People v. Stoll, S003576

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation783 P.2d 698,265 Cal.Rptr. 111,49 Cal.3d 1136
Decision Date18 December 1989
Docket NumberNo. S003576,S003576
Parties, 783 P.2d 698, 58 USLW 2430 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. John Andrew STOLL et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Frank O. Bell, Jr., State Public Defender, under appointment by the Supreme Court, Monica Knox, Interim State Public Defender, Thomas L. Carroll, Deputy State Public Defender, Laurance S. Smith and Michael R. Snedeker, under appointments by the Supreme Court, Robert Fiedler and John M. Hanley, under appointments by the Court of Appeal, for defendants and appellants.

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Steve White, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Jane N. Kirkland, W. Scott Thorpe and Edgar A. Kerry, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

EAGLESON, Justice.

We decide whether a criminal defendant charged with committing lewd and lascivious acts upon a child may introduce a psychologist's opinion testimony, based upon an interview and professional interpretation of standardized written personality tests, that defendant displays no signs of "deviance" or "abnormality." Under existing law and the facts of this case, the evidence bears on a defense claim that the charged acts did not occur. Professional testimony regarding the absence of sexual deviance also is authorized under statutory rules permitting a criminal defendant to introduce evidence of his "good character."

Of course, such evidence must satisfy traditional limits governing the admission of expert testimony--a qualified witness, testifying on an appropriate "subject," and relying upon professionally reasonable "matter." We conclude that a qualified psychologist's diagnosis does not offend such standards solely because it is grounded upon interviews and standardized tests. To the extent the proffered testimony in a particular case is cumulative or unduly prejudicial, the trial court has broad discretion to limit or exclude it.

However, we see no reason to subject this testimony, or the matter upon which it is based, to the special restrictions governing admission of new, novel, or experimental scientific techniques not previously accepted in the courts. (Frye v. United States (1923) 54 App.D.C. 46, 293 Fed. 1013, 1014; People v. Kelly (1976) 17 Cal.3d 24, 30, 130 Cal.Rptr. 144, 549 P.2d 1240 (hereafter Kelly/Frye ).) We adhere to settled law viewing this testimony as competent but disputable "expert opinion," rather than new "scientific" evidence that must be proven reliable before it is admitted. Even where a defense expert's diagnosis is based in part on standardized written tests, jurors can be entrusted to consider it with a discriminating eye. Experts have long relied on such tests in forming opinions introduced to raise a reasonable doubt as to a defendant's guilt of charged crimes.

Here, the trial court committed prejudicial error in excluding, on Kelly/Frye grounds, expert testimony proffered by the two defendants whose convictions are under review. Insofar as the Court of Appeal's decision upholds these convictions, it will be reversed.


Four defendants--John Stoll, Grant Self, Margie Grafton, and Timothy Palomo--were jointly tried and convicted in the aggregate of thirty-six counts of lewd and lascivious conduct against a total of seven young boys. (Pen.Code, § 288, subd. (a).) The crimes, which encompassed a wide variety of touching made criminal under this section, occurred in Bakersfield, California, between June 1983 and June 1984.

Evidence adduced at trial in late 1984 and early 1985, indicated that defendants sometimes acted together and sometimes acted apart in committing the crimes. Since we granted review only as to defendants Grafton and Palomo, we will focus on evidence offered by and against them. 1 Crimes in which all defendants were found to have participated will be described last.

A. Evidence Admitted at Trial

Defendants Grafton and Palomo were romantically involved and lived together during the pertinent time period. They socialized with the third defendant--Stoll--and his girlfriend, nondefendant Rochelle. Stoll lived with Rochelle in June and July 1983, and then moved into his own house on Center Street. Beginning in March 1984, the fourth defendant--Self--rented a small house behind the swimming pool on Stoll's property. Self knew the other defendants.

Five children testified against Grafton: her two sons by an estranged husband, A. and D.; Stoll's son by an ex-wife, J.; Rochelle's son, Chris; and a neighbor boy who lived near Stoll's house on Center Street, Victor. Except for Victor, the same children also testified against Palomo. (The boys' ages at time of trial are stated below.) Stoll sometimes baby-sat Chris, A., and D. during the critical period.

