In a recent case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, the court had to decide whether a police officer’s honest mistake before a traffic stop meant the trial court should have suppressed evidence that he found during the stop. The case highlights the leniency that some courts will give to officers based on what is called the “good-faith exception” to normal standards of suppression.

Motion to Suppress

The defendant in this case originally filed a motion to suppress after an officer found him with fentanyl. The lead-up to the defendant’s arrest went as follows: the defendant and an acquaintance were chatting at a local gas station. An officer saw the pair repeatedly enter and exit a car, then they drove off together. Finding their behavior suspicious, the officer radioed dispatch to see if either person had active arrest warrants. Dispatch reported back that while there were no active warrants, the defendant’s acquaintance, who was driving the vehicle, had an invalid driver’s license.

The officer conducted a traffic stop, and he inspected the driver’s license. As it turns out, the driver’s license was valid, and the dispatcher had made a mistake in reporting the opposite. While the officer was still chatting with the pair, a third individual approached the car and informed the group that the defendant had dropped something near the front of the car. As it turned out, this dropped item was the defendant’s bottle of blue pills, later identified as fentanyl.

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In Arizona, a person is justified in using physical force if the force is immediately necessary for that person’s protection. This justification is called self-defense. In a recent case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, the court found that the defendant did not prove he acted in self-defense during a violent altercation. With only the defendant’s oral testimony as proof of the self-defense, there was ultimately not sufficient evidence to support the defendant’s claim.

Details of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant and the victim in this case got into a verbal argument one day at work. The defendant worked for a beverage company, the victim worked for a grocery store, and the defendant was dropping off beverages at the victim’s store. Because of confusion over the beverages, the individuals started yelling at each other.

The victim told the defendant to leave the store, and the defendant stabbed the victim from behind several times. The defendant then stood on top of the victim and continued to stab and kick him. The victim went to the hospital and sustained several serious injuries. Investigators later reviewed surveillance camera footage and determined that the defendant was the person who assaulted the victim.

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In an April 2024 opinion regarding sexual exploitation of a minor, Division Two of the Arizona Court of Appeals sided with the defendant by ruling that the government should not have searched the defendant’s personal property without a warrant. The case revolved around the defendant’s spy camera, which he put in a bathroom to secretly record the young foster girls living in his home. On appeal, the court had to decide whether the officer searching the camera’s SD card had the right to do so without a warrant.

The Officer’s Search

The government first became aware of the hidden camera when a teenage foster girl living at the defendant’s house spotted it in the common bathroom and brought it to her Department of Child Safety caseworker. The caseworker called the police, and one of the police department’s detectives examined the device a few days later. On it, he found videos of the girls in the bathroom.

Proceedings Below

The defendant was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, and his case went to trial. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing the officer should have had a warrant to search the SD card associated with the camera. The trial court denied this motion, and a jury ultimately found the defendant guilty as charged. The defendant was sentenced to 90.5 years in prison.

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Under the U.S. Constitution as well as the Arizona Constitution, the Eighth Amendment protects individuals from “cruel and unusual punishment.” Courts interpret this standard differently in different contexts. In a new case coming out of the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division Two, the court offered some guidance about interpreting the Eighth Amendment in relation to a defendant’s lengthy prison sentence.

Procedural History

In the opinion, the court detailed the facts of the case: the defendant, when he was 15 and 16 years old, committed repeated forced sexual acts on two young children that he was responsible for babysitting. The children came forward a couple of years later, and the defendant was arrested and tried after he turned 18 years old. He pled not guilty, and a jury found him guilty of four counts of sexual conduct with a minor, plus four counts of molestation of a child. The trial court sentenced the defendant to a minimum prison term of 208 years, meaning he would be in prison for the rest of his life.

The defendant appealed the trial court’s sentencing decision, arguing that under the Eighth Amendment, the sentence was unnecessarily harsh. Especially considering that he was a teenager at the time, argued the defendant, the court sentenced him to time that was not proportionate with the severity of his crimes.

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When defending against Arizona criminal prosecutions, understanding the nuances of expert testimony can be a game-changer in shaping the outcome of a case. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently released a ruling that helps to explain the requirements for a witness in a criminal case to testify as an expert. These standards and requirements may help a skilled attorney exclude harmful evidence from being admitted against their client by a proposed expert.

Expert testimony involves the presentation of opinions or conclusions by individuals with specialized knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education in a particular field relevant to the case. Unlike lay witnesses who testify about facts within their personal knowledge, expert witnesses provide professional opinions to assist the court in understanding complex issues.

The recently decided opinion involved a case where the defendant appealed convictions for aggravated assault, and the victim testified as to the source of damage to a vehicle. On appeal, the defendant argues that this was expert testimony that was improperly admitted at trial. In the recently released opinion, the appellate court discussed the factors that define expert testimony versus lay testimony.

Recently, an Arizona criminal defendant challenged a trial court’s decision to deny his request for DNA evidence. The defendant was originally charged with burglary, and after he pled not guilty, his case went to trial. A jury found the defendant guilty of two burglaries, and the trial court sentenced him to 12 years in prison as a result. On appeal, the defendant argued that the DNA evidence he asked for could have led to a completely different outcome in the case, and it was unreasonable that the court denied his request. The higher court ultimately disagreed, siding with the State and affirming the defendant’s guilty convictions.

