Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Scream Test

While we review the appeals statements for you, we found a nugget that I don't think I have seen anywhere before.

During the Shea trial, Charlie wanted to conduct a "Scream Test" to see if the myopic Barbara Hoyt could really have heard Shorty's screams.

Considering the fact that I believe she DID hear them, just not remotely WHERE she said she did, it might have been a valuable test.

Aww who am I kidding. Charlie was just being a card. A cut-up. You know.

Manson claims that the trial court committed reversible error because it denied his request to conduct a "screaming lineup" in the presence of the jury at the Spahn Ranch to determine whether or not Hoyt was truthfull when she testified that she heard Shea screaming late at night in the latter part of August 1969. Manson wanted to use a "group" of people in the test. For obvious reasons Shea would not have been one of the group.

In effect, Manson wanted to conduct an experiment. The trial court's discretion to refuse an experiment is very broad Experiment evidence may be rejected if it consumes an undue amount of time. Before such experiments are permitted, it must be established that the conditions will be substantially similar.

In People v. Spencer (1922) 58 Cal.App. 197 [280 P. 380], the prosecution was permitted to produce evidence of an experiment that it would have been possible for a witness at one designated point to hear a woman screaming at another designated point. In Spencer, supra, the prosecution did not seek to identify the screaming of a particular individual but just the fact of screaming generally. However, that was not the purpose of Manson's motion in the case at bar. His motion was to conduct a screaming lineup to establish that the witness would not have been able to identify the screams of a particular designated person (Shea) who would not have been in the lineup.

The fact, if it be a fact, that the witness might or might not have been able to identify the screams of one or even several persons would have no probative value as to whether or not she would have been able to identify the voice of Shea had he been in the lineup, or more importantly whether she identified the voice of Shea on the particular night in question. The identifying characteristics of individual human voices are very disparate. The ability to identify the voice of a particular individual depends upon the characteristics of that individual's voice and the familiarity of the witness with that individual's voice. Identification or failure to identify one human voice does not necessarily prove or disprove the ability to identify another human voice. Furthermore, experiment evidence must be conducted under substantially similar circumstances. Here Hoyt heard Shea scream late at night. It is a matter of common knowledge that background noises are usually at a minimum and that sounds usually carry better and are more distinct late at night. "The still of the night" is more than a poetic phrase. Atmospheric conditions may well be different at different times of the day. To grant Manson's request, therefore, the jury would have been required to go to the Spahn Ranch late at night in order to have the experiment conducted under substantially similar conditions. Furthermore, since the precise place of murder was unknown to the prosecution and court, the court {Page 71 Cal.App.3d 45} would have been unable to determine whether or not the persons who would be doing the "screaming" would be at the point where Shea was when he screamed and was heard by Hoyt. The trial court, in the exercise of its sound discretion, may refuse such experiment under dissimilar circumstances and where the trial would have been unduly disrupted.

If so-called scientific voice print experiments are not admissible in evidence it is clear that the court did not abuse its discretion in the case at bar by refusing the request for a "screaming lineup." Certainly no abuse of discretion is shown here.

No comments: