Appellant was not denied his constitutional right to present a meaningful defense where the trial court refused to allow an expert witness to give an opinion as to the effects of long-term drug use on a victim's ability to give reliable testimony.
It was not error for the trial court to refuse to allow the appellant's expert to review the victim's prior medical records, after the court conducted an in camera review of the records and determined they were protected by medical privilege.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.
Lashazo Reese, Jr. appeals his conviction after a jury trial of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, and second-degree attempted murder. Reese claims he was denied his constitutional right to present a complete defense because the trial court refused to allow an expert witness to give an opinion as to the effects of long-term drug use on a victim's ability to give reliable testimony. Reese also seeks to vacate one of the two judgments of conviction for first-degree murder. We affirm Reese's convictions of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree attempted murder, and vacate the conviction of first-degree felony murder.
On the evening of August 28, 2002, Reese went to an apartment building on Arcade Street in St. Paul, Minnesota, to sell drugs to acquaintances. There he met Juanita de la Rosa and accompanied her to her apartment to transact business with her. In the early morning hours of August 29, 2002, Jermaine Talley arrived at de la Rosa's apartment in a state of extreme inebriation. He attempted to buy drugs from Reese with a roll of cash. Reese did not make a sale to Talley, but gave Talley his phone number on a slip of paper. De la Rosa placed the slip of paper containing Reese's phone number in her Bible. Talley then fell asleep on de la Rosa's couch with the roll of cash in his hand.
According to de la Rosa, Reese then went into her bathroom. De la Rosa followed Reese to the bathroom to ask him to leave the apartment. When de la Rosa opened the bathroom door, she saw a blanket from her storage area on the bathroom floor. She saw Reese pull a gun from his pants. She turned to flee, but Reese grabbed her and closed the bathroom door. Reese hit her on the head three times with the gun. De la Rosa fell face down on top of the blanket. Reese then put the gun to the back of her neck and shot her three times. De la Rosa lay motionless, pretending to be dead.
According to de la Rosa, Reese then left the bathroom and a short time later she heard a shot from the living room. She then heard Reese leave the apartment. De la Rosa made her way to a neighboring apartment, where a neighbor assisted her in calling 911. First responders received the call at 3:00 a.m. Talley was found dead on the couch where he had been sleeping, the roll of cash missing. Neither the money nor the murder weapon was ever recovered.
De la Rosa's story was corroborated in certain respects by physical evidence, such as the presence of Reese's phone number in the Bible, the blanket on the bathroom floor, and the location of a beer can that Reese and de la Rosa had used as a crack pipe earlier in the evening. There was also circumstantial evidence implicating Reese in the shootings. Jean Duncan, a tenant in the apartment next door to de la Rosa, testified to hearing de la Rosa screaming, followed by the sound of three gunshots. A few minutes later, Duncan saw a man wearing a gray tee-shirt leaving de la Rosa's apartment. Duncan recognized the shirt as the same one Reese had been wearing earlier that evening. Another neighbor, Denise Larson, testified to hearing a "loud boom." Larson helped de la Rosa call 911 after de la Rosa came to her door, screaming for help. Cassie Smith, a friend of Reese's with whom Reese stayed in the days after the shootings, testified that Reese was "edgy" during those days, that he told her he was in "big trouble," and that he talked about a man who had died, a woman pistol-whipped in a bathroom, and the money. Another friend of Reese's, Gregory Starwood, testified that Reese called him shortly after the shooting and told him that he had killed a man after the man refused to pay a drug debt. According to Starwood, Reese asked for his help in getting out of town.
Reese's testimony sharply conflicted with de la Rosa's account of the shootings. Reese claimed that he left de la Rosa's apartment shortly after 2:00 a.m. and was not present when the shootings took place. Two alibi witnesses corroborated his story.
During discovery, Reese requested de la Rosa's medical records.*fn1 He received all records dating from the time of the shootings but also inadvertently received several records from a prior hospitalization in 2000. The prior records described de la Rosa's drug and alcohol use and included a summary of the results of several neurological and psychological tests performed on de la Rosa. The state filed a motion in limine, requesting exclusion of all of de la Rosa's prior medical records. Reese filed a counter-motion requesting an in camera review of the prior records and a determination that those records could be admitted into evidence as "relevant to [de la Rosa's] competence and ability to testify." Reese also sought permission to have his medical expert review de la Rosa's prior medical records for the purpose of giving an opinion regarding whether her drug use may have affected her memory and reliability. De la Rosa did not consent to the evidentiary use of her prior medical records.
The trial court made a preliminary ruling, subject to change after de la Rosa's testimony, that admission of the records would be denied because the records were protected by medical privilege. The trial court also ruled that Reese's expert could testify generally about the physiological effects of drug use and paint sniffing on the brain. However, the expert was prevented from testifying in particular ...