March 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Admission of “Overkill” Testimony Acceptable Despite Lack of Findings Regarding Scientific Significance

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ruibal on Thursday, May 7, 2015.

Domestic Violence—Limiting Instruction—Expert Testimony—CRE 404(b)—CRS § 18-6-801.5—Hearsay—Photographs.

Defendant Ruibal appealed his judgment of conviction and sentence to forty years imprisonment entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of second-degree murder. The victim, D.P., was fatally beaten during a December weekend in 2007. She died in the apartment that she and Ruibal shared. The prosecution theorized that, in an act of domestic violence, Ruibal assaulted D.P. in their apartment on a Saturday evening, and that D.P. died on Sunday or Monday from injuries sustained in the beating.

On appeal, Ruibal contended that the trial court erred when it did not give a limiting instruction during the testimony of the prosecution’s domestic violence expert. CRE 404(b) and CRS § 18-6-801.5 permit a trial court to admit evidence of other acts of domestic violence between a defendant and a victim if offered to show common plan, scheme, design, identity, modus operandi, motive, guilty knowledge, or some other purpose. In such cases, the trial court must instruct the jury as to the limited purpose for which the other acts evidence is admissible. Here, the expert did not specifically reference any prior acts of domestic violence between Ruibal and D.P. She merely explained the general dynamics that exist in abusive relationships. Based on these circumstances, the trial court did not err when it declined to give a limiting instruction during the testimony of the prosecution’s domestic violence expert.

Ruibal also contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it permitted a pathologist to present expert testimony regarding victim “overkill.” Although the trial court should have entered specific findings on the reliability of the underlying scientific theories, the court overruled Ruibal’s objection to the overkill evidence, implicitly determining that the pathologist’s expert testimony was based on a reliable scientific principle. Further, the trial court did not err when it permitted the expert to testify that his opinion was based on his experience.

Ruibal further contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted five gruesome color photographs that showed the inside of D.P.’s head. The photographs were relevant to show the extent of injuries and the mental state of intent, which outweighed any prejudicial impact. Therefore, the trial court did not err in admitting these photographs. The judgment and sentence were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*