Burglary Offenses in Question

The State originally charged the defendant with committing five burglaries and one theft of five commercial establishments. Two of the establishments took place inside a restaurant and a coffee shop, and investigators found the defendant’s fingerprints at both locations. There was also video surveillance linking the defendant to the two establishments. The prosecution submitted this evidence at trial, and the jury found the defendant guilty of burglary in both the restaurant and coffee shop. Regarding the additional burglaries, where the investigative team found no fingerprints, the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Defendant’s Request for DNA Evidence

After trial, the defendant filed serval motions, including a request for DNA testing of the items that the perpetrator touched while burglarizing the restaurant and the coffee shop. According to the defendant, if this testing produced another individual’s DNA instead of his own, he likely would not have been convicted of either burglary, since the evidence showed the same person likely committed both offenses. When the trial court denied this motion, the defendant promptly appealed.

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The Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, recently addressed a defendant’s argument that at 21 years old, he was too young to understand the crimes he committed and therefore his resulting sentence was excessive. In the case before the court, the defendant had engaged in sexual conduct with a minor. After he was found guilty of molestation of a child as well as sexual misconduct with a minor, he appealed. Ultimately, the higher court determined that the lower court acted within its authority when sentencing the defendant, and it denied the defendant’s appeal.

Sentencing Decisions in Arizona Criminal Cases

In both the United States and Arizona, there are certain requirements for sentencing that trial courts must consider. Under the Eighth Amendment in particular, sentences must not impose “cruel and unusual punishment” on offenders. According to Arizona case law, higher courts are to respect lower courts’ sentencing decisions, trusting that trial courts are in the best position to decide on how a defendant should be punished. Only in rare circumstances should a higher court question a lower court’s sentencing decision; very seldom will these decisions violate the Eighth Amendment if they are within the law’s sentencing guidelines.

In this case, the defendant was sentenced to twenty-five years’ imprisonment after being found guilty. The trial court judge decided this sentence based on the crimes that the defendant committed: he had engaged in consistent sexual activity with a 13-year-old girl, and he was old enough to understand that this was not appropriate or legal. He had told the girl that he was 16 years old when he engaged in sexual activity with her, and he had not heeded the girl’s mother’s warnings that he should stay away from her daughter.

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In a recent case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant appealed his conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia. His original verdict was based on an incident in which investigators caught him with large amounts of drugs and cash, as well as with a money counter, a scale, and a vacuum sealer in his home. He filed a motion to suppress the incriminating evidence, which the trial court denied. His trial proceeded, and a jury found him guilty as charged. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, but the higher court disagreed.

Facts of the Case

The opinion details the case’s underlying incident, which began when local police officers installed a camera on a pole outside the defendant’s home to capture footage of the surroundings. Officers eventually saw the defendant bringing a large duffle bag into his car, which they suspected contained drugs. They initiated a traffic stop and immediately found $23,000 in cash along with a large sum of Adderall pills in the defendant’s car.

The officers then obtained a warrant to search the defendant’s home. Upon effectuating the search, the officers found over $200,000 in cash, along with 981 fentanyl pills, two handguns, and drug paraphernalia. The State charged the defendant with the following offenses: possession of narcotic drugs for sale, money laundering, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The defendant’s case went to trial, and he was found guilty. The defendant promptly appealed.

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In a recent case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it failed to instruct jury members on the possibility that she was acting in self-defense. The defendant was convicted of the following offenses: leaving the scene of a fatal accident, theft of means of transportation, aggravated assault, and negligent homicide. Following her appeal, the higher court vacated the two latter convictions and sentences, sending the case back to the trial court for a new trial on those counts.

The Incident in Question

The charges and convictions in this case stemmed from an incident involving several friends and a stolen vehicle. The defendant in this case went to a casino with a friend, and she borrowed a car from her roommate to get to and from the casino. Apparently, the defendant’s roommate had taken the car from an acquaintance, although the acquaintance had never filed a police report indicating that the car was stolen.
Before the defendant and her friend went home, they stopped by a gas station. At that point, the roommate’s acquaintance, who owned the car, approached the vehicle by quickly running up to it. He started yelling at the defendant, demanding that she return the car. The defendant became afraid, and she started to drive away. As she drove, she hit the friend that had accompanied her to the casino. The friend ultimately suffered a head injury and died from the incident.

The defendant was criminally charged, and her case went to trial. After being found guilty, the defendant promptly appealed.

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At the beginning of February 2024, the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, issued an order vacating in part a defendant’s sentences that resulted from the murder of his wife. The defendant originally faced charges for second-degree murder, abandonment of a dead body, and tampering with physical evidence. He appealed his convictions and sentences, partially on grounds that the trial court incorrectly calculated how much time he should serve given his guilty verdict. The higher court agreed with the defendant’s argument, ordering the court to resentence him according to its instructions.

Background of the Case

The opinion details the case’s history. One evening in October 2019, the defendant and his wife began arguing. Sometime between the hours of 7:15pm and 9:00pm, neighbors heard a gunshot, and investigators later learned that the bullet came from one of the defendant’s guns. The defendant’s wife was later found dead by the same bullet. The defendant had attempted to clean the bloodied carpet, the furniture, and the padding under the nearby turf, but stains remained that revealed what had occurred. Following the clean-up attempts, the defendant dumped his wife’s body by a ditch nearby.

Despite these attempts to hide the murder, investigators found enough evidence to link the defendant to the crime. He was criminally charged, and after a ten-day trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts. The court sentenced the defendant to the maximum amount of time for all three convictions. The defendant promptly appealed.

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