Articles Posted in Evidentiary Issues

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When facing criminal charges in Arizona, it’s essential to understand not only the trial process but also strategies to protect the potential avenues for appeal. In a recent judicial opinion, the Arizona Court of Appeals addressed a defendant’s arguments surrounding the legality of his arrest after he was convicted of a drug charge and later and petitioned the court with an appeal.

Preserving Arguments for Appeal

One of the fundamental principles of the legal system is the preservation of arguments for appeal. In the recently decided case, the defendant raised several issues during his trial, including a motion to suppress evidence. However, the court emphasized that arguments made for the first time on appeal are typically waived unless there is a fundamental and prejudicial error.

The defendant first argued at trial that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights when conducting a search using a law enforcement database. However, the court ruled that individuals do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such databases, leading to the denial of his motion to suppress evidence. Because the defendant properly preserved the issue, the appellate court addressed the defendant’s arguments, although they were rejected as the trial court made no error.

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In an August 2023 case before an Arizona court of appeals, the State of Arizona appealed a trial court’s order suppressing a defendant’s DNA profile. The DNA in question connected the defendant with a 2015 murder, leading the State to charge him with first-degree murder, second-degree burglary, and sexual assault. After the State filed charges, the lower court determined that the DNA was obtained illegally, and it suppressed the DNA evidence. The State then appealed this decision.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, investigators discovered the body of a dead woman in her apartment several years ago, in 2015. The murder went unsolved, as the investigators were unable to link any suspect to the incident.

Several years later, investigators conducted what is called a “familial DNA test” on the evidence from the 2015 crime scene. They discovered that an Arizona inmate was a close relative of the person whose DNA had been on the woman’s body. Investigating further, they then discovered that the inmate’s brother lived very close to the 2015 murder victim.

Because officers had previously arrested the inmate’s brother for several DUIs, they had already drawn this individual’s blood in the past. They then tested this blood, which they still had on file. The blood matched the unknown DNA from the murder scene several years prior.

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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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