August 13, 2020

State v. Reed, 456 P.3d 453 (Ariz. 2020)

Defendant was convicted of voyeurism and ordered to pay restitution. Defendant appealed the restitution order, but died while the appeal was pending. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal pursuant to Arizona statute, leaving the restitution order intact and enforceable against defendant’s estate, and his estate appealed. The court explained that in 2014, Arizona enacted a statute, § 13-106, which eliminated the abatement ab initio doctrine and required the court to dismiss a pending appeal or post-conviction relief proceeding upon a defendant’s death. As further described by the court, the approach adopted by the legislature was inconsistent with Arizona courts’ adherence to the abatement ab initio doctrine when a convicted defendant dies pending appeal of the conviction and sentence. Defendant’s estate argued that in enacting this statute the legislature infringed upon the court’s appellate jurisdiction and usurped its constitutionally guaranteed rulemaking authority, thereby violating separation of powers principles and rendering the provision unconstitutional. The court explained that the Arizona Constitution vests the Arizona Supreme Court with authority to make rules relating to the procedural matters in any court; the legislature has authority to enact substantive laws, but may also enact procedural laws to define, implement, preserve, and protect the rights guaranteed to victims by the Victims’ Bill of Rights (“VBR”), as well as procedural laws if they supplement rather than conflict with court procedures. The court noted that in the event of a conflict, court procedure prevails. The court found that § 13-106(A), requiring the dismissal of any pending appeal or postconviction proceeding upon a defendant’s death, was a procedural law, because the disposition of an appeal is a matter of court procedure. Consequently, the statute is a procedural rule and violates separation of powers principles, unless the VBR authorized its enactment. The court found that the legislature’s rulemaking authority under the VBR is restricted, and extends only so far as necessary to protect rights created by the VBR that are “unique and peculiar” to crime victims. Therefore, the court concluded that the VBR did not authorize the enactment of § 13-106(A) because the statute does not affect rights unique and specific to victims. The state argued that it affects victims’ rights to a speedy trial or disposition and prompt and final conclusion of the case after conviction and sentence, as established by the VBR. But the court stated that this right “neither creates a right nor defines a right peculiar and unique to victims,” and thus could not serve as a source of authority for the legislature. The state also relied on the victim’s right to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity. However, the court found that this right “concerns treatment of victims in the criminal justice process; it does not create rights to any particular disposition.” The court did find, however, that the victim’s right to prompt restitution is unique and peculiar to victims. However, “this right contemplates the entry of a restitution order that is subject to appellate scrutiny, which may result in reversal or modification of the order. Because [this right] does not guarantee victims any particular appellate disposition, § 13-106(A)’s required disposition does not affect a victim’s right to payment of prompt restitution.” The court also was not convinced that the legislature intended to exercise its VBR-granted rulemaking authority in enacting the statute. As to § 13-106(B), which states that a defendant’s death does not abate the defendant’s criminal conviction or sentence of imprisonment or any restitution, fine, or assessment imposed by the sentencing court, the court reached a different conclusion. “Whether a conviction, sentence, restitution order, or fine should stand or abate when a convicted defendant dies pending appeal is a policy matter affecting competing interests and rights held by victims, the state, the defendant’s family, and society. The legislature’s abolition of the abatement ab initio doctrine regulates the primacy of those interests and rights, making [it] a substantive law.” Accordingly, the court determined that whether the restitution amount is correct remains a controversy with a real-world impact on defendant’s wife. The victim’s rights would not be infringed by a decision on the merits, as the court found that the victim never possessed a right to avoid such a decision. The court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and remanded for a decision on the merits.