as: 186 Ariz. 363, 922 P.2d 927)
STATE of Arizona, Petitioner,
COURT of the State of Arizona, In and For the COUNTY OF MARICOPA, The
William L. Topf, III, a judge thereof, Respondent Judge,
Adolfo CORONADO, Real Party in Interest.
1 CA-SA 96-0202.
of Appeals of Arizona,
1, Department D.
*364 Richard M. Romley, Maricopa County Attorney by Arthur Hazelton, Deputy
County Attorney, and Kevin M. Rapp, Deputy County Attorney, Phoenix, for
R. Zuniga, Phoenix, for Respondent.
special action concerns the construction of a provision of the Arizona
Constitution concerning victims' rights. We accepted jurisdiction and
denied the State the relief it requested, indicating that this opinion would
follow. We conclude that the trial court did not err in requiring the
parents of a victim of sexual assault to submit to an interview by counsel for
the person accused of the assault.
Coronado and a female co-worker, whom we will refer to as the deceased,
were employed at a health care center. The deceased claimed that in May
of 1995 Coronado sexually assaulted her. She reported the incident to
her supervisor and subsequently took some time off from work due to stress and
anxiety over the incident. When she returned to work, she claimed to
have "encountered insensitive reactions from her employers and fellow
staff members." She said she also felt ostracized because of the
threat that her allegations might result in civil liability for the health
care center. On one occasion shortly after the incident, she told a co-worker
that she was going to leave her job **929 *365 and that she was going to kill
herself because of how she was treated at work and because of what another
alleged victim of a sexual assault by Coronado had told her. The
deceased also felt "disappointed" and "betrayed" when her
employer denied her a position as a phlebotomist because she had disclosed to
her supervisor in confidence that she, the deceased, was HIV positive.
November or December of 1995, the deceased stole her supervisor's truck and
kidnapped her supervisor's two infant sons. The record does not reflect
how this incident was resolved. A month or so later, the deceased broke
into her supervisor's home at gunpoint. Four children were present at
the time. The police arrived and the deceased locked herself and one of
the children in a bathroom. She ultimately released the child and
committed suicide by shooting herself in the head.
before the deceased committed suicide, Coronado was indicted for two counts of
sexual abuse and one count of sexual assault involving the deceased and one
count of sexual abuse and one count of sexual assault involving a patient at
the same health care center. After the State listed the deceased's
parents as witnesses, Coronado's counsel filed a motion pursuant to Rule 15.3,
Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, seeking to interview them. The
State responded, arguing that the parents had the right to refuse the
interviews pursuant to the Victims' Bill of Rights. See Ariz. Const.
art. 2 § 2.1(C). The trial judge granted Coronado's motion, stating:
would be my preliminary view that I believe the [Victims' Bill of Rights]
would not extend to the parents of the deceased in a case such as this where
the victim's death is not directly related to the alleged crimes.
judge ordered that counsel for the State be present at the interview and
reminded the State that it could seek a protective order if issues arose
during the interview that warranted such. The judge also reminded
counsel for both sides that they were to act professionally and with
1990, the people of Arizona voted to amend the constitution by adopting the
Victims' Bill of Rights which, among other things, gives victims the right to
"refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request by the
defendant, the defendant's attorney, or other person acting on behalf of the
defendant." Ariz. Const. art. 2, § 2.1(A)(5).
"Victim" is defined in the constitution as "a person against
whom the criminal offense has been committed or, if the person is killed or
incapacitated, the person's spouse, parent, child or other lawful
representative, except if the person is in custody for an offense or is the
accused." Ariz. Const. art. 2, § 2.1(C).
1991, the Arizona legislature enacted the Victims' Rights Implementation Act
pursuant to its authority under article 2, section 2.1(D). See
Ariz.Rev.Stat.Ann. ("A.R.S.") §§ 13-4401 to 13-4438. The
statutory definition of "victim" is identical to the constitutional
definition. See A.R.S. § 13-4401(18).
