Justia Arizona Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction on the basis that the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to give a Willits instruction under the circumstances of this case, holding that law enforcement's failure to collect putative fingerprint and DNA evidence did not warrant a Willits instruction.Defendant was charged with one count of fleeing from a law enforcement vehicle. Before trial, Defendant requested a Willits instruction, arguing that the State's failure to collect DNA and fingerprint evidence from the vehicle he had allegedly been driving deprived him of a fair trial. The trial court denied the request, and the jury found Defendant guilty. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Defendant was entitled to a Willits instruction. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and affirmed Defendant's conviction, holding that the State's failure to gather every conceivable piece of physical evidence in this case did not require a Willits instruction. View "State v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that the proponents of an initiative, the "Invest in Education Act," complied with Ariz. Rev. Stat. 19-102(A) and gathered enough signatures under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 19-118.01(A) to qualify for the November 3, 2020 general election ballot.Defendant, a political action committee, sought to place the "Invest in Education Act" initiative on the 2020 ballot. Plaintiffs, an elector and a political action committee, opposed the Initiative, claiming that the 100-word description on petition sheets violated section 19-102(A) and that the measure lacked sufficient signatures after removing signatures gathered by petition circulators who were paid in violation of section 19-118.01(A). The superior court enjoined the Secretary of State from certifying and placing the Initiative on the 2020 ballot, finding that the 100-word description on the petition signature sheets failed to comply with section 19-102(A). The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in part, holding that the initiative proponents complied with section 19-102(A) and gathered enough signatures to qualify for the 2020 general election ballot. View "Molera v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court held that consecutive sentences imposed for separate crimes, when the cumulative sentences exceed a juvenile's life expectancy, do not violate the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016).Defendants in these cases argued that their sentences violated the Eighth Amendment. At issue was whether Graham, Miller, and Montgomery prohibit aggregated consecutive sentences for separate crimes that exceed a juvenile's life expectancy. The Supreme Court held that Graham, Miller, and Montgomery do not prohibit such de facto life sentences, and therefore, Graham and its progeny do not constitute a significant chance in the law under Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(g). View "State v. Soto-Fong" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Respondent, a superior court judge, erred in concluding that Ariz. R. Crim. P. 24.2 did not bar him from vacating the Enmund/Tison verdict in this case.Defendant was found guilty of child abuse and first degree murder. Before a defendant convicted of felony murder can be sentenced to death, the jury must find that the defendant either (1) killed, attempted to kill, or intended that a killing take place or that lethal force be used, Edmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982); or (2) was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life, Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987). The jurors found that Defendant's conduct satisfied Enmund/Tison, but the jury could not unanimously reach a verdict as to Defendant's sentence. Relying on State v. Miles, 243 Ariz. 511 (2018) and Rule 24.2, Defendant moved to vacate the Enmund/Tison verdict while her case was pending retrial of the penalty phase. Respondent vacated the jury's aggravation phase verdict, concluding that the Enmund/Tison verdict was faulty as a result of Miles. The Supreme Court vacated the order, holding that a judgment and a sentence must be entered before a Rule 24.2 motion may be filed and considered by a trial court. View "State ex rel. Adel v. Honorable John Hannah" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that the court of appeals erred by concluding that a contractual limitations provision can preclude nonparties to the contract from asserting tort claims that do not arise out of the contractual relationship.In affirming the trial court's summary judgment, the court of appeals relied upon the "closely related party doctrine," which looks to the relationship between a nonparty and parties to the agreement, as well as the relationship between a nonparty and the agreement itself. Specifically, the court of appeals concluded that the nonparty was so "closely related" to the contract or its signatories that enforcement of the contract terms was "foreseeable." However, no Arizona court had previously adopted the closely related party doctrine to impose a contractual limitations provision on a nonparty. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in binding the nonparty to a contractual limitations provision based on the closely related party doctrine. View "JTF Aviation Holdings, Inc. v. CliftonLarsonAllen LLP" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the trial court appointing a special master to conduct an in camera review of recordings of jail phone calls between Defendant and a criminal defense attorney to determine whether the calls were privileged, holding that a court may not invade the attorney-client privilege to determine its existence, even in camera using a special master.