Arizona Defendant Appeals Sentencing Decision in Child Abuse Case, but Court Finds No Fundamental Error

In a December 2023 case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant asked for a reconsideration of the lower court’s sentencing decision in her child abuse case. She was originally charged with and convicted of negligent child abuse, and she asked the higher court to conduct a review of the record, to ensure the lower court arrived at the verdict and resulting sentence fairly. Finding no fundamental error in the trial court’s record, the court of appeals affirmed.

Facts of the Case

This case revolved around a 2011 incident in which the defendant and her husband mistreated a ten-year old girl that was living with them at the time. According to the opinion, the couple subjected the girl to cruel punishment by making her remain in a backbend position for at least one hour after she took a popsicle without permission. They then locked the girl inside a storage box in a room without any air conditioning, where she eventually died.

The defendant was convicted of many offenses, including first-degree murder, intentional child abuse, and negligent child abuse. She appealed the lower court’s sentencing decision on the negligent child abuse offense.

The Decision

During trial, the jury found that the defendant had committed negligent child abuse when she forced the child to do backbends for hours. The behavior rose to the level of child abuse, given that it did not make sense for the couple to punish a ten-year-old girl in such a severe and specific way. On appeal, the defendant asked that the court review her sentence for this offense, to ensure the court had reached its decision fairly.

The court of appeals noted that in a lower court’s proceeding, the defendant had successfully argued that her sentence for negligent child abuse was inappropriate and that she should have been sentenced to 1.5 years for this offense, rather than 2 years. In the end, however, it did not matter, since the defendant was later sentenced much more harshly on the murder conviction. Because she would likely be in prison for life, the difference between the 1.5 and the 2 years did not constitute a grave error by the lower court.

With that, the defendant’s convictions and sentences were all affirmed.

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