Defendant in Child Abuse Case Argues Fact Witnesses Should Have Been Allowed to Testify During Trial

In a July 2023 case involving a father and his deceased daughter, the defendant asked the court to reconsider his guilty verdict from 2017. The case originated when the defendant’s three-year-old daughter was pronounced dead, and the defendant was charged with child abuse. On appeal, the defendant argued the trial court unjustly kept out evidence from several of his friends and family members who would have testified about his diminished intellectual capacity. Deciding this testimony was properly excluded from trial, the court of appeals denied the defendant’s request to overturn the conviction.

Facts of the Case

Several years ago, the defendant’s daughter was brought to the hospital because of lacerations, infections, wounds, and swollen bones. Doctors tried to treat her, but she eventually died because of the injuries. Immediately, investigators began to try and find out how the girl became so injured. Eventually, their evidence led them to the defendant in this case. He was charged with child abuse and first-degree felony murder.

Before trial, the trial court conducted something called “competency proceedings.” These proceedings allow the court to determine if the defendant is mentally competent enough to stand trial. The court found that the defendant was, indeed, competent. His trial proceeded, and he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant took issue with the court’s exclusion of several fact witnesses that all resided in Mexico. The State of Arizona had asked the court to exclude these witnesses, given that they had no firsthand knowledge of the alleged abuse or of the daughter’s death. The defendant, on the other hand, argued that they would be helpful in that they could testify about his inability to read, write, speak English, text, or operate a GPS. The defendant wanted to use this evidence to show the jury why he was unable to call for help, get his daughter to a hospital, or read instructions on medicine bottles that could potentially save his daughter’s life.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the court improperly kept out evidence from these fact witnesses about his diminished capacity. According to the court, however, the defendant’s inability to do things like read or dial phone numbers did not show that he was physically unable to perform bodily movements to care for his daughter. While he might not have known whether he should take certain steps, the evidence showed nothing about his ability or inability to perform live saving physical movements that could have helped in a time of crisis.

Therefore, said the higher court, the trial court was correct to exclude the testimony. The defendant’s conviction would remain in place.

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