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) a party claiming the attorney-client privilege must make a prima facie showing supporting that claim, and upon such a showing, the court may hold a hearing to determine whether the privilege applies; (2) once the privilege has been established, a party attempting to set it aside under the crime-fraud exception must demonstrate a factual basis adequate to support a good faith belief by a reasonable person that in camera review of the materials may reveal evidence to establish the claim that the crime-fraud exception applies, and only then may a special master review the privileged communications; and (3) because the State conceded that it cannot meet its burden, if the court determines that the privilege applies, the State may not review the recordings between Defendant and his attorney. View "Clements v. Honorable Deborah Bernini" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part the decision of the superior court denying Appellant's challenge to the legal sufficiency of Shawnna Bolick's nomination documents, holding that, under the facts of this case, use of a private mailbox address substantially complied with the statutory requirements for petitions and nomination papers but not for circulator verifications on paper petition sheets.Appellant filed a complaint challenging Bolick's nomination petitions and nomination paper, arguing that Bolick did not comply with Ariz. Rev. Stat. 16-311(A), -314(C), and -315(B) because she used a private mailbox address as her place of residence. The superior court denied the challenge, finding that Bolick substantially complied with the applicable election laws because voters were unlikely to have been confused or misled by the technical error. The Supreme Court ordered that Bolick's name be included on the ballot, holding (1) Bolick substantially complied with section 16-311(A) and -314(C) under the facts of this case; and (2) Bolick did not substantially comply with section 16-315(B), and therefore, the signatures from the paper petition sheets circulated by Bolick were invalid. View "Lohr v. Bolick" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court held that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-1202(B)(2), which enhances the sentence for threatening or intimidating if the defendant is a criminal street gang member, is unconstitutional because it increases the defendant's sentence based solely upon gang status, in violation of substantive due process.Defendant was arrested and charged with two counts of threatening or intimidating, in violation of section 13-1202(B)(2). The trial court dismissed all threatening or intimidating charges, holding that section 13-1202(B)(2) is unconstitutional because it violates due process by punishing a defendant for mere gang membership or association. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 13-1202(B)(2) violates due process because it enhances criminal penalties based solely on gang status without a sufficient nexus between gang membership and the underlying crime of threatening or intimidating. View "State v. Arevalo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that a trial court should consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding a residential purchase loan and identify certain factors in determining whether a loan is a construction loan entitled to anti-deficiency protection or a home improvement loan not entitled to anti-deficiency protection.Homeowners borrowed money from Desert Hills Bank to renovate and expand their property. Later, Homeowners borrowed money from Helvetica Servicing Inc. to pay off the Desert Hills loan. Homeowners' property secured the deed of trust. After Homeowners defaulted on the Helvetica loan, Helvetica sued to judicially foreclose. The trial court entered judgment for Helvetica and entered a deficiency judgment. Homeowners appealed, arguing that the Helvetica loan was entitled to anti-deficiency protection. The trial court ultimately found that the Desert Hills loan was a home improvement loan not entitled to anti-deficiency protection because Homeowners did not build a new home from scratch. The Supreme Court remanded the matter, holding (1) the "built from scratch" standard does not further the legislative objectives of Arizona's anti-deficiency statutes; (2) courts should consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding a loan when determining whether it is a home improvement or construction loan; and (3) the trial court did not make an independent factual determination as to whether the Desert Hills loan was a construction loan or a home improvement loan. View "Helvetica Servicing, Inc. v. Pasquan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Arizona Department of Health Services' (ADHS) interpretation of Arizona Administrative Code R9-17-303, which governs ADHS's allocation of marijuana dispensary registration certificates, violated Ariz. Rev. Stat. 36-2804(C).On June 16, 2016, ADHS announced that, because every county had at least one dispensary, it would allocate new registration certificates based on other factors set forth in R9-17-303. Saguaro Healing LLC timely applied for a certificate for its dispensary in La Paz County. During the application period, the only dispensary in La Paz County relocated out of the county. ADHS, however, did not consider the vacancy when prioritizing registration certificates and did not issue a certificate to Saguaro, leaving La Paz County without a dispensary. Saguaro filed a complaint for special action. The trial court dismissed the complaint because R9-17-303(B) "does not say when, during the process of issuing new certificates, [ADHS] must determine how certificates will be allocated." The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Ariz. Rev. Stat. 36-2804(C) requires ADHS to issue at least one medical marijuana dispensary registration certificate in each county with a qualified applicant; and (2) ADHS's interpretation of R9-17-303 contrary to this statutory mandate violates section 36-2804(C). View "Saguaro Healing LLC v. State" on Justia Law