Appeals court upholds conviction, sentences in Meridian sexual assault cases

Ada County prosecutors acted properly when they combined two criminal cases against the man into a single trial, the Idaho Court of Appeals ruled.

Domingo Jesus Diaz, now 20, was convicted last year of assaulting one woman and battering another in separate incidents a week apart in May 2013. A jury found Diaz guilty of assault with intent to commit rape, and battery with intent to commit rape, both felonies .

Fourth District Judge Cheri Copsey sentenced Diaz to 10 to 20 years in prison. He is serving his time at the Idaho State Correctional Center south of Boise.

According to an account contained in the appeals court ruling:

Diaz followed one woman as she left a Meridian bar about midnight on May 21, 2013, as she walked to a friend’s house. He grabbed her and touched her genitals before she ran off. Diaz followed and then tackled her, jumped on her and pinned her arms before manipulating the waistband of his pants.

The woman screamed, drawing the attention of a neighbor. Diaz punched the victim in the face and fled.

A week later, Diaz confronted an intoxicated woman leaving the same bar late at night. He tried to coax her toward a more isolated area, but she refused. She entered another bar, where Diaz waited outside for several hours until she left. The woman told Diaz to stop following her and ran away. Diaz followed her and grabbed her as she arrived at a relative’s home. She shoved him, broke away and rang the doorbell. Diaz fled.

On appeal, Diaz argued that the jury that heard the case was unfairly prejudiced into believing he was guilty of both crimes because of the compounding of the evidence into a single trial.

Generally, evidence from one case is not allowed to be introduced as part of a second case because of its prejudicial nature, under Idaho’s court rules of evidence. The state argued at trial and in the appeal that the evidence of each count was admissible to prove identity and intent and to show that Diaz carried out a similar plan for each attack.

Under Idaho law, battery is the willful use of force or violence against another person. Assault is an attempt, coupled with apparent ability, to commit a violent injury on another.

The appeals court found that Copsey properly determined that evidence from the battery count was relevant to the assault count.

“Contrary to Diaz’s assertions, the two crimes were very similar. Not only were the crimes committed just days apart and in the same location, but the similarity in their manner of commission was striking,” Chief Judge John Melanson wrote in the 11-page decision. “Specifically, in each incident Diaz lay in wait outside of the same bar late at night, openly followed the intoxicated female victims to more isolated areas, and physically accosted them (or attempted to do so) in a matter suggestive of an intent to commit a serious felony.”

Diaz also argued that his age, his lack of prior felony convictions and his amenability to treatment should have brought him a lighter sentence.

He faced up to 15 years on the assault charge and up to 20 years on the battery.

Copsey explained that her sentencing decision was primarily influenced by Diaz’s quick accumulation of a significant criminal record since 2009. He was convicted of battery, reckless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting and obstructing police, and several probation violations, all misdemeanors.

Copsey found that Diaz had behavioral problems that started in high school and continued after he was arrested for the assault and battery. A psychosexual evaluator determined that Diaz was on the predatory end of the offender spectrum and was a high risk to reoffend within the next five to 10 years.

The appeals court found that Copsey did not abuse her sentencing discretion.

The Idaho Court of Appeals ruled at the state Supreme Court’s request. In Idaho, appeals of district court verdicts are made to the Supreme Court, which delegates some of them to the appellate court.