Thursday, October 12, 2006

Court determines that witness cannot be cross-examined on mental illness that does not affect ability to perceive events in question

People v. Kennaley
2006 Cal. App. LEXIS 8822
Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Four

After being convicted of felony assault with intent to commit rape and misdemeanor indecent exposure, the defendant argued on appeal that his constitutional rights were violated because the trial court limited the cross-examination of the complaining witness and her grandmother regarding the complaining witness’s mental health.

The California Court of Appeals disagreed reasoning as follows:

"It is true, as defendant argues, that 'mental illness or emotional instability of a witness can be relevant on the issue of credibility, and a witness may be cross-examined on that subject, if such illness affects the witness's ability to perceive, recall or describe the events in question.'" (People v. Gurule, 28 Cal. 4th 557, 591-592). However, the court reasoned that this principle didn't apply in this case because there was no factual basis for asserting that the complaining witness suffered from a mental disorder or any other disorder that would affect her ability to "perceive, recall, or describe the events in question." On the contrary, the witness was able to recall and describe with specificity a detailed description of the defendant, his car, and even related the defendant's license plate number within one number to the police. The appellate further reasoned that the witness's medical history (mental health or disability) were of marginal relevance and as such, the trial court retained discretion in restricting the cross-examination.