A common theme in Arizona domestic violence prosecutions involves the changing stories and testimonies of alleged domestic violence victims as a case progresses toward prosecution and conviction. Often, complaining victims may exaggerate or fabricate evidence of domestic violence in response to a domestic altercation, or to offset allegations of violence against themselves when law enforcement is called to the scene of a domestic dispute. Although domestic violence is never an acceptable response to a relationship or familial dispute, unfounded allegations of domestic violence sometimes result in severe, life-altering consequences to the alleged perpetrator, and sometimes also the alleged victim as well. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently affirmed a defendant’s aggravated assault conviction for a domestic violence crime, despite the victim’s attempt to recant her initial complaint to the police from the day of the alleged incident.

The defendant in the recently decided appeal was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after he allegedly strangled and assaulted the mother of his children during an argument between the parties. Although the visual evidence of strangulation was limited, the police and prosecutors were inclined to prosecute the charges based on the victim’s initial reporting to the police. As the case approached trial, however, the victim’s story changed, and she testified at trial that she was, in fact, not strangled by the defendant, insinuating that her initial report to the police was an emotional response to a personal argument between the parties. The victim’s trial testimony was not persuasive to the jury in their case, and the defendant was convicted of the charges. The defendant was then sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the statements made by the victim to the investigator should not have been admitted at trial, as they were hearsay. Furthermore, the defendant argued that the evidence at trial was not sufficient to support his conviction. The appellate court rejected the defendant’s arguments, finding that the victim’s statements were admissible at trial specifically because they were inconsistent with her testimony at trial. Additionally, the appellate court gave great deference to the trial judge’s determination that there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction. As a result of the appellate rulings, the defendant will be required to serve his prison sentence.

In a recent case coming out of an Arizona court, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his guilty conviction for one count of unlawful flight from a police officer. Originally, a police officer attempted to pull the defendant over for failing to stop at a stop sign. When the defendant’s car took off, the officer lost sight of the driver but eventually located the defendant through a photo identification process. The defendant was charged and convicted, and he promptly appealed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, a police officer was patrolling in his car one evening when he saw a white truck roll through a stop sign. The officer activated his lights and tried to initiate a traffic stop. The truck, being driven by the defendant, at first pulled over onto the road’s shoulder but then quickly sped away. The officer began chasing the defendant by car, at one point observing the defendant through the truck’s lower driver’s side window.

A few minutes later, the truck stopped in front of a home and the driver left the vehicle. Again, the officer caught sight of the defendant in the headlights of his car. The defendant walked towards a fence by the home, and the officer lost sight of him.

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In a recent case coming out of an Arizona court, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for disorderly conduct. Originally, the defendant was charged after he pulled out a knife in the presence of police officers. Once he was found guilty, the defendant appealed, but the court determined that his arguments on appeal fell short. Thus the defendant’s guilty conviction was sustained.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, police officers pulled the defendant over one evening when he was driving a motorcycle with a suspended license plate. After discovering that the defendant was also carrying a revoked driver’s license, the officers called a tow truck to impound the motorcycle.

At that point, a tow truck driver arrived at the scene. He immediately observed the defendant pull out a knife and flip it open. The tow truck driver backed up, afraid that the defendant would use the knife against him. Once the officers realized what was happening, they drew their own weapons and told the defendant to drop the knife. Immediately, the defendant let the knife go.

A jury convicted the defendant of aggravated assault against a police officer and disorderly conduct.

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In a recent opinion from an Arizona court, the defendant’s appeal of his conviction for fleeing from law enforcement was denied. Originally, the defendant was convicted and sentenced after he allegedly ran on foot from a police officer that was pursuing him. On appeal, he argued that the officer’s process for identifying him as the person fleeing was insufficient and unreliable. The court considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately affirmed his conviction.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, a police officer was driving one day in March 2016 when a car ran a stop sign, entered his lane, and caused him to swerve in order to avoid crashing. According to the officer, at that moment, the officer “locked eyes” with the car’s driver, getting a full view of the driver’s face.

The officer then tried to initiate a traffic stop, but the car kept driving and a pursuit ensued. The driver ended up stopping at an apartment complex, where he and two other occupants got out of the vehicle and fled on foot. Again, the officer caught sight of the driver’s face. Minutes later, the officer identified the driver as the defendant in this case after he was shown a photograph with the defendant’s name on it. Pulling up an additional photograph of the defendant using his patrol unit computer, the officer again confirmed that the driver was the defendant.

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In a recent opinion from an Arizona court in a kidnapping case, the defendant’s original conviction was sustained. The defendant argued that even though he had committed burglary and aggravated assault on the day in question, his crimes did not fit within the definition of “kidnapping.” The court disagreed, denying his appeal and affirming his convictions and sentences based on the kidnapping crime.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant stole a variety of weapons from another man, supposedly to use as collateral for a debt he owed. A few days after stealing the weapons, the defendant went back to the apartment where the man lived and broke into his residence. He found the man and the man’s daughter, then proceeded to threaten them with a baseball bat and a sword.

The man’s daughter barricaded herself, along with her boyfriend, in her bedroom. The pair immediately called 911, reporting the burglary and asking police to come as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the defendant used the bat to break a hole in the door, trapping both individuals in the bedroom. When police officers arrived, they arrested the defendant and his accomplice as they tried to run away. They also found a dagger and several other weapons in the defendant’s car.

