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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State ex rel. Smith v. Reeves, — P.3d —, No. 1 CA-SA 11-0007, 2011 WL 700524 (Ariz. Ct. App. Mar. 1, 2011).

March 03, 2011

Defendant was charged with one count of leaving the scene of a fatal injury accident.  Shortly before trial, defendant filed a motion to preclude the state from referring to the child who was killed in the accident as a “victim.”  While the state did not oppose this request, the prosecutor raised concerns relating to the protection of the child’s parents’ rights as victims of the offense.  The trial court ruled that “there was not a sufficient ‘nexus’ between defendant’s charged conduct and [the child’s] death, and therefore [the child’s] parents were not entitled to assert the constitutional and statutory rights accorded crime victims,” including the right to refuse a defense interview.  The state filed a special action challenging the trial court’s determination.  The appellate court acknowledged that while leaving the scene of an accident gives rise to a single criminal charge, regardless of the number of people injured in the accident, this “does not mean … that the ‘run’ part of a hit-and-run offense is a victimless crime or that a driver who flees the scene of an injury accident without [rendering the reasonable assistance to an injured person that is required by statute] has not committed a crime against the injured person.”  Indeed, as the court notes, the “manifest purpose” of the provision is to prevent drivers of motor vehicles from leaving injured individuals in distress and danger “for want of proper medical or surgical treatment.”  Even though defendant was not alleged to be criminally liable for the accident, defendant nevertheless had an affirmative obligation to stop and render aid to the injured child.  Defendant’s duty to the injured child “arose the moment that defendant struck him.”  The appellate court vacated the trial court’s order, concluding that the trial court erred as a matter of law when it found that the injured child was not a victim of defendant’s offense.  The court also concluded that because the parents of a minor victim are entitled to invoke the rights and protections accorded crime victims on their own behalf (in addition to asserting them on behalf of a minor victim), the child’s parents were entitled to invoke victim status and assert their right to decline a defense interview.


NCVLI assisted the prosecutor with legal research relating to the state’s arguments on appeal.