United States v. Lindstrom
698 F.2d 1154 (1983)

  • The Lindstroms owned Bay Therapy, which provided physical therapy treatment to injured people.  They were arrested on suspicion of fraud.
    • Allegedly, the Lindstroms were charging insurance companies for treatments patients did not need and did not receive.
  • At trial, the prosecution called a Bay Therapy employee, Slater, who testified that she had conspired with the Lindstrom’s to falsify records.
  • During cross-examination, the Lindstroms attempted to introduce evidence that Slater had psychiatric problems.
    • The Trial Judge placed limitations on Slater’s questioning with regards to her prior psychiatric treatment.  They could only ask three specific questions about the times Slater had been committed to an institution.
      • The Lindstroms argued that Slater had a vendetta against them due to psychological problems.  They argued that they had a right to impeach under FRE 608(b).
      • The prosecution argued that Slater’s psychological problems were a collateral issue.
      • The Trial Judge found that many of the instances were not instances of conduct that went to truthfulness, and were just extrinsic evidence.
  • The Trial Court found the Lindstroms guilty of fraud.  They appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that FRE 608(b) was not controlling, although it was akin to a 608(b) issue.
    • The Lindstroms argued that the 6th Amendment mandates that a criminal defendant has the right to confront witnesses.  They felt that the Trial Judge’s limitations violated that right.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that one of the goals of cross-examination is impeaching the credibility of a witness.  And the presence of certain mental illnesses have high probative value in determining the credibility of a witness.
      • Especially in this case, since Slater had tried to kill people in the past.
      • There is a difference between character and capacity.  You cannot introduce extrinsic evidence that goes to character, but you can introduce that evidence to show that they don’t have the capacity to tell the truth.
        • Looking at capacity is like looking at bias, it is never a collateral issue.
    • Therefore, the Appellate Court found that it was a violation of the 6th Amendment for the Lindstroms not to be able to question Slater’s sanity as a method for impeachment.