State v. Diaz

Decision Date06 April 2022
Docket NumberDocket No. 47667
Citation170 Idaho 79,507 P.3d 1109
Parties STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Ruben Daniel DIAZ, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, attorney for Appellant. Kale Gans argued.

Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, attorney for Respondent. Justin Curtis argued.

BEVAN, Chief Justice.

In this permissive appeal, the State challenges the district court's order denying a motion to exclude expert testimony that Ruben Daniel Diaz lacked the mens rea to commit aggravated battery because he suffered from a mental illness or defect that caused him to believe the victim was not a person but instead an alien being from another planet. The State charged Diaz with aggravated battery, use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime, and resisting and obstructing a police officer after he stabbed a man in a random attack. The State filed a motion in limine to exclude Diaz's expert testimony, arguing Idaho Code section 18-207 bars expert testimony on evidence of a mental condition. The district court denied (1) the motion in limine, (2) the State's subsequent motion to reconsider, and (3) the State's motion for a permissive appeal. The State then timely filed a motion for permissive appeal to this Court, which we granted. For the reasons below, we affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND .
A. Factual Background

Clyde Gary Vinsonhaler was raking leaves in his front yard when he saw a stranger, Ruben Daniel Diaz, enter the cul-de-sac in his neighborhood. Vinsonhaler thought Diaz appeared "a little disoriented and confused," so Vinsonhaler asked Diaz where he was headed. Vinsonhaler thought Diaz "might have been in some kind of a convalescent home or something and had gotten out and was walking the neighborhood and was lost[.]" Diaz said something he "couldn't quite make out," but Vinsonhaler still believed Diaz was "just kind of disoriented" and began to back up to maintain distance between Diaz and himself.

Vinsonhaler did not feel threatened at this point but wanted to disengage from Diaz and thought he should go inside and contact police to have an officer "talk to him or help him or take him away[.]" Vinsonhaler walked across his front yard and through the gate into the backyard believing he had "left him out in the little side yard out in front of the house." Vinsonhaler thought he had time to go inside and call the police to have an officer come out and respond.

As he walked inside to contact police, Vinsonhaler thought he closed and locked the sliding patio door behind him, but he was not sure. In any event, Vinsonhaler was in the bedroom searching for the police dispatch number when he heard a noise coming from the hallway. When he looked into the hallway, he saw Diaz standing inside the house. Diaz "just stood there." Vinsonhaler recalled telling Diaz, "You don't belong here, you need to leave," but Diaz simply responded, "no."

As Vinsonhaler tried to flee the house, he made it to the front door and was standing with his back to Diaz when he felt something grab him from behind. The next thing Vinsonhaler felt was what he "thought was a pruning saw cutting my face." In fact, it was a knife. Diaz stabbed Vinsonhaler "[a]ll over"—on his face, "around the neck," and elsewhere, repeatedly saying, "I'm going to kill you." Both men wrestled over the knife for several minutes until law enforcement arrived and subdued Diaz with a taser. Vinsonhaler was severely wounded but survived. Even so, Vinsonhaler required several surgeries on his hands, face, neck, and throat area.

B. Procedural Background

The State charged Diaz with (1) aggravated battery, (2) use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a crime, (3) and resisting and obstructing an officer. Later, the State filed an Information Part II, and alleged Diaz was a persistent violator. Under Idaho Code 18-207, Diaz notified the State of his intent to introduce expert testimony at trial. Diaz intended to offer testimony from Dr. James Davidson "that Mr. Diaz was delusional at the time of the offense and that, while Mr. Diaz admits slashing and cutting Mr. Vinsonhaler with a knife, Mr. Diaz, at the time he made the decision to do so, believed Mr. Vinsonhaler was not a person, but was instead an alien."

In response, the State moved in limine to exclude the expert's testimony arguing it was irrelevant, prejudicial, and advanced a prohibited insanity defense. The district court denied the State's motion, holding that the evidence was relevant to prove a mistake of fact defense or otherwise negate intent. The State then moved for a permissive appeal, which the district court denied. The State filed a permissive appeal to this Court, which was granted.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The trial court has broad discretion in the admission and exclusion of evidence and its decision to admit evidence will be reversed only when there has been a clear abuse of that discretion." State v. Lopez-Orozco , 159 Idaho 375, 377, 360 P.3d 1056, 1058 (2015) (quoting State v. Robinett , 141 Idaho 110, 112, 106 P.3d 436, 438 (2005) ). When this Court reviews an alleged abuse of discretion by a trial court the sequence of inquiry requires consideration of four essentials: "whether the trial court: (1) correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; (2) acted within the outer boundaries of its discretion; (3) acted consistently with the legal standards applicable to the specific choices available to it; and (4) reached its decision by the exercise of reason." State v. Bodenbach , 165 Idaho 577, 591, 448 P.3d 1005, 1019 (2019) (quoting Lunneborg v. My Fun Life , 163 Idaho 856, 863, 421 P.3d 187, 194 (2018) ). Whether evidence is relevant is reviewed de novo. State v. Raudebaugh , 124 Idaho 758, 764, 864 P.2d 596, 602 (1993).

