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National Crime Victim Law Institute

New and Noteworthy

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  • United States v. Redwood, No. 16 CR 80, 2017 WL 85445 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 10, 2017) (slip copy)

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    Defendant was charged with transferring a handgun and ammunition to a minor who intended to carry out a crime of violence and with possessing a firearm within a school zone.  The charges alleged that defendant gave her 14-year-old cousin a loaded firearm and told her to shoot another 14-year-old child.  The cousin subsequently used the weapon to shoot two teenage girls, killing one of them.  Defendant sought to bifurcate the proceedings to exclude evidence regarding the shooting and murder of the child-victim and any evidence that defendant knew that the cousin would use the weapon for a crime of violence until a separate penalty phase after defendant was convicted of transferring the weapon and ammunition to a minor.  The court denied defendant’s motion, noting that courts generally do not bifurcate elements of a single offense or in cases where charges increase penalties for offenses committed under specified circumstances.  The trial court also observed that the shooting and killing of the child-victim is direct evidence supporting the charges, as well as evidence that gives force to the government’s theory of motive; excising this information from the evidence would leave a “hole in the government’s narrative” that could potentially undermine the government’s case or result in confusion and speculation by the jury.  Finally, the court emphasized that bifurcation would require the surviving child-victim and a number of other child-witnesses to have to testify twice.  The court explained that the surviving child-victim is entitled to rights as a victim of crime, including the “right to be treated with fairness and respect” and the right “to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.”  Not only would forcing the surviving child-victim to testify twice subject her to unnecessary stress, but forcing her “to tip-toe around the most traumatic aspect” of a traumatic experience—namely, the shooting and killing of a close friend—was found by the court to be “not reasonable.”  In conclusion, the court noted that jury instructions “mitigate the potential unfair prejudice to defendant and therefore eliminate the need for bifurcation.”  Defendant’s motion to bifurcate was denied with the exception of one remaining issue that the court took under advisement. 

  • State v. Scott, No. 1 CA–CR 15–0382, 2016 WL 7404659 (Ariz. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2016)

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    Defendant was convicted of one count of disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon, domestic violence related.  The conviction resulted from a physical altercation defendant had with the victim, his wife, during which he discharged a weapon and injured the victim.  Pretrial, defendant filed a motion to compel production of the victim’s mental health records for the past ten years for in camera inspection.  Defendant argued that his rights to present a complete defense and to cross-examine witnesses outweighed the victim’s state constitutional right to refuse a discovery request under Arizona’s Victims’ Bill of Rights.  The trial court denied the motion, but later reconsidered and required the victim to turn over any records in her possession covering the two months before the incident, including any prescriptions she was taking.  On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to compel discovery of all the victim’s mental health records for the last ten years because they may have contained information that was crucial to his self-defense claim and relevant for impeachment purposes.  The appellate court rejected defendant’s arguments.  The court began by noting that “[i]t is well-established that there is no general federal or state constitutional right to pretrial discovery[,]” and that crime victims generally have “the right to refuse to hand over medical records, pursuant to Arizona’s Victims’ Bill of Rights.”  The court then explained that it was undisputed that the victim suffered from paranoid schizophrenia; during trial defendant extensively cross-examined the victim about her mental health history and her ability to remember and perceive the assault.  The court also emphasized that defendant was permitted to testify about prior attacks by the victim, her descriptions of the violent content of the voices in her head, and his knowledge of her past diagnoses and prescriptions.  The court then concluded that “mere conjecture without more that certain information might be useful as exculpatory evidence is not sufficient to reverse a trial court’s denial of a request for disclosure.”  For these reasons the court found that the trial court did not err in refusing to order an in camera review of the victim’s mental health records and affirmed the conviction.