Commonwealth v. Corbett, No. 21-P-646 (Mass. App. Ct. 2022)
Nature of Case: The defendant was convicted of a crime in 2010 and was subsequently ordered to register as a level three offender on the Commonwealth’s sex offense registry. Defendant complied with his registration requirements “at least some of the time” over the years that followed. But in 2017, defendant missed a registration date and was charged with failing to register.
In preparing his defense, the defendant filed a motion in limine to admit expert testimony on defendant’s mental state. Defendant’s expert report opined that defendant struggled with significant mental health disorders that adversely impacted his daily functioning. The Commonwealth moved to exclude on relevance grounds. The trial court judge ultimately granted the Commonwealth’s motion to exclude the testimony of defendant’s expert, reasoning that the expert’s “conclusions … would not negate defendant’s knowledge of his obligation to register, support a defense of impossibility, or establish a defense of lack of criminal responsibility.”
At the subsequent trial, the jury found defendant guilty. This appeal followed.
Holding: The Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated the judgment of the lower court and set aside the verdict. In so ruling, the Court held that a failing to register “knowingly” goes beyond actual notice. “Rather, to ‘knowingly’ fail to act requires that the defendant have the ability to perceive — to remember — that he has an obligation to act as of the time of the crime.” The Court further concluded that defendant’s expert described sufficiently serious mental disorders that it could not be categorically excluded as irrelevant and that the lower court’s error was not harmless, as it went to the defendant’s principal defense.