Psych Evaluation Paves Way for New Rape Trial

     MANHATTAN (CN) — Amid national headlines about judicial victim-blaming, the Second Circuit ordered a new trial for a convicted rapist Friday because prosecutors did not disclose his victim’s pre-existing depression.
     The 31-page ruling criticizes New York’s highest court for misreading a psychiatric record, but U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Wesley objected to the reversal in a fiery dissent.
     “Today, the majority holds that a young woman’s struggle with a minor depressive disorder is so obviously damaging to her credibility in the prosecution of her alleged rapist that there is no room for fair-minded disagreement,” Wesley wrote. “The majority reaches this conclusion by speculating about the victim’s emotional state based on symptoms nowhere present in the record; instead, the majority extrapolates them from a medical text’s general description of symptoms that may be — but are not always — present in people who suffer from the same disorder.”
     The divided ruling today gives a second chance to Jose Alex Fuentes — a little more than a decade into his 25-year sentence — who argues that the early morning, rooftop sexual encounter for he which he was convicted was consensual.
     “G.C.,” as the woman is described in the complaint, says Fuentes followed her into her Brooklyn apartment building on Jan. 27, 2002, after a night at the arcade with friends.
     Fuentes claims to have hit it off with 22-year-old G.C. at the arcade. A friend of G.C.’s testified at the trial, on the other hand, that she did not see Fuentes that night, and that G.C. had not been talking to any men while they were out.
     G.C. says Fuentes, 23 at the time, forced her up to the roof with a knife, then raped and sodomized her.
     Fuentes says the consensual encounter soured after G.C. walked him back to the subway and intimated that she wanted to see him again.
     When Fuentes said he wanted to leave things as a “one-night stand,” G.C. allegedly became “erratic” and unstable,” warning that he’d be sorry.
     Though a Brooklyn jury found Fuentes guilty of first-degree rape and sodomy, Fuentes pushed for a mistrial based on withheld evidence that he deemed exculpatory.
     The trial had been in the middle of closing arguments when a prosecutor admitted that she had deliberately withheld a document in turning over G.C.’s medical records to the defense.
     G.C. consulted with a psychiatrist when she went to the hospital on Jan. 27 to report she had been raped. The record of consultation that the prosecution withheld notes that G.C. had reported “depression x 2y and ideas of killing herself since then.”
     In her defense, the prosecutor said she withheld the record out of concern for psychiatrist-patient privilege.
     The court said it should have had an opportunity to rule whether the record was discoverable, but nevertheless refused to order a mistrial, seeing nothing exculpatory about the withheld report.
     New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, agreed, but the Second Circuit said today that this finding stemmed from a misinterpretation of the counselor’s notes.
     Critical to reversal is that the Court of Appeals attributed G.C.’s depression to her mood in that moment, having just reported that she’d been raped. Yet “the state concedes that ‘x 2y’ means extending for ‘two years,'” according to today’s ruling.
     “The contents of the suppressed psychiatric record provided information with which to impeach the complaining witness and to support the defendant’s version of the events,” U.S. Circuit Judge Amalya Kearse wrote for the court, joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Chester Straub.
     Kearse said the jury might have bought reached a different conclusion if the defense had been able to look into the accuser’s history, “potentially corroborat[ing] 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.”
     Dissenting Judge Wesley denounced his colleagues for speculating about G.C.’s medical condition.
     “Without any evidence that G.C. actually experienced any such symptoms, the majority ominously warns that dysthymic disorder ‘may’ also be accompanied by ‘feelings of inadequacy,’ ‘excessive anger,’ ‘interpersonal problems,’ or ‘distorted self-perception,'” the dissent states.
     Wesley noted that G.C.’s medical record reflected a common condition.
     “The majority then says, incredibly, that this generic description of the possible associated features of a minor depressive disorder — a disorder that between roughly 4.5 and 9.5 million people will experience this year — ‘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,'” he wrote.
     An attorney for Fuentes did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
     The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, which has 90 days to retry Fuentes or free him, said it is reviewing the decision and considering its options.
     Today’s ruling falls a month after national headlines involving a California judge’s decision to hand down a six-month sentence to Stanford University student Brock Turner for the rape of an unconscious, 23-year-old woman.
     Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky justified his lenient sentence on the effect prison would have on Turner, who previously had a promising career as a swimmer. Outrage over the sentence prompted a petition for the judge’s recall, and dueling controversies over judicial independence and the rights of rape victims. Turner is expected to serve only three months.

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