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Court Rejects Defendant’s Claim that Evidence of Victim’s Mental Illness Was Inadmissible in Arizona Sexual Assault Case

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona sexual assault case involving the defendant’s claim that evidence of the alleged victim’s mental state was improperly and prejudicially admitted. Ultimately, the court determined that the victim’s mental state was relevant, as it went to her ability to consent to sex.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a friend of the alleged victim’s family. The alleged victim was a 66-year-old woman with schizoaffective disorder. Evidently, the defendant took the woman on a walk to a nearby home where he had sex with her despite her telling him not to.

Later that day, the woman told a family member that the defendant had raped her. She went to the hospital, where medical professionals performed a rape kit. While there, she told the police what happened.

When the detective initially interviewed the defendant, he denied having sex with the woman. However, he later admitted to having consensual sex. The defendant was then charged with several offenses including sexual assault and kidnapping.

In a pre-trial motion, the defendant asked the court to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the prosecution had sufficient evidence to pursue a lack-of-capacity theory. The defendant argued that, if the prosecution could not prove that the alleged victim did not have the capacity to consent to sex, then evidence of her mental health should not be admitted as it would only cause the defendant prejudice.

The court heard argument, and ultimately determined that there was no legal authority requiring the state prove a lack-of-capacity theory before trial. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion, instructing defense counsel to raise the issue at the conclusion of the evidence if he thought that the prosecution failed to meet its burden. Ultimately, the court determined that the jury should decide whether the alleged victim had the capacity to consent.

After the evidence came out, the court granted the defendant’s motion, finding that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find that the alleged victim was incapable of providing consent. However, the court rejected the defendant’s request to provide a curative instruction. The jury convicted the defendant and the defendant appealed.

The defendant’s argument on appeal was that it was an error for the trial court to admit evidence of the woman’s mental health because it was more prejudicial than it was probative. The court disagreed, finding that the woman’s mental health was relevant to the crimes charged because the woman’s mental state was relevant to her ability to consent. The court also noted that “the jury needed to understand her mental state in order to understand her demeanor while testifying and place her testimony about the charges into context.” Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s convictions.

Have You Been Arrested for a Sexual Assault Crime?

If you have recently been charged with an Arizona sexual assault crime, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Arizona criminal sex offense cases can be extremely complex, and may implicate a wide range of constitutional and statutory principles. Attorney Novak is a veteran criminal defense attorney with extensive experience defending clients who face these serious charges. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

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