Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Blog


Aggravated Assault - Justification - Crime Prevention Defense: Arizona Court of Appeals Overturns Conviction

  ♦ Featuring Tips from Authorities: How to Safely Respond (or not) to Road Rage ♦

Our Federal and State Constitutions afford us the right to bear arms, to protect ourselves, our families, and others from immediate harm due to serious crimes in progress.

So why then, must we be concerned with facing criminal charges if we exercise those rights?

The answer to this question is two-fold:

First there’s a fine line between what we may feel is justified and what the language of the law dictates.

Second,  the police, prosecution, court and jury may not feel the actions were as justified as we did under the same circumstances.

So while it is true we have these rights, we must be prepared to defend our actions.

In this article we outline a recent Arizona Court of Appeals case that began as a road rage incident.

The defendant was convicted of Aggravated Assault with a deadly weapon.  He appealed his conviction, challenging the jury instructions provided in the trial.

At the heart of the case were two important legal concepts, that proved to be central to the verdicts:

  1. Arizona’s “Justification – Crime Prevention” Defense;
  2. The importance of accurate and complete Jury Instructions

The discussion topics in this article are broken down into the following 8 segments:

  • Incident – Circumstances that led up to the incident;
  • Why the Jury got it Wrong/ Why the jury ruled the way they did;                                 
  • Appeals Court Extended Summary;
  • Arizona’s 15 Justification Defenses;
  • Justification Use of Force – Crime Prevention;
  • Arizona Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon Laws;
  • What to do if you find yourself the target of Road Rage;
  • Criminal Defense for Aggravated Assault Charges in Arizona

                                                           Part I –  The Incident  

The defendant was driving with his fiancé and her 4 year old daughter in the vehicle.

Following a minor traffic mishap, another driver began honking and tailgating them.

The angry driver (victim) pulled up alongside the defendant’s vehicle in road rage.

The angry driver waved a gun while pulled up next to their vehicle, frightening the passengers.

At the next stop light, the defendant got out of his vehicle, and brandished his own gun.

The defendant stood there, with his gun. But he did not move to harm the victim;

The light turned green.  The defendant got back in his vehicle, and drove away.

The victim continued to chase him, and ran two red lights in the process.

The victim then called #9-1-1 reported the defendant.

The Police dispatcher repeatedly urged the victim to stop chasing the defendant, and to return to a nearby shopping center to meet an awaiting police officer.

The victim did not immediately obey the dispatcher, but did finally retreat and return to the shopping center.

The victim then took a detour to another area of the shopping center before meeting the officer.

Once stopped, the officer searches the victim’s vehicle but did not find any weapons. The victim denies having a gun.

The defendant was subsequently charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The defendant chose to go to trial to prove his innocence.

The jury found the defendant guilty. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison for Aggravated Assault with a deadly weapon.  Read More… Continue reading

What to do if you are being assaulted by police: Your rights, defenses, & remedies in Phoenix, AZ

Part I of II


This collaborative two part series was inspired by my friend and colleague, Eyitayo Ogunyemi, LL.B, B.L, Attorney and Human Rights Advocate in Lagos, Nigeria.

Nigeria USA Flag

This is part I of II which applies to Phoenix, AZ laws, in the USA.

Eyitayo Ogunyemi has written Part II, which applies to Lagos, Nigerian laws.

To symbolize human rights, we have chosen the number “15”, to represent 15 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that often involve police brutality if violated. They include:

Freedom from slavery; Freedom of opinion or expression; Right to peacefully assemble; Freedom from non-discrimination;  Freedom from brutality and torture; Freedom inhumane or degrading treatment;  Freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; Freedom of thought, conscience and religion; Right to equality;  Right to life, liberty and security;  Right to remedies for violations of human rights under the law; Right to trial; Right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty; Right to adequate shelter, food, clothing, medical care and other fundamental needs; Right to protection against interference or attacks against privacy, family, home, honor, reputation,  or correspondence.

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Why Two Appeals Court Rulings Contrasted: Justices Review Effects of AMMA on Marijuana Odor on Probable Cause.

In late July, two different Appeals Courts in Arizona released contrasting opinions involving appeals to dismiss the Marijuana evidence due to lack of probable cause for the search.

In both cases the defendants argued that the effects of Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) were that the smell of Marijuana should not be used for determination of Probable cause.

In one case the conviction was reversed.  In the other case the conviction was affirmed.  Here we find out why they differed.

