In a recent child molestation case coming out of Arizona, the court vacated the defendant’s convictions and sentences, remanding the case for a new trial. Originally, the defendant had been found guilty of molesting a minor, and he made multiple arguments in his attempt to appeal the guilty conviction. While the court rejected the majority of the defendant’s arguments, it accepted his assertion that the trial court had unfairly admitted hearsay into the evidence for the jury to consider. Agreeing with the defendant on this point, the court vacated the guilty conviction.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the child involved in this case lived with her mother and her stepfather when she was four years old. At that time, the child’s stepfather, the defendant, began touching the child sexually at least once a week. This behavior continued for many years, through the family’s move to Sierra Vista when the child turned eleven.
The defendant told the child not to tell anyone about the sexual activity. Eventually, the defendant and the child’s mother separated and moved away from each other. In November of that same year, the child’s gym teacher noticed that she was not acting like “her usual self.” When the gym teacher asked the child what was happening, the girl admitted that her stepfather had been molesting her. The gym teacher and the school counselor promptly reported these statements to the police.
The defendant was charged with fifty counts of child molestation and one count of continuous sexual abuse.
After being charged, the defendant faced a jury trial, during which he was found guilty and sentenced to time in prison. On appeal, the defendant made several arguments, most of which the court rejected. Importantly, however, the defendant argued that the child’s statements to her gym teacher were hearsay and should not have been admitted into evidence. These statements said the defendant, were made outside of the context of court, and they played a significant role in the jury’s decision to find him guilty.
To decide on whether or not the conversation with the gym teacher constituted hearsay, the court looked at the definition of hearsay itself. According to well-recognized laws of evidence, hearsay is an out-of-court statement that is offered to prove the truth of whatever the speaker is saying. In this case, the statements to the gym teacher were, indeed, out-of-court statements. They were also offered in court to prove the truth of the child’s statements, that her stepfather had been molesting her.
Because the conversation with the gym teacher fit under the definition of hearsay, and because it could have very likely prejudiced the jury, the court concluded that the statement should not have been admitted in the first place. Given this finding, the court vacated the defendant’s verdict and remanded the case so that a new trial could take place.
Have You Been Charged with Sexual Assault in Arizona?
At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we understand how daunting it can be to be charged with an Arizona sex crime. We bring to our work an unparalleled sense of empathy so that we can work with you to build a defense strategy that works well for your individualized needs. For a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 480-413-1499. You can also send us a message online to have your questions answered.