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State v. Arellano - 5/24/2006

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That Superior Court Properly Ruled That Capital Defendants Had Established A Rebuttable Presumption Of Mental Retardation By Submission Of Expert Reports On Defendants’ Low IQ Scores, But The Superior Court Abused Its Discretion By Excluding As Irrelevant Lay Witnesses’ T


State v. Arellano (May 24, 2006): Supreme Court Holds That Superior Court Properly Ruled That Capital Defendants Had Established A Rebuttable Presumption Of Mental Retardation By Submission Of Expert Reports On Defendants’ Low IQ Scores, But The Superior Court Abused Its Discretion By Excluding As Irrelevant Lay Witnesses’ Testimony Regarding The Defendants’ Adaptive Behavior After Reaching The Age Of Eighteen.

According to the evidence at trial, Defendants Michael and Rudi Apelt conspired to kill Michael’s wife. For the murder, the jury sentenced them to death.

Following Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the Defendants “filed petitions for post-conviction relief claiming that they are mentally retarded.” The appeal arose out of the Superior Court’s interpretation of A.R.S. § 13-703.02, which specifies the procedure to determine whether a capital defendant is mentally retarded. The Superior Court first “found that the Apelts had established a rebuttable presumption of mental retardation. Second, the court . . . preclude[d] testimony by employees of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) about the Apelts’ present adaptive behavior.”

The Supreme Court held that the Superior Court properly determined, pre-hearing, that the Defendants’ had established a rebuttable presumption of mental retardation by submitting expert reports of IQ scores below sixty-five. A.R.S. § 13-703.02(G). The Superior Court abused its discretion, however, by excluding as irrelevant lay witness testimony of ADOC employees who had observed the Defendants’ adaptive behavior after the Defendants had reached the age of eighteen. The Court concluded that nothing in the statute barred the testimony and the testimony could be relevant to determine the defendants’ adaptive behavior before turning eighteen. See A.R.S. § 13-703.02(K).

Chief Justice McGregor authored the unanimous opinion.

Posted On: 6/1/2006