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 indecent exposure.
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.