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Arizona Court Distinguishes Between Diminished Capacity and Justification Defenses

Recently, the state’s supreme court issued an opinion in an interesting Arizona criminal law case involving a defendant’s justification defense to several kidnapping and child-abuse charges. The case required the court to determine whether the defendant’s proposed evidence that she was afraid her husband would hurt or kill her if she did not go along with the continued abuse of their children was admissible justification evidence or inadmissible evidence of diminished capacity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence should have been admitted, and ordered the defendant to receive a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was arrested, along with her husband, when two of the couple’s three daughters broke out from their locked bedroom, ran to a neighbor’s home, and reported that their parents had kept them locked in a room and abused them over the course of several years. Both the defendant and her husband were charged with several counts of kidnapping and child abuse. Prior to trial, the cases against the two defendants were severed.

The defendant planned to testify that she participated in the abuse of her children only because she was afraid of her husband. In support of her claim, the defendant was prepared to testify that her husband physically abused her and maintained very tight control over her. For example, when the defendant left the house, she was required to keep her phone on at all times so her husband could hear her conversations. The defendant also had photographs of scars that were the result of her husband attacking her with a knife.

The prosecution sought to preclude the defendant’s evidence, arguing that it was evidence of her “diminished capacity,” which was not admissible under Arizona law. The defendant argued that her claim was not one of diminished capacity but of justification or duress. The trial court agreed with the prosecution, and the defendant was convicted. She appealed her conviction.

The case made its way up to the Supreme Court of Arizona, which held that the defendant should have been permitted to present evidence of the ongoing fear she had of her husband. The court explained that a diminished capacity defense is one that negates the mindset necessary to find one guilty of a crime. However, a justification or duress defense is when a defendant felt compelled to engage in illegal conduct based on a fear of serious physical injury.

Here, the court explained that the defendant’s evidence did not suggest that she lacked the mindset necessary to commit the offenses against her children, but that she committed the acts of abuse out of fear that her non-compliance with her husband’s wishes would result in her being hurt or killed. This, the court held, was permissible justification evidence that should have been presented to the jury. Thus, the court ordered the defendant be granted a new trial.

Have You Been Arrested and Charged with a Serious Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious crime, contact Attorney James E. Novak. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling a wide range of Arizona criminal matters, including assault crimes, drug crimes, and gun crimes. To learn more about how Attorney James Novak can help you defend your freedom against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Award Winning Blog:

Arizona Court Denies Defendant’s Challenge to Search Warrant, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, September 7, 2018

Arizona Court Determines Defendant Consented to Extended Traffic Stop, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, August 14, 2018

Court Holds Arizona Medical Marijuana Statute Does Not Permit Possession of Hashish, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, August 31, 2018


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