Special Action from the Superior Court in Maricopa County. The Honorable Rosa Mroz, Judge. No. CR2011-133622. Order of the Court of Appeals, Division One. Filed March 17, 2015.
Special Action from the Superior Court in Maricopa County, VACATED.
Tonya J. Peterson (argued), The Law Office of Tonya J. Peterson, Phoenix; Stacy L. Hyder, The Law Office of Stacy L. Hyder, P.L.C., Phoenix; and Richard L. Lougee, Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program, Tucson, Attorneys for Jesus Busso-Estopellan.
William G. Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, Gerald R. Grant (argued), Deputy County Attorney, Attorneys for State of Arizona.
David J. Euchner (argued), Tucson, Attorney for Amicus Curiae Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.
JUSTICE TIMMER authored the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BALES, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER, and JUSTICES BRUTINEL and BERCH (RETIRED) joined.
[¶1] During the penalty phase of a capital trial, " the defendant and the state may present any evidence that is relevant to the determination of whether there is mitigation that is sufficiently substantial to call for leniency,"
A.R.S. § 13-752(G), including any aspect of the defendant's character, A.R.S. § 13-751(G). Today we hold that a capital defendant's pretrial offer to plead guilty in exchange for a natural life sentence is admissible to demonstrate the defendant's acceptance of responsibility for the murder, a non-statutory mitigating circumstance.
[¶2] The State indicted Jesus Busso-Estopellan in 2011 on two counts of first degree murder and filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty. Less than a year later, Busso-Estopellan's attorneys sent a letter to the trial court judge stating that " Mr. Busso-Estopellan has indicated that he would accept a plea offer to natural life if it were offered to him." The State did not extend a plea offer.
[¶3] In 2014, Busso-Estopellan filed a motion in limine seeking permission to introduce evidence of his willingness to accept a natural life plea offer at the penalty phase of his trial if he is convicted and becomes eligible for the death penalty. The trial court denied the motion and Busso-Estopellan's subsequent motion for reconsideration. The court reasoned that Busso-Estopellan's proposition did not relate to any aspect of his character, evidenced only a " desire to avoid the consequences of the death penalty rather than a true acceptance of responsibility for his actions, or remorse," and improperly asked the jury to speculate about why the State had rejected the offer.
[¶4] Busso-Estopellan sought special action relief from the court of appeals, but that court summarily declined jurisdiction. We granted Busso-Estopellan's petition for review because it presents a recurring legal question of statewide importance. We have jurisdiction ...