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Possessory offenses, including Arizona gun crimes and drug offenses, often stem from an arrest where the contraband at issue is physically removed from the defendant or their property. While it may seem like there are no defenses when a police officer finds a gun or drugs on you, that is not the case.

A motion to suppress is one of the most common defenses to gun and drug crimes. In a motion to suppress, a defendant argues that the police activity that led to the discovery of the items violated their rights, under either the state or federal constitution. Motions to suppress are argued before a case goes to trial, in hopes of suppressing the evidence that the prosecution intends to use against the defendant. If a defendant succeeds in bringing a motion to suppress, the evidence cannot be admitted and, often, the prosecution has no choice but to withdraw the charges.

One of the more complex issues in search and seizure law involves whether a person has “standing” to bring a motion to suppress. Standing refers to a party’s legal ability to challenge another party’s actions. To litigate a motion to suppress, you must show that the police conducted a legally recognizable search of an area that you had both a subjective and objective expectation of privacy.

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Last month, a state appellate court released a written opinion involving a defendant charged with making gang-related threats to law enforcement officers as they were investigating an unrelated crime. Initially, the jury convicted the defendant on several charges, but the trial court reversed that conviction, finding that the jury’s decision was against the weight of the evidence. The appellate court affirmed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was the passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. Police suspected that the driver of the car was intoxicated, and began processing the driver’s arrest. While police officers were arresting the driver, the defendant—a known gang member—began shouting at the police. Specifically, the defendant shouted that he was “West Side City,” the police didn’t “even know what’s coming,” the officers were “done,” and that he was going to start a “war.”

Police arrested the defendant, who was later charged with three counts of threatening or intimidating to promote a criminal street gang and several other related charges. The case proceeded to a jury trial, after which the jury found the defendant guilty of making the threats. The defendant filed a post-trial motion, arguing that the jury’s finding was against the weight of the evidence, which the court granted. The State appealed.

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The Supreme Court of Arizona recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of his conviction based on an illegal search and seizure. The case focused on whether law enforcement must obtain a search warrant in cases involving Arizona criminal defendant’s Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or subscriber information the user provides to an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

In this case, an undercover detective joined an internet forum seeking users interested in child pornography. A user responded and requested to be added to the group. After the detective added him, the defendant sent illicit photos and videos depicting child pornography. Federal agents served a subpoena to obtain the user’s IP address. After obtaining the IP address and ISP, the detective retrieved the name, addresses, and phone number of the defendant. Law enforcement executed a search warrant and confiscated the defendant’s external hard drive, laptop, desktop computer, and cell phone. An in-depth search of these items revealed child pornography and messages the defendant sent to the law enforcement officer.

After he was indicted, the defendant moved to suppress the subscriber information and all evidence seized from his residence. He argued that it was an illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (US Constitution) and article 2, section 8 of the Arizona Constitution (AZ Constitution). He argued that the US Constitution and AZ Constitution require a warrant or court order to obtain his IP and ISP information. The trial court denied his motion, and a jury convicted the defendant on all counts. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction.

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Recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals, issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of her conviction for the possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. The case addressed whether the defendant experienced prolonged detainment and whether the detainment was supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Those facing Arizona drug charges should understand how the law protects their rights in these cases.

In this case, the defendant was driving in the early morning hours when she pulled over because she began to feel sick. A deputy noticed her car and pulled over to see if the woman and her occupants needed help. The defendant told the officer that she was on new medication and felt like she might have a seizure; however, she declined the officer’s offer to call an ambulance. The officer inquired about any drugs or weapons; however, she did not answer and then responded that she just ate. However, the officer called for a drug-detection dog and a medical unit. The woman’s boyfriend and an ambulance arrived, and the officer asked the boyfriend to wait at a gas station. Soon after, a drug detection dog arrived and alerted the officers of the presence of drugs.

Under Arizona law, officers can conduct a brief investigatory stop, if the officer has a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that criminal activity is occurring. Reasonable suspicion requires that an officer explain some “minimal, objective” justification for the detention. Generally, courts must look at all relevant factors and review them collectively. Courts tend to provide deference towards an officer’s ability to determine whether a defendant’s actions were innocent or suspicious.

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Recently, an Arizona defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for the possession of a dangerous drug and drug paraphernalia. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress. The case arose after a patrol officer in a “high-drug area” witnessed the defendant enter the parking lot of a closed grocery store to briefly talk to a man on a bicycle. The officer, believing that the defendant was engaged in a crime, called for backup. Meanwhile, the defendant entered a gym for a few moments and then left and drove away. The officers pulled the defendant over when they noticed that he did not have a license plate or license plate light.

The officers advised the defendant that they were stopping him because of his license plate issues, and they asked him for his identification, registration, and insurance. The officers noted that the defendant seemed nervous, continually tried to put his hands in his pockets, and denied having any drugs. The officers requested K-9 units based on the man’s evasive answers, perceived drug residue on his tongue, and the time of night and nature of the high-crime area in which he was driving. A search revealed methamphetamine, a metal spoon, glass pipe, measuring cup, ice cream scoop, and medical syringes. The trial court sentenced him to nine years in prison. The defendant argued that his stop was not “based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” and even if the stop was reasonable, the length and duration of the stop was impermissible.

