Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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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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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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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 affirmed Defendant’s conviction for transportation of a narcotic drug for sale, holding that the trial court’s remedy for a Batson violation of reinstating wrongfully excluded jurors to the venire was proper. During Defendant’s trial, the prosecutor violated Defendant’s equal protection rights by using peremptory strikes to remove Hispanic jurors from the venire, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Defendant moved for a mistrial and dismissal of the entire venire. The trial court denied the motion and empaneled the first nine jurors who had not been struck, including two of the reinstated jurors. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court’s remedy of restoring the impermissibly excluded juror to their prior places on the venire and forfeiting the State’s peremptory challenges was sufficient. View "State v. Urrea" on Justia Law

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Ariz. Const. art. II, 22(A)(1) and Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3961(A)(2), on their face, violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause because the provisions categorically prohibit bail without regard for individual circumstances. The provisions at issue categorically prohibit bail for all persons charged with sexual assault if “the proof is evident or the presumption great” that the person committed the crime, without considering other facts that may justify bail in an individual case. In the instant case, Defendant with charged with sexual assault, and the superior court set his bail at $70,000. The court of appeals vacated the bail order, holding that sexual assault “remains a non-bailable offense.” The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the superior court, holding that courts must engage in an individualized determination by conducting a section 13-3961(D) hearing before denying bail to a person charged with sexual assault. View "State v. Honorable Kevin Wein" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Ariz. Const. art. II, 22(A)(1) and Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3961(A)(2), on their face, violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause because the provisions categorically prohibit bail without regard for individual circumstances. The provisions at issue categorically prohibit bail for all persons charged with sexual assault if “the proof is evident or the presumption great” that the person committed the crime, without considering other facts that may justify bail in an individual case. In the instant case, Defendant with charged with sexual assault, and the superior court set his bail at $70,000. The court of appeals vacated the bail order, holding that sexual assault “remains a non-bailable offense.” The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and affirmed the superior court, holding that courts must engage in an individualized determination by conducting a section 13-3961(D) hearing before denying bail to a person charged with sexual assault. View "State v. Honorable Kevin Wein" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Ariz. Rev. Stat. 15-108(A), which makes it unlawful for a person, including a qualified Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) cardholder, to possess or use marijuana on the campus of any public university, college, community college or postsecondary educational institution, violates Arizona’s Voter Protection Act (VPA) with respect to AMMA-compliant marijuana possession or use. Defendant, an AMMA cardholder, was convicted ofpossessing marijuana in his dormitory on the campus of Arizona State University. The Supreme Court vacated the conviction, holding (1) section 15-108(A) is unconstitutional under the VPA because the statute amends the AMMA by re-criminalizing AMMA cardholders’ marijuana possession on public college and university campuses; and (2) therefore, the statute is unconstitutional as applied to Defendant. View "State v. Maestas" on Justia Law