Articles Tagged with criminal rights

Your Rights at a Stop; 10 Defenses for Drug Charges; Mitigating Sentencing; Drug Trafficking Laws; Penalties.

This is Part 2 of our Case Study on a recent Arizona Court of Appeals ruling involving Marijuana Trafficking charges.

If you’re just joining us, here’s a quick summary of the case: Recently, an Arizona Superior Court granted suppression of the Marijuana evidence that led to the State’s dismissal of the charges. The State promptly appealed arguing that the lower court erred in dismissing the Marijuana evidence found in the vehicle the suspect was driving.   The state argued on Appeal that the detention of the suspect for 40 minutes while awaiting the drug K-9 unit was not unreasonable.

The Appeals Court agreed, and overturned the lower court’s ruling, based on totality of the circumstances at the time.   The factors that the Appellate Court considered were the police officers extensive knowledge and experience in drug trafficking detection; prior drug crimes history of the suspect; voluntary statements made by the suspect at the time of the stop; and the suspect’s consent to search the vehicle he was driving.

In this discussion we focus on criminal rights at a stop, common defenses for drug crimes, laws, and drug trafficking penalties in Arizona.

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A Tragic Video Confession

You might remember the viral video of an Arizona man, 22 year old Matthew Cordle, who caused a fatal drunk driving accident. He provided a confession in a four-minute online video that went viral with 2.3 million views last September.

Cordle began his chilling confession with “My name is Matthew Cordle and on June 22, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession.”

Vincent Canzani 61, was the father of two daughters, and a former USA Naval Submarine Veteran. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

Immediately following the crash, Cordle was taken to the hospital for his injuries. But at that time he denied being intoxicated, driving impaired, or causing the fatal accident.

Cordle confessed in the video, that he was driving the wrong way on an interstate, and crashed into Vincent Canzani vehicle.

In the video was the blurred face of man, Cordle, admitting to barhopping, blacking out and driving home drunk. Cordle explained that he had been drinking heavily before getting behind the wheel, and blacked out just before losing control of his vehicle.

Cordle had not yet been charged at the time the video was made, but was expecting the charges to be brought based on the DUI blood test results.

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Impact of Maryland v. King Ruling on Arizona: What it gives and what it takes.

Privacy rights were outweighed by law enforcement interests in the United States Supreme Court’s June 3rd ruling in Maryland v. King. In this case, the Court was divided 5-4 over the question of DNA sample collection. All states and the federal government require convicted felons to submit DNA samples to law enforcement. But this was the first case to look at whether even those who are merely arrested (and assumed innocent until proven guilty) can be required to submit their DNA to law enforcement.

The Supreme Court ruled that states may–without a warrant– routinely collect DNA samples from people arrested for a “serious crime.” This was a highly anticipated ruling because it is the Court’s first on the privacy of genetic information. The ruling focused on Maryland’s law, which requires DNA sampling of those arrested for serious crimes, supposedly for the purpose of identifying them. However, the case’s language was so broad that it opened the floodgates for all states to permit DNA sampling of people arrested, even if they are arrested only on a minor charge.

The case arose from a criminal defendant’s appeal after he was convicted for a felony only because the Maryland police were able to match his DNA in a federal database. After the defendant was arrested for assault, the police swabbed the defendant’s cheek to get a DNA sample and they submitted the sample to a federal DNA database. The swab was not necessary to prove the assault.

The federal database to which the sample was submitted matched the defendant’s DNA to DNA collected from a crime scene six years earlier. Because of the routine cheek swab, the defendant was convicted of the earlier serious crime.

The Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the defendant’s conviction on the grounds that a cheek swab violated Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure. Usually the State must obtain a warrant if it wants to conduct any kind of invasive physical testing. The State appealed the appellate ruling.

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, compared DNA sampling of the arrested to fingerprinting which is legal. The Court overturned the Court of Appeals. Justice Kennedy wrote that states could collect DNA from people arrested for “serious offenses.”

The majority opinion reasoned that Maryland’s law supported the well-established and legitimate governmental interest of identifying people in custody as opposed to solving crimes. The majority also reasoned that a cheek swab is minimally intrusive from a physical perspective.

Justice Scalia, joined by three liberal justices, wrote the dissent. He warned, “As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

This ruling impacts all people in states that authorize DNA testing, including Arizona. At present, Arizona’s law enforcement is able to collect DNA from anyone imprisoned for a felony offense, including those on probation. However, Arizona has also passed legislation to allow for the collection of DNA from those who are merely arrested, not convicted, of a serious crime.

This group includes those who are arrested for certain sexual offenses, burglary, prostitution, and other serious, violent or aggravated offenses. Although this group represents a relatively narrow number of criminal defendants now, as Justice Scalia pointed out the Supreme Court’s ruling is broad enough that states could widen the net of people who are required to submit to DNA sampling. As Justice Scalia suggests, in the future, DNA sampling may be part of police booking procedure even in traffic cases.

