Recently, an Arizona appellate court considered an Arizona drug crime conviction for possession of narcotics for sale and possession of dangerous drugs for sale. The convictions were for class 2 felonies under A.R.S. §§ 13-3407 and 13-3408. The defendant argued that the fines imposed were unconstitutionally applied to him and that it was improper for the trial court not to consider his financial status when fining him.
The case arose when cops seized about 10 pounds of methamphetamine and under one pound of cocaine from the defendant’s home in Phoenix. The prosecution introduced evidence at trial to show that the value of the drugs seized was $8,000-10,000 for the cocaine and $30,000 for the meth. The defendant didn’t object to the prosecution’s evidence and didn’t offer any other evidence about the seized drugs’ worth. He was found guilty.
Under A.R.S. § 13-3407(H), the minimum he could be fined for possession of dangerous drugs was the greater of $1,000 or three times the value of the dangerous drugs as decided by the court. The judge had no discretion to suspend the fines. Under A.R.S. § 13-3408(F), the minimum he could be fined for narcotic drug possession was the greater of $2,000 or three times the value of the narcotics involved. The cap on fines was $150,000.
The court fined him $90,000 for his possession for sale of dangerous drugs conviction, and $30,000 for his conviction of possession for sale of narcotics. He was ordered to pay a cumulative $120,000 fine starting on the first day of the fourth month after release from prison. He appealed. The defendant didn’t argue about the accuracy of the evidence but instead argued it was unconstitutional for these fines to be imposed because they were excessive and cruel and unusual. He argued the court should have looked at his financial ability to pay fines.
The appellate court explained that under the Eighth Amendment of the federal Constitution and under the Arizona Constitution, the court shouldn’t require excessive bail or impose cruel and unusual punishments. A law that doesn’t violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment will rarely conclude in an unconstitutionally disproportionate sentence. It reasoned that under prior law, an excessive fine is greater than is reasonable or is so disproportionate to the crime it is shocking. Proportionality is important.
The court explained that in a prior case, a fine for $205,600 imposed on an unemployed person who’d possessed narcotics for sale was not found disproportionate. A large fine was a rational effort to cripple the drug trafficking industry. The court determined that the defendant’s fines weren’t disproportionate to his convictions, and they were not unconstitutionally excessive since they didn’t plainly exceed reasonable requirements to fix the harm.
The appellate court also addressed the defendant’s argument about cruel and unusual punishment. It explained that what had to be considered was: (1) the seriousness of the crime and the harshness of the sentence, (2) the severity of the sentence compared to others, and (3) the severity of the sentence compared to penalties imposed for the same crime in other places. The appellate court concluded the fines didn’t violate either the federal or the state prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
If you are charged with a drug crime, contact criminal defense attorney James Novak at (480) 413-1499 in Tempe, Arizona.
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