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Allen v. Sanders

Supreme Court of Arizona

November 7, 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.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County The Honorable Teresa A. Sanders, Judge No. CR2011-138856 AFFIRMED

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division One 239 Ariz. 360, 372 P.3d 304 (App. 2016) VACATED.

          Marty Lieberman, Legal Defender, Maricopa County Office of the Legal Defender, John Ronan Curry (argued), Jeremy Bogart, Deputy Legal Defenders, Phoenix, Attorneys for Sammantha Allen

          Bruce Peterson, Maricopa County Office of the Legal Advocate, Kerri L. Chamberlin (argued), Gary Beren, Robert E. Reinhardt, Deputy Legal Advocates, Phoenix, Attorneys for John Allen

          William G. Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, Karen Kemper (argued), Deputy County Attorney, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona

          Amy P. Knight, Kuykendall & Associates, Tucson, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice

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

          OPINION

          BALES, CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1 After a defendant is indicted for first degree murder, if the state intends to seek the death penalty, it provides notice and alleges aggravating circumstances. The defendant may then request the trial court to determine if probable cause exists for the aggravators under the procedures outlined in Chronis v. Steinle, 220 Ariz. 559, 560 ¶ 1, 208 P.3d 210, 211 (2009). In Sanchez v. Ainley, 234 Ariz. 250, 251-52 ¶ 1, 321 P.3d 415, 416-17 (2014), we held that a defendant is entitled to a "Chronis hearing" even if the grand jury determined that probable cause exists for the alleged aggravating circumstances.

         ¶2 In this case, the State seeks the death penalty and alleges aggravating circumstances under A.R.S. § 13-751(F)(2) based on the defendants' prospective convictions for "serious offenses" concurrently charged by the grand jury. The issue here concerns how the trial court, in the context of a Chronis hearing, should determine if probable cause exists to support that aggravator. We hold that the trial court must independently determine if a concurrently charged offense qualifies as a serious offense, but the court should accept the grand jury's determination that probable cause exists for the concurrently charged offense.

         I.

         ¶3 A grand jury indicted Sammantha Allen and her husband, John Allen, for the first degree felony murder of Sammantha's ten-year-old cousin, Ame. The indictment concurrently charged the Allens with multiple counts of child abuse in violation of A.R.S. § 13-3623(A)(1). The State subsequently filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty and alleged the child abuse offenses as "serious offense" aggravating circumstances under A.R.S. § 13-751(F)(2). This aggravator applies when a defendant has been convicted of a "serious offense" either prior to or contemporaneously with the defendant's conviction for first degree murder in the case in which the death penalty is sought.

         ¶4 At the Allens' request, the trial court conducted a Chronis hearing pursuant to Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 13.5(c). The court ruled that a conviction on any of the concurrently charged child-abuse counts would qualify as a conviction of a serious offense for the (F)(2) aggravator. The Allens argued that the court also should independently determine if probable cause exists for those counts. The court instead concluded that probable cause exists for the serious offense aggravators because the "grand jury found probable cause to support each [child abuse] count of the Indictment when it returned a true bill."

         ¶5 The Allens filed a petition for special action in the court of appeals. A divided panel of the court granted relief, holding that Sanchez requires the trial court to independently determine whether probable cause supports the concurrently charged child-abuse offenses that the State alleges are (F)(2) serious offenses. Allen v. Sanders,239 Ariz. 360, 362 ¶ 6, 372 P.3d 304, 306 (App. 2016). A dissenting judge concluded that the trial court did not err ...


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