Arizona law limiting defense attorneys challenged in court

An Arizona law that prevents defense attorneys from directly contacting crime victims is being challenged.

An Arizona law that makes it illegal for defense attorneys to talk to the victims of a crime without permission of the prosecutor's office is being challenged in court as being unconstitutional, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The law prevents defense attorneys from contacting the victims of alleged crimes directly, instead forcing them to use the prosecutor's office as a conduit. That restriction, according to the lawsuit, is a violation of free speech protections and makes it difficult for defense attorneys to provide effective representation for their clients.

Direct contact forbidden

As the Courthouse News Service notes, the lawsuit is challenging the constitutionality of the state's 1991 Crime-Victims' Rights Implementation Act. That law was designed to bolster the rights of crime victims by requiring defense attorneys to go through the prosecutor's office if they wanted to talk directly to the victims of their client's alleged crimes. Often the prosecutor's office would advise crime victims to turn down any request for direct contact with the defense.

Furthermore, in cases where the victim was killed or incapacitated then the prohibition on direct contact extends to "anyone within two degrees of consanguinity or affinity to the victim," such as immediate family members. In cases where the victim is a minor then defense attorneys are barred from talking directly to the victim or the victim's parents or guardians. Arizona, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, is the only state with such a law in place.

Limit on attorneys' and accused's rights

While the purpose of the law was to protect crime victims from harassment and intimidation, the lawsuit points out that harassment and intimidation of crime victims is already illegal. Instead, the lawsuit claims that the law places a prior restraint on defense attorneys' free speech rights. It also makes it harder for attorneys to provide an effective defense for their clients since they cannot discuss even the basic facts of the case with victims without permission from the prosecutor's office.

In cases where the death penalty is a possible sentence then that lack of communication can be a matter of life and death. In talking to crime victims' families, defense attorneys are often able to determine whether those family members are more likely to support pursuing the death penalty or life in prison. If the victim's family is against the death penalty, then that opposition is often enough to get the prosecutor to go after a life imprisonment sentence instead.

Criminal defense help

Anybody who has been charged with a criminal offense, no matter how minor or serious it may seem, should contact a defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help the accused understand what his or her rights are and help mount an effective and aggressive defense strategy.

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