In a recent Arizona aggravated assault case, the plaintiff appealed convictions and sentences for aggravated assault and false reporting. For two days in 2015, the victim and the defendant, as well as their girlfriends, drank alcohol in an empty lot. Early on the second morning, the defendant stabbed the victim in the back three times. The victim got the knife away, and the defendant fled. The victim had to undergo an operation for a punctured lung and was hospitalized for eight days.
The police found the defendant walking down the road after learning of the stabbing. When they asked him for an ID, he gave them false names and birthdates. He later told them he’d been knocked out by a black man in a hoodie and denied that he’d stabbed anybody. The victim advised the police that he was stabbed by “J.J.,” which was a nickname the defendant gave them. The defendant was arrested for the stabbing.
Before the trial, the defendant was recorded calling a woman from jail, asking whether the victim planned to testify. He told her the victim would be a snitch if he testified. The caller told him that she’d talked to the victim and that the victim had decided not to pursue charges, although he initially was going to pursue them. The defendant told the woman that the victim would be known as a rat for testifying. The woman said that the victim had texted her he would drop the case, and the defendant told her the steps the victim needed to take to get the charges dropped.
At trial, another inmate testified that the defendant told him about the stabbing and thought the victim should have died because he tried to kill him. The defendant also told him that if the victim came to testify, his people would get him. The defendant also told him he buried the knife when he heard sirens. The police tried to find the knife based on this but couldn’t find it.
The defendant was convicted of aggravated assault and false reporting. The jury found the aggravated assault was a dangerous offense that caused emotional, financial, and physical harm to the victim. It also found he’d been convicted of two prior felonies, and therefore the judge sentenced him to an aggravated sentence of 12 years in prison for aggravated assault, along with a 60-day concurrent sentence for false reporting. The defendant appealed.
The defendant argued that it was a mistake to permit the prosecutor to ask the fellow inmate about the nature of his prior convictions. However, the defendant hadn’t objected to this during trial. The court found he didn’t meet his burden to show a fundamental error. The inmate had testified he got to know the defendant in his role as jailhouse lawyer, and he had been performing this work in the prison for over 30 years. The testimony was not elicited to impeach credibility. The amount of time he’d been in prison and why was offered by the prosecutor to show that other inmates trusted him for legal advice. It showed why the defendant had trusted him and why he had different details that contradicted the defendant’s defenses.
The defendant also argued it was a mistake for the judge to instruct the jury it could consider facts suggesting he concealed evidence to decide his guilt. He argued that concealing evidence after a crime didn’t prove guilt on its own. The appellate court explained that a concealment instruction was appropriate if the defendant’s actions manifested his consciousness of guilt. In this case, the prosecution presented testimony he concealed the knife when he heard sirens coming, which showed a consciousness of guilt.
The defendant also argued it was inappropriate for a jury instruction to be given about his threats to the victim. The appellate court explained evidence of a threat against a witness was relevant in a criminal case to show the defendant tried to suppress evidence that would adversely affect him, and it was admissible to show conduct that indicated he was conscious of his guilt. For these and other reasons, the defendant’s conviction and sentences were affirmed.
If you face aggravated assault charges in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, or Scottsdale, consult Attorney James E. Novak. He is an aggressive former Maricopa County Prosecutor who can use insights obtained as a prosecutor to determine a strong strategy. He offers a free initial consultation for people facing active criminal charges in his area. If you have been charged with a crime, call or contact The Law Office of James Novak at (480) 413-1499 and speak directly with Mr. Novak.
- A.R.S. § 13-1204 (Aggravated assault)
- Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office | Jail Information for Families
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