Garcia v. Browning/State – 2/9/2007

February 16, 2007

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That Changes to the Criminal Code’s Affirmative Defense and Justification Defense Provisions Apply Only to Offenses Occurring on or After Its Effective Date of April 24, 2006.

On December 13, 2004, a Pima County grand jury indicted David Garcia for first-degree murder. Garcia subsequently disclosed several justification defenses, including self-defense, third-party defense, and crime prevention. At the time of the offense, A.R.S. § 13-205 (2001) required that a defendant prove any justification defense by a preponderance of the evidence. However, before Garcia’s trial began, the legislature enacted legislation that, among other things, amended A.R.S. §§ 13-103(B) and -205(A) to provide that justification defenses are not affirmative defenses. When the superior court refused to instruct the trial jury using the new version of A.R.S. § 13-205 (Supp. 2006), Garcia filed a special action. The Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction and held that the new version of A.R.S. § 13-205 applied to Garcia’s trial. Id.
The Supreme Court reversed, emphasizing that absent a clear expression of retroactivity, a newly enacted law applies only prospectively. Although the legislation at issue was enacted pursuant to an emergency clause that stated it would become “operative immediately,” that clause simply meant that the bill would go into effect on the date it is signed by the Governor (instead of ninety days after the end of the legislative session). That language has no effect on whether the bill applies to antecedent events. Although legislation that affects only how the parties prepare for trial and how the trial is conducted may be applied in a trial where the underlying crime or indictment occurred before the new legislation, Arizona cases have consistently held that the date of the offense is the operative event for retroactivity analysis when a new statute regulates primary conduct. In this case, the new legislation does not merely affect the conduct of trial, but rather also regulates primary conduct by declaring that conduct that is justified “does not constitute criminal or wrongful conduct.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded, the change to the criminal code’s affirmative defense and justification defense provisions apply only to offenses occurring on or after its effective date of April 24, 2006.

Judge Ryan wrote the opinion for the unanimous panel.