Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Blog

video-camera-1412649-m.jpg A Tragic Video Confession

You might remember the viral video of an Arizona man, 22 year old Matthew Cordle, who caused a fatal drunk driving accident. He provided a confession in a four-minute online video that went viral with 2.3 million views last September.

Cordle began his chilling confession with “My name is Matthew Cordle and on June 22, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession.”

Vincent Canzani 61, was the father of two daughters, and a former USA Naval Submarine Veteran. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

Immediately following the crash, Cordle was taken to the hospital for his injuries. But at that time he denied being intoxicated, driving impaired, or causing the fatal accident.

Cordle confessed in the video, that he was driving the wrong way on an interstate, and crashed into Vincent Canzani vehicle.

In the video was the blurred face of man, Cordle, admitting to barhopping, blacking out and driving home drunk. Cordle explained that he had been drinking heavily before getting behind the wheel, and blacked out just before losing control of his vehicle.

Cordle had not yet been charged at the time the video was made, but was expecting the charges to be brought based on the DUI blood test results.

Interestingly, Cordle had retained an attorney, but his attorney claimed he was not aware that his client had planned to post a video confession on the internet.

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“The best way to deal with a DUI checkpoint is to be prepared for it. Lack of preparation or knowledge of your rights can lead to a false arrest, and violations of your rights.”

A Case of False Arrest at a DUI Checkpoint

One spring evening, 61 year old, Michael Wilhelm found himself in a DUI Checkpoint Line-up operated by Cape Coral Police. He was not driving impaired or under the influence of any alcohol or drugs. He asked to take a breath or blood test because instead of Field Sobriety Roadside tests (FSTs), because he was recovering from opened heart surgery. But the officers instead administered the field sobriety tests. Michael Wilhelm was arrested following the FST roadside test even before a breath test was taken. Police finally decided to do a breath test, while Wilhelm was still placed under arrest. Then while the police were preparing for the breath tests, Wilhelm began complaining of severe chest pains. He was taken to the hospital. There he requested the blood test to prove that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The hospital complied with his request. The DUI blood tests were all negative. The criminal charges were finally dismissed. He filed suit against the city and police and spent the next two years of his life in civil litigation. The case was finally settled for a meager $18,750.00 in Wilhelm’s favor. This was one of two DUI checkpoint cases for false arrests that ran concurrently against the city at that time over false arrests that took place at DUI Checkpoints.

Overview

There’s no hiding the fact that checkpoints exist to seek out impaired drivers and criminal activity that may be in progress. Yet, even though you may not be driving impaired, or engaging in a crime, being stopped at a roadblock can be not only inconvenient, but uncomfortable, and stressful. It’s natural and common for even unimpaired drivers to become anxious while in a DUI roadblock line-up. Some drivers experience a heightened sense of anxiety, and nervousness, in absence of severe medical conditions. They may fumble, or unknowingly do or say things that can often incriminate themselves. This can sometimes lead to false arrests of unimpaired drivers.

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Determining who will prosecute; Differences between Arizona, Federal laws and penalties.

m16-shadow-201674-m.jpgA Phoenix AZ man was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for charges of methamphetamine possession with intent to distribute; and prohibited possession of a firearm. The suspected was prohibited from possessing a firearm because of a prior felony conviction on his record.

In another recent case Phoenix police and federal agents from Homeland Security raided two houses and seized five pounds of meth, heroin and marijuana, 7 kilos of cocaine, and 12 weapons (rifles and handguns). The houses were within 1,000 feet of a high school. Neighbors were unaware of the criminal activity. However, four suspects were booked for narcotics possession in a drug free school zone, as well as weapons offenses.

We will refer to these illustrations to outline differences between state and federal investigations, laws, penalties, and the burden of proof held by the prosecution at both levels below.

Arizona V. Federal Laws and Prosecution

Weapons and drug trafficking charges may be brought in federal court. This exposes a person to mandatory minimum sentences. Sometimes both state and federal criminal laws apply, but often serious drug offense may be prosecuted at a Federal level. Generally, the Federal Government prosecutes the larger scale drug crimes, including drug trafficking, and offenses involving more sophisticated and organized illegal drug activity. The Federal Government generally decides if they will prosecute the drug charged in violation of The United States Code (USC) Controlled Substances Act.

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“DUI arrests for “probable cause” doesn’t mandate that the police officer show a driver was actually under the influence, only that it is probable that he was”.

