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In an Arizona criminal trial that is tried before a jury, a defendant cannot be found guilty unless all jurors agree unanimously. Thus, the process of jury selection is a crucial part of the criminal process. In essence, a defendant only needs to convince a single person on the jury that he is not guilty to secure a mistrial and avoid a conviction. Of course, in the event of a mistrial, the prosecution could re-prosecute the case; however, that won’t always be the case.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case discussing the extent to which the prosecution can use race as a basis for selecting jurors. Ultimately, the Court reversed the defendant’s murder conviction, finding that the prosecution was motivated in substantial part by race when it struck one particular juror.

According to the Court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with the murder of four furniture store employees. The defendant is black, and three of the four victims were white. This case was the sixth time the defendant was charged for the murders; the previous five having been reversed or resulting in a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically, in each case, the prosecution impermissibly struck black jurors from the jury panel.

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The Double Jeopardy Clause, contained in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, states that no person can be “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Given that seemingly clear language, it would stand to reason that someone who was arrested for a crime in Arizona could only be charged by the State of Arizona or by the federal government, but not both. However, in a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion, a majority of the Court reaffirmed an old exception to the Double Jeopardy clause allowing a defendant to be prosecuted for the same crime under both state and federal law.

In that case, the defendant was pulled over when a police officer noticed that his vehicle had a damaged headlight. The officer smelled marijuana inside the defendant’s car, searched it, and found a handgun. The defendant was ineligible to own the gun because he had previously suffered a conviction for second-degree robbery. The defendant pleaded guilty in state court. Subsequently, the federal authorities indicted him for the same offense.

The defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the federal conviction exposed him to double jeopardy for the same offense. The defendant’s motion was denied, and he appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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In 2010, voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) by a small margin, making it legal for qualifying patients to obtain medical marijuana after they get a state-issued registration card. While the AMMA certainly provides some protections, the law hardly makes smoking marijuana “legal,” even for qualifying patients who have their state ID card. For example, employers can still terminate an employee if they test positive for marijuana.

On May 9, 2019, the Arizona Court of Appeals struck another blow to patients’ ability to legally smoke marijuana under the AMMA. According to the court’s opinion, the defendants were on their way to a music festival. After they pulled into a parking lot that was designated for event parking, they smoked marijuana from a pipe. However, the defendants had unknowingly parked between two undercover police cars. The officers saw the defendants smoking in the car, ordered them out, and seized the pipe. Officers also seized a gram of marijuana.

The defendants, who were both “qualifying patients” under the AMMA and had their state ID cards, were charged with the possession of marijuana. The defendants argued that they were immune from prosecution based on the AMMA. The prosecution argued that the AMMA provides exceptions to the immunity granted to patients, one of which is when the patient smokes in a public place. The court found the defendants guilty and sentenced them each to a period of probation. The defendants appealed.

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Under common law, a burglary was defined as the breaking and entering of a dwelling of another at night with an intent to commit a felony therein. Over the years, state legislatures have refined the definition of burglary. For the most part, states have eliminated the requirement that the breaking and entering occur at night, and have added language making it a burglary to unlawfully remain on another’s property with the intent to commit a crime.

Arizona has three burglary statutes.

  • Burglary in the third degree: Entering or remaining unlawfully in or on a nonresidential structure or in a fenced commercial or residential yard with the intent to commit any theft or any felony therein.
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Any experienced Arizona criminal defense attorney knows that not every case can be won. Or, better put, “winning” a case does not always mean that a client was found not guilty. In some cases, the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, perhaps due to a post-arrest admission given by the defendant. In other situations, a defendant does not want to put themselves and their loved ones through the stress of a criminal trial. Because of these realities, plea bargains are not uncommon in Arizona criminal cases.

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense under which the defendant will plead guilty, usually for a negotiated sentence. In some cases, a defendant may choose to “open plea,” in which case there are no negotiations, and the defendant places complete discretion in the judge’s hands. Typically, an open guilty plea would be appropriate when the offer made by the prosecution was unreasonable, or there are significant mitigating circumstances warranting a lesser sentence.

Pleading guilty, however, is an important decision that should only be made after careful discussion with an Arizona criminal defense attorney. By entering a guilty plea, a defendant gives up almost all of their pre and post trial rights. And after the sentence is imposed, there is very rarely an opportunity to have the finding of guilt or sentence reviewed by a higher court.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion that may have broad implications for Arizona criminal defendants. The case involved a defendant who was charged with engaging in sexual conduct with a minor after police saw inappropriate text messages on his cellular phone. The case required the court to decide whether police officers had the legal authority to search the defendant’s cell phone after he was arrested for violating his probation.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was placed on probation for a felony offense in 2014. In December of that year, a woman contacted the police explaining her concern that the defendant was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with her 13-year-old daughter. A few weeks later, police arrested the defendant for violating several terms of his probation.

