and to so overpersuade them as to prejudge one with a bad general record and deny him a fair opportunity to defend against a particular charge[,]" Michelson v.
United States, U. On balance, the potential for unfair prejudice being generated by the evidence was far greater than its value in establishing facts of consequence to the determination of the case. We turn from the trial court's ruling on the admissibility of other crimes evidence to the ruling that permitted the expert witness to state his opinion on the complaining witness' credibility.
Inasmuch as the ruling was premised on State v. The defendant in State v. Not surprisingly, the putative victim was the lone witness to the offense. A week or so after it purportedly occurred, the child informed her mother of the sexual encounter with her stepfather. When the case proceeded to trial in the circuit court, defendant's counsel attempted to impeach the complaining witness' story with insinuations that it was fabricated.
He cross-examined her about boyfriends, and she denied she had one. But the youthful witness broke down and admitted she had a boyfriend after being confronted with a letter she wrote. The State then called as an expert witness the psychiatrist who examined her at the medical center.
The offer of proof was that his testimony would be supportive of the child witness' account of the alleged crime. The defendant's objection to the proffered testimony was overruled on the ground that the cross-examination had put the child's credibility sufficiently at issue to render the testimony admissible. The psychiatrist was qualified as an expert, and he gave testimony which included a statement that he found the child witness' account of the rape "believable. Predictably, the issue on appeal was whether the jury should have been allowed to hear such testimony.
The appellant asserted that the testimony on the credibility of the complaining witness invaded the province of the jury, was not a proper subject for expert opinion, and its probative value was outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Though mindful that "[i]n a trial by jury, the jury is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses[,] State v. Yet we were "reluctant to categorically preclude all such testimony, since And since the legislature had recently adopted a code of evidence, we decided to consider the admissibility of the expert testimony in the light of standards enunciated there.
We read other relevant provisions of the code as rendering the testimony admissible only if it is based "upon a sound factual foundation; any inferences or opinions [are] the product of an explicable and reliable system of analysis; and [the] opinions And of course, we read the code as conditioning admissibility on whether or not the probative value of the testimony is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and the other factors delineated in Haw. Measuring the testimony of the psychiatrist against these standards, we decided the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing him to testify.
Though troubled by the portion of the testimony where the expert flatly said he "found her story believable[,]" we nevertheless concluded the new code permitted the reception of expert testimony in the form of an opinion or inference embracing an ultimate issue to be decided by the jury if the testimony is otherwise admissible. Moreover, "[t]he nature of the But "[e]xpert testimony respecting witness credibility is not In most cases, the common experience of the jury should suffice as a basis for assessments of credibility.
The admission of expert testimony was sanctioned in State v. Kim because the common experience of the jury represented "a less than adequate foundation for assessing the credibility of [the] witness," a child sex-offense victim "whose claims [were] substantially uncorroborated. We were convinced in State v.
Kim that expert testimony could reveal characteristics or conditions of the child victim of sexual abuse and further the jury's understanding of what in all likelihood was "unfamiliar and mysterious.
The situation here bears slight, if any, resemblance to that in which the use of expert testimony on the issue of credibility was approved. To begin with, we would not deem attempted murder a phenomenon inexplicable to most people. The armed attack by Michael Castro was perpetrated in a nightclub, not in the privacy of a bedroom; it was witnessed by more than several persons.