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State v. Jacobson

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

December 21, 2017

STATE OF ARIZONA, Appellee,
v.
SUSAN JOY JACOBSON, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Coconino County No. S0300CR201500613 The Honorable Cathleen Brown Nichols, Judge

          Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix By Michael O'Toole Counsel for Appellee

          Coconino County Public Defender's Office, Flagstaff By Brad Bransky Counsel for Appellant

          Presiding Judge Kenton D. Jones delivered the Opinion of the Court, in which Judge Jon W. Thompson and Judge Thomas C. Kleinschmidt [1] joined.

          OPINION

          JONES, Judge

         ¶1 Susan Jacobson appeals her conviction and sentence for first-degree murder. Jacobson argues the trial court erred when it precluded two experts from testifying she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a "cold" expert from testifying about the general hormonal effects of pregnancy. We hold the PTSD diagnoses and "cold" expert testimony were properly excluded and affirm the trial court's decisions.

         FACTS[2] AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2 Late in the night of February 25, 2015, Jacobson fatally shot her live-in boyfriend, Marvin J., in the head while he was lying in bed. Jacobson then tried to clean up the scene, wrapped Marvin's body in a tarp, and moved it to a nearby window. Jacobson disposed of the bloody bed sheets and buried the gun before reporting the shooting to the police two days later. At the time, Jacobson was nine months' pregnant with Marvin's child.

         ¶3 When a deputy sheriff later interviewed Jacobson, she claimed she killed Marvin in self-defense. Jacobson said Marvin had been angry with her for a few days and, on the night of the shooting, he woke her up by kicking her in the stomach. Jacobson said Marvin yelled he was "sick of [her], " and did not want the baby. Jacobson said she left the bed, grabbed the gun, and shot Marvin believing "whoever [got] to the gun first [was] going to be saved."[3] Jacobson said Marvin had kicked her in the stomach during her prior pregnancy as well.

         ¶4 The State charged Jacobson with one count of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with physical evidence. A few days after her arrest, Jacobson gave birth to her second child. The children were then taken into State custody and the State sought to sever her parental rights. A psychiatrist, Dr. Chris Linskey, and a psychologist, Dr. Patricia Rose, evaluated Jacobson for purposes of the severance hearing and diagnosed her with PTSD. Both doctors then testified at the severance hearing and made clear that their opinions, consistent with the severance proceedings, related solely to Jacobson's ability to parent the two children. Throughout that process, and upon advice of counsel, Jacobson did not answer questions related to the shooting, and the doctors said they intentionally avoided discussing the events surrounding the shooting when evaluating Jacobson.

         ¶5 Before trial, the court granted the State's motion to preclude testimony about Jacobson's PTSD diagnoses. The trial court also granted the State's motion to preclude testimony about the general hormonal effects associated with third-trimester pregnancies that Jacobson sought to introduce through a "cold" expert.[4] Jacobson was subsequently convicted on all counts, and sentenced to life in prison. Jacobson timely appealed, [5] and we have jurisdiction pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) §§ 12-120.21(A)(1), [6] 13-4031, and -4033(A).

         DISCUSSION

         I. PTSD Diagnoses

         ¶6 Jacobson argues the trial court erred when it precluded testimony regarding her post-arrest PTSD diagnoses. At issue is: (1) whether the PTSD diagnoses were admissible to show past acts of domestic abuse, and (2) whether the PTSD diagnoses may be used to address the mens rea element of first-degree murder. We review a trial court's ruling on the admissibility of expert opinions for an abuse of discretion. State v. Chappell, 225 Ariz. 229, 235, ¶ 16 (2010) (citing State v. Chapple, 135 Ariz. 281, 297 (1983)). We review constitutional and legal issues de novo. State v. Ellison, 213 Ariz. 116, 129, ¶ 42 (2006) (citing Lilly v. Virginia, 527 U.S. 116, 137 (1999)).

         ¶7 As a preliminary matter, Jacobson argued before the trial court that State v. Vogel,207 Ariz. 280 (App. 2004), supports admission of the PTSD diagnoses, and on appeal again directs the Court's attention to the factual recitation in Vogel. There, a psychiatrist diagnosed a defendant with PTSD and testified he believed the defendant was a victim of domestic violence. Id. at 282, ΒΆ 15. However, the propriety of the admission of the PTSD diagnosis was never questioned or addressed by ...


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