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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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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In a January 2024 case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant requested that his conviction be overturned because of potential issues with the chain of custody leading up to his trial. In criminal court, the “chain of custody” is the process through which evidence moves from collection to analysis to presentation before the court. Here, the defendant argued that there were important questions about how the evidence ended up before the trial court. On appeal, the higher court reviewed the record and concluded that there were no chain of custody issues, denying the defendant’s request in the process.

Factual and Procedural History

The defendant in this case was working as an informant for the government in Arizona. Under special instructions, he was supposed to engage in drug deals when directed by his handler, and he was otherwise supposed to refrain from engaging in any drug activity. One day, when the defendant’s handler was driving by the home of a known drug dealer, he noticed the defendant’s car in the driveway. He later pulled the defendant over for a traffic stop and found methamphetamine on his person.

The handler arrested the defendant, and the State charged the defendant with possession of a dangerous drug for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia. The case went to trial, and the jury found the defendant guilty. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. The defendant promptly appealed the decision.

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Facing criminal charges can be an arduous journey, and the prospect of a successful appeal post-conviction can be even more challenging. In a recent Arizona case, the defendant appealed his convictions for aggravated assault and related charges. This blog post explores the difficulties encountered in pursuing a criminal appeal after a conviction.

According to the facts discussed in the recently decided appellate opinion, the defendant was charged with aggravated assault, endangerment, disorderly conduct with a weapon, and misconduct involving weapons after an incident in June 2021 when he allegedly fired shots inside a crowded bar, injuring two patrons. The defendant was convicted after a seven-day jury trial. Despite raising several issues in his appellate brief, the court, after careful review, found no error in the proceedings.

Forensic Testing:

The defendant argued that insufficient forensic testing and a potential misidentification warranted a reversal of his conviction. However, the court emphasized the sufficiency of evidence presented during the trial, including eyewitness accounts and video surveillance, corroborating the bouncers’ testimony.

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Facing criminal charges is a daunting experience, and the legal complexities that accompany such cases can be overwhelming. In this blog post, we delve into a recent Arizona judicial opinion involving a child pornography case, shedding light on the difficulties presented by hearsay and the challenges of calling witnesses who invoke the Fifth Amendment. The recently decided case provides valuable insights into the importance of retaining a qualified criminal defense attorney to assist with lodging a robust defense.

Background

On November 17, 2016, the State of Arizona charged the defendant with ten counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, primarily based on materials found on a computer in his home. The defendant asserted a third-party culpability defense, alleging that an acquaintance who was frequently present in his home, had used his computer to download the incriminating material. As part of the defendant’s defense preparation, an investigator was hired by the defendant to interview a former housemate of the defendant, who could potentially corroborate the third-party culpability defense.

The Challenge of Hearsay

One of the significant hurdles in the defendant’s defense was the admissibility of his former housemate’s statements, which were considered hearsay. Hearsay is generally not admissible in court unless specific exceptions apply. In this case, the court focused on the hearsay rule, particularly Rule 804(b)(3), which allows for the admission of hearsay if the declarant is unavailable and the statement is against their interest, supported by corroborating circumstances indicating trustworthiness.

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