Nobrega v. Commonwealth of Virginia

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The defendant was convicted of rape and sexual abuse of his minor daughter and appealed, challenging the trial court’s refusal to order the victim to undergo a mental health examination and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. The defendant’s daughter, who was 11 years old, reported to her mother that defendant had sex with her on two occasions when she was seven and eight years old. In a motion to order a psychiatric examination of the child, defendant pointed to the child’s mental health history, which showed that she “had been diagnosed with psychological disorders and exhibited dysfunctional behavior.” The trial court denied the motion and the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the denial. The issue before the Court was whether the trial court erred in denying defendant’s motion to subject the plaintiff, a rape victim, to a psychiatric examination and whether the plaintiff’s testimony alone, without the requested mental examination, was sufficient to sustain defendant’s conviction. The Court affirmed the lower courts, finding that the trial process afforded “adequate safeguards to the accused to test the competency of the complaining witness without a court-ordered mental health examination of that witness.” Therefore, “a trial court has no authority to order a complaining witness in a rape case to undergo a psychiatric or psychological evaluation.” With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence, the court noted its precedents establishing that “the victim’s testimony alone, if not inherently incredible, is sufficient to support a conviction for rape,” and that because the child’s testimony was not inherently incredible, it was sufficient to sustain defendant’s conviction. The trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to subject plaintiff to a mental examination and the plaintiff’s testimony, by itself, was sufficient to support the conviction.



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