Byrd v. State, 48S04-9206-CR-467

Docket NºNo. 48S04-9206-CR-467
Citation593 N.E.2d 1183
Case DateJune 18, 1992
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

Page 1183

593 N.E.2d 1183
61 USLW 2063
Stephen BYRD, Appellant (Defendant Below),
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
No. 48S04-9206-CR-467.
Supreme Court of Indiana.
June 18, 1992.

Page 1184

Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Mitchell P. Chabraja, Anderson, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Lewis E. Ransdell, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

The question is whether the results of a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) may be admitted to prove that a defendant's character is inconsistent with committing intentional murder. We hold that they may not.

Byrd was convicted of the murder of Linda Chafin and of battery on her friend Vicki Hobbs. He was sentenced to forty years for the murder and eight years for the battery, to be served concurrently. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding two errors. First, it held that the trial court erred in disallowing defense testimony by Dr. Larry M. Davis, a psychiatrist who had examined Byrd. Dr. Davis would have testified that the defendant's personality profile as measured by the MMPI was inconsistent with the charge of murder. The Court of Appeals also found error in the exclusion of Dr. Davis' proffered testimony that Byrd's asserted memory loss was consistent with clinically observed "retrograde amnesia," thereby supporting Byrd's claim that he could not remember committing the crimes. The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial. Byrd v. State (1991), Ind.App., 579 N.E.2d 457.

The State petitioned for transfer, arguing that Dr. Davis' testimony was properly excluded. Whether a defendant can present expert testimony based on a psychological test that his personality is not consistent with committing a particular crime is a novel question in this state. 1 We grant transfer to consider this question of first impression.

In summary, we conclude that a defendant may introduce evidence of his good character only for particular traits that are

Page 1185

relevant to the crime charged. This is an exception to the general rule that character evidence is inadmissible to show conduct in conformity therewith. Expert opinion is not an appropriate way, however, to prove a defendant's character for a particular trait.

Admissibility of Character Evidence

We begin with Indiana's general rule that evidence of a defendant's character is not admissible to prove the defendant acted in accordance with that character on the occasion in question. Robert L. Miller, Jr., Indiana Practice Sec. 404.101 (West 1984). This rule of evidence prohibits the prosecution from initiating the presentation of evidence about a defendant's bad character merely to give rise to an inference that he is therefore more likely to be guilty. Bond v. State (1980), 273 Ind. 233, 240, 403 N.E.2d 812, 818. This rule is also employed by defendants to keep out evidence of their prior bad acts and convictions. See, e.g., Williams v. State (1986), Ind., 489 N.E.2d 53.

Occasionally, a defendant has sought to introduce reputation evidence of his good character as a defense to the crime charged, and we have long held that a defendant may initiate the introduction of such evidence. Wagner v. State (1886), 107 Ind. 71, 7 N.E. 896. A majority of jurisdictions recognize this exception to the general rule and, pursuant to it, permit a defendant to introduce evidence of his good character only for particular traits relevant to the conduct for which he is accused. See, e.g., Daly v. State, 99 Nev. 564, 665 P.2d 798 (1983) (and cases cited therein); 23 C.J.S. Criminal Law Sec. 820 (1989); Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a)(1). For example, while the trait of "law-abidingness" may be pertinent in virtually all criminal cases, State v. Squire, 321 N.C. 541, 364 S.E.2d 354 (1988), evidence of a defendant's character for truth and veracity would be admissible only when (1) a lie by the defendant is an element of the crime, (2) the defendant has testified on his own behalf and his credibility has been attacked, or (3) the truth of the defendant's out-of-court statements have been attacked. Daly, 665 P.2d at 803. A defendant's character witness may not, however, testify about specific laudatory acts by the defendant. Lax v. State (1981), 275 Ind. 34, 414 N.E.2d 555.

