State v. Aguirre

Docket Number1 CA-CR 22-0057
Decision Date04 April 2023
Citation255 Ariz. 89,527 P.3d 894
Parties STATE of Arizona, Appellee, v. Enrique Franco AGUIRRE, Appellant.
CourtArizona Court of Appeals

Ramos Law Firm, Scottsdale, By Paul A. Ramos, Counsel for Appellant

Arizona Attorney General's Office, Phoenix, By Joshua C. Smith, Michael Woodburn (certified limited practice student), Counsel for Appellee

Judge Jennifer B. Campbell delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Presiding Judge Brian Y. Furuya and Judge Paul J. McMurdie joined.



¶1 Enrique Franco Aguirre appeals his conviction and sentence for discharging a firearm at a nonresidential structure, arguing insufficient evidence supports his conviction. We hold that a conviction for discharging a firearm at a nonresidential structure requires evidence that a defendant "knowingly" shot "at" a nonresidential structure, as opposed to firing at a person and inadvertently striking a structure. See A.R.S. § 13-1211(B). Because the evidence established only that Aguirre knowingly fired his weapon at a person and recklessly or accidentally hit the structure, we reverse and remand.


¶2 In 2018, after engaging in a brief physical altercation outside a nightclub, Aguirre fired multiple pistol shots at John,2 striking him several times. Two stray bullets hit the nightclub: one passing through an open window and striking a metal tripod inside, the other striking the building's exterior and damaging the block wall. The State charged Aguirre with one count of discharging a firearm at a nonresidential structure, a class 3 felony (count one); four counts of aggravated assault, class 3 felonies (counts two through five); and three counts of endangerment, class 6 felonies (counts six through eight). Aguirre claimed he acted in self-defense. See A.R.S. § 13-405(A) ("A person is justified in threatening or using deadly physical force against another ... [w]hen and to the degree a reasonable person would believe that deadly physical force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful deadly physical force.").

¶3 At trial, John testified that he regularly frequented the nightclub and had loaned money to Aguirre, who worked as a security guard. When John left the nightclub on the night of the shooting, he found Aguirre waiting for him in the parking lot. According to John, Aguirre said he would not repay the loan. To avoid a confrontation, John responded that "it's not the place to talk about [it]." John testified that Aguirre punched him, and John then pushed Aguirre. As John walked toward his vehicle, he looked back and saw that Aguirre had a gun pointed "at [his] head." Quickly grabbing a gun from his truck, John aimed it at Aguirre, who fired his weapon at John while running toward him. John asserted that, although he was armed at the time, he never returned fire.

¶4 Following the State's case-in-chief, the superior court denied Aguirre's motion for judgment of acquittal under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 20. Aguirre then testified that he shot John in self-defense. Explaining he knew John as a regular customer at the nightclub, Aguirre described him as a violent, "bad man," and a "gun guy" who was "associated with the cartel." Denying that he had borrowed money from John, Aguirre testified that he confronted him that night to address threats John had made on a previous evening when Aguirre asked him to remove his firearm before going into the club.

¶5 When questioned about their physical altercation, Aguirre testified that John instigated it, orally threatening him and shoving him before he punched back in retaliation. Acknowledging that he was the first to brandish a weapon, Aguirre explained that he believed John intended to retrieve a gun when he walked to his vehicle. Aguirre testified that he pointed his weapon at John while repeatedly warning him "not to pull out his gun." Contrary to John's testimony, Aguirre recounted that he did not shoot until after John grabbed his gun, turned toward him, and began firing.

¶6 A jury acquitted Aguirre on all of the aggravated assault charges but found him guilty of discharging a firearm at a nonresidential structure. The jurors could not reach verdicts on the endangerment counts. The superior court sentenced Aguirre to a five-year term of imprisonment. Aguirre timely appealed.


¶7 Aguirre challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction. He asserts the State failed to show he targeted his shots "at" the nightclub.