State contends that the trial judge erred by employing the narrower definition
of "victim" provided for by Rule 39(a)(1), Arizona Rules of Criminal
person against whom a criminal offense as defined by 13-4401(6) has allegedly
been committed, or the spouse, parent, lawful representative, or child of
someone killed or incapacitated by the alleged criminal offense, except where
the spouse, parent, lawful representative, or child is also the accused.
added.) The State claims that the rule is in conflict with the
constitution because the constitution does not expressly require that the
deceased be killed or incapacitated by the alleged criminal offense. The
State argues that the constitutional definition should control.
We will not go outside the plain language of the constitution unless the
intent of its language is unclear. Fairfield v. Foster, 25 Ariz. 146,
214 P. 319 (1923). Where the language is unclear, we look to the
context, effect, consequences and spirit of the law. State v. Sanchez,
174 Ariz. 44, 846 P.2d 857 (App.1993).
While the constitutional definition of "victim" does not explicitly
state that a deceased *366 **930 victim must have been killed by the alleged
criminal offense, we think that such a limitation is implied in the language
of the constitution. The use of the word "killed" suggests
that not just any cause of death will shield the victim's survivors from an
interview by defense counsel. A victim who dies of natural causes, for
example, cannot be said to have been "killed." Surely the
constitution does not hinge the curtailment of an interview--a serious
restriction on the search for truth [FN1]--on a death which was not caused by
The search for truth implicates the right to due process of law. Under certain
circumstances, a defendant's right to gather exculpatory information can take
precedence over the victim's constitutional right to be left alone. See
State ex rel. Romley v. Superior Court, 172 Ariz. 232, 241, 836 P.2d 445, 454
(App.1992) (Lankford, J., concurring).
We hold that Rule 39(a)(1), Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, clarifies,
and is consistent with, the constitutional and statutory definition of
"victim." The parents of the deceased qualify as
"victims" only if the deceased was killed by the alleged criminal
offenses with which the defendant is charged.
The State contends that, even if Rule 39 is valid, "there is a nexus
between the death of the victim and the alleged offense[s]." It
argues that Coronado's conduct started a chain of events that ultimately
resulted in the deceased's suicide. We believe that the standard for
demonstrating that the alleged criminal offense killed the victim within the
meaning of Rule 39 requires a showing of causation, which is something more
than just any nexus. The death does not have to be the immediate result of the
criminal act to be caused by it. A criminal act can cause the death
indirectly through a chain of natural events and causes unchanged by human
action. State v. Edwards, 136 Ariz. 177, 665 P.2d 59 (1983) (defendant
caused victim's death where victim suffered fatal heart attack during
robbery); State v. Fierro, 124 Ariz. 182, 603 P.2d 74 (1979) (defendant's acts
of shooting the victim found to be cause of victim's death where victim was
subsequently placed on life support system for three days before system was
turned off); Drury v. Burr, 107 Ariz. 124, 126, 483 P.2d 539, 541 (1971)
(defendant's act of breaking victim's jaw caused victim's death even though
victim ultimately died from choking on his vomit). On the other hand, an
act cannot be said to be the cause of a death if the chain of natural effects
and causes between them is broken by intervening events which are abnormal or
unforeseeable. State v. Hall, 129 Ariz. 589, 633 P.2d 398 (1981).
In this case, the State failed to offer sufficient facts from which the trial
judge could conclude that Coronado's actions caused the decedent's death
within the meaning of Rule 39, and the Victims' Bill of Rights. The
relationship between Coronado's alleged conduct and the deceased's suicide in
this case is too speculative to permit such a finding. For one thing,
the factors of personality, mental instability, and physical health that may
have been the cause of the suicide are, on this record, unknown and
unfathomable. For another, from what we can glean from the record, the
deceased's anxieties and animosities were directed more at her superior and a
failure to achieve promotion than at Coronado.
affirm the trial court's order requiring the parents of the deceased to submit
to interviews by counsel for Coronado. The stay of the trial court's
order previously issued is vacated.
P.J., and NOYES, J., concur.