Colorado Supreme Court December 3, 2018
Ruibal v. People
George Ruibal petitioned for review of the Court of Appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction for second-degree murder. Over the defense’s objection and without taking evidence or making any findings as to reliability, the trial court admitted expert testimony to the effect that the victim’s injuries in this case demonstrated “overkill,” a formal term describing multiple injuries focused on one area of the victim’s body, which includes blows about the head and face that are numerous and extensive, indicating that the assailant likely had either a real or perceived emotional attachment to the victim. Relying on case law from several other jurisdictions, a treatise dealing with related kinds of injuries, and the witness’s own experience with autopsies involving similar injuries, the Court of Appeals concluded that the expert opinion was sufficiently reliable and that the trial court had implicitly found as much by granting the prosecution’s proffer.
Because the trial court made no specific finding that the theory of “overkill” espoused by the witness was reliable, nor was the reliability of that theory either supported by evidence in the record or already accepted in this jurisdiction, its admission amounted to an abuse of discretion.
Because there was, however, overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt apart from the expert testimony, the error was necessarily harmless. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. Justice Richard Gabriel did not participate in the decision.