EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bloody Well Right: Supreme Court Of Arizona Finds 6 Crime Scene Photos Were Properly Admitted

Like its federal counterpart, Arizona Rule of Evidence 403 provides that

Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

The key phrase in this Rule is "substantially outweighed." In other words, even if the probative value of a piece of evidence is slightly or moderately outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice that it creates, it will still be deemed admissible. This wording helps explains why American courts admit all sorts of gruesome evidence, such as the six crime scene photos deemed admissible by the Supreme Court of Arizona in its recent opinion in State v. Lynch, 2010 WL 2485248 (Ariz. 2010).

In Lynch, Shawn Lynch and Mike Sehwani were charged with first degree murder (both felony and premeditated), armed robbery, burglary, and kidnapping based upon acts allegedly committed against James Panzarella. Specifically, James was found bound to a metal chair in a kitchen with his throat slit and blood pooled on the tile floor.

At trial, to prove that the killer(s) acted with premeditation, the prosecution had a blood spatter expert testify that the person who slit James' throat likely stood behind the chair while completing the act. The prosecution later introduced six photographs of the crime scene, which "depict[ed] blood spatter and blood pools in relation to the victim's body and thus corroborate[d] the opinion of the State's expert that the person who slit James's throat stood behind the chair."

After he was convicted, Lynch appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court should have excluded these photographs. The Supreme Court of Arizona disagreed, finding that

Although the photographs are disturbing, none is overly gruesome. The probative value of the photographs is not substantially outweighed by any prejudicial effect, see Ariz. R. Evid. 403, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting them.



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