Under the Fourth Amendment, an investigative stop is a type of seizure. However, because they are less intrusive than arrests, they do not require the probable cause necessary to effectuate an arrest. Police officers only need to have a reasonable suspicion that a person violated a traffic law or is engaged in criminal activity to conduct an investigatory stop. In this case, the defendant argued that the stop was improper because he had a temporary license in his window. Here, the court found that the temporary registration was not “clearly visible.” Therefore, the court found that the trial court did not err in finding that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant for his missing license plate.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona assault by vehicle case discussing the defendant’s challenger to certain videos he took on his cell phone before the incident leading up to his arrest. Ultimately, the court determined that the videos were admissible, rejecting the defendant’s issues on appeal.

The Facts of the Case

In this appeal, the defendant was charged with two separate, but similar offenses. First, in 2012, the defendant was charged with various crimes after he intentionally caused a head-on collision with another driver. In that case, the other driver was seriously injured and had to learn to walk again. The following year, the defendant caused another car accident, this time, by grabbing the wheel and jerking it as his partner was driving. His partner died as a result of the injuries she sustained in the accident. The defendant was charged with aggravated assault, one count of manslaughter, and two counts of endangerment. The defendant was tried by jury and convicted. He appealed on several issues.

One of the defendant’s appellate issues pertained to the admission of a YouTube video the defendant previously recorded. Evidently, before trial, the prosecution presented the court with seven of the defendant’s YouTube videos, showing him driving at extreme speeds. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the videos, arguing 1.) they were highly prejudicial and should be kept out of evidence, and 2.) the videos were being used by the prosecution to prove the defendant’s bad character. The court determined that one of the videos was admissible.

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The Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA) is a federal law that requires a minimum sentence of 15 years’ incarceration for certain individuals. Specifically, ACCA imposes the minimum sentence for anyone convicted of a gun crime, who has three or more “violent felony” convictions. The United States Supreme Court is expected to release its decision in a recent case answering the question of whether a crime involving a defendant’s “reckless” conduct meets the definition of a violent felony. This case could have broad implications in many Arizona gun cases.

Originally passed in 1984, the ACCA has since been interpreted by many courts. One of the most common issues in ACCA cases is whether the defendant’s prior convictions fit within the definition of a “violent felony.” If so, the defendant will face the minimum 15-year sentence. The ACCA defines a violent felony as one that “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.”

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case requiring the Justices to determine if a crime involving reckless – and not intentional – conduct can qualify as a violent felony under the ACCA.

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Restitution is when a court orders a defendant to pay a crime victim for their financial losses related to the crime. Unlike civil law, restitution is typically limited to the costs that the victim actually incurred. In a recent Arizona murder case, the state’s high court discussed the constitutional limits on the court’s ability to place a cap on the amount of restitution in a criminal case absent the victim’s consent. However, unlike the vast majority of criminal cases, this case discussed the crime victim’s constitutional rights, rather than the defendant. Of course, the court’s decision impacts criminal defendants in that it increases the amount of potential restitution they could be forced to pay.

The Facts of the Case

A detailed recitation of the fact is not necessary to fully understand the import of the court’s opinion. However, in summary, three defendants were charged with abusing and killing a younger family member. All three defendants plead guilty to a lesser offense. As a part of the plea agreement, the defendant would pay the victim’s family restitution. However, under the terms of the plea agreement, the maximum amount of restitution is limited to $500,000. The victim’s family objected to the cap on restitution, but the court upheld the cap and proceeded with the pleas. The victim’s family appealed the lower court’s decision.

On appeal, the court first addressed the state’s argument that the court should wait to see if the cap on restitution actually limited the recovery amount. However, the court rejected this argument, noting that there is no requirement for caps on restitution.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona child molestation case. In its opinion, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress two identifications made by the complaining witness.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the eleven-year-old victim was sleeping on an Amtrak train on the way back from a volleyball tournament. At some point, she awoke to someone touching her vagina over her jeans. The man asked the girl to come with him to the back of the train, but the girl refused. Instead, she woke up her coach ad pointed out the man who touched her.

The girl’s coach notified the train conductor. The conductor found the defendant, who matched the description provided by the girl. The conductor brought the defendant to the girl, and she positively identified him. When the train arrived in Flagstaff, the police were waiting. Police officers removed the defendant from the train, and then asked the girl if he was the man who had touched her. Again, she indicated that he was.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion dealing with the admissibility of a defendant’s prior record. Not surprisingly, whether the prosecution will use the defendant’s past convictions against them at trial is a common question for defendants facing Arizona criminal charges. In any criminal case, the rules of evidence govern what evidence is admissible. Under Arizona Rule of Evidence 609, a party’s past conviction is only relevant – and only admissible – in limited situations. It is important that those facing serious charges understand how Rule 609 works.

First, it is important to understand that, generally speaking, a defendant’s prior record is not relevant to a current case. However, if the defendant decides to testify, they then become a witness. Rule 609 governs when any witness can be impeached by their past criminal convictions. Thus, while Rule 609, as discussed in this context, applies to criminal defendants, the rule applies equally to non-defendant witnesses.

For a prior conviction to be admissible, it must meet several criteria. In part, admissibility depends on the type of crime that was the subject of the prior conviction. For crimes punishable by “death or by imprisonment for more than one year,” the conviction must be admitted if the conviction’s probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect to the defendant.

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