For context, we note that 17 of the 36 counts involved Stoll, who was found to have committed most of them without codefendant participation. Chris testified that he was twice sodomized by Stoll while the latter was living with Chris's mother, Rochelle. J. testified that he was sodomized and/or orally copulated by his father Stoll on six different occasions at the Center Street house. Testimony by Grafton's sons, A. and D., also implicated Stoll in a total of three acts of sodomy against these two boys at the same address. Stoll further was found guilty of two separate sexual encounters based upon testimony by neighbor children, Victor (fondling, oral copulation, and sodomy) and Eddie (fondling). (No other defendant was charged with crimes against Eddie.)

We also note that Self was convicted of 10 counts, most of which he was found to have committed on his own. Two convictions were based upon testimony by J. and D., respectively, that Self performed acts of sodomy and oral copulation with them in Stoll's bedroom on Center Street. Self also was found guilty of five separate lewd encounters (digital anal penetration and/or fondling) with a girlfriend's grandson (Jerimy) at other locations. (No other defendant was charged with crimes against Jerimy.)

Defendant Grafton suffered five convictions. One of them (count 9) allegedly was committed by her alone, against Stoll's son J., who was six years old at trial. J. testified that once, he and Grafton were alone and naked in his father's bedroom on Center Street, and he "rubbed" Grafton's breast.

Grafton also was convicted (count 24), along with Stoll, based on the following testimony by Victor, who was eight years old at trial: while playing with J., A., and "another boy" by the pool at Stoll's house, Victor went inside for a drink. Stoll grabbed Victor, threatened to kill him if he screamed, and took him into the bedroom. Stoll removed both his own and Victor's clothes. Grafton came into the room and took off her clothes. Stoll photographed Victor and Grafton, as well as three other boys. Victor "touched" Grafton's breasts, and orally copulated Stoll. Stoll then told Victor to go home. According to Victor, he returned home and "went to sleep" even though it was still "daytime." At trial, Victor's mother, Mrs. M., confirmed that on two afternoons in May and/or June 1984, Victor came home "upset" after playing with friends, took a bath, and went to bed without eating dinner--an "unusual" pattern for him.

Only one of defendant Palomo's four convictions (count 25) was found to have been committed without codefendant involvement. As to this count, Grafton's son A., who was nine years old at trial, testified that on one occasion, he and his brother D. were on the couch at home, preparing to go "hunting." Palomo also was present. Palomo placed his hands inside A.'s pants, "fiddled" with A.'s penis, and "rubbed" A.'s rear end.

All four defendants were found guilty of crimes committed against Chris, J., and A., at a group event. (Counts 1, 2, 3.) Although the information also alleged that defendants molested D. at the same time (count 4), the jury did not reach a verdict on that count, and it was ultimately dismissed by the People. (D. was seven, and Chris was eight years old, at time of trial.)

No witness (Chris, J., A., or D.) gave the same account of the group event. They agreed that all defendants and several children were naked together at Stoll's house, but disagreed as to which children were present. Three witnesses (Chris, A., and J.) placed the event in the living room. Two witnesses (Chris and A.) said the children were given Kool-Aid or soda that made them dizzy. As to counts 1 and 3 against Chris and A., respectively, each of these boys testified about sex acts committed against him by one or more defendants. 2 Although J. could not remember whether any adults "touch[ed]" him that day as charged in count 2, Chris and A. testified that unspecified sex acts were committed against J. 3 When D. was asked at trial whether he (count 4), or any other child, was touched that day, he said "no." In addition, three witnesses (J., A., and D.) testified that photographs of defendants and children were taken while they were engaged in sexual activity or, at least, while naked. However, these three boys disagreed as to the identity of the photographer, and the fourth boy--Chris--remembered no picture-taking at all. 4

Cross-examination of the same four witnesses revealed inconsistencies in each of their stories. For example, Chris gave conflicting testimony concerning the day on which counts 1 through 3 occurred (i.e., in August 1983, when his mother Rochelle went to Catalina, or on January 14, 1984, when she attended a darts trophy banquet). Chris also said that he told an unspecified "lie" at both the preliminary hearing and on direct examination at trial. Likewise, J., A., and D. admitted that they "lied" at the preliminary hearing when they denied knowing about nude photographs and/or sexual activity between children and adults. J. also disclosed that he had been untruthful at one point during direct examination at trial (i.e., in telling the prosecutor that he did not recall...

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