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State v. Snee

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

April 5, 2018

STATE OF ARIZONA, Appellee,
v.
JASON LUKE SNEE, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CR 2012-124514-001 The Honorable Erin Otis, Judge

          Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix By Joseph T. Maziarz Counsel for Appellee

          Maricopa County Public Defender's Office, Phoenix By Carlos Daniel Carrion Counsel for Appellant

          Judge Patricia A. Orozco[1] delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Michael J. Brown and Judge Maria Elena Cruz joined.

          OPINION

          OROZCO, JUDGE

         ¶1 Jason Luke Snee appeals his convictions and resulting sentences. He argues he should be granted a new trial because the court admitted into evidence his confession to law enforcement officials without first determining whether the confession was voluntary. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2 The State charged Snee with nine felonies and two misdemeanors. A jury returned not-guilty verdicts on two counts and guilty verdicts on four counts, but could not reach a decision on the five remaining counts. Snee was subsequently sentenced to prison. We have jurisdiction over this timely appeal pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) section 12-120.21(A).

         DISCUSSION

         ¶3 Before trial, Snee filed a motion to suppress his confession, but later withdrew it. Nevertheless, on appeal he argues that "A.R.S. § 13-3988(A) required the court to sua sponte conduct a voluntariness hearing" because the evidence indicated that the confession was induced by an impermissible promise.[2]

         ¶4 We review de novo issues of statutory interpretation and constitutional law. State v. Wein, 242 Ariz. 372, 374, ¶ 7 (App. 2017). "When interpreting a statute, we look to the plain language of the statute as the best indicator of the drafter's intent." State v. Pledger, 236 Ariz. 469, 471, ¶ 8 (App. 2015).

         ¶5 Snee asserts that A.R.S. § 13-3988(A) requires trial courts to conduct voluntariness hearings "whenever the State offers a defendant's confession as evidence, even if one is not requested by the defense." (Emphasis added.) We disagree.

         ¶6 Section 13-3988(A) states that "[b]efore [a] confession is received in evidence, the trial judge shall, out of the presence of the jury, determine any issue as to voluntariness." An "issue, " however, is defined as "a point, matter, or question to be disputed or decided." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary 975 (2d ed. 1983); see also American Heritage Dictionary 931 (5th ed. 2011) (defining an "issue" as "[a] point or matter of discussion, debate, or dispute"). Therefore, the statute only requires courts to determine whether a confession was involuntary when voluntariness is disputed by the defense, and not, as Snee contends, in every case in which the State seeks to introduce a confession.

         ¶7 Our interpretation is consistent with Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 16.1, which governs pretrial motions and requires parties "to make all motions no later than 20 days before trial . . . ." See also State v. Ferguson,119 Ariz. 200, 201 (1978) ("Inasmuch as appellant had not made a motion to suppress prior to the trial, and did not object to the questions at trial, she waived her right to a voluntariness hearing." (citing Rule 16.1(c))). We do not suggest that courts are prohibited from, sua sponte, conducting voluntariness hearings. Cf Fitzgerald v. Myers,243 Ariz. 84, 92-93, ¶ 27 (2017) ("[N]either the statute nor the rule . . . establishes a requirement for, or right to, a convicted defendant's competency in capital PCR proceedings. In the sound exercise of its inherent authority and discretion, however, a trial court may order a competency evaluation when helpful or necessary . . . ."); State v. Alvarado,121 Ariz. 485, 488 (1979) (recognizing that although parties must move ...


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