Expert Article Library

Psychological Testimony Admissible to Refute Other Testimony in Death Sentencing Case

Case Name: United States v. Barnette (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit

Date: May 2, 2000

Expert: Psychologist & Risk Assessment Expert. Dr. Mark Cunningham

Issues: The admissibility of Dr. Cunningham’s testimony that Defendant was not a psychopath, using his own methods and the method of the government’s expert.

Summary of case: Defendant was found guilty of various capital crimes and the jury in the lower court gave a death sentence. During the sentencing phase, Plaintiff’s expert psychologist testified that Defendant was a psychopath and presented a significant danger to others if he was placed in prison.

Role of the expert: Dr. Cunningham testified that Defendant presented a low danger to others in prison. Additionally, Dr. Cunningham would have refuted Plaintiff’s expert had he been allowed to testify during the last stage of the sentencing hearing.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: The court ruled that Dr. Cunningham should have been present during Plaintiff’s expert’s diagnosis of Defendant as a psychopath. Further, the court ruled that Dr. Cunningham should have been able to present countervailing testimony during the last stage of the sentencing phase because his testimony may have persuaded the jury to change the sentence. The court granted a new sentencing hearing.

Summary prepared by C. Wood, Student, University of California, Hastings College of the Law