Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Court Upholds Limitation on ‘Steroid Rage’ Defense
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge did not deprive a murder defendant of the right to present a defense that he was suffering from a steroid facilitated rage reaction at the time of the killing by restricting an expert’s testimony to the effect of anabolic steroids on a person, without specifics as to the defendant on the day of the murder, this district’s Court of Appeal held yesterday.
Div. Seven upheld the conviction of Nicholas Harvey on charges of robbery and murder with a financial-gain special circumstance. The panel, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Fred Woods, said Superior Court Judge Gary J. Ferrari acted within his discretion in limiting the expert testimony.
Nicholas Harvey was charged with murdering Lynn Schockner as part of a murder-for-hire plot under the direction of Schockner’s husband. The day of the murder, Long Beach police were alerted to the presence of a prowler in the neighborhood, spoke to Schockner, and asked her to let them search her backyard. She was killed while the officers stood outside her home, waiting for her to unlock the side gate.
Harvey contended that he lacked the specific intent for first degree murder due to his history of abusing anabolic steroids. He presented testimony from Dr. Ronald Siegel, who testified regarding the physical and emotional side-affects of anabolic steroids abuse, but Ferrari did not allow him to testify that Harvey suffered from a steroid facilitated rage reaction at the time of the murder.
Writing for the appellate court, Woods explained that expert opinion on whether a defendant had the capacity to form the requisite mens rea for a charged offense or actually did form such intent is not admissible at the guilt phase of a trial.
Citing People v. Nunn (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1357 and People v. Czahara (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 1468, Woods added that an expert also may not couch his opinion in words which could be understood as synonyms for the requisite mental state nor offer an opinion that at the time the defendant acted, the defendant had a state of mind which negates the existence of the required mental state.
At the evidentiary hearings, Woods noted Siegel had opined that a person experiencing a steroid facilitated rage reaction would have his judgment and higher thinking areas “suspended,” “dominated” “bypassed” and “controlled” by his emotions, and be unable to control himself.
Even though Siegel did not directly state that Harvey lacked intent or was unable to premeditate or harbor malice aforethought, Woods reasoned that Siegel was “expressing the view that Harvey’s intent was overborne and…that the killing resulted from a steroid induced rage reaction not malice aforethought.” Such an opinion, Woods concluded, was not permitted as a matter of law.
Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss and Justice Laurie D. Zelon joined Woods in his opinion.
Deputy Attorneys General Steven D. Matthews and David F. Glassman representing the prosecution on appeal, and San Diego attorney Waldemar D. Halka represented Harvey by appointment of the court.
The case is People v. Harvey, B198422.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company