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Domestic Violence, Disorderly Conduct, and Mental Health Records in Arizona

In the unpublished opinion State of Arizona v. Scott, an Arizona appellate court considered the defendant’s conviction for disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon. The case arose when the victim and the defendant, who were married, got into a physical altercation. The husband was indicted for two counts of misconduct involving weapons and two counts of domestic-related aggravated assault.

The husband admitted that his wife was hurt and that he used a firearm during the incident. The wife suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was medicated for it. She admitted on the stand that she’d been previously arrested for aggravated assault against her husband, that she’d previously been committed to a mental institution, and that she was susceptible to memory loss.

The husband alleged she attacked him, and he was simply defending himself. He was allowed to testify about his wife’s prior attacks and descriptions of having violent content of voices in her head, as well as his knowledge of her mental health diagnosis and medications.

The jury convicted the husband of domestic violence-related disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon, which was a lesser-included offense. He was sentenced to two years in prison with 389 days of pre-sentence incarceration credit. He appealed.

On appeal, he argued that the court should have granted his motion to compel discovery of the victim’s mental health records, claiming these were critical to his defense and that they could have been used to impeach his wife. The appellate court explained that whether a criminal defendant should get to compel evidence like mental health records is up to the discretion of the superior court.

The appellate court explained that there’s no constitutional right to pretrial discovery and a victim of a crime is allowed to refuse to provide medical records under the Arizona Victims’ Bill of Rights, subject to an analysis of a defendant’s due process rights. Any restrictions on the defendant’s rights to information in order to have a fair trial are supposed to be proportionate to the degree of protection afforded the victim. Additionally, the defendant needs to show a need for information that is so large his constitutional rights would be affected.

In this case, the defendant had asked the court to require the victim to disclose her mental health records from the last 10 years. He argued that there might be evidence to buttress his self-defense claim. However, the prosecutor argued that he hadn’t shown he needed records because he’d made incriminating statements to police on the night of the altercation, and these statements contradicted his self-defense claim such that his wife’s mental health didn’t matter. The court denied his request because the victim hadn’t waived physician-patient privilege and the husband hadn’t shown he had a constitutional need. Plus, the court didn’t have the authority to get records from the federal Veterans Administration.

The appellate court found that the lower court hadn’t made a mistake in denying the request for records on the grounds that turning them over would violate the Victims’ Bill of Rights. It reasoned that the defendant didn’t show that the mental health records would include impeachment evidence beyond what the victim admitted—that she had paranoid schizophrenia and memory problems. Records related to what happened years before the altercation would be cumulative and collateral.

The appellate court also reasoned that if a defendant argued self-defense, the victim’s prior violent acts would be admissible to show the defendant’s state of mind. The defendant tried to admit the victim’s prior interactions with law enforcement. The trial court had found the incidents he wanted to admit “disorderly” but not aggressive. They were also too old. The appellate court found the lower court had acted within its discretion in precluding the defendant from presenting the victim’s prior interactions with law enforcement. The conviction and sentence were affirmed.

Although the defendant’s appeal was not successful in this case, there may be many different defenses appropriate to your particular case. It is important to have all of the facts of your case reviewed by an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you face domestic violence or disorderly conduct charges in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, or Scottsdale, consult attorney James E. Novak. He is an aggressive former Maricopa County Prosecutor who will use insights obtained as a prosecutor to determine a strong strategy. He offers a free initial consultation for those facing active criminal charges in his area. If you have been charged with a crime, call or contact The Law Office of James Novak at (480) 413-1499 and speak directly with Mr. Novak.

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