Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

When defending against Arizona criminal prosecutions, understanding the nuances of expert testimony can be a game-changer in shaping the outcome of a case. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently released a ruling that helps to explain the requirements for a witness in a criminal case to testify as an expert. These standards and requirements may help a skilled attorney exclude harmful evidence from being admitted against their client by a proposed expert.

Expert testimony involves the presentation of opinions or conclusions by individuals with specialized knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education in a particular field relevant to the case. Unlike lay witnesses who testify about facts within their personal knowledge, expert witnesses provide professional opinions to assist the court in understanding complex issues.

The recently decided opinion involved a case where the defendant appealed convictions for aggravated assault, and the victim testified as to the source of damage to a vehicle. On appeal, the defendant argues that this was expert testimony that was improperly admitted at trial. In the recently released opinion, the appellate court discussed the factors that define expert testimony versus lay testimony.

In a recent case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it failed to instruct jury members on the possibility that she was acting in self-defense. The defendant was convicted of the following offenses: leaving the scene of a fatal accident, theft of means of transportation, aggravated assault, and negligent homicide. Following her appeal, the higher court vacated the two latter convictions and sentences, sending the case back to the trial court for a new trial on those counts.

The Incident in Question

The charges and convictions in this case stemmed from an incident involving several friends and a stolen vehicle. The defendant in this case went to a casino with a friend, and she borrowed a car from her roommate to get to and from the casino. Apparently, the defendant’s roommate had taken the car from an acquaintance, although the acquaintance had never filed a police report indicating that the car was stolen.
Before the defendant and her friend went home, they stopped by a gas station. At that point, the roommate’s acquaintance, who owned the car, approached the vehicle by quickly running up to it. He started yelling at the defendant, demanding that she return the car. The defendant became afraid, and she started to drive away. As she drove, she hit the friend that had accompanied her to the casino. The friend ultimately suffered a head injury and died from the incident.

The defendant was criminally charged, and her case went to trial. After being found guilty, the defendant promptly appealed.

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At the beginning of February 2024, the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, issued an order vacating in part a defendant’s sentences that resulted from the murder of his wife. The defendant originally faced charges for second-degree murder, abandonment of a dead body, and tampering with physical evidence. He appealed his convictions and sentences, partially on grounds that the trial court incorrectly calculated how much time he should serve given his guilty verdict. The higher court agreed with the defendant’s argument, ordering the court to resentence him according to its instructions.

Background of the Case

The opinion details the case’s history. One evening in October 2019, the defendant and his wife began arguing. Sometime between the hours of 7:15pm and 9:00pm, neighbors heard a gunshot, and investigators later learned that the bullet came from one of the defendant’s guns. The defendant’s wife was later found dead by the same bullet. The defendant had attempted to clean the bloodied carpet, the furniture, and the padding under the nearby turf, but stains remained that revealed what had occurred. Following the clean-up attempts, the defendant dumped his wife’s body by a ditch nearby.

Despite these attempts to hide the murder, investigators found enough evidence to link the defendant to the crime. He was criminally charged, and after a ten-day trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts. The court sentenced the defendant to the maximum amount of time for all three convictions. The defendant promptly appealed.

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Recently, an Arizona court denied a defendant’s appeal in a murder case involving the defendant’s former roommate. The defendant asked the court to consider the written confession that the State introduced at trial inadmissible; he claimed he did not write the confession voluntarily and, therefore, the prosecution should not have been able to use it. Looking at the facts of the case, the court eventually disagreed with the defendant and kept his conviction in place.

Facts of the Case

Officers found the dead body of a man in his apartment after a call from the man’s brother in November 2018. When the police officers went to check in on the man, they immediately noticed an odor upon entering his apartment building. They pushed open the door and found the man dead on the ground – it appeared as if he had been dead for at least several days.

The officers investigated and noticed that there had been several fraudulent charges coming out of the victim’s bank account. They linked these charges to the victim’s roommate, who became the defendant in this case. After further investigation, they arrested the defendant and charged him with the murder. The defendant’s case went to trial, and he was found guilty as charged.

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In a July 2023 case involving a father and his deceased daughter, the defendant asked the court to reconsider his guilty verdict from 2017. The case originated when the defendant’s three-year-old daughter was pronounced dead, and the defendant was charged with child abuse. On appeal, the defendant argued the trial court unjustly kept out evidence from several of his friends and family members who would have testified about his diminished intellectual capacity. Deciding this testimony was properly excluded from trial, the court of appeals denied the defendant’s request to overturn the conviction.

Facts of the Case

Several years ago, the defendant’s daughter was brought to the hospital because of lacerations, infections, wounds, and swollen bones. Doctors tried to treat her, but she eventually died because of the injuries. Immediately, investigators began to try and find out how the girl became so injured. Eventually, their evidence led them to the defendant in this case. He was charged with child abuse and first-degree felony murder.

