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JOSEPH WALTER NOBREGA v. COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA

271 Va. 508

The trial court reasoned that, if the motion were granted, Nobrega would inevitably call the examining psychiatrist or psychologist as an expert witness to testify regarding the results of the examination.  The trial court found Nobrega guilty on both counts of rape and both counts of sexual abuse as charged in the indictments.  Nobrega perfected an appeal from his convictions to the Court of Appeals of Virginia.

Whether the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for an independent psychiatric or psychological examination of the complaining witness?

Whether the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions?

Whether the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion for an independent psychiatric or psychological examination of the complaining witness?

We have no doubt that the possibility of undergoing court-ordered psychiatric or psychological examinations as a consequence of reporting rapes could deter victims from coming forward. Historically, rape victims have been particularly vulnerable to defense tactics that "put the victim on trial. The General Assembly has furthered the public policy of encouraging victims to come forward by passing legislation to curb such tactics.  Nevertheless, we recognize that the established history of mental illness of a particular complaining witness may create a heightened danger that the witness lacks the capacity accurately to observe, remember, and communicate facts. It is axiomatic that an individual accused of the crime of rape has a vital interest in ascertaining the competency of such a complaining witness to testify. However, we believe that an accused's ability to voir dire a complaining witness, the trial court's skill and experience in observing testimony, and the presentation of the mental health records and expert testimony regarding those records provide  adequate safeguards to the accused to test the competency of the complaining witness without a court-ordered mental health examination of that witness. Thus, we hold that a trial court has no authority to order a complaining witness in a rape case to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation

Whether the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions?

While the child's testimony did contain minor inconsistencies, her testimony did not waiver with regard to the acts of sexual intercourse. Although the child's mental health history bears on the weight to be given her testimony, the trial court found her testimony to be credible. The record does not support a conclusion that her mental health history rendered her testimony inherently incredible as a matter of law. Finally, the testimony of the physician who physically examined the child showed that the lack of physical evidence of sexual intercourse could have been the result of the natural healing and growth process of a girl of the child's age.
As we have stated, the victim's testimony alone, if not inherently incredible, is sufficient to support a conviction for rape.  Since the child's testimony that Nobrega engaged in sexual intercourse with her was not inherently incredible, the trial court was entitled to rely on her testimony. Accordingly, we hold that the Commonwealth's evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions.

This court conclude that the holding of the Court of Appeals that a trial court has no authority to order a complaining witness in a rape case to undergo a psychiatric or psychological examination was correct and the Court of Appeals also correctly held that the Commonwealth's evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions.

Disclaimer:

These summaries are provided by the SRIS Law Group.  They represent the firm's unofficial views of the Justices' opinions.  The original opinions should be consulted for their authoritative content
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