Admissibility of Proposed Third-party Culpability Evidence in California

In People v. Hall (1986) 41 Cal.3d 826 (Hall), our high court addressed the standard by which the trial court assesses the admissibility of proposed third-party culpability evidence. It rejected the "Mendez-Arline rule," (The rule was based upon the holdings in People v. Mendez (1924) 193 Cal. 39, and People v. Arline (1970) 13 Cal.App.3d 200) under which third-party culpability evidence was held to be "admissible only if it constituted 'substantial evidence tending to directly connect that person with the actual commission of the offense. " (Hall, at p. 831.) The Supreme Court concluded that such a standard was unduly exacting and instead held that such evidence "need only be capable of raising a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt." (Id. at p. 833.) It held that third-party culpability evidence should be treated "like any other evidence: if relevant it is admissible (Evid. Code, 350) unless its probative value is substantially outweighed by the risk of undue delay, prejudice, or confusion (Evid. Code, 352)." (Id. at p. 834.) But while rejecting the more restrictive standard of admissibility, the court observed: "At the same time, we do not require that any evidence, however remote, must be admitted to show a third party's possible culpability. As this court observed in Mendez, evidence of mere motive or opportunity to commit the crime in another person, without more, will not suffice to raise a reasonable doubt about a defendant's guilt: there must be direct or circumstantial evidence linking the third person to the actual perpetration of the crime." (Id. at p. 833.) The Hall standard for determining the admissibility of third-party culpability evidence has been reiterated on numerous occasions by the Supreme Court. (See, e.g., People v. Hamilton (2009) 45 Cal.4th 863, 914; People v. Robinson (2005) 37 Cal.4th 592, 625; People v. Bradford (1997) 15 Cal.4th 1229, 1325.)