There is an old saying about bad facts making bad law. It is probably true, but luckily, that does not have to be the case. Look no further than the recent Court of Appeals of Arizona case of State v. Lucas and its predecessor for proof. They also show that nearly-identical bad facts will eventually, even before the same court, create bad law sooner or later.
The facts of both cases were simple. Victims have a right to refuse interviews in Arizona, and courts can designate a victim’s representative by law when the victim is a minor. In State v. Lucas, the grandmother was the victim’s representative, and the victim reached the age of majority. The defense wanted to interview her.
The law provides the right to refuse an interview to “the parent or legal guardian of a minor child who exercises victims’ rights on behalf of the minor child.” The victim having reached the age of majority, the grandmother was no longer the parent or legal guardian “of a minor child” and was obviously not capable of exercising those rights “on behalf of [a] minor child” because the person in question was no longer a minor child.
One group of judges at the Court of Appeals had previously gotten it right in J.D. v. Hon. Hegyi/T.D., where the same division explained that “[n]othing in this language purports to vest a parent with the indefinite status of victim. Instead, the legal authority to exercise victims’ rights on behalf of the victim is conditioned on the victim’s status as a minor.” Although the ruling may be pro-defendant, it is obviously what the law says.
On the other hand, people who want judges to follow the text of laws, even when they help a defendant every now and again, should probably be a little worried whenever they end up with group from State v. Lucas. Rather than rely on the plain text of the statute, the court looked instead to “the statute’s language and purpose,” which as to both only seem to support its conclusion in that the law generally provides elsewhere that the victims’ rights statutes “shall be liberally construed to preserve and protect the rights to which victims are entitled.”
The court also disregarded almost entirely the text of the specific provision in question and instead relied on a generalization. It came up with up this hilarious gem of an argument: “[r]esolving these controversies would likely cause litigation on issues collateral to the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and the time taken to litigate these collateral issues would further delay trying the defendant.”
Do they really think that anyone familiar with Arizona’s criminal justice system thinks for one second that a ruling preventing the defendant from interviewing a key witness is somehow based on a desire to protect defendants? Are they really concerned with litigation from victims? What makes that litigation more difficult to address than litigation from countless defendants seeking to resolve a public split in one division of Arizona’s two-division appellate court?
Impressively, the appellate judges who got it right in J.D. v. Hon. Hegyi/T.D. noted that, “[t]hough the criminal proceedings began in 2011 when [the victim] was 16 years old, the superior court granted seven trial continuances on [the victim]’s behalf and Daughter has since turned 18.” The judges who did what they wanted in State v. Lucas, law notwithstanding, noted something very similar: “[a]lthough trial on the charges was originally scheduled for June 2012, [the defendant] obtained at least seven continuances of the trial date, which delayed trial until January 2013.” I have no doubt that both sets of judges were concerned that the defendants’ delays were responsible for making the victims’ former guardians no longer able to refuse an interview, but only one court avoided letting that guide its analysis away from what the law said.
What we really have is two bad sets of facts and one group of judges doing what the law requires and the other creating bad law because of the bad facts. One looked at the fact a law plainly made someone not a victim but rather someone exercising rights on behalf of a certain victim up to a certain point at which they were no longer relevant. Those judges even took fair and logical steps to protect the actual victim’s rights by limiting the rights of the person or persons accused by that victim to inquire about things that were in fact protected. The others looked past the text and decided that, reality and what the law says aside, a parent or legal guardian of a minor child who exercises victims’ rights on behalf of the minor child doesn’t have to be a guardian of a minor child who exercises victims’ right on behalf of a minor child in order to be the guardian of a minor child who exercises victims’ right on behalf of a minor child. Huh?
If you are confused or disturbed, quit worrying. The only real rule here is that courts can only hold out for so long when confronted with bad facts over and over again. Even the clearest law with a pro-defendant loophole is bound to fail sooner or later if it makes things too tough for the state. Personally, I am just grateful that at least one soon-to-be-overturned group of judges got it right before their colleagues split the division. For now, at least I still have J.D. v. Hon. Hegyi/T.D. to make me smile a little when things seem hopeless.
Filed under: Arizona Cases, Victim's Rights · Tags: continuance, court of appeals, division one, guardian, hegyi, interview, J.D., not a minor, parent, refuse, state v. lucas, statutory interpretation, T.D., victim