Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Habeas petition is granted in rape case

This is a complicated habeas corpus case where a man was found guilty of rape but he challenges the constitutionality of that conviction because the prosecution never turned over the victim's psychological report, which would have allowed the defendant's lawyer to impeach her and to support the defendant's claim that the sexual contact was consensual.

The case is  Fuentes v. Griffin, decided on July 15. Fuentes met the victim at an arcade in New York City. He says they had a consensual one-night stand but that she yelled at him at the subway station after the sexual contact when he said he did not want to see her again. She said he raped her. At the criminal trial, Fuentes's lawyer realized that the victim's psychiatric records were turned over at the last minute. Those records said she had pre-existing depression, suicidal thoughts and frequent crying spells. Defense counsel asked for (but was denied) a mistrial.

He argued that the cross-examination he could have conducted if he had known of the ROC "would have had a major effect on th[e] jury's opinion of [G.C.'s] credibility in this case." Further, G.C.'s mental health history as shown in the ROC would have substantiated Fuentes's account of G.C.'s erratic behavior at the subway station, and thus supported Fuentes's version of the events. Counsel also pointed out that during her trial testimony, G.C. "broke down on the stand and cried many times. And the jury could have very easily been led to believe the reason she was crying was the result of this incident. Now, after looking at this psych. record, we find she was crying well before the events of that evening . . . ."
Before you can bring a federal habeas corpus petition, you have to exhaust all appeals in the state system. For most people, that means going to the Appellate Division, and then asking the State Court of Appeals to take up the case, which it can reject without comment because the State's highest court can pick and chose what cases it wants to hear. But in this case, the State Court of Appeals did hear the case and it upheld the conviction. But the Second Circuit finds that the State Court of Appeals had actually misread part of the victim's psychiatric records in upholding the conviction. In the end, the Second Circuit (Kearse and Straub with Wesley in dissent) says, the State Court of Appeals did not reasonably apply settled constitutional law in upholding the conviction. It's been at least a few years since the Second Circuit has said this about the State's highest court, which is considered among the most prestigious in the country.

The Second Circuit grants the habeas petition in holding that Fuentes had a clearly-established constitutional right to receive psychiatric records like this as Brady material, which the prosecution must turn over to the defense before trial. The Circuit also says that the Confrontation Clause in the U.S. Constitution allows defendants to challenge a witness's credibility by challenging their ulterior motives, i.e., vindictiveness or malice. Psychiatric evidence allows you to challenge the witness's credibility in this regard. Here is the crux of the Second Circuit's reasoning:

The suppressed psychiatric record stated unambiguously that on January 27, 2002, G.C. told the hospital psychiatrist that she had been depressed and suicidal for two years. This information was consistent with the Record of Consultation's notation of "Dysthymic Disorder", a condition whose "essential feature," according to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) ("DSM-IV") -- which is "an objective authority on the subject of mental disorders," is a "chronically depressed mood that occurs for most of the day more days than not for at least 2 years," with symptoms that may include "low self-esteem." Among "the most commonly encountered symptoms in Dysthymic Disorder may be feelings of inadequacy" and "excessive anger," and the "chronic mood symptoms may contribute to interpersonal problems or be associated with distorted self-perception,"

Thus, while the Court of Appeals majority, not recognizing the actual content of the psychiatric record, viewed its impeachment value as "at best, minimal," the information as to G.C.'s chronic depression and Dysthymic Disorder would have, inter alia, provided a way to cross-examine G.C. as to her mental state, and potentially corroborated Fuentes's account of her behavior as "unstable" and "erratic" when he declined to see her again, to wit, being angry and volubly upset at being rejected. And, importantly, timely disclosure of the ROC would have provided defense counsel with an opportunity to seek an expert opinion with regard to the ROC's indication of other significant symptoms, in order to establish reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors because of G.C.'s predisposition toward emotional instability and retaliation--an opinion he was able to obtain after he eventually learned of the psychiatric record but not in time to present it to the jury.

1 comment:

Marc Aaron Goldbach said...

The suspect has the right to challenges the constitutionality of that conviction. It should be fair for him to submit the victim's psychological report to the court. This is very challenging and interesting story to proved that rape cases has a lot of information to dig out before the conviction.

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