The Arizona Supreme Court

The Arizona Supreme Court

PHOENIX (AP) -  A new Arizona Supreme Court decision sets a standard for trial courts to use when deciding whether to open the door for a criminal defendant to possibly use a victim’s mental health records.

The court’s unanimous decision Thursday said defendants can ask a trial court to review the records if there’s a “reasonable possibility” they would be useful as evidence or needed to cross-examine a witness.

The decision overturned a state Court of Appeals ruling that said a defendant must satisfy a more stringent standard called “substantial probability.”

Siblings of the victim in the case decided Thursday had argued that the records were protected by physician-patient privilege and the victims’ rights under the Arizona Constitution.

However, the Supreme Court decision said federal constitutional rights for due process for defendants trump rights granted under state constitutions and laws.

In the case decided Thursday, Teddy Carl Vanders awaits trial on a second-degree murder charge in the 2017 death of his girlfriend during a domestic dispute.

Vanders said he had reason to be believe that his girlfriend, identified in court records as “M.S.,” had a mental illness that justified his being fearful of her.

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