Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Blog

Articles Posted in AZ CRIMINAL DEFENSE TOPICS

Criminal Defense Challenges for Prohibited Possession of Firearms Charges in Arizona

                                                        Questions before the Court

The Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure afford parties the right to request a change of judge before trial.  But these rights are not without limitations.

In a recent case, an Arizona appellate court reviewed a defendant’s conviction for misconduct involving weapons.  The appeal centered around two arguments, one being the defendant’s request for a new judge.

First, defendant had requested a peremptory change of judge under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 10.2, which was denied by the trial court.

Secondly, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence used to obtain the conviction.

In this article we will also, take a closer look at the arguments, and summarize three concepts related to the Rules of Criminal Procedure for trial, which were addressed in this case:

  • The Right of the Parties to Request Change of Judge;
  • Special Actions v. Direct Appeals; and
  • Judgement of Acquittal

We will also discuss the proceedings, final ruling, the right to bear arms, procedural and evidentiary challenge in trial, and criminal defense for weapons charges.

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Arizona Court of Appeals: No "conspiracy" without evidence of electronic communication with anyone else besides buyer and seller

In a recent Arizona Supreme Court drug case, a man convicted of 11 drug-related crimes was sentenced to concurrent, consecutive presumptive terms of imprisonment.

The defendant appealed, challenging five convictions related to violations of A.R.S. § 13-3417(A) to facilitate or conspire to commit felony drug crimes.

In this article we provide an overview of the case and the Appeals Court Ruling; how it impacts Arizona; and privacy rights v. the public safety debate of cell phone searches.

This article also includes a special featured segment by Scott Greene, Senior Technology Forensics Expert, who will provide additional insight into cell phone and mobile device forensics.

Case Overview

The case arose when Arizona narcotics agents were told that the defendant was selling drugs.

An undercover agent began talking to the defendant by cell phone and arranged to buy methamphetamine from him.  Below is the outcome of the efforts initiated by the undercover agent:

  • The first transaction took place as planned.
  • The agent again contacted the defendant and arranged another purchase. However, the woman who was supposed to deliver the drugs never showed up to complete the sale.
  • Another purchase was set up, and as a result, the defendant’s co-defendant (another person charged in the crime) sold the meth to the agent.
  • The next transaction did not go through because only the undercover agent arrived and no one met him to complete the sale.
  • The next transaction resulted in another codefendant meeting the agent and selling him rock salt rather than meth.
  • Two weeks later, the police arrested the defendant. Upon searching him, they found a bag of marijuana in his possession, as well as the cell phone with the same phone number used by the undercover agent to initiate the sale.

The defendant and his two codefendants were indicted on multiple counts, found guilty, and sentenced. The defendant appealed.

The appellate court was faced with the issue of whether the defendant, who was the seller in the drug transaction, was properly convicted of an A.R.S. § 13-3417(A) violation.

The primary question was whether or not there was sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant used a wire or electronic communication to “facilitate” or “conspire” to commit the felonies.

This question evolved around the fact that there was no other evidence presented involving wire or electronic communications by the defendant except for that of the buyer, the undercover agent.

The defendant also argued that the offenses that were charged in connection with the wire communications statute involved the sale of rock salt, an imitation substance that falls under A.R.S. chapter 34.1 for Imitation Drugs; not chapter 34 for Drug Offenses, or chapter 23, for Organized Crimes, Fraud or Terrorism, as stated in the language of the statute pertaining to the wire communications statute.

The state responded that the cell phone was used to communicate with the undercover agent about the sale of an unlawful  drug.

Therefore, it was irrelevant that the drug was an illegal imitation substance provided after the communication.

The appellate court explained that they found no published precedent case that interprets the statute.

Therefore, in these situations the court looks to the plain language and the meanings of “facilitation” and “conspiracy” in its effort to interpret the statute.

An Arizona statute provides that “facilitation” is committed if someone who knowingly provides another with the means or opportunity to commit a crime.  They do so, knowing that the other person is committing or intends to commit the crime.

An Arizona statute provides that a “conspiracy” is committed when three elements exist:

  1. At least one of them or someone else will act in ways that constitute that crime; and
  2. Someone agrees with one or more people, intending to promote or help in the committing of a crime; and
  3. One of the people commits an overt act to further that crime.

The court used these statutory definitions of facilitation and conspiracy to interpret the wire communications statute.

It held that prohibited use of a wire or electronic communication is to knowing or with intent:

  • Provide someone else with the means and opportunity to commit a crime; or
  • To agree with someone else, that one of them, or another will act in ways that constitute a crime and commit an overt act to further the crime.

In several of the sales, the defendant was the seller and the agent was the buyer, and both were necessary to the transaction.

The defendant didn’t use the phone to facilitate or promote anyone else’s efforts to complete the sale, nor was their evidence that the defendant was conspiring with anyone else about the sale.

The defendant’s communications with the other people who delivered the drugs in certain transactions were in person.

In other transactions, the undercover agent came to buy drugs, but the defendant didn’t show up to sell them.   Continue reading

Arizona Court of Appeals: A search subject to probation terms significantly diminishes privacy rights

If you are placed on probation for a drug crime in Arizona, you have a reduced expectation of privacy than you had before.

This means that, depending on the probation conditions, the privacy protections you thought you had under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution related to search and seizure may not apply.