¶8 We review a claim of insufficient evidence de novo. State v. West , 226 Ariz. 559, 562, ¶ 15, 250 P.3d 1188, 1191 (2011). Sufficient evidence on which a reasonable jury can convict may be direct or circumstantial and "is such proof that reasonable persons could accept as adequate" to "support a conclusion of defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Borquez , 232 Ariz. 484, 487, ¶¶ 9, 11, 307 P.3d 51, 54 (App. 2013). "In determining whether substantial evidence exists, we view the facts in the light most favorable to sustaining the jury verdict and resolve all inferences against [the defendant]." State v. Stroud , 209 Ariz. 410, 412, ¶ 6, 103 P.3d 912, 914 (2005). In evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, we test the evidence "against the statutorily required elements of the offense," State v. Pena , 209 Ariz. 503, 505, ¶ 8, 104 P.3d 873, 875 (App. 2005), and "do not reweigh the evidence to decide if [we] would reach the same conclusions as the trier of fact[,]" Borquez , 232 Ariz. at 487, ¶ 9, 307 P.3d at 54 (internal quotation omitted).

¶9 We also interpret statutes de novo. State v. Neese , 239 Ariz. 84, 86, ¶ 8, 366 P.3d 561, 563 (App. 2016). "Statutory interpretation requires us to determine the meaning of the words the legislature chose to use." S. Ariz. Home Builders Ass'n v. Town of Marana , 254 Ariz. 281, ––––, 522 P.3d 671, 676 (2023). "We do so neither narrowly nor liberally, but rather according to the plain meaning of the words in their broader statutory context, unless the legislature directs us to do otherwise." Id.

¶10 Under A.R.S. § 13-1211(B), "[a] person who knowingly discharges a firearm at a nonresidential structure is guilty of a class 3 felony." Aguirre asserts the statute requires that he must have intended to hit the structure when firing his weapon, and no evidence supported his conviction because he "targeted" John, "not the business." In making this claim, Aguirre does not deny that he discharged his firearm or that two bullets struck the nightclub. The State counters that it needed only to prove that Aguirre was aware he was shooting in the direction of the nightclub. In essence, the State argues it is enough if Aguirre knew the structure was there and knew he discharged the weapon in the nightclub's general direction. The two positions require us to interpret whether, under the statute, the State must prove a defendant aimed at the structure to be guilty of the crime.

¶11 "If a statute defining an offense prescribes a culpable mental state that is sufficient for commission of the offense without distinguishing among the elements of such offense, the prescribed mental state shall apply to each such element unless a contrary legislative purpose plainly appears." A.R.S. § 13-202(A). Applying this rule of construction here, A.R.S. § 13-1211(B) prescribes the culpable mental state of knowingly without differentiating between the elements of the offense. Thus, the mens rea of knowingly must be applied to each element of this offense—including the requirement that the person discharged a firearm "at" a nonresidential structure. The court gave the standard instruction for the charged crime: "The crime of discharging a firearm at a nonresidential structure requires proof that the defendant knowingly: 1. Discharged a firearm; 2. At a nonresidential structure." See Revised Arizona Jury Instructions ("RAJI") Standard Criminal 12.11 (6th ed. 2022).

¶12 While Aguirre does not challenge the jury instructions given, he claims the trial evidence was inadequate to support the assertion that he shot ‘at’ a nonresidential structure. He challenges his conviction on that basis. Given Aguirre's testimonial admissions, the only question is whether the State presented sufficient evidence that he "knowingly" discharged his firearm "at" the nonresidential structure.

¶13 We reject the State's interpretation of the statute because it would require us to interpret the statute to apply a reckless mental state to an element of the offense. A.R.S. § 13-105(10)(c) (" ‘Recklessly’ means, with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists."). But knowingly engaging in conduct requires more. As statutorily defined, "knowingly" means "with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person is aware or believes that the person's conduct is of that nature or that the circumstance exists." A.R.S. § 13-105(10)(b).

¶14 The statute does not define the word "at," so we apply its common meaning and look to dictionaries for guidance. See State v. Pena , 235 Ariz. 277, 279, ¶ 6, 331 P.3d 412, 414 (2014). "At" is used "to indicate the goal of an indicated or implied action or motion." At , Merriam-Webster's College Dictionary (11th ed. 2018). A "goal" is "the end toward which effort is directed." Goal , Merriam-Webster's College Dictionary (11th ed. 2018). A person aims to "indicate the goal" when discharging a firearm. See Aim , Merriam-Webster's College Dictionary (11th ed. 2018) (To "aim" is to "direct toward a specified object or goal.").

¶15 In the context of discharging a firearm "at a nonresidential" structure, the statute requires that the defendant knowingly aimed at...

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