Additional Resources

DNA Laws Database
Mesa Police Department
Mesa Municipal Court

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No “substantial penalties” can be imposed as a result of exercising their Fifth Amendment Rights

Most people know they have a Fifth Amendment right not to be forced to incriminate oneself. This right encompasses not only the right not to speak about something that might lead you to actually admit to wrongdoing, but also the right to not have the court infer that your silence is itself an admission of guilt.

No substantial penalties can be imposed as a result of exercising your Fifth Amendment right. Moreover, if a defendant chooses to remain silent during sentencing, his silence is not to be taken as either an admission or a lack of contrition. However, if a defendant chooses to express remorse during sentencing, his statement can be used by the sentencing judge as a mitigating factor–a reason to be more lenient.

In an appellate case heard earlier this year, the rule against self-incrimination was applied to the issue of how a defendant’s silence can affect sentencing. In that case, the defendant (a woman) was on trial for major felony charges and was convicted.

Before sentencing, the trial judge said he would not put her on probation because the probation officer had reported she would not make statements about her offense during the investigation. Therefore, the probation officer had concluded she would not be able to participate in any counseling or treatment diversion program which required frank communication.

The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court had improperly sentenced her to a two-year prison term instead of placing her on probation or suspending the sentence. In her view, the prison term violated her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because it punished her refusing to talk about the details of her case with a probation officer.

The appellate court explained that in this case the defendant was neither entitled to probation nor to have her sentence suspended. Probation was a sentencing alternative, rather than a right. These were matters over which the trial court had discretion. Appellate courts give deference to the trial judge’s opinion about what seems necessary to rehabilitate a defendant.

The appellate court reasoned that a sentencing court was not prevented from considering a defendant’s silence regarding the offense in determining whether he or she could be rehabilitated through probation. In this case, the trial court had grounded its assessment in the probation officer’s report as to her unwillingness to talk about the offense even for purposes of rehabilitation.

The appellate court found that the sentence imposed was among those available by statute and therefore could not be considered a “substantial penalty” for silence or exercise of a Fifth Amendment right. The defendant in the instant case had relied on a Fifth Amendment case. In that case, a probationer was not required to answer certain polygraph questions because the court ruled he was entitled to assert the Fifth Amendment with respect to questions that could implicate him in future criminal matters.

The court reasoned that even a probationer would be required to answer questions relating to a past offense for which he was given probation. The defendant had refused to answer questions and had not intimated they might incriminate her in future criminal proceedings.

Additional Resources

Arizona Sentencing Chart
Maricopa County Criminal Procedures

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“Request made ‘unknowingly’; defendant lacked ability to adequately mount a defense”says Judge

On October 9, 2012, the Superior Court Judge in Maricopa County denied Michael Lee Crane’s request to represent himself at trial. Crane is accused three violent robberies and homicides in the Phoenix, AZ.
The defendant claimed the reason he wanted to represent himself was because no one knew his case better than he did. But the reason for the Judge’s denial had little to do with knowledge of the case.

But rather, Crane had persistently been disruptive; refused follow or recognize governing authority and law; refused to answer questions; refused to follow substantiated law; refused to comply with the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure and Code; and deliberate engaged in serious and obstructionist misconduct
The Judge explained that Crane needed to be able to understand, and follow these rules and follow the Arizona and US constitution. The Judge explained that by not knowing and following these laws and procedures, the defendant did not realize the limits he would place on his defense. But more importantly, his request was denied on the basis that the request for self-representation was not “knowingly” made.

Analysis of Ruling

The Sixth Amendment of the constitution affords a person the right to counsel or the right to defend themselves. And while it is unwise, the court must respect a person’s right to refuse attorney representation, even if it to the detriment of the person’s defense. For this reason, the Judge did take the defendant’s request under advisement. However, the decision is still ultimately at the judge’s discretion.

In this Ruling the Judge recognized the right of a person to defend themselves and refuse counsel. However, he explained that this right has limits. The court cited numerous important rulings to refuse to the defendant his request for self-representation:

• A defendant who is persistently disruptive of orderly procedures may lose their right to self-representation U.S. v. Williams 2011; State v Brooks 1989; Smith v State 1998; Wilson v. state 2004; Coleman v. State, 1980;
• Repeatedly arguing with the court on issues that were already ruled on, may be cause for forfeiture of the right to self-representation State v. Hemenway, 2004;
• Self-representation must be balanced against the government’s right to a fair trial which requires it to be conducted in a judicious and orderly forum State v. Henry, 1997;
• A trial court has broad discretion in managing the conduct of a trial, and has a duty to properly exercise that discretion State v. Cornell, 1994;
• Even if found competent to waive counsel, and stand trial, the court still has discretion to deny self-representation requests if it believes that the defendant’s request was not made knowingly.


Criminal Defense Attorney Mesa, AZ

If you face criminal charges, especially if they are serious, you should always consider retaining a qualified criminal defense attorney to represent you. They will defend your charges, and make sure your rights are protected. They will represent you through all stages of a criminal case; be capable of mounting a defense on your behalf; and worked towards obtaining the best possible resolution to your charges.

Additional Resources:

State of Arizona v. Michael Crane

Arizona Judicial Branch – Rules of Criminal Procedure

Arizona Superior Court – Case Procedures

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