PHOENIX — A man accused of being sexually violent must go free because
authorities violated his rights by failing to timely schedule a trial, an
Arizona appellate court ruled Friday.
The state Court of Appeals said Steven Lane Fuller was entitled to have a trial
within 120 days and that a delay of more than a year means he went without
treatment that might have resulted in his release.
Fuller, 57, was discharged from the state prison system in January 2012 after
serving sentences for Pinal County convictions for public sexual indecency and
He was immediately transferred to the state mental hospital in Phoenix. That
was after a Pinal County Superior Court judge granted prosecutor’s request that
Fuller be committed for civil proceedings on whether Fuller should receive
treatment for sexual violence.
The case then fell in the cracks until February 2013, when a court official
noticed that his case was still in the pretrial phase.
Proceedings then started to be scheduled, and a public defender was appointed
to represent Fuller.
Fuller’s lawyer asked for dismissal of the proceeding, but a trial judge
refused, saying that the 120-day deadline set in state law wasn’t mandatory.
However, a Tucson-based three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that
the “grave violation” entitled Fuller to relief.
“We recognize that the effect of our opinion today will be the release of a
person who the state maintains has a mental disorder,” Judge Peter Eckerstrom
wrote in the ruling. “But…we may not assume that Fuller would be deemed
sexually violent before the state has proven that fact at a trial — and before
Fuller has been permitted to rebut the state’s evidence with his own.”
Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles issued a statement saying the case
languished under his predecessor, and as soon as his office learned of the
situation, it notified the court and argued to a judge that Fuller’s rights
hadn’t been compromised.
Voyles said a new system is now used in Pinal County where prosecutors retain a
case through trial. He said his office will review the appeals court decision
and determine “what legal tools remain to protect Pinal families from a
potential sexually violent person.”
Fuller was represented by Assistant Pinal County Public Defender David
Wilkison, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.