Arizona Appeals Court Ruling – Case #1 (No. 2 CA-CR 2014-0181)

On July 20, 2015, the Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two issued the first ruling.

The Court considered the effect that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) had on probable cause to for issuance of search warrant, based on an odor of Marijuana.

In this case, the Appeals Court ruled that the scent of marijuana alone was insufficient evidence of criminal activity.

Therefore, it was not adequate to justify probable cause for search and seizure warrant.

The Appeals Court held that in order to satisfy the probable cause standard, the scent of the Marijuana would need to be combined with other evidence or facts, which were not presented in this case.

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Police officers are not exempt from search warrant requirements, in order to perform community caretaking duties.

Unlawful Home Search Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Constitution, you have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
This means that in most cases, a warrant is required to search your home, with few exceptions.

The exceptions include situations where “exigent circumstances” exist.

This allows police to make a warrantless entry when they have probable cause to arrest a suspect who has fled, or to stop the imminent destruction of evidence.

Another exception is that the police may make a protective sweep incident to a lawful arrest.

Still another exception is an entry due to an objectively reasonable basis for believing someone within the house needs immediate aid.

Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court limited warrantless searches in connection with the “Community Caretaking Exception,” which is the topic of this discussion.

The Incident

In this case, police officers and paramedics went to the defendant’s residence after receiving calls from neighbors, complaining that the defendant was behaving erratically.

When police and paramedics arrived, the defendant told them that he and his family had been handling up to seven pounds of mercury inside the home, which was being kept in the home in a glass jar.

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Overview of new law: Qualified first responders and training; Liability & Immunities; Good Samaritan Laws; Criminal Penalties & Defense

Overview of AZ HB 2489: Combatting Heroin Overdoses

A bill we have been following closely, AZ HB 2489 was passed on April 10, 2015. The expected  effective date is July 3, 2015. Arizona now joins 26 other US states that have passed similar legislation.

First responder’s administration of opiate reversal injections, have been credited with saving over 10,000 lives in the USA where overdoses were reversed.

According to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), accidental overdose is now the number one cause of death in the USA, exceeding even automobile accidents for people among the age of 25 and 64.

Earlier this year, the CDC reported that heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2013.  An increasing number of Arizona residents have been overdosing on heroin and opiate-based painkillers like Codeine.  Arizona is now the sixth-highest state for heroin overdose fatalities.

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All Meth crimes in Arizona are Charged as felonies; all felonies expose a person to prison.

215628_addiction.jpgLaw enforcement officers recently conducted the biggest methamphetamine bust in Maricopa County’s history. Sheriffs investigated for several months before locating 18 bricks of meth (51 pounds) worth almost $1 million. The twenty-six year old suspect who possessed the bricks was arrested for meth possession and other felony charges. As outlined below, he may face serious prison time, depending on his prior felony record and other factors.

Earlier this year, Phoenix AZ participated in “Operation Justice V” sponsored by the U.S. Marshall. In one week 231 persons without outstanding felony warrants were arrested. A large number of those were wanted for “Dangerous Drug” offenses including Meth crimes.

The possession and sale of meth is a growing illegal drug market in Arizona, and some believe it has reached crisis proportions, now affecting teenagers as well. Even though Arizona’s teenage meth use has declined in recent years, Arizona remains among the top 10 states for teen meth use.

Meth is highly addictive and affects the neurotransmitter dopamine. It can be smoked, injected or snorted. Users experience a rush as well as increased energy, reduced appetite, and increased respiration. There is a danger of violent behavior, irritability or psychosis. Importantly, long-term use of methamphetamines can cause brain damage that is akin to Alzheimer’s.

Due to the addictive nature of Methamphetamines and other Dangerous Drugs, they have been found to lead other serious crimes by users, and dealers that include theft, burglary, assault, sexual assault, aggravated assault, home invasions, even murder.

Meth is classified in the Arizona Revised Statutes as a “dangerous drug.” Other “dangerous drugs” include LSD, ecstasy, mushrooms, mescaline and GHB. Willful possession of a dangerous drug can subject anyone who is convicted to serious punishments at the sentencing stage.

Possession of methamphetamine is a Class 4 felony, until someone possesses more than 9 grams, as in the case described above. Then it is charged as a Class 2 felony because it is assumed to be possession for sale. It is important to note that possession of methamphetamine cannot be charged simply as a misdemeanor, even if you have no priors.

