Brief Fact Summary.
Aphaylath was charged with the murder of his wife and sought the testimony of two expert witnesses, which the judge refused because they did not have personal knowledge of Aphaylath, and couldn’t testify specifically to him.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
An expert witness testifying on behalf of a criminal defendant and providing cultural testimony is not required to have personal knowledge of the circumstances or characteristics of the defendant nor must they actually know the defendant.
Rather, it may be that a significant mental trauma has affected a defendant's mind for a substantial period of time, simmering in the unknowing subconscious and then inexplicably coming to the fore.View Full Point of Law
Aphaylath was charged with intentionally murdering his wife and attempted to assert an affirmative defense of extreme emotional distress stemming from his ongoing status as a Laotian refugee and his wife’s ongoing infatuation with her ex boyfriend. Aphaylath claimed the accumulation of stress caused the emotional disturbance, which led to a loss of self control at the time of the killing. Aphaylath argued that his Laotian culture, which believes it brings great shame upon Aphaylath and his family if a women expressed feelings for another man, also led to the loss of self control. An expert witness testifying on behalf of Aphaylath explained the negative psychological effects on Laotian refugees attempting to assimilate to American culture and the trial court excluded the testimony, because it was not tailored specifically to Aphaylath.
Whether an expert witness testifying on behalf of a criminal defendant and providing cultural testimony is required to have personal knowledge of the circumstances or characteristics of the defendant or must they actually know the defendant?
No. An expert witness testifying on behalf of a criminal defendant and providing cultural testimony is not required to have personal knowledge of the circumstances or characteristics of the defendant nor must they actually know the defendant
The issue of whether cultural testimony is relevant and has enough relevance to be included as evidence should be left to the trial judge to decide. Under the Federal Rules of Evidence 403, the judge then must decide whether the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the unfair prejudice. Here, the trial judge erred in excluding the evidence based on the fact that neither expert could testify specifically to the events surrounding the murder. The trial judge erred in holding that the experts must have personal knowledge of the transgressions surrounding the crime and concluding that personal knowledge was required. Thus, because the defendant was not able to present evidence to back up his defense the case is reversed, and the defendant is awarded a new trial.