1066864_police_cruiser.jpg A police officer need only have a reasonable suspicion that you have violated a traffic law (like the speed limit) or engaged in criminal activity to stop you. “Reasonable suspicion” means that there is a “particularized and objective basis” for believing somebody had violated the law. Once you are stopped, there must be probable cause to arrest you.

In a recent case, the Arizona Court of Appeals considered whether there was probable cause where the defendant was convicted of four counts of aggravated driving under the influence (aggravated DUI). The defendant had been stopped in his vehicle after a police officer visually estimated he was going fifteen miles over the speed limit. According to the police offer, he’d been trained to accurately estimate vehicle speed within five miles per hour.

Once the officer stopped the defendant, he saw the defendant had watery bloodshot eyes, spoke with slurred speech, and smelled like alcohol. The defendant couldn’t find his driver’s license and gave the officer his social security number. It turned out that he provided his wife’s social security number. When the officer learned this, he asked the defendant for his wife’s social security number. This time, the defendant gave him his own number. The officer administered a test for alcohol impairment. When the defendant refused a breathalyzer test, he was arrested.

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How to avoid additional charges, and make sure your DUI stop does not turn deadly
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Recently a Mesa AZ police officer approached a vehicle and asked the driver if he had any weapons. The driver responded, affirmatively that he did in fact, have weapons in the vehicle. At that point he reached to the other side of the car and pulled a gun out of a holster from inside the vehicle. The officer apparently felt threatened, and reacted by drawing out his own sidearm. The police officer gave verbal commands for the driver to drop his weapon. The driver immediately dropped his weapon. The driver agreed to take a field sobriety test, which evidently did not go well for driver, since he was then taken to a command center to be booked for a DUI.

What went wrong that made this DUI stop potentially deadly?

Let’s take a closer look at reported events; application of the law; and tips on how to avoid criminal charges that are unrelated to driving impairment. First, there is no legal duty to voluntarily tell an officer you are carrying a gun if you are pulled over while driving in Arizona. However, you should respond affirmatively to an officer who asks. You should never pull a firearm out or at the officer or cause those to feel threatened in anyway. The driver was fortunate that the officer responded apparently with levelheadedness.

Although most attorneys discourage suspects from volunteering any information to the officer in a stop, there are others who feel there are safety benefits for the driver to volunteer to an officer that they are carrying a weapon so long as they are prohibited possessor and it is a prohibited weapon. This will avoid the police officer being taken by surprise, it in the event a search is conducted of your vehicle. Some feel too, that volunteering this information will alert a law enforcement officer that you are not doing anything wrong.

With every widely observed holiday, you’re likely you will see heightened police presence, enforcement and DUI Sobriety Checkpoints. DUI Roadblocks are set up with the intent to seek drivers for signs of intoxication or impairment, and make DUI arrests. The goal is to prevent motorists from driving impaired under the influenced of alcohol or drugs. DUI checkpoints can be considered “double edged sword” of sorts. Everyone wants impaired drivers off of the road. But if you’ve ever found yourself in a line-up waiting your turn through the checkpoint, you know it’s no fun. Whether you are driving impaired or not, it’s completely normal to feel a little nervous or anxious.

Most people sort of look around to make sure there is nothing in their vehicle that would give rise to the suspicion that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In Arizona, you should know that when the officer stops you at a DUI checkpoint, arrests can be made for violations of other crimes too, not just impaired driving.
In absence of a formal DUI safety checkpoint, a police officer needs a “reasonable suspicion” that a violation of the law or crime has occurred or is in progress to stop a driver and conduct a DUI investigation. However, DUI checkpoints bypass this usual step. Not all states have laws authorizing use of DUI checkpoints, but in Arizona their use is becoming more prevalent.

Always, (one more time) “always”, keep both hands on the wheel while you are talking to the officer. The exception to this, is if he instructs you to show him your license which requires you to take your hands on the wheel; or otherwise. Talk to the officer as calmly as possible, and when you must take your hands off the wheel to reach for your driver’s license and registration, do so calmly as well.

Like the situation in Mesa described above, an officer who sees you reach into an area of the car he can’t see may think that you are about to shoot. You do not have to reach for anything to extend a verbal affirmative or negative response.
If an officer who pulls you over for suspected DUI asks for your driver’s license, you need to show your driver’s license to him. Otherwise you may give the officer probable cause to conduct a further search and seizure. If the officer asks to search your car, you should say that you do not consent to a search. However, if the officer searches anyway, you must cooperate and you cannot put up any sort of resistance.