Penalties are increased substantially for possession of large quantities of meth. If someone possesses more than 9 grams and it is a first offense, the presumption is that it is for sale. In that case, the minimum imprisonment sentence is five years, the presumptive sentence is 10 years and the maximum sentence is 15 years. However, if someone possesses more than 9 grams and it is not a first offense, the increase in sentencing jumps dramatically. A minimum imprisonment sentence for possession for sale of meth on a second offense is 10 years.

First time drug offenders are eligible for a deferred prosecution program in which they participate in probation during which the offender is subject to drug testing among other things. If they do not meet conditions of their probation, they may face jail time.

The Arizona Revised Statutes permit mitigation or enhancement of a sentence for reasons such as prior criminal convictions, the amount of the drug, and more. If charged with a Class 2 felony and aggravating factors, a defendant can face over 12 years in prison.

The sentencing laws are even harsher for those convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine. In response to the meth crisis, in 2000, Arizona’s child abuse law was expanded to include a presumption of endangerment when children or vulnerable adults are found at meth labs.

Additional Resources:

About Meth (Arizona Attorney General)
Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code
Mesa AZ Police Department

Possession of 2-4 pounds indicator of commercial dealings. Convictions call for mandatory prison.

131369_pot_of_gold.jpgCultivation or manufacture of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes (or growing outside the strict guidelines provided in connection with medical marijuana cards) remains a felony in Arizona. Those arrested and prosecuted for felony marijuana manufacturing can face serious punishments at sentencing.

There have been several significant arrests in Phoenix and Tucson for cultivation of marijuana recently. In mid-May, Tucson police found a house where 356 marijuana plants in various stages of growth were growing. They also found $18,000 in cash. On June 3, 2013 a canine unit from the Arizona Department of Public Safety found a driver carrying 7 pounds of marijuana. After arresting him, the Arizona Department of Public Safety searched his house in Phoenix and found 100 marijuana plants as well as handguns and growing equipment.

Marijuana cultivation for non-medicinal purposes is not only illegal, but can also be physically dangerous. On June 6, 2013, a marijuana grow house with about 1 dozen marijuana plants caught fire. The firefighters observed lighting, heaters, and Styrofoam insulation. Equipment used to grow marijuana can require an enormous amount of electricity.

As a result of the equipment used to grow large quantities of marijuana, circuits can get overloaded and wires get overheated, resulting in a fire. An entirely sealed room may require a dehumidifier, which also consumes electricity. Failure to control humidity can lead to mold or rotted wood. If propane powered generators are used, there is also the chance of explosion. Depending upon the circumstances, causing a fire and the ensuing property damage or injury to a person can lead to additional civil or criminal penalties beyond those levied for marijuana manufacturing.

Marijuana cultivation for non-medicinal purposes carries different punishments based on the dried weight of the marijuana. In addition to jail or prison time, those convicted of marijuana cultivation must also pay $750 in fines. If convicted of cultivating an amount less than 2 pounds, sentencing may be for a Class Five felony. As a first offense, marijuana manufacturing can be punished with prison for between 6-2.5 years in custody. A judge may offer a first time offender probation instead. If the defendant has one or more prior felony convictions, incarceration times increase even for this small amount.

If convicted of cultivating a quantity of marijuana with a dry weight of 2-4 pounds, the cultivation is a Class 4 felony that carries a mandatory prison sentence of 1 to 3.75 years of incarceration. With one prior felony conviction, the mandatory prison range is 2.25-7.5 years prison. The amount of mandatory prison time increases the more prior felony convictions a defendant has.

Marijuana cultivated in an amount that exceeds 4 pounds dried is a Class 3 felony with a mandatory prison sentence of 2-8.75 years in prison. This amount can increase up to 25 years of incarceration with two prior felony convictions.

Other penalties may apply in a situation involving a marijuana grow room or outside crop. A defendant may be charged not only with manufacture or cultivation, but also possession, sales, or trafficking depending upon the circumstances. As mentioned above, there may be property damage or other problems associated with a grow room.

There are several defenses to a charge of cultivating marijuana that an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to raise. A number of these have a constitutional basis and involve the police following flawed procedures. For example, if the police coerced you into making a confession or failed to read you your “Miranda rights,” the evidence obtained this way is not admissible at trial. Similarly, where search warrants were not obtained or obtained improperly, they may violate Fourth Amendment rights.