A motion seeking a pretrial ruling on the admissibility of evidence is known as a motion in limine. Idaho's courts recognize the importance of a motion in limine. State v. Young, 136 Idaho 113, 120, 29 P.3d 949, 956 (2001). A motion in limine enables a judge to make a ruling on evidence without first exposing it to the jury. It avoids juror bias sometimes generated by objections to evidence during trial. The court's ruling on the motion enables counsel of both sides to make strategic decisions before trial on the content and order of evidence to be presented. See generally Warren v. Sharp , 139 Idaho 599, 605, 83 P.3d 773, 779 (2003), overruled on other grounds by Blizzard v. Lundeby , 156 Idaho 204, 322 P.3d 286 (2014). Since a motion in limine is based on an alleged set of facts rather than the actual testimony, the trial court's ruling is not a final order. Id. The trial court may reconsider the issue at any time, including when the actual presentation of facts is made. Id .

III. ANALYSIS

A. We affirm the district court's decision denying the State's motion to exclude the expert testimony of Dr. Davidson.

The State challenges the district court's order denying its motion to exclude expert testimony, arguing the testimony was (1) irrelevant and inadmissible under Idaho Code section 18-207, (2) addressed an unavailable mistake of fact defense, and (3) was otherwise highly prejudicial. We affirm the district court's order.

1. Expert testimony that Diaz did not know his victim was human was relevant to establish the elements of aggravated battery .

The district court denied the State's motion in limine to exclude expected expert testimony from Dr. Davidson who would state that Diaz lacked the requisite mens rea to commit aggravated battery because he suffered from a mental disease or defect that caused him to believe the victim was an alien. Davidson planned to opine: "Mr. Diaz was delusional at the time of the attack and that, while Mr. Diaz admits slashing and cutting Mr. Vinsonhaler with a knife, Mr. Diaz ... believed Mr. Vinsonhaler was not a person, but was instead an alien." The district court found Davidson's testimony was relevant, explaining in the order denying the State's motion to reconsider that Idaho Code section 18-903(a) and 18-907(b) required the State to "prove that a person willfully used force or violence upon the person of another and that the person had no lawful justification for doing so." According to Idaho Code section 18-903, which Diaz was charged under:

A battery is any:
(a) Willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another; or
(b) Actual, intentional and unlawful touching or striking of another person against the will of the other; or
(c) Unlawfully and intentionally causing bodily harm to an individual.

I.C. § 18-903. Subsection (a) requires the State to prove a person acted willfully. Diaz was also charged with aggravated battery—with the use of a deadly weapon or battery that caused great bodily harm. See I.C. § 18-907. Thus, at its core, as the district court correctly observed, this case turns on what state of mind the State must prove the defendant had when committing battery. If the only state of mind required is that the defendant acted willfully, then expert testimony that Diaz lacked capacity to form intent is irrelevant. On the other hand, if the state of mind is something more—that the defendant knowingly performed the willful action—his alleged incapacity to form intent would be relevant.

Evidence is admissible only if it is relevant, and "relevant evidence" means "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." I.R.E. 401. "Irrelevant evidence is not admissible." I.R.E. 402.

Though Idaho abolished the insanity defense, "Section 18-207, Idaho Code, does not prevent a defendant from presenting relevant evidence of his mental state." State v. Beam , 109 Idaho 616, 621, 710 P.2d 526, 531 (1985). Thus, Idaho Code section 18-207(3) does not "prevent the...

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3 cases
  • State v. Fox
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • 9 d5 Setembro d5 2022
    ...evidence and its decision to admit evidence will be reversed only when there has been a clear abuse of that discretion." State v. Diaz , 170 Idaho 79, –––, 507 P.3d 1109, 1113 (2022) (quoting State v. Lopez-Orozco , 159 Idaho 375, 377, 360 P.3d 1056, 1058 (2015) ). To that end, I note that ......
  • State v. Fox
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • 9 d5 Setembro d5 2022
    ... ... "The ... trial court has broad discretion in the admission and ... exclusion of evidence and its decision to admit evidence will ... be reversed only when there has been a clear abuse of that ... discretion." State v. Diaz , 170 Idaho 79,, 507 ... P.3d 1109, 1113 (2022) (quoting State v ... Lopez-Orozco , 159 Idaho 375, 377, 360 P.3d 1056, 1058 ... (2015)). To that end, I note that Fox failed to argue the ... district court violated the abuse of discretion standard ... While the ... ...
  • Weaver v. Weaver
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • 6 d3 Abril d3 2022

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