Before trial, the trial court conducted something called “competency proceedings.” These proceedings allow the court to determine if the defendant is mentally competent enough to stand trial. The court found that the defendant was, indeed, competent. His trial proceeded, and he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

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In a recent case before the Arizona Supreme Court, the defendant argued that the lower court improperly prohibited him from presenting expert testimony at his trial for child abuse, kidnapping, and murder. According to the defendant, this mistake was costly enough to warrant a reversal, and he should therefore have another chance to present his defense. Looking at the evidence in the case, the higher court ended up denying the defendant’s appeal, and the lower court’s judgment remained in place.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was originally charged after his three-year-old daughter was killed in 2015. When the daughter originally came to the emergency room for treatment, she had lacerations on her head, infections, a swollen knee, and wounds on her chest. She was also significantly malnourished, and it appeared as though she had been both dehydrated and abused.

The defendant was charged with child abuse, kidnapping, and first-degree felony murder of his daughter. His case went to trial, and a jury unanimously found him guilty. The defendant then promptly appealed.

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In a recent case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant in a murder and robbery case asked the court to find that his confession was made involuntarily. The defendant was charged when he was 16 years old, and he argued on appeal that when he confessed to the crime, he did not have the mental capacity to understand what he was doing. On appeal, the higher court affirmed the lower court’s decision and kept in place the original convictions and sentences.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant and a friend of his were found near the body of a murder victim in November 2016. Both individuals were brought in for questioning, and the defendant said he wanted to speak with an attorney before saying anything to the officers. The officers granted this request, and they put both individuals into a room while they waited for attorneys to arrive. The defendant and his friend did not know that the room was being monitored by video and audio recording.

The defendant and his friend began talking, and the defendant stated that he had fired shots into the back of the victim’s head. The State admitted this confession at trial, and the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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In a recent case coming out of an Arizona court, the defendant appealed his conviction for aggravated assault on a police officer. On appeal, the defendant argued that the judge in the lower court should have informed the jury that they could have reasonably found he was acting in self-defense against the police officers. Considering this argument, the higher court concluded that the self-defense instruction was not appropriate, and the defendant’s appeal was denied.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, law enforcement received a service call to investigate the defendant’s fifth-wheel trailer in a backyard. A police officer arrived at the scene, knocked on the trailer door, announced that he was from the police department, and ordered the defendant outside to talk.

The officer informed the defendant that he was under arrest. When the officer began putting the defendant in handcuffs, the defendant threw his elbows out, pulled away, and turned on the officer. A fight ensued. At one point, the defendant struck the officer with several solid objects. The officer then drew his pistol and fired a single round into the defendant’s neck.

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In a recent Arizona murder case, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentencing for second-degree murder. In the appeal, the defendant argued on many counts, challenging the lower court decision through the Arizona separation-of-powers doctrine, disputing evidence introduced at trial, filing motions to suppress evidence, disputing jury instructions, and arguing that his sentencing was also improper. The appeals court denied his appeals and affirmed both his conviction and his sentence.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion in May of 2015, the defendant, a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, lived with his wife and twenty-month-old step-daughter at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. On May 18, his wife spent time playing with the daughter, and neither she nor their neighbor observed any injuries on her. Photographs taken by the defendant’s wife that day also do not reveal any evidence of injuries to her daughter. That night when the defendant picked up his wife, she was upset that he did not bring her daughter because she did not like leaving her daughter alone. The defendant told her during the ride home that he had spanked the daughter because she had been misbehaving. When they arrived home, the defendant’s wife went directly to bed, while the defendant checked in on the daughter before going to sleep.

The next morning, when the wife went in to see her daughter after the defendant had left for work, she found her “laying halfway off the bed with her head on the floor.” Her daughter’s body was cold and stiff. She saw marks that resembled burns and called 911. When paramedics arrived on the scene they were unable to resuscitate the daughter, who had no pulse. She was then transported to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. The defendant was subsequently interviewed and investigated by Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents as well as the Yuma Police Department. During his interviews with the NCIS agents, the defendant made several incriminating statements and signed a waiver relieving them of the need to advise him of his constitutional rights.

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Late last month, an Arizona Court of Appeals ruled on a defendant’s appeal of his conviction for aggravated assault against a police officer. In writing its decision, the court considered the defendant’s argument that his trial result should be overturned due to unfair testimony offered by a police officer on the stand. Ultimately, the court disagreed with the defendant’s contentions, and the original verdict was affirmed.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, police were responding to a report of theft in the parking lot of a Family Dollar store when they spotted the defendant in this case. The defendant matched the description of the suspect they were looking for, so they approached him to investigate the situation. As soon as the officers approached, the defendant began running away, at which point one officer took the defendant by the arm and reached for his handcuffs.

Subsequently, the defendant swung his elbow back towards the officer and pushed the officer away. The officer fell to the ground, and the defendant continued to run. The officer was later treated at the hospital and diagnosed with a head injury as a result of the incident.

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