1. "Evidence of mental disease or defect that at best bolsters a matter collateral to a defendant’s mental state defense is inadmissible under Ruffin v. State, 270 S.W.3d 586 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008)."
2. "If such evidence is admissible, the court of appeals erred by assessing harm for constitutional error under Tex. R. App. P. 44.2(a) because appellant presented a detailed defense."
Crumley exchanged texts and messages over the course of days with “Alyssa TX 13,” a forum user who purported to be a 13-year-old girl. This culminated in “Alyssa” agreeing to have sex with Crumley. Crumley was arrested when he showed up at the agreed meeting place. “Alyssa” turned out to be a male investigator with a child exploitation unit. Crumley was convicted of online solicitation of a minor. His defense was that he knew the whole time that “Alyssa” was an adult, probably a male. Crumley testified and explained that he had difficulty with peer-to-peer social interactions, an inability to read social cues, and an overall diminished ability to deal with people. He said this is how he got “catfished” twice by women online. So, Crumley testified, he set out to expose someone he thought was lying. In support, the defense offered evidence that Crumley was diagnosed with “Autism Spectrum Disorder level 1 without intellectual impairment.” Level 1 is the lowest of three levels in terms of severity; Crumley exhibited no evidence of decline in intellectual functioning or impairment of his impulse control but had a clear lack of social cognition, i.e., social skills. An expert would have also said Crumley had difficulty changing his mind once it was made up, and focused on details to the detriment of the big picture or long term. The trial court did not admit this evidence.
The court of appeals reversed. It held the excluded evidence was relevant to rebut the mens rea of the offense. It relied primarily on Ruffin v. State, which reaffirmed that there are no “dimished capacity” defenses other than insanity but held that evidence of a “mental disease or defect” can be admissible to rebut or disprove the defendant’s culpable mens rea. The exclusion was so detrimental, the court of appeals held, that harm was assessed using Rule 44.2(a) “because the exclusion of that evidence effectively prevented appellant from presenting his defense.” It found harm because Crumley was 1) unable to fully develop his defensive theory that his autism caused him to have extreme difficulty changing his belief that he was speaking to a lying adult, and 2) unable to present evidence that his autism made it difficult for him to imagine how others might see his conduct as illegal.
The State argues that this case does not present the exception to inadmissibility set out in Ruffin. Crumley’s defense was not that his autism prevented him from realizing he was talking to a minor when he solicited sex. Rather, he claimed he knew the whole time he was talking to an adult and had no intentions of a sexual nature. His autism thus had no bearing on his ability to form the requisite mens rea. Instead, it merely bolstered his story by offering some added explanation for why someone would pretend to be interested in a person representing themselves as a minor. This, the State argues, does not outweigh the potential for jury confusion and misuse of his condition as a form of impermissible “diminished capacity” defense.
Alternatively, the State argues that harm should have been assessed under Rule 44.2(b), as erroneous evidentiary rulings generally are. Crumley presented an elaborate defense directed at negating mens rea. Evidence of autism would have added additional context but in no way formed the “vital core” of his defense. Had the court of appeals not effectively applied a presumption of harm by its framing of the analysis, it would have found any error harmless.