Field Sobriety Tests are not mandatory in Arizona. They are simply tools for Police to conduct roadside DUI screening and due to their unreliability may result in false conclusions. You can politely and lawfully refuse to participate in a field sobriety test. You should let the officer know that your reason for refusal is that you understand it is not mandatory by law, and it is your understanding that field sobriety tests are often unreliable and could give false impressions that a person is impaired when in fact they are not. You should be aware that refusing to submit to a field sobriety test may be cause for arrest or further detainment. You can and should refuse to answer questions based on your rights under the Constitution and request to speak with an attorney.

Arizona is an implied consent state. What does this mean to drivers? It means that there are civil penalties through the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) for refusal. If a driver refuses to take a breath or blood test to determine your BAC, your license may be revoked or suspended, whether they are were driving impaired or not; or convicted of the charges or not. All a refusal of a DUI breath or blood test costs you is a suspension of your driver’s license for one year. But the choice of course is ultimately yours.

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Robberies need not be as epic as Bonnie and Clyde’s to be some of the most serious crimes under law.

makin-change-680711-m.jpgWhen I heard this story on the local news about “Bonnie and Clyde” style robbery suspects being arrested in Arizona, I stopped to reflect upon an image of “Bonnie and Clyde’s” get-away car I had seen several years ago, on display in Nevada.

Bonnie and Clyde, the historical crime duo, were killed in their get-away car which had been riddled with over 100 bullets in 1934. Because of their violent cross country crime spree, they were considered highly dangerous. So authorities decided to capture them dead instead of alive.

As I studied the bullet riddled car, and some shredded and tattered clothing they had been wearing at the time of their death, I felt this overwhelming sense of terror and sadness. It was an eerie. I was saddened by the thought that in some way people looked at the vehicle and other related items as trophies, and as for Bonnie and Clyde themselves, they were remembered as icons.

But why? I suppose it was the “One person’s villain is another person’s hero” syndrome. As I looked around the room, I saw newspaper clipping, stories, and photos framed from 1932 to 1934. They followed events of the cross-country crime spree, and violence. Finally, the last photo I noted was taken immediately following Bonnie and Clyde’s death, taken of them as they lay lifeless by the vehicle. It was difficult to look at.

No, these were no trophies. There were no heroes. These were symbols of tragedy, and consequences of crimes that to this day, have not ceased to exist.

At the same time, I saw a failed criminal justice system…”Wanted dead or alive” is how the posters read. Regardless of how serious or violent the crime they were entitled to a fair trial by jury, under the United States Constitution. Whether they deserved a fair trial or not, was irrelevant.
Robberies need not be as epic or dramatic as those committed by Bonnie and Clyde to be considered some of the most serious crimes under law. Robbery convictions in Arizona and call for the serious penalties with life long penalties. If a gun or deadly weapon is possessed, even if it is not used, it is charged as “Armed Robbery” in violation of A.R.S. 13 § 1904. Armed Robbery is a Class 2 felony, the most severe, just short of Class 1 felonies that are reserved for the most serious of crimes, homicide. Aggravated criminal penalties can result in life in prison.

Robberies were committed at businesses in the Phoenix metropolitan area, 5 of them in Gilbert, 3 in Mesa and 2 in Chandler. A thirty-year-old male and his twenty-seven year old wife were arrested and accused of working as a team to rob businesses. The husband had lost his job, the unemployment check hadn’t arrived, and they had four minor boys to feed.

In order to commit the robberies, the husband would stand in line like a prospective customer and then, once he reached the front of the line, grab money out of the register. His wife would wait in the van with their four sons.

Under A.R.S. §13-1902, “robbery” is defined as taking property from another’s body or immediate presence and against their will, where the defendant threatens or uses force against them in order to coerce the person to release the property. Robbery is more serious than theft because it involves violence or the threat of violence.

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Burglary of firearms of any value is a felony in Arizona; depending on the value and other aggravated circumstances, convictions can result in lifetime prison sentences..

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Like something out of the Hollywood movies like “Ocean’s 13″ or “Gone in 60 Seconds”, recently three thieves stole 13 military style rifles from C-3 Arms, a gun shop in Phoenix.

The burglary was videotaped with surveillance cameras, but the thieves were wearing bandanas and tee shirts over their faces. The three men got the front doors open, cut a security cable and removed the rifles worth about $12,000 from the store. There was additional damage to other guns worth about $12,000. The trio drove away in a white Chevy pickup.

