In a California Court of Appeals case involving the admissibility of evidence, the court addressed the role of testimony concerning a car accident victim’s marijuana use. The issue on appeal was whether the jury had been swayed to assign partial negligence to the victim after hearing evidence of his medical marijuana prescription.
This civil case centered on a tragic incident in which two men involved in an initial car accident were then injured in another accident, while standing outside their vehicles. Randy Hernandez had been driving on the freeway when he collided with Eric Lauderdale’s vehicle. Both men stood near their vehicles in the left lane when a sheriff’s deputy accidentally slammed into Mr. Lauderdale’s vehicle. This collision sent Mr. Lauderdale over the five-foot-tall divider, and he suffered a minor injury. Mr. Hernandez was fatally wounded by this second collision.
Mr. Hernandez’s daughter brought a lawsuit against Los Angeles County for negligence. During the trial, the County introduced evidence of Mr. Hernandez’s medical marijuana use. They alleged that Mr. Hernandez was responsible for the accident with Mr. Lauderdale. The jury awarded the County 51% of the fault, Mr. Lauderdale 35% of the fault, and Mr. Hernandez 14% of the fault.
Mr. Hernandez’s daughter appealed the ruling on the ground that the evidence of marijuana use was irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial. The appellate court stated that the evidence of Mr. Hernandez’s marijuana use was inadmissible character evidence. The court stated the evidence was more prejudicial against him than likely to prove or disprove the issue of fault.
To qualify as admissible proof, evidence must be relevant, or tend to prove or disprove some essential aspect of the case. Evidence that is relevant may still be inadmissible if it will tend to unduly confuse or bias the jury. Here, the defendant did not present evidence that Mr. Hernandez’s marijuana use was a substantial factor in causing his injuries.
The appellate court stated that the experts in this case could not identify any way in which marijuana use may have contributed to the accident that injured Mr. Hernandez. The evidence should have been excluded on this basis. Furthermore, since the County’s attorney used the marijuana evidence to suggest Mr. Hernandez may not have had a legitimate need for marijuana, this was impermissible character evidence. The court stated that this marijuana evidence had nothing to do with any negligent actions on behalf of Mr. Hernandez, since in this case character was not at issue. The court further stated that the risk of prejudice to the jury from the marijuana evidence was higher than the evidentiary value, and the trial court should have excluded it.
The judgment was reversed and remanded for a new trial.
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More Blog Posts:
California Court Upholds Verdict Despite Improper Testimony and Misconduct by Attorney, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 28, 2015
California Appeals Court Remands for New Trial in Car Accident Case Involving Issues of Credibility, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 17, 2015