Monday, March 7, 2016

The right to present a defense includes psychological evidence---even in a general-intent case

Rasmieh Odeh was convicted in Israel in 1969 and 1970 of terrorist activities. She was later diagnosed with PTSD as a result of severe torture she suffered at the hands of the Israeli military. When she applied for naturalization in the United States, she stated that she had never before been arrested, convicted, or imprisoned. She was charged with and convicted of making false statements in her naturalization application and to an immigration officer.

Before trial, Odeh proffered expert testimony that her PTSD caused her to "filter out" her experience, and to interpret the naturalization questions "so as to avoid any thought as to her trauma." In other words, she did not knowingly make the false statements.

The district court excluded the evidence, holding that psychological evidence could only be admitted to negate a specific intent, and Odeh was not charged with a specific-intent crime.

The Sixth Circuit disagreed. Citing Chambers v. Mississippi and the defendant's constitutional right to present a defense, the Court found the evidence relevant to disprove the essential element of knowledge. The Court rejected the district court's reliance on a "supposed categorical rule that does not apply." In other words, as long as the psychological evidence is offered to refute some element of the crime, it doesn't matter whether the crime is one of specific or general intent.

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