State v. Mottram

Decision Date12 September 1962
Citation158 Me. 325,184 A.2d 225
PartiesSTATE of Maine v. Robert MOTTRAM.
CourtMaine Supreme Court

Arthur Chapman, Jr., County Atty., Portland, for plaintiff.

Casper Tevanian, Portland, for defendant.

Before WILLIAMSON, C. J., and WEBBER, TAPLEY, SULLIVAN, DUBORD and SIDDALL, JJ.

WILLIAMSON, Chief Justice.

This criminal case is before us on exceptions and appeal. At the January 1958 Term of the Cumberland Superior Court the grand jury returned an indictment against the respondent, charging in the first count the larceny of an automobile being the property of one Staley and one Perkins of the value of $1,000, and in the second count that the respondent previously had been convicted of a felony and sentenced and committed to our state prison.

The respondent was tried and convicted on both counts. The conviction was sustained by our court in State v. Mottram, 155 Me. 394, 156 A.2d 383. Subsequently on a writ of error coram nobis the Superior Court vacated the judgment of conviction and ordered a new trial.

On the second trial, from which the exceptions and appeal arise, the respondent was again found guilty on both counts. At his request he was given a separate jury trial on each count. The jury hearing the larceny count was not informed of the 'habitual offender' or second count.

Staley and Perkins were key witnesses for the State. The State contends that the respondent stole the automobile from near a restaurant in Bridgton. The respondent says in substance: that he came into possession of the car lawfully; that Staley and Perkins represented to him that they were in financial difficulties; that to ease their difficulties he was requested to conceal the car and did so; and that the car was in fact delivered to him in Lewiston by Staley and Perkins. Without question, the State's case rested on the credibility of Staley and Perkins.

First Count--Larceny.

Exception #1. The respondent properly does not press an exception to the refusal of the presiding justice to direct a verdict at the close of the State's case. The exception was waived on introduction of evidence by the respondent. State v. Rand, 156 Me. 81, 161 A.2d 852.

Exception #2. The second exception raises the question whether it is reversible error to exclude evidence of the refusal of a witness for the State whose testimony is vital to the prosecution to take a lie detector test in the course of the investigation of the case by the police. The exception reads in its entirety as follows:

'In the absence of the Jury, while Wendall Perkins, witness for the State was being cross-examined by Respondent's attorney, the following took place:

'Q. (By Mr. Tevanian): Your name is Wendall Perkins?

'A. Yes.

'Q. And you are the same Wendall Perkins that was testifying prior to the recess?

'A. Yes.

'Q. Now, I ask you, Mr. Perkins, if during the investigation you were asked by the State Police to submit to a lie detector test?

'MR. CHAPMAN: Object.

'THE COURT: Excluded.

'MR. TEVANIAN: If Your Honor please, I feel that I have a right to go into whether or not this man was willing to take a lie detector test on the theory that he is not a respondent in this courtroom, and (2) I am not attempting to show the results of a lie detector test, only his refusal to take one, which I think boils down to a matter of credibility. I think the Law Court in the Casale case has ruled that it is not proper to ask if a respondent has refused or has agreed to take a lie detector test, but here is a man who is only a witness where it boils down to a matter of credibility. For that reason, I would press my objection and I would ask the Court to note my exceptions.

'The basis for this exception is fully set out in the above-copied proceeding.' (Emphasis supplied.)

The record continues:

'THE COURT: Anything you wish to add to the record, Mr. Chapman?

'MR. CHAPMAN: Nothing, Your Honor. The objection stands. I think this matter has been fully decided by our Law Court and I will stand on the precedent of that case.

'THE COURT: Anything further?

'MR. TEVANIAN: No.

'THE COURT: Have the jury come down.

'MR. TEVANIAN: I think I got in there my reason, that I anticipated an answer that he refused to take one.

