Commentary: I lack the credentials to offer a legal opinion as to how the New Mexico Supreme Court should rule in the case relating to the death of Faviola Rodriguez. But you don’t need a law degree to know what’s right.
Baby Favi was 2 years old in September, 2018 when police responded to a 3 a.m. call for help with a toddler who was not breathing. EMTs trying to save the little girl’s life noticed bruises to her ribs and face. She was taken to MountainView Regional Medical Center, where she died from the blunt-trauma abuse she had suffered.
Lalo Anthony Castrillo, who is now 26, has been charged with intentional abuse of a child resulting in death. But prosecutors seeking his conviction have been prevented from using exhibits during the trial that are critical to their case.
District Court Judge Douglas Driggers granted a motion by the defense to toss out all of the exhibits prosecutors had prepared for trial, as punishment for their failure to meet the court’s deadline for turning over evidence to the defense. This was not the first time the local District Attorney’s Office had missed court deadlines, explained the frustrated judge.
Driggers insists he isn’t preventing the evidence from being presented. Prosecutors can still have witnesses explain what they had intended to be a photo, chart or graph.
I can see how that might work for something like phone records. They could have somebody just read them all off, although it would seem like that would just take longer and make it more difficult for the jury to understand and retain.
But how is that going to work with the photo of a 2-year-old girl who has been beaten to death? Who are they going to find to come up with the right words, and the right tone of voice, to accurately convey to the jury what that looks like?
Missed deadlines are disrespectful to the court and place a burden on the defense team as it is preparing for trial. Our District Attorney’s Office is a mess. We already knew that, after the Tai Chan case. It will eventually be up to voters to demand better.
But this can’t be the remedy.
The reason attorneys use visual graphics in court is the same reason they are used by teachers, lecturers or anybody trying to convey information. Some people are visual learners and need to have that image to make it stick.
The reason attorneys use photos is because they offer a precise and detailed image that will not change over time, as our memories often do.
The defense will undoubtedly make use of visual graphics during their presentations. Denying this tool to the prosecution will create an unfair trial.
This case has generated enormous interest and emotions because of the age of the victim, and the photo of the adorable little girl that always accompanies the stories of her death. I appreciate the challenges faced by the court, and Castrillo’s attorneys, in ensuring emotion does not override evidence in the careful consideration of this case.
But this can’t be the remedy.
The Supreme Court has asked the District Attorney’s Office to file an additional brief, which is expected to delay their decision by about a month. And that’s fine.
Justice delayed is a heck of a lot better than no justice at all.