from the Superior Court in Pima County No. C20171263 The
Honorable Sean E. Brearcliffe, Judge
Benavidez Law Group, P.C., Tucson By Javier Alatorre Counsel
Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney By Jacob R. Lines,
Deputy County Attorney, Tucson Counsel for Real Party in
Presiding Judge Vásquez authored the opinion of the
Court, in which Judge Espinosa and Judge Eppich concurred.
VÁSQUEZ, PRESIDING JUDGE
Anthony Spence appeals from the superior court's denial
of relief in his special action challenging the Pima County
Justice Court's order denying his request for a jury
trial on three misdemeanor assault charges. Spence argues he
is entitled to a jury trial because, if convicted of all
three charges, the aggregate sentence could potentially
exceed six months. Because we conclude that misdemeanor
assault is not a jury-eligible offense, we affirm.
and Procedural Background
The relevant facts are not in dispute. Spence was charged in
justice court with three counts of assault against three
victims arising from a single incident. He filed a motion
requesting a jury trial, which the court denied. He then
filed a complaint for special action in superior court.
Spence argued he was entitled to a jury trial because the
"potential maximum sentence" he could receive was
eighteen months if he were convicted of all three offenses
and the court ordered the sentences to be served
consecutively. The state responded that Spence was not
entitled to a jury trial because it had avowed it would not
seek any jail time, and the justice court had stated, on the
record, it would impose no more than six months of
incarceration. The superior court accepted jurisdiction but
denied relief "[f]or those reasons stated in the
State's Response to Petition for Special Action." We
have jurisdiction of Spence's appeal pursuant to A.R.S.
§§ 12-120.21(A)(1) and 12-2101(A)(1). See
Ariz. R. P. Spec. Act. 8(a).
Spence argues the superior court erred in denying relief
because it was required to consider the "maximum penalty
authorized by law, " and was not permitted to rely
solely on the justice court's "pretrial
commitment" to sentence Spence to no more than six
months. When the superior court accepts jurisdiction of a
special action but denies relief, we review for an abuse of
discretion. Merlina v. Jejna, 208 Ariz. 1, ¶ 6
(App. 2004). Whether a defendant is entitled to a jury trial,
however, is a question of law we review de novo. Urs v.
Maricopa Cty. Attorney's Office, 201 Ariz. 71,
¶ 2 (App. 2001). An error of law may constitute an abuse
of discretion. State v. Wall, 212 Ariz. 1, ¶ 12
(2006). We will affirm the "court's ruling if the
result was legally correct for any reason." State v.
Perez, 141 Ariz. 459, 464 (1984).
The United States and Arizona constitutions "preserve
the right to jury trial only for 'serious, ' as
opposed to 'petty, ' crimes." Derendal v.
Griffith, 209 Ariz. 416, ¶ 13 (2005); see
U.S. Const. amend. VI; Ariz. Const. art. II, § 24;
see also Lewis v. United States, 518 U.S. 322, 325
(1996). A crime for which more than a six-month prison term
may be imposed is considered "serious, " and the
defendant is therefore entitled to a jury trial. Blanton
v. City of North Las Vegas, 489 U.S. 538, 542-43 (1989).
Conversely, "when the legislature classifies an offense
as a misdemeanor and punishable by no more than six months
incarceration, we will presume that offense to be a petty
offense that falls outside the jury requirement" of
state and federal constitutional protections.
Derendal, 209 Ariz. 416, ¶ 21; see
Blanton, 489 U.S. at 543. Under those guidelines, the
assault charges against Spence "are presumptively not
jury-trial eligible" because the maximum sentence for
misdemeanor assault is six months. Fushek v. State,
218 Ariz. 285, ¶ 10 (2008); see A.R.S.
§§ 13-707(A)(1), 13-1203(A)(1), (B).
Spence argues, however, that because each count involves a
separate victim, the justice court could impose consecutive
sentences, thus exposing him to a potential eighteen-month
prison term. See State v. Riley, 196 Ariz. 40,
¶ 21 (App. 1999) (prohibition against double punishment
"does not apply to sentences imposed for a single act
that harms multiple victims"). He therefore reasons
"he is being prosecuted for a serious crime for purposes
of jury trial entitlement."
In Lewis, the United States Supreme Court considered
a similar issue. 518 U.S. at 323. There, the defendant had
been charged with two counts of obstructing the mail-a petty
offense-but potentially faced a prison sentence of more than
six months in the aggregate if the sentences were imposed
consecutively. Id. at 324-25. The defendant thus
argued that "where a defendant is charged with multiple
petty offenses in a single prosecution, the Sixth Amendment
requires that the aggregate potential penalty be the basis
for determining whether a jury trial is required."
Id. at 326.
The Court rejected the defendant's argument and clarified
that the focus of the inquiry when determining whether a
defendant is entitled to a jury trial under the Sixth
Amendment is whether the offense is petty or
serious, as reflected by legislative judgment "primarily
as expressed in the maximum authorized term of
imprisonment." Id. at 327. Courts "do not
look to the potential prison term faced by a particular
defendant who is charged with more than one such petty
offense." Id. at 328. Put another way,
"[t]he maximum authorized penalty provides an
'objective indicatio[n] of the seriousness with which
society regards the offense, ' and it is that indication
that is used to determine whether a jury trial is required,
not the particularities of an individual case." Id.,
quoting Frank v. United States,395 U.S. 147, 148 (1969)
(first alteration added, second alteration in
Lewis). Thus, "[t]he fact that the [defendant]
was charged with two counts of a petty offense does not
revise the legislative judgment as to the gravity of that
particular offense, nor does it transform the petty offense
into a serious one, to which the jury trial right would
apply." Id. at ...