Monday, October 27, 2014

Arizona Supreme Court Decides Sexual Abuse of Minor Case: Parent Can Continue Refusing Interview Even After Child Turns 18 (READ)

This article contributed by Tempe attorney Paul Weich.

In a case that could have been part of a "Law & Order: SVU" episode, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously decided that a parent* cannot be compelled to sit for a defense interview about her daughter's alleged sexual abuse even after the daughter becomes an adult. The opinion clarifies an unclear portion of Arizona's Victims Bill of Rights.

In this case, a 16-year old girl alleged that her stepfather had sexually abused her. The girl's mother asserted the girl's victims' rights on her behalf, but after the teenager turned 18, the stepfather tried to force the mother to be interviewed about the circumstances.

Arizona's two Court of Appeals divisions had come up with different answers** on whether the parent's right to refuse an interview extended after the child reached 18.  In 2006, then-Sen. John Huppenthal had added the parent's right but the amended statute did not make it clear whether the right expired at the child's adulthood or through the end of the case.  (In fact, as the Justices point out, the Legislature had rejected an amendment that would have allowed defense interviews of parents who are also witnesses.)

The key quote from Chief Justice Scott Bales' opinion:  
"The goals of respecting victims, protecting their rights, and aiding in their healing, however are better served by construing A.R.S. §13-4433(G) as preserving the parent's right to refuse a defense interview through the conclusion of the case.  Even though a child has turned eighteen, a compelled interview of the parent who exercised the minor victim's rights could further traumatize the victim and subject the victim, although vicariously, to unwanted pretrial contact with the defendant or questioning by the defense." ¶ 19


* or legal guardian
** in this case and one other case

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