PHOENIX – A federal appeals court has given the green light to defense lawyers in Arizona to challenge a state law that prohibits them from directly contacting victims of crime.
In a new ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that members of Arizona’s criminal justice attorneys lack the legal capacity to try to overturn the restriction because they do not suffer any prejudice. Appeals judges said that the fact that lawyers can have their license to practice law suspended or revoked for violating the provision gives them a basis to prosecute.
The ruling, however, does not overturn the law. Instead, it simply sends the case back to a trial judge for a review of its constitutionality.
Katie Conner, spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Brnovich, said he would fight their efforts, calling the law a “common sense law that protects victims by limiting direct contact with defendants and their lawyers.”
But attorney Jared Keenan of the American Civil Liberties Union, who sued on behalf of defense attorneys, told Capitol Media Services that the appeals court’s decision to allow the law challenge is important. .
“What we have seen is that prosecutors are using this law as more than a shield to allegedly protect victims of crime,” he said. “They are using it as a sword to somehow undermine the truth-seeking function of our criminal justice system.”
At stake, a law stipulates that defendants, their lawyers and investigators can only contact victims of crime through the prosecutor’s office. This includes not only the actual victims, but also family members.
Prosecutors are required to forward requests. But they can also tell people the lawyer wants to interview that they have the legal right to just say “no”.
The basis is the Victims Bill of Rights, a 1990 constitutional amendment approved by voters and designed to articulate the rights of victims of crime and their families. This includes things like the right to be present at all stages of the trial, to be informed of all events and to refuse to be questioned.
In a lawsuit against Brnovich and Governor Doug Ducey, defense attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union have called the obligation to channel contact requests “an unconstitutional licensing requirement and a restriction. prior to speaking ”.
What this also does, according to lawyers, is that it makes it difficult for them to fulfill their obligation to provide effective assistance to their clients.
More telling, they explained to United States District Court Judge Steven Logan, is that the additional hurdle interferes with their ability to save the life of a client convicted of murder. This is based on their claim that they are required to try to persuade family members not to seek the death penalty, wishes prosecutors can follow.
Logan, in dismissing the case, did not explore the merits of the complaint.
Rather, he accepted the arguments of Assistant Attorney General OM Skinner that the Federal Court had no authority in this area. And the judge said any challenge by defense lawyers to their right to contact a victim should not be framed as a challenge to the law, but on a case-by-case basis.
“In all cases where a plaintiff (lawyer) represents an accused, that lawyer can immediately raise the challenge to the First Amendment through a simple petition asking for permission to contact a victim directly,” said Skinner.
But the three-judge appeals committee said it ignored the fact that lawyers put themselves in professional danger if they contacted victims without passing their requests through prosecutors. And they said that giving defense lawyers the legal aid they seek “would also prevent Brnovich from relying on (the law) to obstruct defense lawyers’ direct communications with victims.” in matters pursued by his office ”.
No date has been set for a trial in federal court in Phoenix.