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State v. Winegardner

Supreme Court of Arizona

March 26, 2018

State of Arizona, Appellee,
v.
Darren Lee Winegardner, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County The Honorable Howard J. Fell, Judge Pro Tempore No. CR20144179-001

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division Two 242 Ariz. 430 (2017) VACATED.

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Dominic E. Draye, Solicitor General, Joseph T. Maziarz, Chief Counsel, Criminal Appeals Section, Phoenix, Diane Leigh Hunt (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Tucson, Attorneys for State of Arizona

          Joel Feinman, Pima County Public Defender, Erin K. Sutherland (argued), Assistant Public Defender, Tucson, Attorneys for Darren Lee Winegardner

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

          BALES, CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1 Arizona Rule of Evidence 609(a)(2) provides that when a party seeks to attack "a witness's character for truthfulness by evidence of a criminal conviction . . ., the evidence must be admitted if the court can readily determine that establishing the elements of the crime required proving - or the witness's admitting - a dishonest act or false statement." We hold that a conviction for shoplifting, as codified in A.R.S. § 13-1805(A), is not automatically admissible under Rule 609(a)(2) because the crime does not necessarily require the prosecution to prove "a dishonest act or false statement" within the meaning of the rule. Evidence of a shoplifting conviction is admissible only when the court can readily determine that the conviction turned on such proof.

         I.

         ¶2 The State indicted Darren Winegardner on one count of sexual conduct with a minor, alleging that he engaged in sexual intercourse with his stepdaughter, L.B. At trial, the prosecution called L.B. to testify. Winegardner told the court that he intended to impeach L.B. with a 2015 misdemeanor shoplifting conviction. He offered no details of the conviction other than stating that it was a crime of moral turpitude. Finding that the "probative value does not substantially outweigh the danger of unfair prejudice, " the trial court refused to admit the impeachment evidence. The jury found Winegardner guilty, and the court sentenced him to a mitigated term of 3.5 years' imprisonment.

         ¶3 Noting that Rule 609(a)(2) requires courts to admit evidence of convictions involving dishonest acts or false statements, Winegardner argued on appeal that the trial court committed reversible error by precluding him from impeaching L.B. with evidence of the shoplifting conviction. The court of appeals disagreed and rejected classifying shoplifting as a "dishonest act or false statement" for purposes of Rule 609(a)(2). State v. Winegardner, 242 Ariz. 430, 434 ¶ 16 (App. 2017).

         ¶4 We granted review because the proper interpretation of Rule 609(a)(2) is of statewide importance. We have jurisdiction under article 6, section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution and A.R.S. § 12-120.24.

         II.

         ¶5 Although we review a trial court's decision regarding the admission of evidence for abuse of discretion, State v. Gill, 242 Ariz. 1, 3 ¶ 7 (2017), we review the interpretation of court rules de novo, State v. Fitzgerald, 232 Ariz. 208, 210 ¶ 10 (2013), and apply principles of statutory construction when doing so, Spring v. Bradford, 243 Ariz. 167, 170 ¶ 12 (2017). "Under those principles, if a rule's language is subject to only one reasonable meaning, we apply that meaning. When the language can reasonably be read more than one way, however, we may consider the [rule]'s subject matter, legislative history, and purpose, as well as the effect of different interpretations, to derive its meaning." Id. (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell v. Indus. Comm'n, 236 Ariz. 478, 480 ¶ 7 (2015)).

         A.

         ¶6 Arizona Rule of Evidence 609 governs impeachment by evidence of a criminal conviction. Subsection (a)(1) provides that felony convictions are generally admissible, subject to Rule 403 in civil cases or in criminal cases in which the witness is not a defendant. Subsection (a)(2) mandates the admission of evidence of any conviction "if the court can readily determine that establishing the elements of the crime required proving - or the witness's admitting - a dishonest act or false statement." In contrast to (a)(1), subsection (a)(2) mandates the admission of evidence of a prior conviction regardless of any consideration of its prejudicial effect under Rule 403.

         ¶7 This case turns on whether a shoplifting conviction under Arizona law necessarily requires proof of a "dishonest act" as that term is used in Rule 609(a)(2). Although words in rules generally are to be understood in their ordinary, everyday meanings, the context in which they are used may indicate they bear a technical meaning. See In re Nelson,207 Ariz. 318, 322 ¶ 17 (2004) (noting that "costs" is a term of art and applying limited meaning consistent with caselaw); Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation ...


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