Bond v. Com., 822057

Citation311 S.E.2d 769,226 Va. 534
Decision Date20 January 1984
Docket NumberNo. 822057,822057
PartiesCharles Rhodes BOND v. COMMONWEALTH of Virginia. Record
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

Oldric J. LaBell, Jr., Newport News, for appellant.

Todd E. LePage, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Gerald L. Baliles, Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellee.


POFF, Justice.

Defendant appeals from a judgment confirming the verdict of a jury which convicted him of murder of the second degree and recommended a sentence of 20 years in the penitentiary.

Hattie Lee Banks died as the result of a fall from the outside balcony of the fourth-floor apartment where she lived with her nine-year old son and her boyfriend, defendant Charles Rhodes Bond. The son testified that defendant had struck his mother during a quarrel preceding the tragedy. A neighbor watching from a window in an adjacent apartment "saw this woman coming out the door over the balcony like a ragdoll". A young boy on the sidewalk below saw the body as it fell, looked up to the balcony, and observed a man fitting defendant's description entering the balcony door. A short time later, defendant was seen running from the apartment. According to the witness, defendant stopped, looked at the body, and fled. Another witness testified that Mrs. Banks had been depressed and had planned to leave defendant and return to North Carolina.

Defendant assigns error to the admission of a portion of an autopsy report prepared by Dr. Faruk Presswalla, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner in the jurisdiction, and to the admission of his oral testimony. The "case summary and comment" at the foot of the report stated in part:

This 27 year-old female was seen by a witness to come off with some force from the fourth floor apartment and then fall down close to the building line.... Police investigation revealed that there had been a quarrel between the decedent and her boyfriend prior to this occurrence. Based on the circumstantial investigation and the scene investigation and the site of the fall, the possibility of a suicidal jump is ruled out. An accidental fall while leaning over the balcony is ruled out in view of the witness's having noticed the decedent come "flying out" of the room onto the patio and then off into the street. Death is therefore classified as homicidal. Postmortem blood alcohol was negative. Screen for drugs was negative.

Defendant objected to the admission of this language on the ground it was an expression of opinion based upon hearsay. The trial court ruled that the full report was admissible as "an exception to the hearsay rule" because Code § 19.2-188 * (formerly, § 19.1-45) "clearly says it shall be admissible in evidence. And it would be incumbent upon you [defense counsel] to make such cross examination as you wish to make."

The trial court erred in that ruling. In Ward v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 177, 217 S.E.2d 810 (1975), upon which defendant expressly relied when he raised the objection below, we held that a statement recorded in a medical examiner's postmortem report concerning the "probable cause of death" was "an expression of opinion" and, since only statements of fact are within the purview of the statutory exception, the opinion "was incompetent to show the cause of ... death." Id. at 177-78, 217 S.E.2d at 811.

The Commonwealth called Dr. Presswalla as an expert witness and asked him how he would "classify the manner of death" as distinguished from the "medical cause of death". Over defendant's objection, the expert testified, "I made a determination that Miss Banks' death was as a result of a homicide." He based his conclusion on witnesses' "statements in writing", "information conveyed orally" by investigating officers, "a diagram of the apartment", and the absence of clinical evidence that the decedent had ingested alcohol or narcotics. Such circumstances, he felt, "ruled out an accident and ruled out the suicide. In my opinion. And for the homicide, yes, the fact that there had been a quarrel was used, the way the body, the person came out." Asked if Banks could have tripped over the threshold of the balcony door and fallen accidentally, Dr. Presswalla replied, "No, it is my opinion that she did trip and fall over, but that the force which brought her to trip was a push, based on the other evidence." This testimony is the subject of a separate assignment of error.

In a murder prosecution, "there are two fundamental and essential facts to be established: first, that the party alleged to have been murdered is dead; and, second, that the death was brought about by the criminal agency of another." Nicholas' Case, 91 Va. 741, 750, 21 S.E. 364, 366 (1895). Thus, death by criminal agency is an ultimate fact in issue.

As a general rule, opinion testimony of lay witnesses is incompetent. Moreover, when the evidence, exclusive of expert testimony, is sufficient to enable a jury of laymen to reach an intelligent conclusion, an opinion offered by an expert is inadmissible.

Where the facts and circumstances shown in evidence are such that men of ordinary intelligence are capable of comprehending them, forming an intelligent opinion about them, and drawing their own conclusions therefrom, the opinion of an expert based upon such facts and circumstances is inadmissible.

Coppola v. Commonwealth, 220 Va. 243, 252, 257 S.E.2d 797, 803-04 (1979) (citations omitted).

And we have consistently held that the admission of expert opinion upon an ultimate issue of fact is an impermissible invasion of the function of the...

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    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • 5 Febrero 2019
    ...State v. Tyler , 867 N.W.2d 136, 156–57, 164–65 (Iowa 2015) ; State v. Vining , 645 A.2d 20, 20–21 (Me. 1994) ; Bond v. Commonwealth , 226 Va. 534, 311 S.E.2d 769 (1984) ; State v. Sosnowicz , 229 Ariz. 90, 270 P.3d 917 (Ariz.App. 2012) ; and People v. Eberle , 265 App. Div. 2d 881, 882, 69......
  • Gonzales v. Com., Record No. 1351-03-4.
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    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 12 Abril 2005
    ...claimed error. When other evidence of the defendant's guilt is overwhelming, error may be deemed harmless. See Bond v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 534, 539, 311 S.E.2d 769, 772 (1984). I would therefore 1. The identity of the accused is not an issue in this case. Appellant admitted at trial there......
  • Hopkins v. Com.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 27 Noviembre 1985
    ...only statements of fact are admissible under this statutory exception to the rule excluding hearsay evidence. Bond v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 534, 537, 311 S.E.2d 769, 771 (1984); Ward v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 177, 178, 217 S.E.2d 810, 811 (1975). The trial court erred, therefore, in admittin......
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    • 30 Junio 2015
    ...on her review of “statements by defendant and other individuals” (internal 867 N.W.2d 157quotation marks omitted)); Bond v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 534, 311 S.E.2d 769, 772 (1984) (“The ultimate question was whether the decedent jumped intentionally, fell accidentally, or was thrown to her de......
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