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Arizona Court Affirms Defendant’s Convictions Despite Potentially Unclear Jury Instructions

In a recent opinion from an Arizona court, a defendant who resisted arrest lost his appeal. The defendant was found guilty of resisting arrest and theft of a vehicle, and he appealed, arguing the jury could not make a proper decision in his case because the language of the judge’s instructions to the jury was incorrect. The court disagreed, ultimately denying the defendant’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, an Arizona state trooper was checking license plate numbers of vehicles in a hotel parking lot to try and figure out if any of the cars had been stolen. While patrolling, the trooper noticed a car with an “abnormally large” temporary registration. He ran the registration through the system and learned that it was associated with a fake vehicle identification number. Looking inside the vehicle, the trooper noticed that the car’s actual identification number was inside and that its ignition system’s shroud had been completely removed. The trooper then confirmed that the car had been stolen.

Later, detectives saw the defendant walking back and forth between the hotel and the vehicle, loading items into the car. When the defendant was inside the car, officers began to follow him. Once it became clear the officers were trying to stop and arrest the defendant, he got out of the car and began running. Officers chased the defendant on foot, and several officers detained him after he tried to jump over a fence. At one point, detectives had the defendant pinned to the ground, and the defendant continued to fight them until finally allowing them to put him in handcuffs. The defendant was later charged with resisting arrest and theft of means of transportation.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that the jury’s decision to convict him was in error because the judge poorly instructed the jury on how to decide whether or not he was innocent or guilty. During trial, the judge had told the jury to determine whether or not the defendant had resisted arrest. It was possible, said the judge, for a defendant to resist arrest through physical force or through causing a substantial risk of physical injury to the police officer.

It was unfair, said the defendant, for him to be found guilty of resisting arrest when he had only been guilty of one of these two methods of resistance: he had used physical force, but he had not caused a substantial risk of physical injury to any police officer. Thus, the jury had found him guilty of two forms of resistance to arrest, when in reality he was only guilty of one. The court disagreed, saying the “resisting arrest” offense was not two separate offenses, but was instead one “unitary” offense. Because the defendant was found guilty of exerting physical force, he was also guilty of the entire offense; it did not matter whether or not both elements of the offense applied to the defendant’s actions. The court thus rejected the defendant’s argument and affirmed his convictions.

Have You Been Charged with Resisting Arrest in Arizona?

The law surrounding the offense of resisting an arrest in Arizona can be complicated, but with a team of experienced criminal defense attorneys in your corner, you can be well-positioned to fight the government’s case against you. At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we are committed to providing you the best defense possible. To learn about your options through a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 480-413-1499.

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