Criminal Defendant Loses Appeal Over Inappropriate Courtroom Behavior

Recently, an Arizona defendant originally charged with sexual assault appealed his guilty convictions and sentences in two related cases. On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals denied the defendant’s request and affirmed the superior court’s verdicts from 2018 and 2021. At issue on appeal was the defendant’s behavior during his two trials, and the higher court concluded that it was correct for the lower court to decide that the defendant did not have the right to be physically present for both cases’ proceedings.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was first arrested for sexual assault in 2018. After going out to dinner with a woman, the defendant went with the woman back to her home, where he suddenly grabbed, choked, hit, and raped her. The State charged the defendant with sexual assault, aggravated assault, and threatening or intimidating. At the defendant’s trial, the defendant physically assaulted his court-appointed attorney right as the proceedings were about to begin. Immediately, law enforcement subdued the defendant, and the court declared a mistrial.

In 2021, the defendant came back to court on the original charges, but also to be tried for the physical assault of his attorney in 2018. At that time, the court communicated hesitation about letting the defendant in the courtroom for trial, both for safety reasons and because the court thought the defendant would be at an automatic disadvantage if the jury saw him acting violently.

Ultimately, the court allowed the defendant to sit in a room outside the courtroom and watch the trial on a tablet. Soon, however, the defendant began banging on the courtroom wall, yelling that he could not hear what was going on. The court decided the defendant had to leave the building, and they offered the defendant an opportunity to participate virtually in the proceedings. The defendant repeatedly declined these offers.

The Decision

The jury found the defendant guilty of sexual assault and aggravated assault. On appeal, the defendant’s main argument was that the court violated his right to be physically present during his own courtroom proceedings. According to the defendant, this right was fundamental to his ability to know what was happening and present his case before the court. The fact that he was not allowed in the courtroom was a clear violation of this right.

The court looked at the record in the case and ultimately disagreed with the defendant. While it is true, said the court, that the United States and Arizona Constitutions protect a defendant’s right to be present at trial, the defendant had acted violently and forfeited this right. The court had given him multiple opportunities to participate in and watch the trial, and he had instead acted unreasonably in both 2018 and 2021. Because the court made good faith efforts to include the defendant in the proceedings, there was nothing more that could be done to protect the defendant’s constitutional right.

The defendant’s originally guilty verdict was thus affirmed.

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