Under certain circumstances, people are arrested and charged who were not aware of marijuana cultivation. This may happen, for example, on a rental property if marijuana is growing outside in a small part of a garden.

If you are arrested for manufacturing marijuana or for another marijuana-related offense, you should retain an attorney knowledgeable about these types of cases to defend and protect your rights. Contact The Law Office of James Novak at 480-413-1499 for a free consultation.

Additional Resources:

Arizona Drug DUI Laws
Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code
Mesa AZ Police Department

More Blogs

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Law Stands Ground, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, June 4, 2013
Marijuana DUI: The Impact of Montgomery v. Harris, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, March 13, 2013

But Medical Marijuana Card Holders Not without Risk

540325_plantator.jpgAlmost three years after passage, Medical marijuana remains controversial in Arizona. Medical Marijuana was legalized in 2010 through voter passage of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). The purpose of the AMMA is to protect patients with debilitating medical conditions, so that they can obtain necessary relief.

AMMA allows patients to get a registration identification card to show law enforcement officers that they are permitted to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Visitors from another state that recognizes medical marijuana, like California, with equivalent cards are also protected.

Notwithstanding these state protections, some law enforcement officers refuse to recognize the card. Federal law, which trumps state law, does not recognize or permit a medicinal use for marijuana. An appellate case heard earlier this year further legitimized medical marijuana cards, but the facts of the case illustrate that it there are still risks from a legal perspective to be a medical marijuana user in Arizona.
In the case, a California driver (the defendant) was stopped when she entered Arizona. The authorities found and seized marijuana and other contraband. The State filed drug charges against the driver, dismissing them only after she produced proof of permission to use marijuana for medical purposes. The Superior Court ordered that the driver’s marijuana be returned.

The State appealed. It argued that the superior court could not order the sheriff to return the marijuana and that Arizona law not only requires “summary forfeiture” of any marijuana seized by law enforcement, but the sheriff could not return the driver’s marijuana or risk violating federal law and getting prosecuted.

The appellate court reasoned that law enforcement officers did not seize the marijuana in connection with a drug offense, since the driver was permitted to possess marijuana for medical purposes. Nor could the State win on the grounds that it could keep marijuana that came into its possession. This was because to do that would require either bringing civil forfeiture proceedings, or to be holding drugs possessed in a crime. Since AMMA decriminalized medical marijuana, the latter situation did not exist.

The State also argues that the AMMA did not expressly require them to return marijuana from a qualifying patient. The appellate court disagreed. It noted that no penalty could be placed on a qualified patient under the statute.

The State had also argued that the sheriff could be prosecuted for transferring marijuana under federal law. This, too, the appellate court repudiated. Federal law “immunizes” law enforcement officials who follow a court order.

The State’s final argument was that the superior court could not order that the driver’s marijuana be returned to her because her possession was a federal crime. The appellate court declined to decide whether federal law preempted AMMA for purposes of adjudicating this case. There was no actual or threatened prosecution of the driver under federal law, and the State was not a party with a personal stake who had standing to argue that federal law prevented the driver from possessing the marijuana. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the ruling of the superior court.

It’s clear that this will not be the last time a defendant will have to deal with a situation in which state law enforcement attempt to ignore AMMA. Officers may continue to arrest drivers, requiring them to come to court to fight the charges brought against them.

Additional Resources:

Arizona Drug DUI Laws

Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1

Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code

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Criminal Rights and Exceptions of Right to Counsel

A person’s rights to counsel can be found in the State’s Rules of Criminal Procedures; The US Constitution 5th and 14th Amendment; the Arizona Constitution; and Under Arizona Criminal Code A.R.S. 13-114. This segment focuses on the Rules of Criminal Procedure in Maricopa County.

Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure – Right to Counsel

Rules 6.1 (a.) & (c.) entitle a defendant to be represented by counsel in DUI and criminal proceedings. However, they are not entitled to counsel if the offense has no possibility of resulting in jail or prison if they are found guilty.

A defendant may waive their right to counsel at any time.

Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure – Withdrawal of Waiver of Right to Counsel
Rule 6.1 (e.) allows for a person who previously waived their right to counsel, to also withdraw their waiver of right to counsel, at any time.

There is one exception to withdrawing a waiver of right to counsel at any time: A person is not entitled repeat a proceeding, they previously waived their right to an attorney, on the sole ground that they were unrepresented.

