People v. Kathon Anderson
Issue: Did the trial court abuse its discretion when it precluded the defense from calling an expert on adolescent brain development, without conducting a Frye hearing, in a murder trial involving a 14 year old defendant?
Facts: Anderson shot at a rival gang member on a public bus, killing a bystander. He then pursued the rivals on the street, continuing to shoot. At trial he presented a justification defense and sought to introduce the testimony of an expert on adolescent brain development to establish that he reasonably believed his actions were necessary to defend himself. The expert could opine, the defense asserted, that actions that might seem unreasonable to an adult, would seem quite reasonable to a 14 year old, given his undeveloped brain.
Held: “Under the particular facts of this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s requests to permit the proposed expert witness testimony.”
CAL observes: Another interesting issue which the judges were apparently not interested in discussing at all. Falling back on the trial judge’s discretion, the Court ignored the impact of this ruling on the defendant’s right to present a defense. Although treated like an SSM, this case involved a leave grant by Fahey following a leave conference, so you would think that he might have been interested enough to write something. Undiscussed, but apparently on the judge’s minds during oral argument, was a highly disturbing videotape capturing the entire incident.
The best that can be said about these non-decisions restricted to the “particular facts” is that they do not undermine better precedent. Here, the defense relied upon People v. Bradley, 20 N.Y.3d 128 (2012) which recognized the admissibility of expert testimony involving Battered Woman’s Syndrome in the context of a justification defense to explain the defendant’s perception of and response to the victim’s actions. By ignoring the defense arguments, and limiting their holding to the “particular facts,” the Court at least did not overturn more favorable expert opinion cases. That said, this case involved a 14 year old, who was precluded from presenting a complete defense during this retrial, the first trial having resulted in a hung jury. The lack of concern shown for those “particular facts” is distressing, to say the least.