It’s an international criminal case involving Alabama and Australia. According to news reports, David Gabriel “Gabe” Watson married his wife, Tina, in Alabama. They went on a honeymoon. They went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef. There, Tina drowned while on a dive with Gabe. Authorities accused Gabe of killing Tina underwater, leaving her to drown to death. In 2008, Gabe pleaded guilty to criminal manslaughter in Australia. He got 1.5 years in prison in Australia.
But Alabama prosecutors were not satisfied. Gabe was indicted in Alabama on counts of murder for pecuniary gain and kidnapping with a felony. The case went to trial. When the prosecutors rested their case, the Judge dismissed the entire prosecution and freed Gabe of any criminal conviction. According to news media, the judge in the Alabama case said, “The defendant buys an engagement ring. He gives it to his future bride. He marries her. He plans a trip halfway around the world that’s paid for by him or his family. . . . And he did all of that, and planned it all here, so he could go over there and kill her so he could get the same engagement ring he purchased?”
That leads to two questions for this Arizona criminal defense attorney. First, how would Arizona law apply to indicting this case? And second, could an Arizona judge dismiss a case mid-trial?
Arizona Criminal Law Jurisdiction
Arizona has jurisdiction laws that would allow a similar indictment in Arizona as the Honeymoon Killer case in Alabama. The basis of the Alabama indictment was that Gabe had hatched the plot to kill Tina while within the State of Alabama. Well, that same legal theory would work in Arizona. Under Arizona law, the State of Arizona has criminal jurisdiction over a defendant and the entire crime if any element of the criminal offense occurred in Arizona. Arizona Revised Statutes, section 13-108 says:
Territorial Applicability A. This state has jurisdiction over an offense that a person commits by his own conduct or the conduct of another for which such person is legally accountable if: 1. Conduct constituting any element of the offense or a result of such conduct occurs within this state; or 2. The conduct outside this state constitutes an attempt or conspiracy to commit an offense within this state and an act in furtherance of the attempt or conspiracy occurs within this state; or 3. The conduct within this state constitutes an attempt, solicitation, conspiracy or facilitation to commit or establishes criminal accountability for the commission of an offense in another jurisdiction that is also an offense under the law of this state; or 4. The offense consists of an omission to perform a duty imposed by the law of this state regardless of the location of the defendant at the time of the offense; or 5. The offense is a violation of a statute of this state that prohibits conduct outside the state.
Let’s take the example of first degree murder in Arizona. If a person commits a homicide in Arizona “with premeditation” then that person is guilty of first degree murder. Accordingly, if the Honeymoon Killer premeditated (i.e., hatched a plot or plan to commit) the murder, then even if that actual death occurred outside of Arizona, the element of “with premeditation” would have occurred in Arizona. Therefore, conduct constituting an element of the offense occurred in Arizona. And therefore Arizona could charge and prosecute the Honeymoon Killer just like the prosecutors did in Alabama.
Arizona’s Law Regarding a Judge Dismissing a Case Mid-Trial: Judgment of Acquittal
The Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure contain a law that allows a judge to “acquit” a defendant in the middle of a trial, just like the Honeymoon Killer acquittal in Alabama.
Rule 20. Judgment of Acquittal a. Before Verdict. On motion of a defendant or on its own initiative, the court shall enter a judgment of acquittal of one or more offenses charged in an indictment, information or complaint after the evidence on either side is closed, if there is no substantial evidence to warrant a conviction. In an aggravation hearing, after the evidence on either side is closed, on a motion of a defendant or on its own initiative, the court shall enter a judgment that an aggravating circumstance was not proven if there is no substantial evidence to warrant the allegation. The court’s decision on a defendant’s motion shall not be reserved, but shall be made with all possible speed. b. After Verdict. A motion for judgment of acquittal made before verdict may be renewed by a defendant within 10 days after the verdict was returned.
Therefore, if the State of Arizona presented the same evidence as the Alabama prosecutors did, the judge in Arizona could have dismissed the case in the same way. This happens rarely in Arizona. But it does happen. If a person is charged with a crime (i.e., they are indicted), and there is no “substantial evidence to warrant a conviction,” then the Judge must dismiss the prosecution. Even after a jury verdict of guilty, an Arizona defendant can be acquitted by the judge, if the motion for judgment of acquittal is renewed timely by the Arizona defense lawyer.
While the Honeymoon Killer case is a very unlikely set of facts, it is possible that a similar case can arise out of Arizona. If any element of any Arizona criminal offense is committed while in Arizona, then the entire crime (even if the other elements of the crime are committed in another country) can be prosecuted in the State of Arizona.
And if the Arizona prosecutors fail to present substantial evidence to warrant a conviction, the Arizona judge must toss the case out of court and enter a judgment of acquittal for the defendant.