When Legal Counsel is Necessary

Defense services of qualified legal counsel are needed in all stages of criminal proceedings, that expose a person to jail or prison, if they are found guilty of the charges. These stages include:

• Pre-trial Services;
• Trial Representation;
• Sentencing
A person should also consider hiring a lawyer to represent them in pre-indictment cases, when a suspect is being investigated for serious charges, but has not yet formally been charged.

Legal Representation for DUI and Criminal Charges in Mesa AZ

It is unwise for a person to waive their right to legal counsel for DUI or criminal charges in which a person may be exposed to incarceration in jail or prison if found guilty. If a person moves forward with criminal proceedings unrepresented, irreversible harm can result in their case, and their defense may be compromised.

A defendant should always retain an attorney as early as possible in order to preserve all rights and defenses that may be used in the future to challenge or defend the charges.

If a defendant has jeopardized use of defenses, waived rights, or provided self-incriminating testimony, an attorney generally can’t undo the damage that has been done. They can’t go back and abolish the proceeding on the sole basis that the defense was compromised as a result of the defendant’s waiver of right to representation by an attorney.

In general, defendants usually do not secure favorable resolutions to their charges when they go unrepresented. A person who represents themselves if expected to adhere to all Rules of Criminal Procedure; understand their rights and laws; and consequences of their decision in the event they are found guilty of the charges. Early retention of a criminal defense attorney is a key factor in obtaining any favorable outcome in criminal cases.

Additional Resources:

AZ Supreme Court – Rules of Criminal Procedure

Maricopa County Superior Court

Right to Counsel under Criminal Code

US Constitutional Amendments

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Criminal Arrest Phoenix AZ.jpgDomestic Violence Charges

The police and prosecution take domestic violence very serious. They egregiously pursue convictions in these cases because they are considered to be a crime against a victim.
Domestic violence refers to a familial relationship. The victim may be a spouse, partner, brother, sister, grandparent, child, or other persons residing together.

Police have the burden on the scene to distinguish the aggressor from the victim. Often the victim is cited or arrested when the police are unable to identify which party was the aggressor at the scene. It can also occur when false accusations are made against a victim by the aggressor.

Police Departments keep logs of incidents where the police have been called to a residence before. In many of these cases, an arrest will be made, or both parties will be cited, or arrested and forced to defend their charge in court.

Arizona Domestic Violence Laws

Domestic Violence (DV) crimes are described under Arizona Law ARS § 13-3601. This law applies to specified domestic persons who become victims of assault, homicide, threat, intimidation, neglect, abuse or other act of violence.

Offenses may be classified as felonies or misdemeanors, and penalties vary depend on circumstances involved. They include: aggravated or mitigated factors; age of the victim; nature and severity of injuries; if a weapon was used; and whether or not the crime was dangerous or non-dangerous; and if the crime was a first time or repeat offense.

Penalties for Non-Dangerous Domestic Violence Offenses
Non-dangerous Misdemeanor DV charges call for minimums of 30 days to 6 months in jail; and fines from $500.00 to $2500.00.

Non-dangerous Felony DV charges call for 6 months to 18 months in prison, minimums; and 4 to 10 years maximum ranges.

Persons convicted of non-dangerous domestic violence offenses may be ordered to participate in domestic violence offender or anger management counseling programs.

Penalties for Dangerous Domestic Violence Offenses

Dangerous Felony first time offenses expose a person to a minimum of 18 months to 3 years in prison; and maximum penalties of 7 years to 21 years on prison.
Felony domestic violence offenders will be exposed to court ordered fines that can reach a maximum of $150,000, plus restitution.

Persons convicted of domestic violence offenses will be ordered to participate in domestic violence offender or anger management counseling programs. Additional Court ordered penalties may apply such as community service, or probation.

Criminal Defense Attorney for Domestic Violence Crimes Mesa, AZ

If you have been charged with any domestic violence offenses you should consult a criminal defense attorney before pleading guilty. There may be defenses that can be used to challenge the charges, lead to suppression of evidence, or even a dismissal of charges. It is never a good idea to go to court without qualified legal representation for any criminal offense. If retained, an attorney will protect your rights, defend your charges. If the case can’t be dismissed, they will work to mitigate sentencing to help you avoid or reduce harsh jail or prison sentencing.

Additional Resources:

Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence .

City of Mesa Police – Family Violence Unit can also provide assistance

Arizona Court – Domestic Violence Information and Resources

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