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ROCK v. ARKANSAS

decided: June 22, 1987.

ROCK
v.
ARKANSAS



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS.

Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Powell, and Stevens, JJ., joined. Rehnquist, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which White, O'Connor, and Scalia, JJ., joined, post, p. 62.

Author: Blackmun

[ 483 U.S. Page 45]

 JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue presented in this case is whether Arkansas' evidentiary rule prohibiting the admission of hypnotically refreshed testimony violated petitioner's constitutional right to testify on her own behalf as a defendant in a criminal case.

I

Petitioner Vickie Lorene Rock was charged with manslaughter in the death of her husband, Frank Rock, on July 2, 1983. A dispute had been simmering about Frank's wish to move from the couple's small apartment adjacent to Vickie's beauty parlor to a trailer she owned outside town. That night a fight erupted when Frank refused to let petitioner eat some pizza and prevented her from leaving the apartment to get something else to eat. App. 98, 103-104. When police arrived on the scene they found Frank on the floor with a bullet wound in his chest. Petitioner urged the officers to help

[ 483 U.S. Page 46]

     her husband, Tr. 230, and cried to a sergeant who took her in charge, "please save him" and "don't let him die." Id., at 268. The police removed her from the building because she was upset and because she interfered with their investigation by her repeated attempts to use the telephone to call her husband's parents. Id., at 263-264, 267-268. According to the testimony of one of the investigating officers, petitioner told him that "she stood up to leave the room and [her husband] grabbed her by the throat and choked her and threw her against the wall and . . . at that time she walked over and picked up the weapon and pointed it toward the floor and he hit her again and she shot him." Id., at 281.*fn1

Because petitioner could not remember the precise details of the shooting, her attorney suggested that she submit to hypnosis in order to refresh her memory. Petitioner was hypnotized twice by Doctor Bettye Back, a licensed neuropsychologist with training in the field of hypnosis. Id., at 901-903. Doctor Back interviewed petitioner for an hour prior to the first hypnosis session, taking notes on petitioner's general history and her recollections of the shooting. App. 46-47.*fn2 Both hypnosis sessions were recorded on

[ 483 U.S. Page 47]

     tape. Id., at 53. Petitioner did not relate any new information during either of the sessions, id., at 78, 83, but, after the hypnosis, she was able to remember that at the time of the incident she had her thumb on the hammer of the gun, but had not held her finger on the trigger. She also recalled that the gun had discharged when her husband grabbed her arm during the scuffle. Id., at 29, 38. As a result of the details that petitioner was able to remember about the shooting, her counsel arranged for a gun expert to examine the handgun, a single-action Hawes .22 Deputy Marshal. That inspection revealed that the gun was defective and prone to fire, when hit or dropped, without the trigger's being pulled. Tr. 662-663, 711.

When the prosecutor learned of the hypnosis sessions, he filed a motion to exclude petitioner's testimony. The trial judge held a pretrial hearing on the motion and concluded that no hypnotically refreshed testimony would be admitted. The court issued an order limiting petitioner's testimony to "matters remembered and stated to the examiner prior to being placed under hypnosis." App. to Pet. for Cert. xvii.*fn3

[ 483 U.S. Page 48]

     At trial, petitioner introduced testimony by the gun expert, Tr. 647-712, but the court limited petitioner's own description of the events on the day of the shooting to a reiteration of the sketchy information in Doctor Back's notes. See App. 96-104.*fn4 The jury convicted petitioner on the manslaughter charge and she was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas rejected petitioner's claim that the limitations on her testimony violated her right to present her defense. The court concluded that "the dangers of admitting this kind of testimony outweigh whatever probative value it may have," and decided to follow

[ 483 U.S. Page 49]

     the approach of States that have held hypnotically refreshed testimony of witnesses inadmissible per se. 288 Ark. 566, 573, 708 S. W. 2d 78, 81 (1986). Although the court acknowledged that "a defendant's right to testify is fundamental," id., at 578, 708 S. W. 2d, at 84, it ruled that the exclusion of petitioner's testimony did not violate her constitutional rights. Any "prejudice or deprivation" she suffered "was minimal and resulted from her own actions and not by any erroneous ruling of the court." Id., at 580, 708 S. W. 2d, at 86. We granted certiorari, 479 U.S. 947 (1986), to consider the constitutionality of Arkansas' per se rule excluding a criminal defendant's hypnotically refreshed testimony.

II

Petitioner's claim that her testimony was impermissibly excluded is bottomed on her constitutional right to testify in her own defense. At this point in the development of our adversary system, it cannot be doubted that a defendant in a criminal case has the right to take the witness stand and to testify in his or her own defense. This, of course, is a change from the historic common-law view, which was that all parties to litigation, including criminal defendants, were disqualified from testifying because of their interest in the outcome of the trial. See generally 2 J. Wigmore, Evidence §§ 576, 579 (J. Chadbourn rev. 1979). The principal rationale for this rule was the possible untrustworthiness of a party's testimony. Under the common law, the practice did develop of permitting criminal defendants to tell their side of the story, but they were limited to making an unsworn statement that could not be elicited through direct examination by counsel and was not subject to cross-examination. Id., at § 579, p. 827.

This Court in Ferguson v. Georgia, 365 U.S. 570, 573-582 (1961), detailed the history of the transition from a rule of a defendant's incompetency to a rule of competency. As the

[ 483 U.S. Page 50]

     Court there recounted, it came to be recognized that permitting a defendant to testify advances both the "'detection of guilt'" and "'the protection of innocence,'" id., at 581, quoting 1 Am. L. Rev. 396 (1867), and by the end of the second half of the 19th century,*fn5 all States except Georgia had enacted statutes that declared criminal defendants competent to testify. See 365 U.S., at 577 and n. 6, 596-598.*fn6 Congress enacted a general competency statute in the Act of Mar. 16, 1878, 20 Stat. 30, as amended, 18 U. S. C. § 3481, and similar developments followed in other common-law countries. Thus, more than 25 years ago this Court was able to state:

"In sum, decades ago the considered consensus of the English-speaking world came to be that there was no rational justification for prohibiting the sworn testimony of the accused, who above all others may be in a position to meet the prosecution's case." Ferguson v. Georgia, 365 U.S., at 582.*fn7

[ 483 U.S. Page 51]

     The right to testify on one's own behalf at a criminal trial has sources in several provisions of the Constitution. It is one of the rights that "are essential to due process of law in a fair adversary process." Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819, n. 15 (1975). The necessary ingredients of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee that no one shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law include a right to be heard and to offer testimony:

"A person's right to reasonable notice of a charge against him, and an opportunity to be heard in his defense -- a right to his day in court -- are basic in our system of jurisprudence; and these rights include, as a minimum, a right to examine the witnesses against him, to offer testimony, and to be ...


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