Expert Article Library

Diminished Capacity Expert

Case Name: United States v. Wolling, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 4991

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

Date: February 28, 2007

Expert: Medical. Dr. Bruce Yanofsky, M.D.

Issues: Whether the district court erred in excluding certain medical records from the evidence, specifically, the records of a psychologist who evaluated appellant’s competency to stand trial and state hospital records detailing appellant’s competency evaluation related to prior state burglary and theft charges. Appellant also sought review of his sentence and conviction.

Summary of case: Appellant was convicted, following a jury trial, of two counts of alien smuggling for financial gain, in violation of 8 U.S.C.S. §§ 2 and 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii), and two counts of bringing an alien into the United States without presentation, in violation of 8 U.S.C.S. § 1324(a)(2)(B)(iii). The district court imposed a 51-month sentence.

Role of the expert: Dr. Yanofsky presented testimony of Wolling’s diminished capacity. Dr. Yanofsky testified that in formulating his opinions about appellant's diminished capacity he relied upon appellant’s Patton State Hospital records, which detailed appellant's competency evaluation related to prior state burglary and theft charges. Dr. Yanofsky explained to the jury the medical diagnoses contained in those records. Dr. Yanofsky also testified that in formulating his opinion he relied upon the medical report of Dr. Zilberman, the psychologist who evaluated appellant's competency to stand trial when appellant was incarcerated at San Diego's Metropolitan Correctional Center, and he explained Dr. Zilberman's medical diagnosis to the jury.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: The district court limited Dr. Yanofsky from testifying that Wolling "was guided by" his delusions on the day of his arrest. The appellate court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the medical records because the competency evaluations potentially could confuse or mislead the jury as to defendant's competency to stand trial, which was not at issue. Additionally, and importantly, defendant's medical history and his doctors' diagnoses in the medical reports were fully and adequately explained to the jury through appellant's expert's testimony. No sentencing error occurred and thus the conviction and sentence were affirmed.

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