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State v. Fischer

Supreme Court of Arizona

April 17, 2017

STATE OF ARIZONA, Appellant,
v.
ROBERT FISCHER, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County The Honorable Karen A. Mullins, Judge No. CR2012-006869

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division One 238 Ariz. 309, 360 P.3d 105 (App. 2015)

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

          Steven C. Biggs (argued), Steven C. Smith, Smith LC, Phoenix, Attorneys for Robert Fischer

          Timothy J. Eckstein (argued), Randy McDonald, Osborn Maledon, P.A., Phoenix, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Dominic Draye, Solicitor General, Joseph T. Maziarz, Chief Counsel, Linley Wilson, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Section, Phoenix, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Arizona Attorney General

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

          BRUTINEL JUSTICE

         ¶1 A jury found Robert Fischer guilty of second degree murder. But the trial court, under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure ("Rule") 24.1(c)(1), determined that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence and granted a new trial. Independently reexamining the evidence, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred by granting a new trial. We hold that the court of appeals exceeded the proper scope of deferential appellate review by independently reweighing the evidence rather than determining if substantial evidence supported the trial judge's ruling. Because substantial evidence supports the trial court's determination, we affirm the order granting a new trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Defendant Robert Fischer is an attorney and a former police officer. While visiting his family in late December 2010, Fischer, his stepdaughter Belinda, and Belinda's husband, Lee, stayed up talking and drinking. Around 10 p.m., Lee excused himself to make a phone call and check his email. He returned worried and upset and showed Fischer an email about a non-compete agreement. Belinda went to bed around 11:30 p.m., and Fischer and Lee continued drinking heavily.

         ¶3 Fischer testified that he awoke the next morning to a popping sound and found a man on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Confused and unaware of the man's identity, he called 911, and police officers arrived shortly thereafter. Lee - the man on the floor - had a single gunshot wound to his head; there was a handgun in Lee's right hand, and his thumb was in the trigger guard.

         ¶4 During his police interview, Fischer seemed confused and had difficulty keeping track of the time. Fischer admitted the gun was his but explained that he had disassembled it upon arriving at Belinda and Lee's house. Fischer stated that he wanted to help the police figure out what had happened but he was unable to remember.

         ¶5 The police obtained a search warrant to acquire physical evidence from Fischer and Belinda. There was blood on Fischer's left foot and on the left side of his left pajama pant leg. The police swabbed Fischer's feet, performed a gunshot residue test, and took fingerprints and a blood sample. Crime scene specialists seized and analyzed additional evidence from the house.

         ¶6 The State charged Fischer with second degree murder and tried the case on the theory that Fischer shot Lee and then manipulated the scene to make it appear that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted. During trial, the court admitted expert testimony regarding the blood spatter, the gun and its position in Lee's hand, the DNA and fingerprint evidence, the gunshot residue, and the likelihood of Fischer having blacked out from alcohol consumption.

         ¶7 Following the guilty verdict, Fischer moved for a new trial under Rule 24.1(c)(1). The trial court ...


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