In a recent Court of Appeals case  the state of Arizona appealed after the lower court granted a defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence of a warrantless search.

In this article we will examine a recent Court of Appeals case which centered around the challenge of a warrantless search at the residence of a probationers.

We will also take a closer look at some key legal concepts that the court examined in the process establishing a ruling in this case.  The legal concepts we will discuss following the overview and court ruling summary include:

  • Privacy rights for warrantless searches under the U.S. Constitution 4th Amendment;
  • Privacy rights for warrantless searches of a person’s residence under the Arizona Constitution Article 2, Section 8;
  • A comparison of the two, and discussion as to why the more liberal privacy rights afforded under Arizona law did not apply;
  • Assessing “Totality of the Circumstances” for reasonableness of a warrantless search on a probationer’s residence.

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Arizona Supreme Court Ruling: AMMA Users have an Affirmative defense for DUI. They can show they did not have a high enough concentration of THC to cause impairment.

marijuana smoke 3 LargeThe Arizona Supreme Court provided a unanimous decision in a recent Marijuana DUI ruling.  The court took a closer look at how the AMMA impacts prosecution.

The Supreme Court ruled that Medical Marijuana card holders are not immune from prosecution under the state’s DUI law, which prohibits drivers from having in their blood marijuana or another chemical compound that causes impairment.

At the same time, the court also ruled cardholders, do in fact, have a limited affirmative defense under the AMMA. But it is a limited DUI Defense. The AMMA does not, and does not provide general immunity from prosecution.

If a qualified user is facing marijuana DUI charges, they can provide a evidence or testimony showing they didn’t have a high enough concentration of the active ingredient THC, in Marijuana, to cause driving impairment.

If they are successful in their challenge of impairment, they may avoid a conviction.

Overview  

This article will cover the following topics:

  • Arizona Supreme Court Ruling on Marijuana DUI;
  • Impacts of Ruling on Arizona Drivers;
  • Affirmative Defenses in Arizona;
  • When the Safe Harbor defense for Medical Practitioner Prescribed Drugs applies;
  • 5 types of evidence that can be used to provide a showing of non-impairment;
  • How many puffs does it take to cause Driver Impairment? 
  • Criminal Defense for Marijuana DUI Charges Mesa AZ

   Arizona Supreme Court Case Overview

Petitioners made no effort to show that the marijuana was in an insufficient concentration to cause impairment.” –  Arizona Supreme Court 

The case involved two defendants, both charged with two counts of driving under the influence:  a violation of A.R.S. § 28-1381(A)(1) and a violation of A.R.S. § 28-1381(A)(3).

The former, (A)(1), prohibits someone from driving while under the influence of any drug if he or she is impaired to the slightest degree.

The latter, (A) (2), prohibits driving while there is any of certain enumerated drugs or their metabolites in the person’s body. Both defendants had taken blood tests that showed they had marijuana and its metabolites in their bodies.

One of the defendants wanted to present evidence of her medical marijuana card in another state, but the municipal court denied her motion. The other held an Arizona medical marijuana card, but the municipal court granted the state’s motion to preclude this evidence from being introduced.

The State dismissed the (A)(1) charge, for driver impairment.

But the defendants were convicted of the (A)(3) charge which states that a person is in violation of a violation of the DUI law if they are driving with any drug found in their system which falls within the state’s drug definitions A.R.S. 13-3401 that includes “Cannabis”. 

The defendants appealed to the Maricopa County Superior Court, which affirmed the convictions. They then appealed to the Arizona court of appeals, which ruled that there was no immunity for defendants holding marijuana cards when charged with (A)(3).

The defendants asked the Arizona Supreme Court to review the case.

The Court explained that with an (A)(3) charge, unlike an (A)(1) charge, the state isn’t required to prove actual impairment.

The defenses for these charges are also different.  With an (A)(1) charge where a person is in violation of the law if they are driving impaired due to drugs or alcohol.  With that, it is not a valid defense against impairment to challenge the violations on the ground that the user has a medical marijuana card.

With the (A)(3) charge involving driving under the influence of the state’s defined drugs, there is an Affirmative Defense available.  This defense makes it lawful to drive under the influence of the state’s defined drugs, if they the drugs are prescribed by a licensed doctor.

The Court explained that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) immunizes registered qualifying patients for their medical use of marijuana, but the immunity is limited.

AMMA’s § 36-2802 provides immunity to qualified patients who use marijuana to the extent that a registered qualifying patient shall not be considered to be under the influence of marijuana solely because of the presence of metabolites or components of marijuana that appear in insufficient concentration to cause impairment.

The Court also held that possessing a registry card can create a rebuttable presumption that a particular person is using marijuana as permitted by AMMA, as long as he or she isn’t in possession of more than the permitted amount.   This means that the police, prosecution, and court will assume it is true, unless the facts are challenged and proven otherwise.

Generally a defendant may be convicted of an (A)(3) violation if the state is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver had marijuana or an impairing metabolite in her body while driving a vehicle.

As a defense, the defendant may show by a preponderance of the evidence that use was authorized by AMMA, and that the amount of marijuana was not enough to cause impairment. Simply presenting a registry card is not enough to establish this defense.

The defendants argued that it was unfair to place the burden of proof on them because there is no threshold that is commonly accepted as Continue reading

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

Introduction

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
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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