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Fuentes v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 12, 2017

MIGUEL A. FUENTES
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Argued: March 2, 2017

         Circuit Court for Prince George's County Case No. CT131280X

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

          OPINION

          Hotten, J.

         A jury in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County convicted the Petitioner, Miguel Fuentes, of second-degree rape and third-degree sexual offense. The jury acquitted Fuentes of fourth-degree sexual offense and second-degree assault. The trial court sentenced Fuentes to twenty years of incarceration in the Division of Correction, with all but twelve suspended, for second-degree rape and ten years, all but one suspended, for third-degree sexual offense, to run concurrently. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed in an unreported opinion dated August 18, 2016. Thereafter, we granted Fuentes' Petition for Writ of Certiorari. Fuentes v. State, 450 Md. 419, 149 A.3d 546 (2016). Fuentes presents the following questions for our review:

1. Was the evidence legally insufficient to support Petitioner's convictions where the convictions were contingent on [the victim]'s status as a "mentally defective" individual and the State failed to present evidence that she had been diagnosed with either mental retardation or a mental disorder?
2. Where Petitioner's knowledge of [the victim]'s purported mental deficiency was a required element of both convictions, was it reversible error for the State to inform the jury at closing argument that Petitioner had admitted to taking advantage of her "mental diminished capacity" in an interview that was never admitted into evidence at trial?
3. Where [the victim]'s ability to understand the conduct of others and to communicate with others was central to the jury's determination of whether she could be considered a "mentally defective" individual, did the trial court err in refusing to allow the defense to present employment performance evaluations that assessed both of these skills during her employment which is when the sexual activity took place?

         For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm the judgments of the Court of Special Appeals.

         FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

         The charges here stemmed from a sexual incident between Fuentes and Ms. R., [1] a thirty-eight-year-old woman at the time of trial. The incident occurred in Prince George's County in 2012 at a Marriott hotel where both were employed. The State alleged that Ms. R. was deaf and mentally defective as defined under Md. Code Ann., Criminal Law (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.) ("Crim. Law") § 3-301 and unable to consent to the sexual activity. Fuentes countered that Ms. R. initiated the sexual contact and fully understood what would transpire.

         Ms. R.'s testimony was elicited through an American Sign Language interpreter, a certified deaf interpreter, and a Spanish interpreter who interpreted for the deaf interpreter. When asked whether she was previously employed at the Marriott, Ms. R. testified, "I work before and then there was a closet and I said no. The folding table. I'm afraid. Someone grabbed me and I said no." When asked who grabbed her, she testified, "[h]is name is Miguel." Ms. R. testified that she was folding clothes on a table, putting them on shelves, when Fuentes came up to her and put his hands over her mouth. Ms. R. then fell down. When asked if he touched her anywhere else, she responded in the negative. She testified that he came up to her and she said "[n]o[, ]" and that he "started, " and she told him to stop. She demonstrated with two dolls indicating that Fuentes came up from the back, grabbed her, opened her zipper, pulled down her pants, and then "touched [her] behind and [she] pushed him away." Afterwards, in pain, Ms. R. went to the bathroom and was surprised to see something red[2] coming from "the lower of [her] body[.]" A calendar from 2012 was admitted into evidence, and Ms. R. indicated that the events transpired in February 2012. During trial, Ms. R. shrugged when the prosecutor asked if she saw Miguel in the courtroom, but she identified "Miguel" from a photograph the State introduced into evidence.[3]

