Petition for Special Action from the Superior Court in
Maricopa County. Nos. CR2011-138856-003 DT; CR2011-138856-001
DT. The Honorable Teresa A. Sanders, Judge.
County Legal Defender's Office, Phoenix, By John Ronan
Curry, Jeremy Bogart, Counsel for Petitioner Sammantha Allen.
County Legal Advocate's Office, Phoenix, By Gary Beren,
Robert E. Reinhardt, Counsel for Petitioner John Michael
County Attorney's Office, Phoenix, By Karen Kemper,
Counsel for Real Party in Interest.
Randall M. Howe delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Judge. Kenton D. Jones joined. Presiding Judge Kent E.
In this petition for special action arising from a capital
murder case, Sammantha and John Allen challenge the trial
court's refusal to independently determine whether
probable cause exists for child abuse offenses that the State
has alleged are aggravating circumstances for sentencing
purposes. We accept jurisdiction because the Allens have no
adequate remedy by appeal, Ariz. R. P. Spec. Act. 1(a), and
the issue is a purely legal question of first impression and
statewide importance, Azore, LLC v. Bassett, 236
Ariz. 424, 426 ¶ 2, 341 P.3d 466, 468 (App. 2014).
The Allens argue that under the Arizona Supreme Court's
decision in Sanchez v. Ainley, 234 Ariz. 250, 321
P.3d 415 (2014), the trial court should have independently
determined probable cause on the alleged aggravating
circumstances related to the concurrently alleged child abuse
offenses, rather than giving " conclusive effect"
to the grand jury's probable cause determination on the
child abuse offenses on which the circumstances are based.
Because Sanchez requires the trial court to make its
own independent probable cause determination on the alleged
aggravating circumstances, we accept jurisdiction and grant
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In July 2011, Sammantha called 911 and reported that A.D.,
her 10-year-old niece, was dead. Investigators were initially
told that A.D. had locked herself up in a box while playing
hide-and-seek, but evidence indicated that A.D. had been
purposely locked in the box. A grand jury indicted, as
relevant here, Sammantha and John for first-degree murder,
Sammantha for two counts of child abuse for allegedly placing
A.D. in the box on one occasion and placing A.D. in the box
and throwing it around on another occasion, and John for one
count of child abuse for allegedly placing A.D. in the box
and throwing the box on another occasion.
The State filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty
for both Sammantha and John, alleging several aggravating
circumstances. The State alleged that the counts of child
abuse filed separately against Sammantha and John constituted
aggravating circumstances under A.R.S. § 13-751(F)(2).
That statute provides, as relevant here, that convictions for
serious offenses not committed on the same occasion as a
homicide but consolidated for trial with the homicide
constitute aggravating circumstances for determining whether
the death penalty should be imposed as punishment for the
homicide. Id. A conviction for child abuse, a
dangerous crime against children, A.R.S. §
13-3623(A)(1), is by definition a " serious
offense," A.R.S. § 13-751(J)(6).
Pursuant to Chronis v. Steinle, 220 Ariz. 559, 208
P.3d 210 (2009), the trial court conducted a hearing to
determine whether probable cause supported the alleged
aggravating circumstances. At the hearing, the Allens
objected to the trial court's using the grand jury's
finding of probable cause for the child abuse offenses to
satisfy the probable cause determination for the aggravating
circumstances. The Allens relied upon Sanchez, in
which the Arizona Supreme Court held that the trial court
must grant a defendant's request for a Chronis
hearing even if the grand jury has made a previous probable
cause determination on the State's alleged aggravating
circumstances. 234 Ariz. at 254 ¶ ¶ 13-14, 321 P.3d
at 419. The trial court distinguished Sanchez,
however, concluding that the grand jury's finding of
probable cause on the child abuse offenses was sufficient to
establish probable cause regarding those charges. Therefore,
the court reasoned, because the offenses were " serious
offenses" under A.R.S. § 13-751(J), probable cause
existed to proceed on the aggravating circumstances of
previous convictions for serious offenses. Sammantha
petitioned for special action review; John has
The Allens argue that the trial court erred in not
independently determining whether probable cause supported
the child abuse offenses as alleged aggravating circumstances
rather than giving conclusive effect to the grand jury's
probable cause determination regarding the child abuse
offenses of the indictment. We review de novo the
interpretation of court rules, applying principles of
statutory construction. State v. Whitman, 234 Ariz.
565, 566 ¶ 5, 324 P.3d 851, 852 (2014). Here, as
Sanchez requires, the trial court must independently