From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

Cartera v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia
Nov 22, 1978
219 Va. 516 (Va. 1978)

Summary

holding that a medical professional may "state what examinations and tests he performed" and then explain the "medical conclusions he reached as a result"

Summary of this case from Quesenberry v. Commonwealth

Opinion

43728 Record No. 771868.

November 22, 1978

Present: All the Justices.

Testimony by physician that two victims examined by him were raped, supplying details of offenses as stated by victims and identifying assailant, inadmissible as hearsay evidence; failure to exclude is prejudicial.

(1) Evidence — Hearsay — Scope of Exception as to Physician's Testimony.

(2) Evidence — Hearsay — Exception for Out of Court Complaint by Alleged Rape Victim — Received In Corroboration of Victim's Testimony.

(3) Evidence — Expert Witness — Opinion on Precise or Ultimate Fact or Issue Inadmissible.

(4) Evidence — Expert Witness — Testimony as to Details of Offence and Description of Assailant Inadmissible.

(5) Evidence — Expert Witness — Opinion that Victims had been Raped Inadmissible.

(6) Evidence — Expert Witness — Testimony Prejudicial.

Defendant was convicted on two counts of forcible rape and two counts of forcible sodomy.

Both victims identified defendant as their assailant but, over defendant's objection, the Commonwealth was permitted to introduce testimony by a physician who treated the victims a few hours after the alleged offenses in which the physician repeated statements made to him by the victims in which they detailed the circumstances of the attacks and described their assailant. The physician also testified as to his conclusion that the victims had been raped.

1. While there is an exception to the hearsay rule permitting a physician to testify as to a patient's past pain, suffering and subjective symptoms to show the basis of the physician's opinion as to the nature of the injuries or illness, the testimony in the instant case goes beyond this limit and includes the statement that the victims had been raped.

2. Under a rule unique to rape cases, evidence of an out of court complaint by an alleged rape victim is admissible, not as independent evidence of the offense, but as corroboration of the victim's testimony. Only the fact that the complaint was made is admissible and neither the details of the alleged offense nor the description of the assailant as reported out of court by the victim may be admitted.

3. An expert witness may be permitted to express his opinion as to matters not within common knowledge or experience but such testimony is not admissible upon the precise or ultimate fact in issue.

4. The physician properly could testify concerning the victim's complaints that they had been raped and his observations of the victims' physical and emotional conditions but should not have been permitted to testify as to the details of the offenses and the description of the assailant as reported to him by the victims.

5. The physician properly could state what examinations of the victims were conducted and what tests were performed upon them but it was improper to permit him to express his opinion that they had been raped.

6. The disputed testimony may well have affected the Jury's decision and is prejudicial.

Appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of Fairfax County. Hon. James C. Cacheris, judge presiding.

Reversed and remanded.

John H. McLees, Jr. (Chess, Durrette Roeder, on brief) for appellant.

Alan Katz, Assistant Attorney General (Marshall Coleman, Attorney General, on brief) for appellee.


Convicted by a jury of two counts of forcible rape and two counts of forcible sodomy, the defendant, Harold William Cartera, was sentenced in accordance with the verdicts to serve a total of 34 years in the penitentiary. On appeal, the dispositive question is whether the trial court erred in admitting into evidence certain portions of the testimony of a physician who examined and treated the rape victims after the offenses occurred.

The Commonwealth's evidence shows that on November 7, 1973, the victims, two 14-year-old girls, were hitchhiking in the Reston area of Fairfax County when they accepted a ride from a man with whom they were unacquainted. Promising to drive the girls to their destination, the man drove instead to an isolated construction site and there raped and sodomized the girls. Both victims identified the defendant as their assailant. He denied complicity in the offenses.

Called as a witness by the Commonwealth, Dr. William F. Enos testified that he examined and treated the two girls several hours after the offenses occurred. Over the objection of defense counsel, Dr. Enos was permitted to repeat statements made to him by the two girls in which they not only detailed the circumstances of the attacks upon them but also provided a description of their assailant. Doctor Enos further was permitted to state his conclusion, based upon "the history, the physical examination and the laboratory results," that the girls had been raped.

The defendant contends that the statements made to Dr. Enos concerning the circumstances of the offenses and the description of the assailant were hearsay and that the admission of the statements into evidence was error. This error, the defendant says, was compounded by the fact that Dr. Enos was permitted to state his conclusion that the girls had been raped.

We agree with the defendant. It is undisputed that the challenged statements were hearsay. The Attorney General argues, however, that the statements were admissible under the exception to the hearsay rule which permits a physician to testify to a patient's statements concerning his "past pain, suffering and subjective symptoms" to show "the basis of the physician's opinion as to the nature of the injuries or illness."

We acknowledge the exception to the hearsay rule espoused by the Attorney General. We do not believe, however, that the exception saves the testimony in dispute here. This testimony goes beyond a recital of "past pain, suffering and subjective symptoms." Furthermore, the conclusion stated by Dr. Enos that the two victims had been raped is something quite different from an opinion "as to the nature of the injuries or illness" suffered by the victims.

