New and Noteworthy
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State v. Scott, No. 1 CA–CR 15–0382, 2016 WL 7404659 (Ariz. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2016)
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.
State v. Davidson, — S.W.3d —, No. E2013-00394-SC-DDT-DD, 2016 WL 2016 WL 7339116 (Tenn. Dec. 19, 2016)
Defendant was convicted on multiple counts of first-degree murder, among other charges, and sentenced to death. On automatic appeal, several grounds were raised, including that he was deprived of a fair trial by courtroom spectators wearing buttons displaying images of the victims. The trial court allowed the use of buttons with certain restrictions, such as that they could only be worn by immediate family members and could not be worn while testifying. Defendant contended that the buttons constituted impermissible victim impact evidence, prejudiced the jury, and that a per se rule should be adopted banning them. As a matter of first impression, the court found that a per se ban on buttons was not appropriate. Rather, the court extended a test used in other jurisdictions to spectator conduct. Under this test, trial courts should consider the totality of the circumstances and decide the issue on a case-by-case basis. Factors to be considered include the size of the buttons; who wears them and when; and whether only a photograph is shown or words too. The court stated that a trial court should not allow buttons to be worn if they are so inherently prejudicial as to pose an unacceptable threat to the defendant’s right to a fair trial or when the defendant establishes actual prejudice. In this case, the court found that the trial court properly recognized that a fair trial requires the courtroom atmosphere to be free of coercion or intimidation. The trial court established and enforced restrictions on the appearance and display of the buttons that minimized any prejudicial effect. Finding that defendant failed to show the buttons worn were so inherently prejudicial as to pose an unacceptable threat to his right to a fair trial, or that there was any actual prejudice, his convictions were affirmed.