Articles Posted in Evidentiary Issues

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A significant type of evidence in Arizona sexual offense cases is the DNA recovered from rape kits. Rape kits are the physical evidence and notes from an assault victim’s examination. The physical evidence usually contains DNA such as hair, blood, bodily fluids, clothes and belongings of the victim, and physical evidence from the crime scene. In some cases, the rape kit findings are the primary evidence used against a defendant. However, rape kit findings do not necessarily equate with forced or unlawful sexual conduct. Arizona courts will evaluate the probative value of DNA findings and if the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

For example, recently, the Supreme Court of the State of Arizona issued an opinion stemming from a sexual assault case. In that case, an Uber driver picked up a passenger who sat in the front passenger seat. The driver claimed that the passenger forcibly tore her clothes off and assaulted her. The driver went on to report the crime and received a rape kit. The passenger later texted the driver apologizing for his “out of line” behavior; however, he later denied any non-consensual behavior.

During the trial, a DNA analyst matched the defendant’s DNA evidence with the contents of the rape kit performed on the victim. However, the defendant argued that there were only two markers that connected him to the victim. As such, he filed a motion in limine to exclude a portion of the DNA evidence. The trial court convicted him, and the appeals court reversed the conviction holding that the evidence was improperly admitted.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion dealing with the admissibility of a defendant’s prior record. Not surprisingly, whether the prosecution will use the defendant’s past convictions against them at trial is a common question for defendants facing Arizona criminal charges. In any criminal case, the rules of evidence govern what evidence is admissible. Under Arizona Rule of Evidence 609, a party’s past conviction is only relevant – and only admissible – in limited situations. It is important that those facing serious charges understand how Rule 609 works.

First, it is important to understand that, generally speaking, a defendant’s prior record is not relevant to a current case. However, if the defendant decides to testify, they then become a witness. Rule 609 governs when any witness can be impeached by their past criminal convictions. Thus, while Rule 609, as discussed in this context, applies to criminal defendants, the rule applies equally to non-defendant witnesses.

For a prior conviction to be admissible, it must meet several criteria. In part, admissibility depends on the type of crime that was the subject of the prior conviction. For crimes punishable by “death or by imprisonment for more than one year,” the conviction must be admitted if the conviction’s probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect to the defendant.

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