Under a rule unique to rape cases, evidence of an out-of-court complaint by an alleged rape victim is admissible, not as independent evidence of the offense, but as corroboration of the victim's testimony. Pepoon v. Commonwealth, 192 Va. 804, 810, 66 S.E.2d 854, 858 (1951). Only the fact that the complaint was made, however, is admissible; neither the details of the alleged offense nor a description of the alleged assailant, as reported by the victim, may be admitted. Herron v. Commonwealth, 208 Va. 326, 330, 157 S.E.2d 195, 198 (1967); Brogy v. Commonwealth, 51 Va. (10 Gratt.) 722 (1853).

In any proper case, an expert witness may be permitted to express his opinion upon matters not within common knowledge or experience. Opinion testimony, however, is not admissible "upon the precise or ultimate fact in issue." Webb v. Commonwealth, 204 Va. 24, 33, 129 S.E.2d 22, 29 (1963).

[4-5] Thus, while it was proper to permit Dr. Enos to testify to the victims' complaints that they had been raped and to state his observations of the girls' physical and emotional conditions, it was improper to permit him to recite the details of the offenses and the description of the assailant, as reported to him by the victims. It was proper also to permit the doctor to state what examinations and tests he performed upon the victims and what medical conclusions he reached as a result. But it was improper to permit the doctor to express his opinion that the girls had been raped. Whether rape had occurred was the precise and ultimate issue in the case. Determination of this issue did not require special knowledge or experience. To permit the doctor to express his opinion upon the subject invaded the province of the jury.

Neither can we agree with the Attorney General that, excluding the disputed testimony, the other evidence against the defendant is so overwhelming that any error in the admission of the testimony is rendered harmless. While the other evidence amply supports the jury's verdicts, the disputed testimony may well have affected the jury's decision. Accordingly, we conclude that the error in admitting the testimony was prejudicial to the defendant.

For the reasons assigned, the convictions of the defendant will be reversed, and the case will be remanded for a new trial.

Reversed and remanded.


Summaries of

Cartera v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia
Nov 22, 1978
219 Va. 516 (Va. 1978)

holding that a medical professional may "state what examinations and tests he performed" and then explain the "medical conclusions he reached as a result"

Summary of this case from Quesenberry v. Commonwealth

holding that even if "the other evidence amply supports the . . . verdicts, [error is not harmless when] the [error] may well have affected the . . . decision"

Summary of this case from Bazemore v. Commonwealth

finding it improper for the trial court to permit a doctor who examined victims of a sexual assault "to recite the details of the offenses and the description of the assailant, as reported to him by the victims"

Summary of this case from Roper v. Commonwealth

reversing rape conviction where medical expert allowed to express opinion that victims had been raped

Summary of this case from Zelenak v. Commonwealth

reversing rape conviction where medical expert allowed to express opinion that victims had been raped

Summary of this case from Zelenak v. Com

recognizing that otherwise inadmissible hearsay statements regarding a patient's physical and emotional condition may be admitted for the limited purpose of showing the basis of a physician's expert opinion

Summary of this case from Castillo v. Loudoun Cnty. Dep't of Family Servs.

In Cartera, the Supreme Court stated the following well-accepted principle: "In any proper case, an expert witness may be permitted to express his opinion upon matters not within common knowledge or experience.

Summary of this case from Jenkins v. Commonwealth

In Cartera v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 516, 248 S.E.2d 784 (1978), the Supreme Court of Virginia "acknowledge[d] the exception to the hearsay rule" that renders admissible statements made to physicians "concerning [a patient's] `past pain, suffering and subjective symptoms' to show `the basis of the physician's opinion as to the nature of the injuries or illness.'"

Summary of this case from Taylor v. Commonwealth

In Cartera, the Supreme Court of Virginia "acknowledge[d] the exception to the hearsay rule" that renders admissible statements made to physicians "concerning [a patient's] `past pain, suffering and subjective symptoms' to show `the basis of the physician's opinion as to the nature of the injuries or illness.'"

Summary of this case from Jenkins v. Commonwealth

stating that "[w]hether rape had occurred was the precise and ultimate issue in the case"

Summary of this case from Jenkins v. Commonwealth

In Cartera, the Court held that, while proper "to permit the doctor to state what examinations and tests he performed... and what medical conclusions he reached," it is "improper to permit [him] to express his opinion that [the victims] had been raped."

Summary of this case from FURR v. COMMONWEALTH
Case details for

Cartera v. Commonwealth

Case Details

Full title:HAROLD WILLIAM CARTERA v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

Court:Supreme Court of Virginia

Date published: Nov 22, 1978

Citations

219 Va. 516 (Va. 1978)
248 S.E.2d 784

Citing Cases

Jenkins v. Commonwealth

The Commonwealth contends that the trial judge did not err because the ultimate issue in the case was whether…

Jenkins v. Commonwealth

We agree but hold that such error was harmless in light of the other evidence adduced at trial. The expert's…