On certiorari to review decision of Court of Appeals' opinion by Judge Vaughn, Judge Wells concurring, and Judge Becton dissenting, reported in
Branch, Chief Justice. Justice Exum dissenting. Justices Copeland and Carlton join in this dissent.
Defendant assigns as error the trial judge's denial of his pretrial motion that the prosecutrix, Donna Safrit, be ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination.
Defendant's pretrial motion for a psychiatric examination was aimed toward determining the prosecutrix's competence and reliability as a witness.*fn1
After his motion for a psychiatric examination was denied, defendant by a trial motion sought to have the prosecutrix's testimony suppressed. In support of this motion, defendant offered the testimony of Dr. Peter Crombes. Dr. Crombes, a clinical psychologist, testified at the pretrial hearing that on 9 August 1979, six months before the alleged rape and nine months before the trial, he tested Ms. Safrit in conjunction with her application to the North Carolina Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. Dr. Crombes gave several psychological tests to Ms. Safrit in order to evaluate her employment ability and provide recommendations as to the most suitable way in which to assist her in obtaining employment. Dr. Crombes' psychological examination revealed that Ms. Safrit had a tendency to project blame onto others and was afraid of men believing them to be people who "come to get you or hurt you, rape you;" however, he also testified that:
Basically she has sufficient understanding to be capable of giving a correct account as to what she's seen or heard with respect to a question at issue. She is capable of giving a correct account as to what she's seen or heard, to the extent that she can accurately remember details and so on which is limited by her ability to understand and remember. She would be capable of giving a correct account of what she has seen or heard. She has sufficient understanding to comprehend
the obligations of an oath to tell the truth. In my professional opinion Donna Safrit does have sufficient understanding to comprehend the meaning of an oath to tell the truth. In my opinion she has sufficient mental ability to understand and relate under oath the facts which she has observed as will assist the jury in determining the truth of what happened in the incident wherein the defendant is charged here in Court.
In addition to the testimony of Dr. Crombes, the trial judge heard testimony from the prosecuting witness and considered an affidavit executed by defendant's attorney. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial judge found facts consistent with the evidence before him and concluded:
(a) That the witness, Donna Safrit has the capacity to understand and to relate under the obligation of an oath facts which will assist the jury in determining the truth with respect to the ultimate facts which it will be called upon to decide in this case, and,
(b) That the witness, Donna Safrit, is a competent witness.
The majority in the Court of Appeals, relying upon our case of State v. Looney, 294 N.C. 1, 240 S.E.2d 612 (1978), found no error in the trial judge's denial of defendant's motion for a compulsory psychiatric examination of the prosecuting witness. Judge Becton, in his dissent, took the position that the opinion in Looney was inconclusive and was distinguishable from instant case. He espoused the view taken by Justice Exum in his concurring opinion in Looney.
In Looney Justice Lake, speaking for the Court, after extensive review of the decisions from other jurisdictions, in part, stated:
To hold that a trial court in this State may require a witness, against his will, to subject himself to a psychiatric examination, as a condition to his or her being permitted to testify, is also a serious handicap to the State in the prosecution of criminal offenses. If the witness simply refuses, there may well be nothing the prosecuting attorney can do to induce the witness to comply with the order. In many instances, a material witness for the State is none too eager to testify under any circumstances. To permit the defendant to
obtain a court order, directing him or her to submit to a psychiatric examination as a condition precedent to his testifying, may well further chill his or her enthusiasm for taking the stand or at least give him a way out of doing so. In many cases, there would be no insurmountable difficulty in the way of a hard-pressed defendant's ...