Monday, April 16, 2012
True Confessions?: Court Of Appeals Of New York Finds No Problem With No Frye Hearing On False Confession Testimony
In People v. LeGrand, 8 N.Y.3d 449 (2007), the Court of Appeals of New York held
that where the case turns on the accuracy of eyewitness identifications and there is little or no corroborating evidence connecting the defendant to the crime, it is an abuse of discretion for a trial court to exclude expert testimony on the reliability of eyewitness identifications if that testimony is (1) relevant to the witness's identification of defendant, (2) based on principles that are generally accepted within the relevant scientific community, (3) proffered by a qualified expert and (4) on a topic beyond the ken of the average juror.
In People v. Bedessie, 2012 WL 1032738 (2012), the Court of Appeals of New York was presented with the appeal of a man convicted in a case that turned on the accuracy of his confession and in which there was possibly little or no corroborating evidence connecting the defendant to the crime. That man claimed that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding expert testimony on the phenomenon of false confessions So, what did the court do?
Well, the majority found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by deeming the expert testimony inadmissible without even conducting a Frye hearing. In Bedessie, the defendant was charged with first degree rape, first degree sexual abuse, and endangering welfare of child, and according to the Court of Appeals of New York, the trial
judge in this case declined to hold a Frye hearing. He reasoned that this was unnecessary because Dr. Ofshe's expert testimony was not relevant and likely to assist the jurors in any way. He noted in particular that the jurors, based on their own life experiences, were competent to assess the reliability of defendant's confession, and, indeed, the expert's testimony threatened to usurp the jury's function. Second, he concluded that the child's testimony was likely to (and, in fact, did) corroborate defendant's confession.
The Court of Appeals found that this decision was not an abuse of discretion despite the defendant's claim that the child's testimony was tainted by suggestive influence by the alleged victim's mother.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Jones disagreed, claiming that "without a Frye hearing on the issue of whether the proposed testimony contained information generally accepted by the scientific community, such conclusion [wa]s not possible." Moreover, Justice Jones cited to the block quote from LeGrand cited in he introduction and used it to conclude that
A similar rule should be extended to the phenomenon of false confessions. Where, aside from the confession, there is little or no evidence connecting the defendant to the charged crime, to exclude expert testimony on the reliability of the defendant's disavowed confession would be an abuse of a trial court's discretion "if that testimony is  based on principles that are generally accepted within the relevant scientific community,  proffered by a qualified expert and  on a topic beyond the ken of the average juror."