Ordinarily, character evidence consists of lay testimony from people who knew the defendant and his reputation prior to commission of the offense. The character evidence at issue today is different; Byrd's expert or "professional" character witness based his opinion on Byrd's behavior after the offense and on MMPI test performance. As Justice Newman of the Iowa Supreme Court has noted, this type of testimony comes cloaked with an "aura of scientific reliability" that certain individuals are or are not predisposed to commit a particular crime. See State v. Hulbert, 481 N.W.2d 329, 333 (Iowa 1992) (no abuse of discretion in exclusion of evidence of defendant's "normalcy" as exhibited on a personality profile).

Limits on Expert Opinion

Expert opinion is not admissible on all issues. The question of a defendant's intent to commit a crime is not a proper subject for expert opinion, as this matter is a question of fact for the jury. Reichard v. State (1987), Ind., 510 N.E.2d 163; Seeglitz v. State (1986), Ind., 500 N.E.2d 144. 2 Moreover, an expert is not permitted to give an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Ross v. State (1987), Ind., 516 N.E.2d 61. Expert testimony is appropriate, however, when it concerns matters that are not within the common knowledge and experience of ordinary persons and it would aid the jury. Stewart v. State (1988), Ind., 521 N.E.2d 675. Generally, the admissibility of expert testimony is a matter assigned to the discretion of the trial court; we review it on appeal only for abuse of discretion. Seeglitz, 500 N.E.2d at 147.

One difference between expert witnesses and lay witnesses is that experts often base

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their opinions on tests which they have administered. We have held that opinions based on certain tests or procedures are admissible when "the thing from which the deduction is made [is] sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs." Cornett v. State (1983), Ind., 450 N.E.2d 498, 503 (quoting Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013, 1015 (D.C.Cir.1923)). 3 Blood testing to prove paternity and DNA testing to prove identity are considered sufficiently objective and reliable to serve as a basis for expert opinion. Ind.Code Sec. 31-6-6.1-8 (West Supp.1991); Hopkins v. State (1991), Ind., 579 N.E.2d 1297.

Other tests are not considered sufficiently reliable to be generally admissible. For...

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11 cases
  • Dockery v. State, 18S02-9412-CR-1229
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 19, 1994
    ...exception to the rule against the admissibility of character evidence. See Hardin, 611 N.E.2d at 128; Byrd v. State (1992), Ind., 593 N.E.2d 1183, 1184-85; Penley, 506 N.E.2d at 808. Page 579 One of the exceptions to the general rule against the admissibility of character evidence, includin......
  • Williams v. State, 45S00-9303-PD-397
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • February 19, 1999 concerns matters not within the common knowledge or experience of an ordinary person and when it would aid the jury. Byrd v. State, 593 N.E.2d 1183, 1185 (Ind. 1992). Admission of expert testimony is generally assigned to the discretion of the trial court; it is reviewed on appeal only f......
  • Angleton v. State, 49S00-9411-CR-1049
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • October 9, 1997
    ...440 N.E.2d 682, 686 (Ind.1982); Byrd v. State, 579 N.E.2d 457, 463 (Ind.Ct.App.1991), aff'd in part, vacated in part on other grounds, 593 N.E.2d 1183 (Ind.1992). Such a statement is admissible, Davis v. State, 598 N.E.2d 1041, 1049 (Ind.1992), and an admonishment to the jury not to use the......
  • Trw Vehicle Safety Sys. Inc. v. Moore, 73S05-0909-CV-404.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • October 13, 2010
    ...the trial court and is only reviewed on appeal for abuse of discretion. Roach v. State, 695 N.E.2d 934, 939 (Ind.1998); Byrd v. State, 593 N.E.2d 1183, 1185 (Ind.1992). We find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's admonishment of the jury consistent with established Indiana law.4. De......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Evidence
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Trial Objections
    • May 5, 2022
    ...intended as an assertion. INDIANA Byrd v. State, 579 N.E.2d 457, 463 (Ind. App. 1991), aff’d in part, vacated in part, cause remanded , 593 N.E.2d 1183 (Ind. 1992). Murder victim’s non-assertive conduct upon learning that defendant had arrived at the house, in the forms of huddling in the k......

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