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In a recent case involving fraudulent activity and identity theft, an Arizona court denied a defendant’s appeal filed based on an error committed by the trial court. In the appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court committed an error so substantial that it biased the jury and gave her an unfair trial. The higher court disagreed, ultimately denying the defendant’s appeal.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was hired to take care of an elderly man who was not expected to live for much longer. Shortly after the defendant started caring for this man, the man’s wallet went missing. When the man died a few weeks later, his wife continued to employ the defendant as her own caretaker. The defendant was involved in many aspects of the elderly woman’s life, and she was thus given access to the woman’s home, incoming mail, checkbooks, and email.

The woman soon noticed several financial documents missing. She went to visit a bank and discovered that all of her accounts had been emptied. Soon, she learned that the defendant had used her credit card, rented a house for herself in the woman’s name, liquidated stocks belonging to the woman for herself, and used the woman’s bank account to pay various bills of her own. Law enforcement searched the defendant’s home and found significant evidence of this fraudulent activity. She was charged with fifty-six crimes against four victims; thirty-two of the counts related to this elderly woman and her husband. The defendant was sentenced to time in prison as a result of her convictions.

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Recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals issued an opinion in an Arizona robbery and felony-murder case. In its opinion, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to preclude an identification made by a witness.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant and four other individuals robbed an armored truck as two security guards attempted to refill an ATM. One of the individuals fired a rifle at the security guards, and a security guard fired a gunshot back. The shot fired by the security guard was fatal.

The defendant’s DNA was found on a rifle left near the scene of the crime, in addition to the deceased individual’s cell phone being found at the scene of the crime. The call records from the cell phone revealed that the defendant and the deceased had been in communication on multiple occasions and that the defendant had traveled to and from the location of the crime on the day of the incident. The State was authorized to conduct a wiretap on the phones of the suspects, leading to the defendant being arrested.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona drug case involving the automobile exception to the search warrant requirement. According to the court’s opinion, an officer initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle with two passengers after noticing the vehicle swerve across the fog line of a highway in Arizona. During the traffic stop, the officer smelled marijuana, saw a marijuana dispensary bag, smelled air fresheners in the vehicle, and noticed a radar detector on the windshield. The officer used a plate reader to determine that the vehicle had driven into California earlier that day and had made a similar one-day trip to California a few months ago.

The officer determined that the driver was not impaired. As the officer was preparing paperwork to issue a warning, the officer asked the driver about their relationship to one another and where they were headed, to which the driver responded. After escorting the driver back to his car, the officer questioned the other passenger about their relationship to one another and where they were headed. The driver of the vehicle and the passenger of the vehicle gave different answers. The passenger then admitted to there being a small amount of marijuana in the dispensary bag. The officer issued the warning.

The officer then asked the driver about the bag, and the driver stated that there was no marijuana in the car. Neither passenger presented a medical marijuana card. The officer detained both passengers and found various drugs and instruments in the vehicle.

Law enforcement agencies often use traffic stops or other small municipal code violations as a pretext to investigate a suspect for more serious criminal activity. Many arrests and convictions for serious crimes occur only after a law enforcement officer has stopped or detained a suspect for a less serious offense, and decided to expand the scope of their investigation to look for evidence of further criminal activity. These law enforcement tactics are permissible in some circumstances, however, if a police officer expands the scope of a minor traffic stop without legal justification, it may be possible for a defendant to suppress any evidence obtained through the officer’s unlawful tactics. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in an appeal filed by a man who was convicted of several serious offenses after he was stopped for violating traffic laws.

The defendant in the recently decided appeal is a man who was convicted of several felony offenses relating to drugs and weapons that he allegedly had in his vehicle and were discovered after a traffic stop. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant had been under investigation for several months for alleged drug activity, however, he was initially stopped by a uniformed officer after he was witnessed violating several minor traffic laws. After the defendant was stopped, several rounds of questioning ensued as to his reason for being in the area. The officer also administered field sobriety tests waiting for a K-9 unit to arrive. After some delay, the police dog arrived and alerted the officer to narcotics in the vehicle. A subsequent search of the vehicle discovered significant amounts of drugs and weapons. The defendant was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted.

After his conviction, the defendant appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeals, challenging the trial judge’s decision to allow the evidence discovered at the traffic stop to be used at trial. The defendant argued that the officer exceeded the scope of the traffic stop and unreasonably delayed the stop in order to allow time for the K-9 unit to arrive and search for the drugs. The appellate court did not completely agree with the trial judge’s ruling that the scope of the traffic stop was not expanded; however, the court upheld the ruling and conviction because the defendant was the subject of an ongoing narcotics investigation, and the law enforcement agents involved all had reasonable suspicion to perform a search based on the evidence gathered in the months-long investigation, as well as what they had witnessed the day of the arrest. As a result of the appellate ruling, the defendant’s conviction will stand, and he will be required to serve out his prison sentence.

Over the past decade, more states are coming to realize the detrimental—and unfair—effects that result when applying existing laws. For example, laws imposing mandatory minimum punishments, the system’s failure to account for mental health issues (including addiction), and harsh collateral consequences that come along with a conviction have all started to get a second look. Recently, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed several bills into law bringing Arizona in line with the many other states that are making significant efforts to adjust what many consider to be a broken criminal justice system.

Specifically, HB 2318 and 2319 address the state’s harsh sentencing system and the impact of a conviction for a non-violent drug crime.

HB 2318

House Bill 2318 deals with first-time offenders who may otherwise receive a disproportionately high sentence. The Bill deals with a situation where a person is convicted of one or more felony offenses that were either consolidated for trial or do not count as “historical prior felony convictions.” Under the old law, a person with two or more offenses was considered a repeat offender, meaning they faced significantly higher penalties. However, for arrests taking place after March 24, 2021, consolidated felony cases will be considered a “single offense” for sentencing purposes.

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