STATE v. BANKS
564 S.W.2d 947 (1978)
STATE of Tennessee, Petitioner, v. James Thomas BANKS, Respondent.
Supreme Court of Tennessee.
April 17, 1978.
Robert L. Tucker, Roger A. Stetter, U.T. Legal Clinic, Robert W. Ritchie, Knoxville, for respondent.
The defendant was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 99 years imprisonment. He appealed and the Court of Criminal Appeals conditionally granted a new trial.
The defendant Banks and the victim, Sidney Edward Smith, Jr., attended a party together on the night of the slaying. Banks offered to take Smith home from the party. The next morning Smith's nude body was found lying in a ditch in a Knoxville park. Death had been caused by multiple wounds to the face and head, apparently by the use of a heavy blunt object. Circumstantial evidence pointed strongly to the defendant as the killer. He was seen sitting in his car near the location of the body on the night of the homicide and was also seen in his car with the victim on that night. There was evidence of homosexual or deviate sexual activity between Smith and the defendant. A nightstick of the type used by the defendant in his employment as a security guard and which was capable of inflicting the fatal wounds was found in the defendant's automobile. This nightstick had traces of blood on it. A blood stained leaf found in the defendant's car matched the deceased's blood type. Defendant's automobile was found unlocked in a parking lot a mile or more from the defendant's home. The defendant told conflicting stories about his activities on the night of the slaying.
At the trial the State, over the objection of the defendant, introduced into evidence color photographs, both prints and slides, which depicted the victim's battered head and body. As noted, the defendant objected to the introduction of these photographs upon the ground that they were not relevant to any contested issue in the case and were introduced solely for the purpose of prejudicing the jury against the defendant. The defendant also renewed these objections in his motion for a new trial but did
Traditionally, this Court has followed a policy of liberality in the admission of evidence in both civil and criminal cases, State ex rel. Smith v. Livingston Limestone Co., Tenn.,
Of course, before any photograph can be admitted into evidence it must be verified and authenticated by a witness with knowledge of the facts.
Once authenticity has been established relevance must be shown. We approve the following definition of relevance found in Rule 401 of the new Federal Rules of Evidence:
A requirement of probability any more stringent than this would be unworkable and unrealistic.
Of course, relevance varies as the elements of the particular offense and the means employed in its commission vary. It has been declared by one court that photographs of the victim and other physical evidence are always relevant to the material facts in a homicide prosecution if the defendant pleads not guilty, Commonwealth v. Novak,
Photographs showing the injuries of the victim are properly admitted if the defendant admits he killed the victim but seeks to show a non-criminal homicide or that the offense was of a lesser degree than murder. Where malice and intent to kill
In Cullaro v. State, Fla.App.,
In Alcorta v. State, Tex.Cr.App.,
In cases of vehicular homicide where the state must establish criminal culpability by the degree of negligence on the part of the defendant, the observable condition of the victim may be a proper matter for the jury to consider in determining the manner and speed at which the defendant was operating his automobile. Pribyl v. State,
Photographs showing the brutally beaten body of the defendant's twenty-one-month-old daughter were admitted to show he did more than discipline her with a small switch in Hancock v. State,
In this state, deliberation or premeditation is an element of the crime charged against this defendant, viz., first degree murder. We have held that in attempting to establish the degree of the homicide, the state may properly introduce evidence bearing on that issue. In State v. LaChance, Tenn.,
We quoted with approval from McGill v. State, 4 Tenn.Cr.App. 710,
And in State v. Bullington, Tenn.,
We conclude, therefore, that the photographs here in issue may be considered to have passed the test of relevancy with respect to the issue of deliberation.
The traditional rule is said to be that photographs of the corpse are admissible in
But even relevant evidence should not be admitted if its prejudicial effect outweighs its probative value. Fed. R.Evid. 403; Uniform Rules of Evidence 45, supra.
Federal Rule 403 provides:
In the explanatory note to Rule 403, "unfair prejudice" is defined by the Advisory Committee as:
See also Haddad v. Kuriger, Ky.,
We regard this rule as one that is fair and just and strikes a reasoned balance between probative value and unfair prejudice; we approve it as a proper guide to be followed by our courts in both criminal and civil cases.
Cases recognizing the inherently prejudicial character of photographic depictions of a murder victim enunciate a test whereby certain factors are to be considered by the trial judge. The matters to be taken into consideration include the value of photographs as evidence, that is, their accuracy and clarity, and whether they were taken before the corpse was moved, if the position and location of the body when found is material; the inadequacy of testimonial evidence in relating the facts to the jury; and the need for the evidence to establish a prima facie case of guilt or to rebut the defendant's contentions. If the inflammatory nature of the photograph is thus outweighed, it is admissible.
The more gruesome the photographs, the more difficult it is to establish that their probative value and relevance outweigh their prejudicial effect. Commonwealth v. Scaramuzzino,
In some cases, photographic evidence has been excluded because it does not add anything to the testimonial descriptions of the injuries. Archina v. People, 135 Colo. 8,
In many cases, the facts concerning the injuries and the cause of death may be adequately established and better explained
It is true that the defense, upon cross-examination of the pathologist, Dr. Jones, elicited the testimony that the head wounds could have been made by a car running over the victim. Perhaps those pictures may have been slightly relevant to that issue. Nevertheless, their worth seems slight, especially in view of the fact that the slides were taken after the body had been moved from the scene so that the condition of the ground, which would have been highly relevant in resolving that narrow question, was not shown.
As above observed, the number of blows and the brutality of the crime was a circumstance bearing on the element of deliberation or premeditation. A case can be imagined in which a photograph could supplement the medical testimony to give a better understanding of the number of wounds inflicted and the manner in which the killing was carried out, but this was not one. The pathologist catalogued the injuries and described them in detail. He gave more information about them than the photographs do. His explanation is readily understandable without a pictorial portrayal. There is no question, from the whole of the testimony, that death was inflicted from a succession of blows to the head and other parts of the body. The mere recital of the internal injury caused by an object shoved into the anus of the victim establishes premeditation far more vividly than the photographs in issue do.
The State's argument that the photographs are relevant to the assessment of punishment is candid but unpersuasive. Shocking and horrifying the jury emotionally does not assist them in making a reasoned determination of how serious the crime is, how much deterrence is necessary to prevent like crimes in the future, or what danger the defendant poses to society. It is precisely because of the danger that they will inflict excessive punishment that unnecessarily inflammatory evidence is kept from them. Kiefer v. State, supra; People v. Jackson,
The Court of Criminal Appeals noted that the trial judge's reasons for admitting the photographs do not appear of record. We regard this as an omission of some seriousness. Without a statement of reasons, the appellate court is constrained to some extent to second-guess the trial judge in a determination lying within his sound discretion. See People v. Ford,
On balance we conclude, as did the unanimous Court of Criminal Appeals, that the prejudicial effect of these photographs far outweighs their probative value. Therefore, it was error for the trial court to admit the photographs in evidence.
However, it does not follow that the Court of Criminal Appeals was correct in reversing the judgment of the trial court. T.C.A., § 27-117, provides:
Following an examination of the entire record in this case, we are of the opinion that it does not affirmatively appear that the error in admission of the photographs has affected the results of the trial. The circumstances of this homicide, aside from the photographs, are so brutal and horrible that they fully explain and support the verdict of guilty and the severity of the sentence.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed and that of the trial court reinstated. Costs are taxed to the defendant. The cause is remanded to the trial court for such further proceedings as may be appropriate.
HENRY, C.J., and FONES, COOPER and HARBISON, JJ., concur.
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