CRIME VICTIMS R.S. and S.E., Petitioners,
THE HONORABLE PETER A. THOMPSON, Judge of the SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF ARIZONA, in and for the County of MARICOPA, Respondent Judge, TEDDY CARL VANDERS, Real Party in Interest.
Petition for Special Action from the Superior Court in
Maricopa County No. CR2017-132367-001 The Honorable Peter A.
Balson Attorney at Law, Sun City By Jamie Balson Counsel for
Maricopa County Office of the Legal Advocate, Phoenix By
Elyse Anne Fune, James P. Leonard Counsel for Real Party in
Judge Peter B. Swann delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Presiding Judge James B. Morse Jr. and Judge Kenton D.
In this case, we hold that the physician-patient privilege
does not yield to the request of a criminal defendant for
information merely because that information may be helpful to
Teddy Carl Vanders is charged with second-degree murder. On
his request, the superior court ordered a hospital to
disclose the deceased victim's privileged mental health
records for an in camera review. Siblings of the victim
petition for special action relief from that order.
Vanders's argument is that his constitutional rights
overcome a statutory privilege. While it is true that the
privilege cannot withstand a direct conflict with a
constitutional right, a defendant's due process right to
a fair trial does not create a right to discovery any greater
than those rights created by Ariz. R. Crim. P.
("Rule") 15.1 and Brady v. Maryland, 373
U.S. 83 (1963). We hold that to be entitled to an in camera
review of privileged records as a matter of due process, the
defendant must establish a substantial probability that the
protected records contain information critical to an element
of the charge or defense or that their unavailability would
result in a fundamentally unfair trial. Because Vanders did
not establish such a probability, the court erred by granting
an in camera review of the victim's privileged records.
We therefore accept jurisdiction and grant relief.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On July 13, 2017, Vanders called 9-1-1 and told the operator
that he had just shot and killed his long-term girlfriend,
M.S., during a domestic dispute. He described the incident to
the operator, saying "[M.S.] was acting evil and
possessive. She was crawling around. It was insane and not
normal." He also said that M.S. had abused him
throughout their relationship, and that he had "been
threatened for many years." He told the operator that
M.S. had been to a mental hospital and that he thought she
had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Before trial, Vanders requested that the court compel
"Magellan Hospital/ Urgent Psychiatric Care Center"
to disclose for an in camera review M.S.'s privileged
mental health records from a visit six years before her
death. Vanders claimed that "the nature of the requested
records are essential to his listed [justification] defenses
and to his ability to effectively examine witnesses." In
support of his motion, Vanders cited his statements to the
9-1-1 operator and two police reports from 2009 and 2011,
both of which listed him as the victim of domestic assault.
In the 2009 incident, M.S. was taken into custody after she
admitted to hitting Vanders while both were intoxicated. In
the 2011 incident, while the couple were intoxicated, M.S.
broke open the couple's gun safe to get a gun to kill
herself, and Vanders physically restrained her. According to
the report, M.S. was "hysterical and kept saying she
wanted to kill herself," and, once in custody, asked for
an officer's gun so she could kill herself. The police
took her to Magellan Hospital "due to [her] current
mental state," where she voluntarily checked herself in
and told staff that "she did need help and wanted to
talk to them about suicide."
Relying on State ex rel. Romley v. Superior Court
(Roper), 172 Ariz. 232 (App. 1992), the superior court
found that Vanders's due process rights required
disclosure of M.S.'s privileged records for an in camera
review. The court granted Vanders's motion, and
M.S.'s siblings, as victims under Arizona's
Victims' Bill of Rights ("VBR"), brought this
special action challenging the ruling. See A.R.S.
§§ 13-4401(19), -4437(A).
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 case presents a purely
legal issue of statewide importance and first impression,
Gilbert Prosecutor's Office v. Foster, 245 Ariz.
15, 17, ¶ 5 (App. 2018). We accept jurisdiction because
there is no adequate remedy by appeal when a party challenges
an order to produce privileged documents, see Roman
Catholic Diocese of Phx. v. Superior Court (State), 204
Ariz. 225, 227, ¶ 2 (App. 2003), and this ...