'(The jury the returned * * *)'

The record also contains the following references to lie detector tests. The respondent testified on direct examination:

'Q. During this interrogation did you--were you brought face to face with Hartley Staley and Wendell Perkins?

'A. Yes, I was.

'Q. And did you in the presence of Detective Holdsworth and others make accusations against Mr. Staley and Mr. Perkins?

'A. Yes, we did. I think Holds-worth asked them about some keys. He denied that, and it was chewed back and forth. Then they refused to take a lie detector test----

'MR. CHAPMAN: Object.

'A. (Continuing): --and I offered to.

'THE COURT: That may be excluded.

'MR. CHAPMAN: May I see the Court? (Bench conference)

'THE COURT: The exclamation made by this witness pertaining to a lie detector test is rather unfortunate because it is not admissible, again under our proceedings in Maine. Under Maine law, lie detector tests are not recognized as legal evidence. If I haven't already ordered it stricken, I do order it stricken and request again that you obliterate it entirely from your minds.'

There is no need of discussing the nature and effectiveness of lie detector tests. The subject is thoroughly covered in the cases and other material cited below. It is well known that such tests are valuable tools in the investigation of crime, for example, in developing leads. The lie detector test, however, has not reached the state of scientific development and accuracy that permits admission of the results in evidence. We so held in State v. Casale, 150 Me. 310, 319, 110 A.2d 588, following the general rule. 1

The question excluded was preliminary to the offer of evidence of a refusal to take the test. The respondent intended to show the refusal as evidence of a guilty conscience bearing heavily on the credibility of the witness.

The argument in favor of admissibility is that conduct is evidence of the consciousness of guilt or innocence, or in short, of guilt or innocence. The analogy is with the conduct of one who flees from the scene of the crime, or who secretes stolen property. State v. Lambert, 104 Me. 394, 71 A. 1092 (respondent armed at time of arrest); State v. Caliendo, 136 Me. 169, 4 A.2d 837 (respondent's threats to keep witness from trial).

The decisions we make from moment to moment are repeatedly made on the strength of evidence of this nature. The principle is not peculiar to the courtroom; it is drawn from life.

In addition to refusing to admit the result of a lie detector test, the courts have also denied admission in evidence of the refusal or willingness of a respondent to take the test. The underlying reason for this rule rests in the belief that the fact finder would be unable to assess the evidence without assuming a non-existent value for lie detector tests in general.

The worth of evidence of refusal or willingness to take a lie detector test rests, in our opinion, upon a general acceptance of the worth of evidence of the result of such a test. The result does not have the accuracy entitling it to admission in evidence. It follows that a refusal or willingness to take a test of which the result would have been without value in evidence, likewise has no value for the fact finder. Commonwealth v. Saunders, 386 Pa. 149, 125 A.2d 442 (willingness of respondent inadmissible); Hayes v. State (Okl.Cr.,) 292 P.2d 442 (voluntary submission by defendant to lie detector test inadmissible).

In State v. Kolander, 236 Minn. 209, 52 N.W.2d 458, the Minnesota Court held it was prejudical error to admit the refusal of the defendant to submit to a lie detector test. The Court said, 52 N.W.2d on p. 465:

'The state concedes that the results of a lie-detector test would not be admissible, but contends that it may nevertheless be shown that defendant refused to take such test, since such refusal is evidence of a consciousness of guilt similar to evidence of flight. With this we cannot agree.

* * *

* * *

'There was no explanation to the jury of the operation or effect of a lie detector. As a matter of fact, it was not even shown what type of test defendant had refused to submit to. The impact upon the minds of the jurors of a refusal to submit to something which they might well assume would effectively determine guilt or innocence, under these conditions, might well be more devastating than a disclosure of the results of such test, if given after a proper foundation had been laid showing how the apparatus functioned.'

