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Updated Mar 20, 2014 - 6:06 pm

Arizona court rules on death penalty hearings

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Supreme Court says capital murder defendants are entitled to request and have pretrial hearings on whether grounds exist for a possible death sentence.

The court's ruling Thursday says it's not enough that grand juries decide that so-called aggravating circumstances exist in a case.

The Supreme Court's ruling notes that defendants generally can't challenge grand juries' probable cause determinations. In contrast, hearings allow defense lawyers to cross-examine prosecution witnesses and present evidence.

The state high court ordered a Yavapai County Superior Court judge to hold a hearing on possible grounds for a death sentence for murder defendant Juan Carlos Vicente Sanchez.

Sanchez was denied a hearing after a grand jury concluded that probable cause existed in the allegations in his case to support a possible death sentence.

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