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Arizona Court Decides That Jury Must Unanimously Agree on Drug Type in Certain Criminal Cases

In a recent Arizona drug case, the court was tasked with deciding whether or not juries are required to unanimously agree on what type of drug a defendant used when issuing a guilty verdict for certain drug crimes. After considering the arguments on both sides, the court decided that a jury must unanimously identify the specific kind of drug when convicting a defendant for possession of drug paraphernalia or sale of narcotic drugs.

Facts of the Case

In this case, three different defendants were charged with drug crimes, and because their cases were all substantially similar, the court combined their three cases into one. The defendants were all U.S. residents who had come from Mexico, and they all had legal status in the States. One of the defendants was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia, and the remaining defendants were convicted of possession of a narcotic drug for sale.

Because the defendants were not originally from the U.S., their charges had different consequences than they would if they were all born in the States. For some criminal offenses, judges can impose immigration consequences on defendants as a form of punishment. In this case, the immigration court ordered that the three men be removed from the country, telling them that they had to return to Mexico because of their drug convictions. The defendants appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendants argued that the drug convictions should be overturned. According to the defendants, when the state convicts a person for a drug crime and that case goes to trial, the jury is required to unanimously agree that there is enough evidence to determine the specific identity of the drug that the defendant used. If the jury members disagree about what kind of drug the defendant was using, the defendant cannot be convicted of the crime. The State of Arizona argued the opposite, that it is not necessary for a jury to fully agree on the type of drug in order for a defendant to be convicted.

The court considered both sides of the argument and looked at previous cases in Arizona to decide who was correct. According to the court, there are ninety-five different substances that Arizona defines as a narcotic drug, and possessing any one of these drugs translates into a separate and individual criminal offense. It is thus important for the jury to be able to properly and jointly identify which drug the defendant used because the defendant’s sentence will in part depend on which kind of drug was involved in the crime in question.

Because so much of the case depends on the type of drug involved, the court decided that for cases involving drug paraphernalia and sale of narcotic drugs, it is in fact necessary for a jury to unanimously agree on the drug’s identity at trial.

Have You Been Charged with a Drug Offense in Arizona?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug offense in the State of Arizona, give us a call at the Law Office of James E. Novak. We understand that criminal law in Arizona can be complex, and we will walk you through your options so that you can create the best possible defense strategy moving forward. For a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 480-413-1499. You can also send us a message online to have your questions answered.

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