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Allen v. Sanders

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

May 26, 2016

SAMMANTHA ALLEN, JOHN MICHAEL ALLEN, Petitioners,
v.
THE HONORABLE TERESA A. SANDERS, Judge of the SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF ARIZONA, in and for the County of MARICOPA, Respondent Judge, STATE OF ARIZONA, Real Party in Interest

          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.

         Maricopa County Legal Defender's Office, Phoenix, By John Ronan Curry, Jeremy Bogart, Counsel for Petitioner Sammantha Allen.

         Maricopa County Legal Advocate's Office, Phoenix, By Gary Beren, Robert E. Reinhardt, Counsel for Petitioner John Michael Allen.

         Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Phoenix, By Karen Kemper, Counsel for Real Party in Interest.

         Judge Randall M. Howe delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge. Kenton D. Jones joined. Presiding Judge Kent E. Cattani dissented.

          OPINION

         HOWE, Judge:

         [¶1] 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).

         [¶2] 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 relief.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         [¶3] 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.

         [¶4] 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).

         [¶5] 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 joined.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         [¶6] 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 ...


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