         Ms. M., Ms. R.'s mother, worked at the Marriott as a cook. Ms. M. characterized Ms. R. as disabled, and stated that Ms. R. went to a high school where "there is a class for students with disabilities[, ]" and indicated that it was "[t]he special school for disability[, ]" from which Ms. R. graduated in 1998. Ms. M. testified that Ms. R. is not able to cook for herself or go to work by herself, and Ms. M. had difficulties talking with her. Ms. M. further testified that Ms. R. maintained her job in the housekeeping department at the Marriott for fourteen and a half years. In February and March of 2012, [4] Ms. M. noticed that her daughter's demeanor had changed. Ms. M. noticed her daughter crying on several occasions. Ms. M. initially attributed the change to the death of her husband, Ms. R.'s stepfather, which occurred in February 2012. By May 2012, she noticed that Ms. R. was gaining weight. A June 2012 blood test revealed that Ms. R. was pregnant. When Ms. M. asked who had impregnated her, Ms. R. "wrote [Miguel's] name."[5] Ms. M. reported the situation to the Marriott administration and the Office of the State's Attorney.

         Ms. R. gave birth to a daughter in November, 2012. Vanessa Covert, a DNA analyst, testified that the results of a paternity test indicated that there was a 99.9999996% probability that Fuentes was the child's father.

         Bonnie Bland, an employee at Humana, an organization that helps the disabled, knew Ms. R. through case management and job coaching. Ms. Bland met with Ms. R. monthly and tried to help her develop skills in order to look for jobs and to maintain her job. Ms. Bland testified that Ms. R. "has so many disabilities, " "has limited language[, ]" and was "not able to express herself." Although Ms. R. uses "broken English signs[]" to communicate with Ms. Bland, Ms. Bland, who is also deaf, stated that she is able to understand Ms. R.

         S.R., Ms. R.'s sister, testified that she communicated with her through signs the siblings developed as children.[6] S.R. usually understood her sister, but they would have difficulty communicating with one another. S.R. stated that Ms. R. cannot be left alone in the house.

         Detective Nicholas Collins of the Prince George's County Police Department was the lead investigator in the case. He interviewed Ms. R. on June 14, 2012, with the assistance of a sign language interpreter. He testified that she had difficulty understanding and responding to his questions. He further testified that "it took [Ms. R.] about five minutes to explain that" the man alleged to have raped her bent her over a chair and locked the door.

         In his defense, Fuentes presented the testimony of three co-workers from the hotel. When asked to describe Ms. R., Eleticia Hernandez, a former co-worker at Marriott, stated that Ms. R. is "[a] girl that is intelligent. She knows her job." Ms. Hernandez further testified that Fuentes was a serious, respectful man, and a good worker. Roxana Martinez, another employee of the Marriott, worked with Fuentes for fourteen years and also worked with Ms. R. She thought that Fuentes and Ms. R. were friends. She observed Fuentes and Ms. R. at work and noted that they often ate lunch together. Ms. Martinez did not know sign language but was able to communicate with Ms. R. through gestures. She stated that Fuentes was an honest and decent worker. Liliana Fuentes, Fuentes' daughter, and also an employee at the Marriott, testified that she was friends with Ms. R., and that she could communicate with her despite not knowing sign language. Ms. Fuentes noticed that Ms. R. "follow[ed] [Fuentes] all the time."

         Fuentes, a fifty-nine-year-old father of six, worked at the Marriott for nineteen years. He had known Ms. R. for fourteen years prior to the incident. Once she started working in housekeeping, they would see each other "all the time, because [they] had to use the same elevator." Fuentes admitted to having sexual contact with Ms. R., but claimed it was consensual and initiated by Ms. R. He further testified that she had touched him inappropriately before and that he had informed her mother of the behavior. He testified that on the date in question, he encountered Ms. R. on the third floor and then accompanied her to a closet on the fourth floor. He further testified that she opened the closet and made a motion to him to go inside, and he complied. According to Fuentes, they then engaged in consensual sexual intercourse.

         Fuentes moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case-in-chief, and renewed his motion at the close of all evidence. Both motions were denied by the trial court.

         DISCUSSION

         I.

         Fuentes first argues that the evidence was legally insufficient because his convictions were contingent on Ms. R.'s status as a mentally defective individual and the State failed to establish that she had been diagnosed with either mental retardation or a mental disorder. Fuentes argues that on this record, no rational juror could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ms. R. was either mentally retarded or suffered from a mental disorder.

