Stout v. Justice Court/State (CA1 10/17/13)

Another stumble on the way to electronic nirvana.

Stout pled guilty to a misdemeanor in the Justice Court. After sentencing he moved for Rule 32 post-conviction relief. To support this he requested transcripts of some hearings; Rule 32 says he “may request . . . that certified transcripts be prepared.” But Rule 7 of the Superior Court appellate criminal rules says that the “record on appeal” is a “recording or certified transcript . . . , as the Superior Court may require.” The Justice Court, and then on special action the Superior Court, told Stout he could have recordings but not transcripts.

The Court of Appeals reverses, holding that Stout can have transcripts.

As usual nowadays Stout mistimed his appeal, so as usual nowadays the court has to include a paragraph explaining why it can hear the case. This is Barassi situation, so see Baker if you’re interested in that.

The court next decides which rule applies. It takes the Occam’s Razor approach, which is helpful to the case but less so to the law: Rule 7 applies to the “appeal” record so it doesn’t apply here because a Rule 32 proceeding isn’t an “appeal.”

There can, then, be a difference between the record for some purposes and the record for others. That way lies chaos.

Next, the court decides that it has to decide whether the word “transcript” doesn’t really mean “recording” as well.  (The State didn’t make that argument; it didn’t file a brief.) That this didn’t go without saying is ominous; if words in the rules mean whatever an appellate court says, however plain they are, then there are no rules.

But in this case the court couldn’t quite mange to call black white. Dictionaries tell it that a transcript is written or printed. In addition, though, the court tells us that “the Supreme Court has recognized a difference between transcripts and electronic recordings by distinguishing between them”: ARCAP 11 says “transcript,” Rule 7 says “recording.” Well, yeah, but whether the distinction indeed makes a difference is what the Court of Appeals told us it had to decide; if there’s a distinction between rules 7 and 11, why wonder if there’s a distinction between rules 7 and 32?

The court acknowledges that giving special privilege to people who pled guilty in the Justice Court is silly but under the existing rules this is surely the correct result.

The court takes care, though, to make obeisance to the zeitgeist. In a long paragraph it explains to us that recordings are just as good as transcripts and that they don’t prejudice anybody and that – in a passage sure to bring a gleam to the eyes of the judicial-branch bureaucrats who nowadays rule the law and our profession – they save money.

(link to opinion)