J.D. v. Honorable Hugh Hegyi – 3/11/2014

March 14, 2014

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds Parent of Minor Victim Cannot Refuse Defense Interview Once Victim Turns Eighteen.

The Victims’ Rights Act allows victims to refuse an interview with a defendant in a criminal proceeding.  A.R.S. § 13-4401 et seq.  Under this Act, a parent of a minor victim is allowed to refuse a defense interview when the parent exercises victims’ rights on behalf of the minor.  § 13-4433(G).  In this case, a criminal defendant was charged with sexually abusing his minor stepdaughter.  The victim’s mother refused a defense interview.  At the time of the criminal proceedings, the victim was 16 years old, but because of various continuations of the trial date at the defense’s request, the victim turned 18 and was no longer a minor.  After the victim turned 18, the defendant successfully moved to compel the mother to submit to a defense interview.  The trial court held that the Victims’ Rights Act’s provision allowing a minor victim’s parents to refuse a defense interview did not apply once the minor had reached the age of majority.

Because it was a matter of first impression and state-wide importance, the Arizona Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction of the mother’s special action.  The court relied on the express language of the pertinent provisions in the Victims’ Rights Act in holding that a parent no longer has the right to refuse a defense interview once the victim child had reached the age of majority.  A.R.S. § 13-4433(G) (The right to refuse an interview applies to “the parent . . . of a minor child who exercises victims’ rights on behalf of the minor child.”).  The court was careful to note that it was not restricting a parent’s ability to exercise victims’ rights on behalf of a child older than 18 who is killed, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to exercise his or her own victims’ rights, pursuant to § 13-4401(19) and 13-4403.

Liberally construing the Victims’ Rights Act, as the court of appeals observed it must, the court of appeals further held that the defense could not interview the mother about information she learned during the victim’s minority.  Allowing otherwise would erode the purpose behind allowing victims and parents of minor victims to refuse a defense interview.

Presiding Judge Swann authored the opinion, and Judges Norris and Jones concurred.