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Arizona Court Affirms Defendant’s Assault Convictions But Remands Case Based on Possible Racial Discrimination

In a recent case coming out of an Arizona court, the defendant appealed his convictions for first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, and aggravated assault. The defendant challenged the trial court’s decisions, and the higher court concluded that the defendant was rightfully found guilty. There was another issue, though, that the court wanted to address: because it was not clear whether or not the prosecution had excluded a potential jury member based on her race, the court remanded the case to the lower court.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was in a romantic relationship for several years, eventually living with his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s grandmother for a period of time. In late 2016, the defendant and his girlfriend got in a fight, and the girlfriend asked him to move out. The defendant kept one house key to himself and began living in his truck.

A few weeks later, the defendant used his key to let himself into the house. While he was there, the defendant’s ex-girlfriend and another man entered the house. The defendant fought with both individuals and retrieved a metal bar that he then used to threaten them. He eventually exchanged the metal bar for knives from the kitchen, which he put in both of his hands and brought into his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom. At that point, the defendant attacked the man that his girlfriend had supposedly been seeing. He stabbed the man seventeen times and also cut his ex-girlfriend’s arm when she attempted to intervene.

The man died from his injuries, and the defendant turned himself in to the police.

The Decision

After a seven-day trial, the defendant was found guilty. On appeal, he argued that the court did not properly instruct the jury on relevant laws. While the court denied this argument, it accepted another argument that the defendant put forward. According to the defendant, it was not clear whether or not the prosecutor had excluded a potential jury member due to her race, and federal law prohibits jury discrimination based on race.

When considering the defendant’s argument, the court looked at the process by which the potential jury member became excluded from the jury. According to the record, the jury member who was excluded had a very similar professional background to another potential jury member, but the first candidate was white and the second was Black. The prosecution asked the court to exclude the first potential jury member based on her career in clinical psychology but said nothing about the second potential jury member who had a career in therapy.

The higher court reviewing this process considered the facts in the record and determined that the lower court did not make a detailed enough analysis as to whether or not the Black potential jury member was excluded due to her race. According to this higher court, the trial court was supposed to conduct a detailed inquiry as to whether or not discrimination occurred; because the lower court failed to do this, the case should be remanded so that the trial court could conduct the proper analysis.

Thus, while the court of appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions, it sent the case back down to the lower court so that this first court could decide whether race-based discrimination occurred during jury selection. This decision being made by the lower court will determine whether or not the defendant undergoes a new trial.

Have You Been Charged with a Violent Crime in Arizona?

If you or a loved one has been charged with assault or another violent crime in Arizona, give us a call at the Law Office of James E. Novak. We understand the complicated dynamics that go into fighting criminal charges, and we are ready to bring our expertise to your individualized circumstances. For a free consultation, call us at 480-413-1499. You can also send us a message online to have your questions answered.

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