Dangerous Crimes Against Children Definition In Arizona

The statute defines dangerous crimes against children as any of several listed crimes, including kidnapping, if "committed against a minor under fifteen years of age." A.R.S. § 13-604.01(L)(1)(i) (Supp. 1999-2000) (formerly A.R.S. § 13-604.01(J)(1)(i) (1996-1997)).

The statute contains no prerequisite to its application that one be a "predator" or pose a continuing threat to the children of Arizona.

Although the language of the statute appears clear, our supreme court has determined that the "language is not so plain that it admits of no other interpretation." Williams, 175 Ariz. at 102, 854 P.2d at 135.

In Williams, the defendant was convicted of aggravated assault of a person under the age of fifteen because he drove his truck while intoxicated and hit a station wagon, injuring a fourteen-year-old passenger in the car. Id. at 99, 854 P.2d at 132.

Despite the fact that the statute included aggravated assault as a qualifying offense, the supreme court held that the defendant's sentence should not have been enhanced pursuant to A.R.S. section 13-604.01 because the State had presented "no evidence that defendant's behavior was directed at or focused upon the victim, or that he was even aware of the minor's presence in the station wagon." Williams, 175 Ariz. at 104, 854 P.2d at 137.

After reviewing the legislative history of the dangerous crimes provision and analyzing its spirit and purpose, the court construed the language "committed against a minor" as conduct a defendant "aims at, targets or focuses on a victim under the age of fifteen." Id. at 102, 854 P.2d at 135.

It concluded that the legislature was "attempting to respond effectively to those predators who pose a direct and continuing threat to the children of Arizona." Id. It found the enhancement's purpose to be to punish predators severely, to incarcerate them for long terms so that they do not pose a threat to children, and to require them to give notice of the conviction when applying for certain types of employments. See 175 Ariz. at 100, 102-03, 854 P.2d at 133, 135-36.

In concluding that the dangerous crimes against children enhancement did not apply to the aggravated assault at issue in Williams, the court focused on two factors: that the defendant did not select the injured child to be a victim and that the aggravated assault statute itself contains a provision increasing the felony classification, and therefore the presumptive sentence, if the victim is younger than fifteen years of age.

The court explained that if "an enumerated offense can be committed by unfocused actions," then the defendant has not targeted any person, including the minor, and therefore the offense cannot be a crime "committed against a minor" within the meaning of A.R.S. section 13-604.01. Williams, 175 Ariz. at 104, 854 P.2d at 137.

Jansing involved a similar drunk driving accident, the only difference being that the defendant in Jansing injured a child in her own vehicle rather than one riding in another vehicle. 186 Ariz. at 65, 918 P.2d at 1084.

This Court rejected the State's argument that the defendant's mere awareness of the child's presence in the vehicle allowed a conclusion that the aggravated assault was "directed against or aimed at" the child. Id. at 70, 918 P.2d at 1088.

Rather, as in Williams, the defendant's actions were "reckless and unfocused," creating a "risk to everyone around her." Id. Thus, Williams and Jansing hold that if a defendant's conduct is not "focused on, directed against, aimed at, or targeted at" any specific victim, it cannot be a crime against a minor within the meaning of A.R.S. section 13-604.01. Williams, 175 Ariz. at 103, 854 P.2d at 136; Jansing, 186 Ariz. at 70, 918 P.2d at 1088.