         The State counters that the plain language and legislative history of Crim. Law § 3-301 and Maryland case law, do not support Fuentes' statutory construction. Furthermore, the State argues that Fuentes incorrectly points to definitions in other titles of the Maryland Code, because there is statutory language that limits the scope of those definitions to their particular title, without statutory language incorporating those definitions in the Criminal Law Article. The State contends that courts in other jurisdictions have held that expert evidence is not required to establish that a victim lacked the mental capacity to consent to sexual acts. Lastly, the State avers that lay testimony, and the jury's observation of the victim during her testimony, was sufficient to demonstrate that she had a mental disorder.

         In determining whether the evidence is legally sufficient, we examine the record solely to determine whether "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." McKenzie v. State, 407 Md. 120, 136, 962 A.2d 998, 1007 (2008) (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 315-16, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2786-87, 61 L.Ed.2d 560, 571 (1979)). In examining the record, we view the State's evidence, including all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the State. State v. Rendelman, 404 Md. 500, 513-14, 947 A.2d 546, 553 (2008) (citing Harrison v. State, 382 Md. 477, 487-88, 855 A.2d 1220, 1226 (2004)); State v. Suddith, 379 Md. 425, 429-31, 842 A.2d 716, 718-19 (2004) (citing State v. Smith, 374 Md. 527, 533-34, 823 A.2d 664, 668 (2003)). In so doing, "[i]t is not our role to retry the case." Smith v. State, 415 Md. 174, 185, 999 A.2d 986, 992 (2010). Rather, "[b]ecause the fact-finder possesses the unique opportunity to view the evidence and to observe firsthand the demeanor and to assess the credibility of witnesses during their live testimony, we do not re-weigh the credibility of witnesses or attempt to resolve any conflicts in the evidence." Id. (citing Tarray v. State, 410 Md. 594, 608, 979 A.2d 729, 737 (2009)). We defer to any possible reasonable inferences the jury could have drawn from the admitted evidence and need not decide whether the jury could have drawn other inferences from the evidence, refused to draw inferences, or whether we would have drawn different inferences from the evidence. Smith, 374 Md. at 557, 823 A.2d at 682; see also State v. Albrecht, 336 Md. 475, 478, 649 A.2d 336, 337 (1994) ("[I]t is not the function or duty of the appellate court to undertake a review of the record that would amount to, in essence, a retrial of the case.").

         Second-degree rape is defined by Crim. Law § 3-304(a), which provides in relevant part:

         Prohibited

(a) A person may not engage in vaginal intercourse with another:
(1) by force, or the threat of force, without the consent of the other;
(2) if the victim is a mentally defective[7] individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual, and the person performing the act knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a mentally defective individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual[.]
* * *
Penalty
(c)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, a person who violates subsection (a) of this section is guilty of the felony of rape in the second degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment for not exceeding 20 years.
Third-degree sexual offense is proscribed by Crim. Law § 3-307:
Prohibited
(a) A person may not:
(1)(i) engage in sexual contact with another without the consent of the other; and
(ii) 1. employ or display a dangerous weapon, or a physical object that the victim reasonably believes is a dangerous weapon;
2. suffocate, strangle, disfigure, or inflict serious physical injury on the victim or another in the course of committing the crime;
3. threaten, or place the victim in fear, that the victim, or an individual known to the victim, imminently will be subject to death, suffocation, strangulation, disfigurement, serious physical injury, or kidnapping; or
4. commit the crime while aided and abetted by another;
(2) engage in sexual contact with another if the victim is a mentally defective individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual, and the person performing the act knows or reasonably should know the victim is a mentally defective individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual[.]
* * *
Penalty
(b) A person who violates this section is guilty of the felony of sexual offense in the third degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years.