The owner of the gun store was surprised that it took only 2 minutes for the burglars to break into the strict security system. Each gun had a serial number etched onto it. The public is being asked for tips and there is a $6000 reward for capturing the thieves and the stolen guns. The police believe the stolen guns will be used in future crimes.

If caught, the thieves will probably be charged with burglary and theft. In Arizona, criminal burglary is entering or remaining inside a building without the owner’s authorization, dwelling or fenced lot with the intent to commit a crime. Theft of items worth less than $1000 is usually charged as a misdemeanor. However, theft of guns are charged as felonies regardless of the value of the guns, and in this case, because the guns were valuable, the charges and potential sentencing will be more severe.

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Appeals Court overturns conviction holding that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant knew or should have known of the suspension.

mountain-road-1424189-m-1.jpgThere are several ways to get an aggravated DUI conviction in Arizona. Among the ways is driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs, medication, or illegal substances while having a suspended, cancelled, revoked, refused or restricted license. This is a class 4 felony.

However, you can also be charged with driving on a suspended license, which is a class 1 misdemeanor. Although the latter may not seem particularly important because it is a misdemeanor, it does give you a criminal record and can impact you in the future.

In a recent case, the defendant was charged with aggravated DUI while driving on a suspended license. The defendant did not appear for his trial and was tried without being present.

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all-you-can-drink-860700-m.jpgDrug, and Liquor Law Violations Top the List

Arizona State University recently released its crime statistics for 2012.

The university has four campuses: Tempe, West campus, Polytechnic Campus, downtown Phoenix and ASU Colleges at Lake Havasu City. The report shows crime statistics for 2010, 2011, and 2012. According to the ASU report, the Tempe campus has experienced the most crime over the past year.

The most commonly committed types of crimes were liquor law violations referred for disciplinary action. The 2012 numbers were down from 2011 and 2010, but they were still high. On the Tempe campus, there were 884 liquor law violations on campus property and 863 liquor law violations on residential facilities in 2012. On West Campus there were 39 liquor law violations on campus and 39 at residential facilities in 2012. On Polytechnic Campus, there were 29 such violations on campus properties and 29 at residential facilities in 2012. On the downtown Phoenix campus, there were 62 liquor law violations on campus and 62 at the residential facilities in 2012. The ASU Colleges at Lake Havasu City just opened in 2012 and there were no violations reported. In total there were 2007 liquor law violations at all the campuses. This is lower than the national average for drinking in college.

Although you might think that the most common liquor law violation is driving under the influence, DUIs are expressly not included in the category in the report. The report specifies that instead this category encompasses violations (or attempted violations) of laws prohibiting: the manufacture, sale, transportation, and possessing of intoxicating liquor, as well as maintaining unlawful drinking places, bootlegging, operating a still, furnishing liquor to an underage person, using a vehicle to illegally transport liquor, drinking on a public conveyance.

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Police crack down on violence, assaults and disorderly conduct in Arizona bars.

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Most people visiting a bar in Maricopa County, don't intend to commit a crime, or get in a fight with another customer, it often ends up that way. Alcohol or drugs can easily impact judgment and behaviors, and things can quickly get out of hand, and escalate to violence, assault, and worse.

As part of the Safe and Sober Campaign efforts still underway in Tempe, and East Valley Cities, Police and Maricopa County Deputies are monitoring bars closely to prevent violence, and other crimes, and make arrests.

Earlier this year, the actor Jason London (perhaps best known for his role in Dazed and Confused) got into a bar brawl in Scottsdale, Arizona and punched a bouncer as well as police officers. He was left with visible injuries and claimed he was the victim.

Arizona prosecutors charged him with assault–assaulting a peace officer is a serious felony. However, before trial, he reached a plea deal with prosecutors who dropped the assault charge in exchange for him pleading guilty to the much lighter charge of disorderly conduct. He was ordered to attend an alcohol treatment program and pay fees.

What constitutes disorderly conduct in Arizona? This subjective charge describes all kinds of behavior that law enforcement officers believe are inappropriate for a particular public setting. It can include scenarios like the drunken bar brawl described above. Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS 13-2904) lists these other acts as disorderly conduct:

• Engages in fighting or violence or disruptive behavior
• Makes an unreasonable amount of noise for the situation
• Employs abusive communication such that it’s likely to provoke another person to retaliate physically
• Makes any protracted commotion, utterance or display with the intent to prevent the transaction of the business of a lawful meeting, gathering or procession
• Refuses to obey a lawful order to disperse issued to maintain public safety in dangerous proximity to a fire, a hazard or any other emergency
• Recklessly handles, displays or discharges a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

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