By: Chad Edwards

The criminal justice system and the crime itself often traumatize crime victims twice. This secondary impact on victims is protected by Arizona’s Victims’ Bill of Rights and victim-related statutes. Defendants have the right to be informed of and present at court proceedings. At such proceedings, defendants are further afforded the right to be present and to be treated with dignity and respect. To help crime victims and their families cope with the multiple impacts of serious crimes, our state provides a range of support services, including financial assistance. A victim’s right to privacy may protect personal information contained in criminal justice documents, compensation records,  court testimony, as well as contact information provided for notification purposes, This includes their name or identity, address, phone number, and place of employment.

However, a federal judge says Arizona is violating the constitutional rights of crime victims and their families by enforcing a 31-year-old law prohibiting defense attorneys from directly contacting them. A coalition of criminal defense attorneys has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Arizona in which they allege that the state unconstitutionally prohibits criminal defense attorneys from communicating with crime victims and their families except through the courts or through prosecutors. Ariz. Rev. Stat. (“A.R.S.”) § 134433(B), which prohibits criminal defense counsel from initiating contact with a victim. According to Arizona law, only the prosecutor’s office may initiate contact with the victim on behalf of the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or an agent of the defendant. It seems that Arizona’s law is one of the most unusual laws among the states in this regard. As soon as the prosecutor receives a request for an interview from the defendant, the prosecutor should inform the victim and explain that the victim may decline the interview.

As a result of an initiative passed by Arizona voters in 1990, the Arizona Victims’ Bill of Rights was created. Several pieces of legislation were introduced the following year, protecting the rights of crime victims within criminal proceedings, including the right to be present at criminal proceedings, the right to have their voices heard in court, as well as the right to be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect. There has been a great deal of work the Arizona Department of Public Safety has done since Arizona passed the Arizona Victims’ Bill of Rights that ensures crime victims have a voice in their communities. AZDPS serves as the state administering agency for the federal Victims of Crime Act Victim Assistance fund and administers the state’s Victims’ Rights Enforcement fund, of which both funds are utilized to support victims’ rights activities. Even if the defense attorneys win their lawsuit, their rights to be present at all stages of the trial, to be informed of all developments, and to refuse to be interviewed would remain unaffected.

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge has ruled that the state cannot enforce a 31-year-old law prohibiting defense attorneys from directly contacting crime victims or their families, saying that it violates the constitutional rights of those people. According to Judge Steven Logan, this was a speaker-based restriction on speech that was justified by its expected content and thus was subject to strict scrutiny, in which the law did not meet.Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s attempt to overturn an appellate court ruling that defense lawyers have a right to sue was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There is no voiding of the 1991 statute because of any of this. Nevertheless, it does give Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice the opportunity to argue that the provision violates the Constitution before a federal judge. It won’t force crime victims to speak with defense lawyers even if they ultimately win. By doing so, all it would do would be to remove the additional hurdle of having to have their requests funneled through prosecutors.

My name is Chad Edwards and I am a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state, a rising 3L at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU. I am interested in working on the intersection of water law and federal Indian law. I graduated from Eastern Washington University where I majored in Philosophy and minored in Native American Studies.