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Law School Case Brief

State v. Chapple - 135 Ariz. 281, 660 P.2d 1208 (1983)


The correct rule is that exhibits which may tend to inflame the jury must first be found relevant. The trial court must then consider the probative value of the exhibits and determine whether it outweighs the danger of prejudice. In making this determination, the trial court must examine the purpose of the offer.


Defendant Dolan Chapple was convicted in Arizona state court on three counts of first degree murder, one count of unlawfully transporting marijuana and one count of conspiring to unlawfully transport marijuana. He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years on each of the murder counts, to a term of imprisonment for not less than 25 years nor more than life on the transportation count, and to a term of imprisonment for not less than 25 nor more than 30 years on the conspiracy count. Chapple’s conviction was based largely on identification evidence, which included a photograph of a line-up in which Chapple was placed. Chapple was apprehended and tried only because two witnesses picked his photograph out of a lineup more than one year after the date of the crime; he was convicted because those witnesses later identified both the photographs and Chapple himself at trial. Graphic photographs of the victims were alo admitted into evidence. Over Chapple's objection at trial, the photographs were admitted into evidence after the trial court ruled that the photographs were relevant. Chapple appealed.


Was Chapple's conviction proper?




On appeal, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in holding that the photographic display from which Chapple was identified was not unnecessarily suggestive simply because the hair of all the persons shown in the photographs were cropped to make the hair more closely resemble the witnesses' description of the suspect. However, the trial court erred in admitting inflammatory photographs of the charred body and skull of a victim. The photographs had very little probative value when the cause of death was not disputed. The court also erred in excluding Chapple's expert on eyewitness identification, because identification was the issue on which the guilt or innocence of Chapple hinged. The expert was qualified and her testimony was probative and relevant to the eyewitness identification. Considering the erroneous admission of inflammatory photographs and preclusion of the expert testimony, the court was not able to conclude that the jury would have convicted in the absence of the error. The court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial.

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