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Arizona Court Precludes Evidence of Defendant’s PTSD Diagnosis in Recent Homicide Case

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona homicide case discussing the admissibility of the defendant’s diagnosis for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Being an issue of first impression, the court was required to fashion a rule to determine the admissibility of such diagnoses, ultimately concluding that the evidence should not be admissible.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was nine months pregnant when she shot her boyfriend, the father of her child, in the head, killing him. When asked by detectives, the defendant explained that her boyfriend was abusive and had woken her up by kicking her in the stomach. He also told her that he did not want the baby.

The state charged the defendant with first-degree murder. A few days later, she gave birth, and the state sought to terminate her parental rights. In that proceeding, several experts testified that the defendant suffered from PTSD; however, they noted that the defendant did not answer any questions about the shooting.

At the defendant’s trial, the state sought to preclude her from entering evidence of her PTSD diagnosis to prove either that she was a victim of abuse or that it negated the mindset necessary to form the requisite intent to commit a murder. The trial court granted the state’s motion, and the defendant appealed.

The Court’s Opinion

On appeal, the court held that the evidence of the defendant’s PTSD diagnosis was properly excluded. The court explained that evidence of a PTSD diagnosis is admissible to help establish a self-defense claim if the defendant can show that the victim perpetrated acts of violence against the defendant. Here, however, the court noted that the defendant was attempting to use her diagnosis to prove that there were previous acts of violence committed against her. Thus, the court held that the only purpose of the evidence was to bolster the defendant’s credibility, which was not a permissible purpose. Thus, the court affirmed the exclusion of the evidence on this basis.

Next, the court looked at whether evidence of the defendant’s PTSD should have been admissible to negate a finding that she possessed the requisite level of intent to commit a first-degree murder. The defendant claimed that her diagnosis caused her to act impulsively, and evidence of the diagnosis should be admitted to help explain her actions. The court, however, disagreed, finding that the expert testimony presented at trial did not state that those who suffer from PTSD act impulsively. Instead, the expert testimony as the court interpreted it stated that those who suffer from PTSD are “more likely to withdraw to protect themselves.” Thus, the court held that the PTSD evidence was not admissible for this purpose either.

Have You Been Charged with a Serious Arizona Felony Crime?

If you have been arrested or are currently under investigation for a serious Arizona violent crime, you should reach out to a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we represent those charged with serious misdemeanor and felony offenses, including assault crimes, drug crimes, and sex offenses. We also offer free consultations to discuss how we may be able to help you defend against the charges you are facing. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to speak with Attorney James E. Novak today.

Additional Resources:

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

State’s Supreme Court Permits Defendant to Claim Misidentification and Self-Defense, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, March 11, 2018

Arizona Court Upholds Validity of California Recommendation Letter in Marijuana Case, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, March 26, 2018

Exculpatory Evidence in Arizona Grand Jury Proceedings, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, February 13, 2018