Arizona Court of Appeals Corrects Lower Court’s Mistake in Drug Case

Recently, an Arizona defendant in a drug case appealed his guilty conviction to a higher court. On appeal, the court reviewed the record of the case and discovered that the trial court had mistakenly sentenced the defendant as if he had been found guilty of two crimes instead of one. Given this error, the court vacated one of the guilty verdicts and significantly lessened the defendant’s time in prison.

Facts of the Case

One evening in May 2019, a police officer was on patrol when he saw that a nearby vehicle had expired registration, and he activated his siren to conduct a traffic stop. While pulling the vehicle over, the officer noticed an individual moving frantically in the back seat.

When the officer approached the car, he immediately noticed a package on the floor of the car, and the officer suspected there were drugs inside the package. It appeared as though the person in the back seat, who ended up becoming the defendant in this case, was trying to hide the package with his legs. The officer asked the driver and the defendant to step outside of the vehicle.

The officer ran lab tests on the substance inside the package and discovered that the driver and the defendant were transporting three ounces of methamphetamine in their car. The case went to trial, and the defendant was convicted of transportation of a dangerous drug.

The Decision

On appeal, the court had to decide whether there was any reason to reverse the defendant’s conviction. Upon reviewing the case, the court noticed an error committed by the lower court: the trial court had stated that the defendant was guilty of two crimes when the jury had only found the defendant guilty of one. At trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of transportation of a dangerous drug; the court, however, calculated the defendant’s sentence as if he had been found guilty of two crimes – transportation of a dangerous drug and possession of a dangerous drug.

The two crimes, said the higher court, are different, and the defendant should have only received a sentence for one of them. The trial court’s written order directly conflicted with the oral ruling the court gave at the defendant’s sentencing hearing, during which the judge properly indicated that the defendant had been found guilty of only one crime. Because there was a grave error in the written order, the higher court vacated the conviction for possession of a dangerous drug. The court also took off eight years of the defendant’s sentence.

Are You Searching for a Criminal Defense Attorney in Arizona?

At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we represent Arizona defendants in all sorts of drug cases – we believe that no case is too big or too small and that every client is worthy of our undivided attention. For a free and confidential consultation to talk about your case, give us a call at (480) 413-1499. You can also fill out the online form to have your questions answered.

Contact Information