Defendant in Drug and Sex Abuse Case Asks for New Trial Based on Prosecutorial Misconduct

In a recent case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, the court had to decide whether to grant a new trial in a defendant’s drug and sexual conduct case. Originally, the defendant was charged with and convicted of several drug offenses as well as sexual conduct with a minor. He appealed, arguing the prosecuting attorney made a grave error during the trial that merited an entirely new trial. The court of appeals reviewed the record of the case and ultimately disagreed, denying the defendant’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant in this case was treating an adolescent girl for ongoing issues with depression. The defendant claimed to have experience with plant medicine, and he told the girl that he could help solve her depression with a certain kind of mushroom.

Over time, the defendant and the girl developed a friendly relationship. Soon, however, the defendant invited the girl on a camping trip, and the relationship quickly took a turn. The defendant told the girl to consume mushrooms that would make her high, and he invited the girl to have sex with him and his wife, who was also on the camping trip.

The girl at first refused but eventually gave in, ultimately taking the drugs and having sex with the defendant and his wife. After the camping trip, the girl told her dad what had happened. Immediately the dad pressed charges, and the defendant’s case eventually went to trial. The jury found the defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to ten years in prison and a lifetime probation term. The defendant promptly appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant’s main argument was that the prosecuting attorney made an error that unfairly biased the jury in favor of the State. When the prosecutor was making his opening statement, he said things to the jury like, “we believe you are reasonable people” and “we believe the burden of proof will be met in this case.” According to the defendant, the statements starting with “we believe” could have led the jury to believe that the government depended on them to find the defendant guilty. The statements also could have suggested that information not in the record supported the witness’s testimony.

The court reviewed the prosecutor’s statements, and it ultimately determined that the defendant was not eligible for an entirely new trial. While it might have been preferable for the attorney to refrain from using the phrase “we believe”, this phrase in itself did not amount to the prosecutor injecting his own personal opinions in the trial. The jury was well-prepared to rule on the evidence presented to them, and the defendant’s appeal was thus denied.

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