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State v. Steinle

Supreme Court of Arizona

June 13, 2016

State of Arizona, Petitioner,
v.
Hon. Roland J. Steinle, Judge of the Superior Court of the State of Arizona, in and for the County of Maricopa, Respondent Judge, Alejandra Monserat Moran, Real Party in Interest.

         Special Action from the Superior Court in Maricopa County The Honorable Roland J. Steinle, III, Judge No. CR2012-165657

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division One 237 Ariz. 531, 354 P.3d 408 (2015)

          William G. Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, Lisa Marie Martin (argued), Deputy County Attorney, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona.

          Law Office of the Public Defender, Lindsay P. Abramson (argued), Deputy Public Defender, Phoenix, for Alejandra Monserat Moran.

          CHIEF JUSTICE BALES authored the opinion of the Court, in which VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER and JUSTICES BRUTINEL, TIMMER, and BOLICK joined.

          OPINION

          BALES CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 We here consider the admissibility of an excerpt from a cell- phone video recorded by a witness to a stabbing. Because the trial court erred in excluding this evidence on the grounds the court identified, we vacate the lower courts' rulings but remand to allow the trial court to consider, in the first instance, whether the excerpt should be excluded under Arizona Rule of Evidence 403.

         I.

         ¶2 A house party ended with a street fight. Witnesses said that Alejandra Moran and L.U. fought verbally and physically for several minutes before L.U. was stabbed. Another guest at the party, Hector Ponce, used his cell phone to record an approximately five-minute video of the fight, culminating with the stabbing. Ponce edited the video by cropping the first four and one-half minutes, sent the remaining thirty-one second excerpt to his friend Bassam Mahfouz, and then deleted the video from his cell phone. The video excerpt purportedly shows Moran stabbing L.U. in the chest.

         ¶3 L.U. died from the stab wounds, and the State charged Moran with first-degree murder. Detectives seized Mahfouz's phone to preserve the video evidence. They also unsuccessfully attempted to recover the full-length version of the video from Ponce's phone. Moran moved to exclude the video excerpt on the grounds that it was inadmissible under Arizona Rules of Evidence 106, 1002, 801, and 901. The trial court granted Moran's motion.

         ¶4 The State sought special action relief, arguing in the court of appeals that the trial court had erred in excluding the excerpt because the State was not responsible for the absence of the complete video recording. Relying on Evidence Rules 106 and 403, a divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling. State v. Steinle (Moran), 237 Ariz. 531, 534 ¶ 14, 354 P.3d 408, 411 (App. 2015).

         ¶5 We granted review to determine if the trial court erred by excluding the video excerpt, as the admissibility of such evidence presents a recurring legal issue of statewide importance. We have jurisdiction under article 6, section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 12-120.24.

         II.

         ¶6 We review a trial court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. State v. Leteve, 237 Ariz. 516, 523 ¶ 18, 354 P.3d 393, 400 (2015). But we review de novo the interpretation of the Arizona Rules of Evidence. State v. Payne,233 Ariz. 484, 502 ¶ 49, 314 P.3d 1239, 1257 (2013). Our interpretation is guided, but not determined, by federal court decisions when our evidence ...


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