Arizona Supreme Court Changes Duress Defense

The Arizona Supreme Court recently changed the defense of duress in criminal cases.  The following is from “AZ Supreme Court Changes Criminal Defense of Duress” by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, August 24, 2018: https://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2018/08/24/az-supreme-court-changes-criminal-defense-of-duress/

A woman sentenced to 20 years in prison because of her role in keeping her three daughters locked up for three months in squalid conditions has had her case sent back to Pima County Superior Court Judge Paul Tang for a new trial.

Sophie Richter wanted to present evidence that she acted under duress because she was too scared of her husband, the girls’ stepfather, to help them.  Her evidence would have included a doctor’s testimony that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to her husband’s abuse and photographs of “numerous scars” she said were inflicted by him.

Judge Tang refused to allow her to use duress as a defense because she was essentially claiming “battered woman syndrome,” where she would escape punishment by claiming she was so abused that she lacked the mental capacity to know she was committing a crime.  That defense is not allowed in Arizona.

Chief Justice Scott Bales noted that her claims were more specific than that:

“For example, he said she believed that if she resisted she would either be seriously harmed or killed, or that her children would as well. And she submitted evidence of wounds and blood on her body that police documented on the day of her arrest.

Bales said that evidence, if accepted by a jury, could show she was constantly in fear, providing a basis for her to argue she had no choice but to go along with what her husband demanded.”

Bales said she had a story to tell that could convince a jury she acted under duress:

“She sought to argue that her intentional illegal conduct was justified because she was compelled to abuse her children by the threat or use of immediate physical force against her or her children,” he wrote. More to the point, he said that threat need not be something that occurred at precisely the same time Sophia was committing the crime.

“An ongoing threat of harm can be sufficiently immediate and present for purposes of a duress defense even when the threat precedes the illegal conduct by several days,” he said.

Bales acknowledged that the threat needs to be more than “vague or undetailed.” But the justice said there was enough evidence to suggest she was under constant fear.

“She stated that even when she went grocery shopping, she was accompanied by Fernando’s mother,” he noted, and Sophia was required to keep her cell phone on at all times “in order that he could tell her what was going on.”

Then there were the wounds and blood police found. And Bales said Sophia would have presented evidence that when she stood up to Fernando on a family trip he threw her out of the hotel room by her hair.

Bales said, though, that for Sophia to succeed in her defense at a new trial she has to convince a jury that a reasonable person, subjected to the same threats and patterns of abuse, would have believed he or she was compelled to engage in the same illegal conduct.

If you have been charged with a crime where duress might be a defense, you need an experienced defense attorney.  Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over thirty years experience. Please call him today for a free consultation.

 

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