Action Proceeding Pima County Cause No. CR20134231001.
Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney By Jacob R. Lines,
Deputy County Attorney, Tucson Counsel for Petitioner
Moss Law Firm, Tucson By Vanessa C. Moss Counsel for Real
Party in Interest
Eppich authored the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding
Judge Vásquez and Judge Howard  concurred.
In this special action, petitioner State of Arizona
challenges the respondent judge's decision to grant a
judgment of acquittal in favor of real party in interest
Rhiannon Whitney, pursuant to Rule 20, Ariz. R. Crim. P.,
after the respondent declared a mistrial due to juror
misconduct. We conclude the respondent lacked authority to
grant the motion, and therefore accept jurisdiction and grant
relief, vacating the judgment of acquittal.
Whitney was charged with four counts of child abuse under
circumstances likely to produce death or serious physical
injury, and one count of child abuse under circumstances not
likely to produce death or serious physical injury. The state
alleged Whitney had failed to seek medical attention for
damage and infection to the child's lower jaw, upper lip,
nasal septum, and "bruising over surface of [the] body,
" as well as "causing or permitting" a
"laceration and damage to [the] left ear." The
matter was tried to a jury, and at the close of the
state's case Whitney moved for a judgment of acquittal
pursuant to Rule 20(a). The respondent judge granted the
motion as to one count of child abuse likely to produce death
or serious physical injury, but denied the motion as to the
After the matter was submitted to the jury, the respondent
judge discovered that a juror had "printed out
definitions of legal terms for the jury's use during
deliberations." Whitney moved for a mistrial, and, on
February 8, 2017, the respondent granted the motion, having
found that "at least two jurors actively sought out
information other than what was provided to them." The
respondent discharged the jury and set a status conference
for February 27.
On February 16, however, Whitney filed a "Motion for
Reconsideration of the Rule 20(a) Judgement of
Acquittal." She argued the state had not presented
evidence as to "what effect, if any, the delay" in
Whitney's reporting the child's injuries "had on
her injuries or prognosis" or whether "the delay in
seeking medical attention increased the child's risk of
harm." In its response, the state argued it had
presented substantial evidence to support the convictions,
pointing to evidence presented at trial, and asserted
Whitney's reliance on certain case law was misplaced.
Whitney filed a supplement to her motion, arguing an
additional point on one count and asserting she was bringing
the motion "under Rule 20b in the alternative, "
although "counsel believe[d] that Rule 20a is the more
appropriate mechanism under the circumstances."
The respondent judge did not hear argument on the motion
until June 2017. At the hearing, Whitney reasserted the
arguments made in her motions. The state asserted that the
motion was too late under Rule 20(a), because the respondent
had already entered a ruling, and could not be heard under
Rule 20(b) because no verdict had been entered. The
respondent stated she was treating the motion "as a
motion to reconsider, not a brand new motion for a directed
verdict of acquittal, " concluded she could therefore
consider it, and granted the motion as to three counts,
denying it as to one count of child abuse likely to produce
death or serious injury.
Our acceptance of special action jurisdiction is appropriate
when there is no "equally plain, speedy, and adequate
remedy by appeal, " Ariz. R. P. Spec. Act. 1(a), and
when the issue presented is a pure question of law, Phx.
Newspapers, Inc. v. Ellis, 215 Ariz. 268, ¶ 9, 159
P.3d 578, 580 (App. 2007). The question presented in this
matter is one of law, and the state has no right to appeal
the ruling. See A.R.S. § 13-4032 (providing
grounds for appeal by state). Although § 13-4032(7)
allows the state to appeal from a judgment of acquittal
"entered after a verdict of guilty, " no such
verdict was entered in this matter. We therefore accept
special action jurisdiction and turn to the question
In its petition, the state contends Whitney's Rule 20
motion was untimely and the respondent therefore lacked
authority to consider it. "We review the interpretation
of statutes and court rules de novo." Fragoso v.
Fell, 210 Ariz. 427, ¶ 7, 111 P.3d 1027, 1030 (App.
2005), quoting Cranmer v. State, 204 Ariz. 299,
¶ 8, 63 P.3d 1036, 1038 (App. 2003). We interpret court
rules "using principles of statutory construction,
" seeking to follow the intent of the drafters, looking
first "to the plain language of the . . . rule as the
best indicator of that intent." Id. "If
the language is clear and unambiguous, we give effect to that
language and do not employ other methods of statutory
Rule 20 sets forth the procedure for seeking a judgment of
acquittal in a criminal matter. It provides that such a
motion may be made "[b]efore [v]erdict" "after
the evidence on either side is closed" and dictates that
the "court's decision on a defendant's motion
shall not be reserved, but shall be made with all possible
speed." Ariz. R. Crim. P. 20(a). The rule further
provides that "[a] motion for judgment of acquittal made
before verdict may be renewed by a defendant within 10 days
after the verdict was returned." Ariz. R. Crim. P.
20(b). In providing the "[t]ypes of verdict[s], "
Rule 23.2, Ariz. R. Crim. P., establishes that except for
specialized verdicts, such as guilty except insane or capital
verdicts, "the jury shall in all cases render a verdict
finding the defendant either guilty or not guilty."
In view of this plain language, the respondent judge lacked
authority to consider Whitney's renewed Rule 20
motion. The respondent ruled on her motion made
pursuant to Rule 20(a) at the close of the state's case.
Thus, the only remaining option under the rule was for
Whitney to renew the motion after the verdict.See
Ariz. R. Crim. P. 20(b). But, because the respondent declared
a mistrial, the jury did not render a verdict. We cannot read
the term "verdict" to include a situation in which
a jury is discharged without reaching a verdict. Had our
supreme court intended to allow a motion for judgment of
acquittal to be renewed after a mistrial had been declared or
the jury was otherwise discharged without reaching a ...