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After granting the State’s motion to conduct a new independent review of Defendant’s two death sentences, the Supreme Court affirmed the sentences, holding that there was no error in the trial court’s findings of aggravation and mitigation and that the death sentence was not an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court previously affirmed Defendant’s sentences on independent review. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Court applied an unconstitutional “causal nexus” test to Defendant’s mitigation evidence. Upon conducting a new independent review of Defendant’s death sentences, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the mitigating evidence was not sufficiently substantial to warrant leniency and that the aggravators weighed heavily in favor of the death sentence. View "State v. McKinney" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of first degree murder, discharge of a firearm at a structure, and misconduct involving weapons and sentences of death for the murder and concurrent prison sentences for the remaining convictions to be served consecutively to the death sentence. The Court held (1) the trial court did not err by failing to sue sponte sever the misconduct-involving-weapons charge; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion during voir dire; (3) there was no error in the jury instructions; (4) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to vacate judgment without holding an evidentiary hearing; (5) the cumulative effect of any instances of prosecutorial misconduct during trial did not render it unfair; and (6) the death sentence was not an abuse of discretion. View "State v. Valenzuela" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s drug-related convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the admission and pervasive use of drug-courier profile evidence during Defendant's trial constituted fundamental error and prejudiced Defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant’s drug-related convictions and sentences, reviewing for fundamental error whether the trial court correctly admitted the drug-courier profile evidence and hearsay statements. The Supreme Court granted review to clarify what a defendant must show to establish fundamental, prejudicial error. The Court held that to show fundamental error, a defendant must demonstrate that the error goes to the foundation of his case, takes away a right essential to the defense, or is of such magnitude that it denied the defendant a fair trial. To warrant reversal, the defendant must then show prejudice, but if the trial was unfair, prejudice is automatically established. In the instant case, the Court held that Defendant’s trial was infected with fundamental, prejudicial error that deprived him of a fair trial. View "State v. Escalante" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this termination of parental rights case, the Supreme Court held that juvenile courts must consider the totality of the circumstances existing at the time of a parental severance determination, including the child’s adoptability and the parent’s rehabilitation, in determining whether severance is in the best interests of the child for purposes of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 8-533(B). The juvenile court in this case severed Mother’s parental rights to her two children. Mother appealed, challenging the juvenile court’s best-interests finding. The court of appeals vacated the juvenile court’s order, concluding that the record supporting the best-interests determination was insubstantial. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the juvenile court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights, holding that the court of appeals erred in its best-interests analysis and that sufficient evidence supported the juvenile court’s best-interests finding. View "Alma S. v. Department of Child Safety" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for first degree murder and child abuse and Defendant’s sentence of death, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not commit an error under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994) by failing to instruct the jury that Defendant was ineligible after instructing the jurors that a life sentence includes the “possibility of release from prison after serving 35 years”; (2) there was no error in empaneling a juror who was a convicted felon; (3) there was no merit to Defendant’s challenges to each of the aggravating factors found by the jury; (4) the trial court did not commit reversible error in its evidentiary rulings; (5) there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions; (6) the prosecutor did not violate Defendant’s due process rights by misstating the law on mitigation during the penalty phase; (7) Defendant’s claim of cumulative prosecutorial misconduct failed; and (8) the jury did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant to death. View "State v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that an abuser’s ongoing threats of harm over a three-month period may establish a “threat or use of immediate physical force” under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-412(A) supporting a defendant’s duress defense to charges of abusing her children. Defendant and her husband were convicted of the kidnapping and child abuse of their three daughters. At issue on appeal was whether the husband’s threats and abuse of Defendant created a threat of immediate harm sufficient to support a duress defense and whether Defendant’s proposed expert testimony was admissible as observation evidence. The Court of Appeals answered both questions in the affirmative. The Supreme Court vacated a portion of the court of appeals’ opinion, reversed Defendant’s convictions and sentences, and remanded this case for a new trial, holding (1) the trial court erred when it precluded Defendant from raising a duress defense and from introducing evidence in support of that defense; and (2) the expert testimony regarding the psychological effects of Defendant’s husband’s ongoing threats of harm did not constitute permissible observation evidence under Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006). View "State v. Richter" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this negligence action, the Supreme Court held that a negligence claim based solely on an officer’s intentional use of physical force is inappropriate. Rather, the appropriate state-law claim is for battery. Plaintiff filed this complaint seeking damages for dog-bite injuries he received when a law enforcement officer intentionally released a police dog against him. The jury found in favor of Plaintiff and awarded him $617,500 in damages. The court of appeals affirmed in a split decision. The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals and reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding (1) while plaintiffs cannot assert a negligence claim under the circumstances of this case, plaintiffs may base a negligence claim on conduct by the officer that is independent of the intentional use of physical force; (2) at trial on a battery claim, expert witnesses cannot suggest to the jury that Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), is the legal standard for deciding the applicability of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-409, which provides a justification defense for law enforcement officers who use physical force. View "Ryan v. Napier" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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When asked to decide the rate at which interest on a $7.8 million judgment Plaintiff obtained against the State accrued pending appeal, the Supreme Court held that the interest rate prescribed by Ariz. Rev. Stat. 41-622(F) applied to the judgment. Plaintiff filed this negligence action against the state, and the jury awarded her $7.8 million. The State’s appeal was unsuccessful. While the judgment was supposed to be paid from the State’s Risk Management Revolving Fund, the judgment was erroneously paid from the Construction Insurance Fund (CIF). When the mistake was discovered, the CIF was reimbursed from the Revolving Fund. In 2015, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment to resolve the calculation of post-judgment interest. At issue was whether, because the judgment had initially been paid from the CIF, it was subject to the rate of interest prescribed by Ariz. Rev. Stat. 44-1201(B) instead of the lower rate prescribed by section 44-622(F) for judgments paid from the Revolving Fund. The superior court concluded that the lower rate applied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 41-622(F) applied to the entire judgment, including any portion for which the State may be reimbursed by its excess insurance coverage. View "Glazer v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for two counts of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and other crimes and Defendant’s sentence of death for each murder, holding that no prejudicial error occurred in the trial proceedings. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s pretrial motions for a change of venue and continuance; (2) Defendant’s claims of error in jury selection and voir dire were unavailing; (3) evidence of Defendant’s confession was properly admitted; (4) the trial court did not commit fundamental error under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994) by failing to inform the jury that Defendant would not be eligible for release if sentenced to life imprisonment; (5) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing victim-impact evidence; and (6) there was no abuse of discretion in imposing the death sentence. The dissent argued at length that the death sentence is cruel and unusual punishment under the Arizona Constitution. View "State v. Bush" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 45-108 does not require the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to consider unquantified federal reserved water rights when it determines whether a developer has an adequate water supply for purposes of the statute. This case stemmed from the ADWR’s 2013 adequate water supply approving Pueblo Del Sol Water Company’s application to supply water to a proposed development in Cochise County. The superior court vacated ADWR’s decision, concluding that the agency erred in determining that Pueblo’s water supply was “legally available” because ADWR was required to consider potential and existing legal claims that might affect the availability of the water supply, including the Bureau of Land Management’s unquantified federal water right. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s decision and affirmed ADWR’s approval of Pueblo’s application, holding that ADWR is not required to consider unquantified federal reserved water rights under its physical availability or legal availability analysis. View "Silver v. Pueblo Del Sol Water Co" on Justia Law