Arizona Defendant Raises Question of Statutory Interpretation in Resisting Arrest Case

In a recent case coming out of the Supreme Court of Arizona, the defendant asked the court to reconsider his conviction for resisting arrest. According to the defendant, the trial court improperly instructed the jury regarding the law that applied to his case, and the verdict should be reversed because of the trial court’s error. Ultimately finding no error, the higher court affirmed the decision, and the defendant’s conviction remained in place.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, state troopers were on the lookout for a stolen vehicle one evening when they noticed the defendant loading items into the car they were looking for. The officers approached the defendant to arrest him, and he started running. A physical altercation ensued, but the officers were eventually able to arrest the defendant and take him to the station.

The defendant was charged with resisting arrest. He pled not guilty, his case went to trial, and the jury unanimously found him guilty.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court gave the jury improper instructions before jury members went to deliberate on his case. Before sending the jury to its deliberations, the trial court judge educated jury members on the law that would help them make a decision on the case in front of them. The relevant statute says that in Arizona, a defendant is guilty of resisting arrest if he or she uses physical force against an officer or uses any other means to create a substantial risk of injury for the officer.

According to the defendant, the fact that he could have either used physical force or used “other means” to create a risk of injury meant that there were actually two different crimes the jury had to consider. Because the judge made it seem like these were the same crime, argued the defendant, he lost a substantial opportunity to receive a verdict of not guilty.

The court looked carefully at the statute. Eventually, it concluded that the statute did not describe two different crimes, but instead, it described one unified crime. Both of the subsections the defendant referenced involve the same subject matter, and they both reference physical harm. The subsections, said the court, combine to create one single statute.

Because the statute did not actually consist of two different crimes, the trial court’s instructions were correct, and the defendant was not entitled to a reversal.

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