The willingness of a state's witness to take the test and the fact that he did so were held inadmissible in Kaminski v. State (Fla.), 63 So.2d 339, in an attempt to rehabilitate credibility of the witness. The Court said, on p. 340:

'For there can be no doubt that in initiating the inquiry the prosecutor intended to leave in the minds of the jurors the impression that because the witness Newbold had voluntarily submitted to a lie detector test prior to the time of trial he was a man of veracity and hence was telling the truth from the witness stand, no matter how inconsistent his tale might appear to be to the jurors when compared with the testimony offered by other State witnesses.'

The respondent here sought to destroy the credibility of Perkins by his refusal to take the test. The Florida case presents an analogous situation. In each instance, whether willingness or refusal is the immediate fact, the real purpose is to impress upon the jury the weight of the result of a lie detection test.

We have here, however, not the respondent whom it may be argued is entitled to more careful treatment than the witness Perkins who is not on trial. Further, we have a witness whose credibility is of the utmost importance to the State's case and who refused (...

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34 cases
  • Mottram v. Murch
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maine
    • August 5, 1971
    ...a term of four years and two months to 20 years. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed his second conviction. State v. Mottram, 158 Me. 325, 184 A.2d 225 (1962). The present petition is the culmination of petitioner's persistent efforts over a 10-year period to obtain a review of h......
  • People v. Muniz
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • February 21, 2008
    ...does not the results cannot be used as evidence against him. Carter, 312 P.2d at 674 (citations omitted); see also State v. Mottram, 158 Me. 325, 184 A.2d 225, 228 (1962) (a fact finder cannot assess a suspect's offer to take such a test "without assuming a non-existent value for lie detect......
  • State v. Austin
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • September 27, 2017
    ...truthfulness of his statements. See State v. Hegel , 9 Ohio App.2d 12, 14, 222 N.E.2d 666 (2d Dist. 1964), quoting State v. Mottram , 158 Me. 325, 330, 184 A.2d 225 (1962). The State, therefore, generally may not tender such evidence for the purpose of establishing guilt. See Rowe at 609, 5......
  • State v. Hamon
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • March 11, 2015
    ...or innocence. The analogy is with the conduct of one who flees from the scene of the crime, or who secretes stolen property.” 158 Me. 325, 184 A.2d 225, 228 (1962). In rejecting the state's contention, the Supreme Court of Maine noted,In addition to refusing to admit the result of a lie det......
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6 books & journal articles
  • Witnesses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2015 Contents
    • July 31, 2015
    ...v. State , 63 So. 2d 339 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1953), aff’d , 72 So. 2d 400 (Fla. 1954), cert. denied , 348 U.S. 832; State v. Mottram , 158 Me. 325, 184 A.2d 225 (1952). For a discussion, analysis and review of the use of polygraph, hypnosis, and other truth detection tests as a means to re......
  • Witnesses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2016 Contents
    • July 31, 2016
    ...v. State , 63 So. 2d 339 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1953), aff’d , 72 So. 2d 400 (Fla. 1954), cert. denied , 348 U.S. 832; State v. Mottram , 158 Me. 325, 184 A.2d 225 (1952). For a discussion, analysis and review of the use of polygraph, hypnosis, and other truth detection tests as a means to re......
  • Witnesses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2017 Contents
    • July 31, 2017
    ...v. State , 63 So. 2d 339 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1953), aৼ’d , 72 So. 2d 400 (Fla. 1954), cert. denied , 348 U.S. 832; State v. Mottram , 158 Me. 325, 184 A.2d 225 (1952). For a discussion, analysis and review of the use of polygraph, hypnosis, and other truth detection tests as a means to reh......
  • Witnesses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2018 Contents
    • July 31, 2018
    ...v. State , 63 So. 2d 339 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1953), aৼ’d , 72 So. 2d 400 (Fla. 1954), cert. denied , 348 U.S. 832; State v. Mottram , 158 Me. 325, 184 A.2d 225 (1952). For a discussion, analysis and review of the use of polygraph, hypnosis, and other truth detection tests as a means to reh......
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