         When second-degree rape or third-degree sexual offense involving a legally incompetent victim is charged pursuant to Crim. Law §§ 3-304(a)(2) or 3-307(a)(2), "lack of consent does not have to be established independently by showing either resistance or fear of resistance but is automatically established, as a matter of law, by the status of the victim." See Travis v. State, 218 Md.App. 410, 428-29, 98 A.3d 281, 291-92 (2014). The three classes of individuals in Crim. Law §§ 3-304(a)(2) and 3-307(a)(2)-mentally defective individuals, mentally incapacitated individuals, and physically helpless individuals-"are incapable of consenting[, ]" and thus, "[t]he State is relieved from having to prove directly what it has already proved indirectly." Id. at 429, 98 A.3d at 292. Lack of consent "does not have to be proved directly not because it is not required but only because it is implicit in the victim's condition." Id. at 431, 98 A.3d at 293.

         Lastly, Crim. Law § 3-301 defines "mentally defective individual[:]"

In general
(a) In this subtitle the following words have the meanings indicated.
Mentally defective individual
(b) "Mentally defective individual" means an individual who suffers from mental retardation or a mental disorder, either of which temporarily or permanently renders the individual substantially incapable of:
(1) appraising the nature of the individual's conduct;
(2) resisting vaginal intercourse, a sexual act, or sexual contact; or
(3) communicating unwillingness to submit to vaginal intercourse, a sexual act, or sexual contact.

         To sustain a conviction of second-degree rape under Crim. Law § 3-304(a)(2), the State was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) Fuentes had vaginal intercourse with Ms. R.; (2) Ms. R. was mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless; and (3) Fuentes knew or reasonably should have known that Ms. R. was mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless. To sustain a conviction of the crime of third-degree sexual offense under Crim. Law § 3-307(a)(2), the State was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: (1) Fuentes engaged in sexual contact with Ms. R.; (2) Ms. R. was mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless; and (3) Fuentes knew or reasonably should have known that Ms. R. was mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.

         There is no dispute that Fuentes engaged in sexual contact with Ms. R. and had vaginal intercourse with her. Here, we must determine whether the evidence was sufficient to prove that Ms. R. was a mentally defective individual, and, if so, whether Fuentes knew or reasonably should have known that she was a mentally defective individual.[8]

         Fuentes argues that "[b]oth 'mental retardation' and 'mental disorder' are medical diagnoses made by medical professionals based on specific and established scientific evidence after thorough and rigorous examination of the patient." Accordingly, he argues that without medical evidence that Ms. R. was diagnosed with mental retardation or a mental disorder, the jury could not find that Ms. R. was mentally defective. We disagree.

         Fuentes recognizes that the term "mental disorder" is not defined in Crim. Law § 3-301, but asks this Court to adopt the definition contained in the Health - General Article and/or the Criminal Procedure Article of the Maryland Code. The General Assembly, however, could have, but did not adopt the definition of the term as defined in the Health -General or Criminal Procedure Articles.

         The General Assembly knows how to explicitly incorporate definitions from other titles, yet did not do so here. See Holmes v. State, 362 Md. 190, 195 n. 2, 763 A.2d 737, 739 n. 2 (2000) (stating that "when the Legislature chooses to permit home detention as a condition of probation, it knows how to do so."). The Criminal Law Article contains examples of explicit incorporation of definitions from other articles, including Health - General.[9] There are six statutes, in three different articles, that explicitly incorporate the definition of "mental disorder" contained in § 10-101 of the Health - General Article. For example, the Correctional Services Article has a provision regarding expenses for treatment in a state facility that provides: "A county or managing official is not responsible for payment for services or treatment rendered to an inmate as a result of admission to a State facility for individuals who have mental disorders as defined by in § 10-101(i) of the Health - General Article." Md. Code Ann., Correctional Services § 11-204 (emphasis added). The Family Law Article explicitly incorporates that same definition: ...


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