After the defendant was arrested, a probation officer went through the defendant’s cell phone on the way to the police station. The officer saw several texts between the defendant and the 13-year-old girl. Police obtained a search warrant and discovered incriminating text messages and pictures on the defendant’s phone.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona gun possession case where the defendant was arrested for shoplifting and, upon a search of his backpack, police discovered a firearm. The case presents an interesting and informative discussion regarding when police have probable cause to determine that someone has committed the crime of shoplifting.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant entered a store wearing a backpack. He placed the backpack into a shopping cart and began walking around the store. The store’s video surveillance system shows the defendant selecting a variety of items and putting them into his cart. He also places a number of those items back onto the shelf. At some point, the defendant took a pair of sunglasses off the rack, removed the tag, and placed them atop his head.

The video also showed the defendant select an energy drink and a package of condoms and place them atop his backpack, which was still lying inside the cart. At some point, the defendant walks behind some displays out of frame of the surveillance camera. When he gets back in the frame, the energy drink and box of condoms are no longer visible. The store security guard, who believed that the defendant placed the items in his backpack, called the police. The defendant was stopped at the point-of-sale, before he had paid for the items or left the store. Police arrested the defendant for shoplifting and searched his backpack, where they found an energy drink, a box of condoms, narcotics, and a gun.

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As this blog has discussed on numerous occasions, police officers must generally have a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are some exceptions to the warrant requirement allowing police officers to conduct a search without a warrant. One exception to the warrant requirement deserves more attention than it gets is the inventory-search exception.

In certain situations, police officers are required to conduct an inventory search of a motorist’s vehicle. Most often this is when the vehicle is going to be towed; however, an inventory search is also required when a motorist asks officers to leave their vehicle locked and legally parked. The stated rationale behind requiring officers conduct an inventory search is to ensure that the motorist’s belongings are properly logged before separating the owner from their vehicle. This way, police protect themselves from accusations that property went missing after they seized a car.

Practically speaking, an inventory search may occur anytime someone is pulled over by police and then arrested. This may be due to an Arizona DUI charge, an outstanding warrant, or some other reason that may have nothing to do with the vehicle. However, when police arrest a driver for whatever reason, the police must determine what to do with the vehicle. If there is no other responsible adult in the car, the vehicle will often be towed. In some cases, police may allow a motorist to leave the vehicle in a legal parking spot.

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Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case that limits the government’s ability to seize the assets of those convicted of crimes. Typically, when someone is arrested for an Arizona crime, any assets that are potentially evidence will be seized. For example, it is common that a vehicle used to transport drugs will be seized as potential evidence. In the event that the defendant is found guilty, the government can proceed with a civil forfeiture claim in an attempt to keep whatever assets were seized.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant pleaded guilty to dealing in a controlled substance. When the defendant was arrested, he was driving a Land Rover that he had recently purchased for $42,000 with the proceeds from a life insurance policy.

The defendant was sentenced to one year of house arrest, followed by five years’ probation. The defendant was also fined $1,203. After the defendant was convicted, the state moved for civil forfeiture of the Land Rover. The trial court denied the government’s claim, noting that the value of the Land Rover was over four times the maximum fine for the crime for which the defendant was convicted. Thus, the court held that the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines precluded the government from taking ownership of the vehicle.

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As a general matter, Arizona criminal law prohibits assaulting another person. An assault can occur in several different ways. Under Arizona’s assault statute, it is against the law to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause physical injury to another person; to intentionally place someone else in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury; or to knowingly touch another with the intent to injure, insult, or provoke them. However, there are exceptions when using force against another person is justified.

A justification defense is considered an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is one that, if proven by the defendant, defeats the legal consequences of what would otherwise have been an illegal act. In other words, when claiming a justification offense, the defendant is not contesting any of the elements of the offense. Instead, the defendant is saying “yes, I did what you say I did, but I did it for a good reason.”

As noted above, there are several different situations in which physical force can be used against another person. These include self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property. While each of these defenses is outlined in separate statutes, a defendant must establish that they reasonably believed the force was necessary. However, physical force is never justified based on verbal provocation. Courts consider both whether the person using force was justified in the use of force, as well as whether the extent of the force used was proportionate to threat posed.

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