Brown & Little, P.L.C. » Arizona Constitution, Procedural Rules, Prosecutors » Discovery Fees

Discovery Fees

Some Arizona prosecuting agencies charge defense attorneys for copies of police reports and other discovery. For instance, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charges $0.25 per page. They have you sign an invoice when you pick up the discovery, then they send you a bill. Most Maricopa County defense attorneys I know have at least one delinquent discovery bill from the county attorney sitting around their office. There’s not much point in writing a check for a dollar or two. A friend of mine told me about a defense attorney who was 90 days delinquent on a bill for $1.50 and wanted to go to the county attorney with $0.55 and ask to be put on a payment plan for the remainder.

I don’t like the county attorney’s policy, but it isn’t the worst. Not by a long shot. My vote is for the City of Mesa Prosecutor’s Office, which charges $5.00 for its mandatory, automatic disclosure pursuant Rule 15.1 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. Rule 15.1 lists a lot of discovery that a prosecutor “shall make available” to a defendant. The list isn’t short, and it includes the police reports. Because Mesa Municipal is a misdemeanor jurisdiction, pretty much everything is due by the first pretrial conference.

When you show up at your first pretrial in Mesa, the prosecutors will let you look at the disclosure, including the police reports, but they won’t let you take it, copy it, and return it. Is that really making it available? You can beg and plead, but they’re going to insist on getting $5.00 before you can have a copy of your own. The policies written on the office’s discovery notice itself confirm that the only way to get a copy is to pay up. The notice also explains that they charge an additional $0.10 per page for other mandatory disclosure items like police reports for sentence aggravation, HGN and DRE logs and manuals, FST manuals, alco-sensor logs, and Intoxilyzer calibration logs and manuals. They exhibit a characteristic lack of humor when you try to opt for $0.10 per page for the initial disclosure instead of the flat fee of $5.00. I think they don’t like counting pages.

By requiring that defendants pay them for copies, the city prosecutor is pretty clearly violating the plain language of Rule 15.1. I can’t see how their policy could possibly be permissible under a rule that says “shall make available.” Is it okay because they’re only charging $5.00? Would it still be “available” if they charged $500.00? How much would they have to charge before it becomes a problem? What if they didn’t give out copies, but just let defense lawyers read the report and take notes? The rule used to say “for examination and reproduction” in relevant part, which would have made Mesa’s conduct even more outrageous (and they did it back then too), but I can’t find any legislative history suggesting the change was intended to allow prosecutors to limit the scope of availability. How can they possibly read the rule to require anything other than what they refuse to do?

Additionally, it seems obvious to me that city prosecutors are violating the Article 2, Section 24 of the Arizona Constitution. The Arizona Consitution provides a guarantee against being compelled to advance money or fees to secure constitutional rights, and Arizonans have a constitutional right to a copy of the nature and cause of the accusation against them. I think the word “copy” implies a reproduction of something in writing. The words “cause of the accusation” mean something more than just the broad language of the indictment, right? I read the consitution as giving defendants a constitutional right to a copy of the police report. They therefore have a constitutional right not to be compelled to pay for it. Do any of you disagree? Again, how can the City of Mesa possibly think that what they’re doing is acceptable?

Unfortunately, I suspect the city doesn’t care if what it’s doing is okay because it doesn’t have to care. Defense attorneys have been filing motions arguing these points for years. I’ve seen a motion as old as 2002. Who’s going to appeal over a $5.00 discovery fee? Maybe a judge will occasionally grant a defendant’s motion by compelling a prosecutor to provide the report free of charge, but I seriously doubt a judge is going to dismiss the case. Is saving $5.00 worth the lawyer’s time? Certainly not if the lawyer is being paid by the hour. If one defendant wins one case, who’s going to stop the prosecutors from violating the rule in every other case? The court isn’t going to issue some kind of standing order. The city’s discovery fee probably brings in a decent amount of money each year. Who cares about one tiny little profitable, illegal policy?

In criminal defense, the state often doesn’t have to follow the rules when enforcing them. The law is what judges say it is. In Mesa, I’m guessing that the prosecutors either don’t care what the judges say and the judges look the other way, or the judges just ignore the rules altogether. I think both situations are equally plausible. In fact, years of a terrible policy suggest to me that the one of those options is almost certainly the case. It doesn’t leave me with a good feeling.

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3 Responses to "Discovery Fees"

  1. Pete says:

    Have you listened to Marc Stevens podcasts? He has had a lot of experience battling in Arizona courts, and I believe he says Mesa is one of the worst as far as Judges and Prosecutors ignoring rules as it suits them.

  2. T.Mann says:

    Well at lest you can get a police report in VA they do not have to pride it.

  3. Andrew Becke says:

    If you think there’s any ambiguity in Rule 15.1, there’s an easy fix to that you should consider. ANYONE can propose a change to any Arizona Rule of Court. There is a process for submitting rule changes to the Supreme Court whereby comments are elicited from the public and once per year all the rule change petitions are considered. I can tell you from my clerkship on the Arizona Supreme Court that every petition is carefully considered by the court.

    This one seems like an easy amendment. Just amend the rule to state that no party is permitted to charge for its disclosure statement.

    The Court Rules Forum is at http://azdnn.dnnmax.com/AZSupremeCourtMain/AZCourtRulesMain/CourtRulesForumMain/tabid/89/Default.aspx and you can post your petition there.

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