CAAF today issued its opinion in United States v. Sullivan, No. 10-0383/MC, affirming NMCCA. Here’s a link.  Judge Baker, who wrote for the majority, was joined by Judges Stucky and Ryan.  Chief Judge Effron, joined by Judge Edrmann, dissented. 

By my count, 11 cases argued this term remain undecided.

7 Responses to “CAAF issues opinion in Sullivan”

  1. k fischer says:

    So, why did this case get affirmed? What is the difference between this case and Savala?

    It strongly appears that the issue of the Government opening the door are the same. While the Victim in this case did have a mark on her neck and a swollen lip, which would corroborate her version where she was struck and choked, Savala had a witness who testified about the Victim’s condition.

    Savala was a Rape Shield issue, but now it appears that CAAF has created a Crazy Train Shield in US v. Sullivan. So, medical records are now protected like prior sexual acts of the victim?

    And, Savala did testify, but Sullivan apparently did not. I wonder if that made the difference?

  2. Brian le Chien says:

    Clearly not testifying made the difference (and not only because the majority explicitly says so). The minority talks about what the defense’s theory of the case was. The majority, on the other hand, focuses on what evidence they actually introduced. The MJ excluded evidence that could have been relevant, if the defense had put their guy on the stand. But they didn’t.

    Of course, putting your guy on the stand carries other risks….Accused only got 6 years, DC may have made the right call. Putting your guy on the stand to tell a BS story can really fire a panel up…

  3. Stewie says:

    But the question is, why does the accused testifying make a difference vis-a-vis the mental health status of the alleged victim?

    It was either relevant on its own or not, but I don’t think his testifying made it more relevant except to explain why he made the statements about her mental health and to rebut the claim that he’s lying about it.

    Put another way, if she’d been diagnosed as schizophrenic or some other serious mental disease or defect, it would be relevant and admissible regardless of whether he testified.

    Here, as the minority points out, it’s an issue that should go to weight, not admissibility when it comes to the credibility of the accused. Prior mental health problems that required medication are relevant to credibility, again regardless of the accused testifying.

  4. RY says:

    My concern is that the case seems to be a “lack of prejudice” decision disguised as relevance. Consider this: the excluded evidence was certainly relevant to the defense theory of the case. The defense argued EM was unstable, on medication, and needed an explanation other than her self-mutilation for her injuries to avoid involuntary admission to a psych ward. Having known people involuntarily admitted (from my defense counsel days), fear of psych ward is a a powerful motivator to aleady unstable individuals. In short, it’s hard to understand how evidence directly supporting the defense theory is not legally relevant.

    The driving point, therefore, IMO, is the majority’s view about the feasibility of the defense theory under the facts of this case. That is, they think it’s a crazy defense theory and that evidence supporting an unreasonable theory is equally unreasonable. That’s a decision better cast under the prejudice of the error. The problem is that the standard of review for a constitutional error is high/favors the defense.

    In short, I think the majority really decided the case (based on its weak analysis and distinction of this case from others) on the weight of the defense theory and evidence, rather than truly on the question of legal relevance. It’s perfectly fine to say the defense theory was unpersuasive but they should have said a lack of prejudice rather than what they did. I fear this will set up a series of apparently inconsistent decisions this term (there are still several MRE 412 decisions remaining).

  5. Brian le Chien says:

    Why are mental conditions ipso facto relevant to credibility? Was evidence introduced to show that x condition is associated with veracity? Or, was evidence introduced that condition X effects a person’s ability to perceive the world around them? If the accused knew the victim was on medication, medication could go to the accused’s state of mind and mistake of fact. But that knowledge must first be established (hence why he needs to testify).

    There is no automatic assumption that depressed people lie, or incorrectly percieve the events around them. A delusional disorder maybe different, but it is up to the proponent to establish the connection, and to show why the delusional disorder may effect the witnesses perception, memory, veracity, etc. (Agreed, with some mental disorders this won’t be a high bar).

    However, when the mental health condition is not present during the relevant time period (ie during the assault), because it happened years in the past, the burden on the proponent is all the harder. Now they must prove how some years-old mental condition effects her perception of events at the time, or her testimony today. Not easy. And because of the real prejudice concerns, and the privacy invasion of bringing up old barely probitive mental health issues, not something that easily passes 403.

    Well, at least thats what 3 of 5 say…

  6. Stewie says:

    They may not be “ipso facto” but I’d say there are pretty darn close, maybe ipso fac…

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that minor depression is ipso facto, I do think suidical ideation and a history of instability at a young age is another issue.

    We aren’t talking about a 40 year old who had some trauma in her 20s here.

    I agree the state of mind stuff kinda depends on the accused testifying, although not quite sure it’s relevant whether he thought she was on medication she wasn’t.

    How does the proponent show a delusional disorder, or schizophrenia or ANY mental illness absent the admission of the mental health records/history of the witness?

    I don’t think her mental health history would be something that a panel would say, eh, meaningless.

  7. Phil Cave says:

    I think the only comparison to Savala is that they are both fact specific. While each opinion seems to reinforce or remind of the basic rules, and each case seems to involve the prosecution wanting its cake to eat, and getting it, I think they are ultimately resolved as fact specific.