Expert Article Library

Brain Damage Leads to Susceptibility to Suggestion?

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

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit

Date: December 27, 2006

Expert: Medical. Psychology. Defense counsel experts Dr. Michael Shore, a neuropsychologist with extensive clinical and teaching experience in neuropsychology, focusing on the rehabilitation of patients suffering from brain damage caused by strokes, tumors, and other causes, and Dr. J. Richard Mendius, a board-certified neurologist with additional expertise in clinical neurophysiology; prosecution experts Dr. Ronald H. Roberts, a neuropsychologist, and Dr. Richard Cuneo, a neurologist

Issues: Whether the district court erred in ordering defense counsel not to talk to his client during an overnight recess and whether the district court abused its discretion in excluding expert testimony about the defendant's subnormal intelligence.

Summary of case: Defendant was convicted of conspiring to sell methamphetamine. The district court sentenced defendant to 235 months of imprisonment.

Role of the expert: Appellant wanted to present expert testimony concerning his mental condition (including the presence of a brain tumor) and susceptibility to suggestion. The district court held a Daubert hearing on whether any expert witnesses would be permitted to testify. Dr. Michael Shore testified that Sandoval-Mendoza suffered from an unusually large pituitary tumor probably causing damage. Dr. J. Richard Mendius testified that brain damage of the kind that Sandoval-Mendoza had tends to affect judgment, memory, and emotions connected to memory. A performance IQ test suggested a very low level of intellectual function. Both Shore and Mendius testified that they knew of no studies specifically linking brain damage of this kind with susceptibility to inducement to commit crimes, but they noted that the type of brain damage that Sandoval-Mendoza had commonly causes disinhibition. Prosecution witness Dr. Ronald H. Roberts believed Sandoval-Mendoza was deliberately underperforming on memory texts. Prosecution witness Dr. Richard Cuneo thought the studies presented were inadequate to show that Sandoval-Mendoza's tumor and brain damage affected his behavior and cognition because the studies were retrospective and involve small samples.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: The district court refused to allow testimony from any of the experts. The appellate court found that while defendant proved inducement he did not establish absence of predisposition as a matter of law. Therefore, the issue of entrapment was properly left to the jury. The district court erred, however, when it prohibited defendant and his counsel from discussing his testimony during an overnight recess. The district court also erred when it excluded defendant's expert medical testimony because a sufficient foundation had been provided and the testimony was highly relevant to the entrapment defense because it showed that defendant's medical condition rendered a person vulnerable to inducement. The appellate court thus reversed appellant’s conviction.

Summary prepared by W. McLennan, Student, U.C. Hastings College of the Law