Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona assault case in which the defendant was also found in possession of methamphetamine. The appellate court’s opinion dealt with several issues, including the defendant’s claim that the officer illegally searched his vehicle without consent. However, because the court found the officer’s testimony more credible, it denied the defendant’s motion. The case illustrates the importance of credibility in criminal trials generally, as well as during a defendant’s testimony in a suppression hearing.

The Facts of the Case

According to the appellate opinion, a police officer pulled the defendant over for a traffic violation. During the stop, the officer asked the defendant for permission to search the car. According to the officer, the defendant agreed. The officer then found methamphetamine in a sunglasses case in a void underneath the steering column.

Although not relevant to this issue on appeal, the officer then asked the defendant to get out of the vehicle. Initially, the defendant complied, but then ran back into the car. As the officer reached into the door to grab the defendant, the defendant slammed the car door on the officer’s arm several times before the officer let go. The defendant then drove off.

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Possessory offenses, including Arizona gun crimes and drug offenses, often stem from an arrest where the contraband at issue is physically removed from the defendant or their property. While it may seem like there are no defenses when a police officer finds a gun or drugs on you, that is not the case.

A motion to suppress is one of the most common defenses to gun and drug crimes. In a motion to suppress, a defendant argues that the police activity that led to the discovery of the items violated their rights, under either the state or federal constitution. Motions to suppress are argued before a case goes to trial, in hopes of suppressing the evidence that the prosecution intends to use against the defendant. If a defendant succeeds in bringing a motion to suppress, the evidence cannot be admitted and, often, the prosecution has no choice but to withdraw the charges.

One of the more complex issues in search and seizure law involves whether a person has “standing” to bring a motion to suppress. Standing refers to a party’s legal ability to challenge another party’s actions. To litigate a motion to suppress, you must show that the police conducted a legally recognizable search of an area that you had both a subjective and objective expectation of privacy.

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Recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals, issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of her conviction for the possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. The case addressed whether the defendant experienced prolonged detainment and whether the detainment was supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Those facing Arizona drug charges should understand how the law protects their rights in these cases.

In this case, the defendant was driving in the early morning hours when she pulled over because she began to feel sick. A deputy noticed her car and pulled over to see if the woman and her occupants needed help. The defendant told the officer that she was on new medication and felt like she might have a seizure; however, she declined the officer’s offer to call an ambulance. The officer inquired about any drugs or weapons; however, she did not answer and then responded that she just ate. However, the officer called for a drug-detection dog and a medical unit. The woman’s boyfriend and an ambulance arrived, and the officer asked the boyfriend to wait at a gas station. Soon after, a drug detection dog arrived and alerted the officers of the presence of drugs.

Under Arizona law, officers can conduct a brief investigatory stop, if the officer has a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that criminal activity is occurring. Reasonable suspicion requires that an officer explain some “minimal, objective” justification for the detention. Generally, courts must look at all relevant factors and review them collectively. Courts tend to provide deference towards an officer’s ability to determine whether a defendant’s actions were innocent or suspicious.

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Recently, an Arizona defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for the possession of a dangerous drug and drug paraphernalia. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress. The case arose after a patrol officer in a “high-drug area” witnessed the defendant enter the parking lot of a closed grocery store to briefly talk to a man on a bicycle. The officer, believing that the defendant was engaged in a crime, called for backup. Meanwhile, the defendant entered a gym for a few moments and then left and drove away. The officers pulled the defendant over when they noticed that he did not have a license plate or license plate light.

The officers advised the defendant that they were stopping him because of his license plate issues, and they asked him for his identification, registration, and insurance. The officers noted that the defendant seemed nervous, continually tried to put his hands in his pockets, and denied having any drugs. The officers requested K-9 units based on the man’s evasive answers, perceived drug residue on his tongue, and the time of night and nature of the high-crime area in which he was driving. A search revealed methamphetamine, a metal spoon, glass pipe, measuring cup, ice cream scoop, and medical syringes. The trial court sentenced him to nine years in prison. The defendant argued that his stop was not “based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” and even if the stop was reasonable, the length and duration of the stop was impermissible.

Under the Fourth Amendment, an investigative stop is a type of seizure. However, because they are less intrusive than arrests, they do not require the probable cause necessary to effectuate an arrest. Police officers only need to have a reasonable suspicion that a person violated a traffic law or is engaged in criminal activity to conduct an investigatory stop. In this case, the defendant argued that the stop was improper because he had a temporary license in his window. Here, the court found that the temporary registration was not “clearly visible.” Therefore, the court found that the trial court did not err in finding that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant for his missing license plate.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion requiring the court to determine whether the defendant’s Miranda rights were violated when the police took a statement from the defendant while he was not in custody. Ultimately, the court concluded that Arizona criminal law permitted the officers’ actions, and that the statement was properly admitted into evidence at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a handyman who was working for a landlord. One day, the defendant and the landlord’s property manager were scheduled to meet up so that the defendant could give the property manager rent he had collected from tenants. During the meeting, which took place in a home, the defendant shot the property manager with a shotgun, killing him instantly.

Later that day, the defendant’s friend came over to the home, and the defendant showed his friend the body. The friend helped the defendant bury the body in the backyard. The defendant later sold two of the property manager’s rings to a jewelry store. The jewelry store owner later saw a picture of the victim wearing the rings, and provided them to detectives.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona homicide case discussing the propriety of the prosecution’s use of cell location site information (CLSI) taken from the defendant’s cell phone. Ultimately, the court reviewed recent Supreme Court case law, concluding that the prosecution’s use of the CLSI data did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights, affirming his conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a man was shot and killed outside a club as he sat in his car. Evidently, he was talking to a woman, CK, when two men walked up and shot the man. Police retrieved the cell phones of several witnesses, including CK. During their investigation, detectives discovered that one of the witnesses was in contact with a phone number that belonged to the defendant.

Police officers presented a judge with an ex parte order, seeking to obtain the defendant’s cell phone records. The court signed the order, noting that there was probable cause to believe that the information requested would be relevant to the crimes. Detectives used the information provided by the defendant’s cell carrier to link him to the crime. The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the CLSI information was illegally obtained without a warrant. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, finding that the request was supported by probable cause. The jury convicted the defendant of murder, and the defendant appealed.

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In May of this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case involving the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that he claimed was illegally obtained when a probation officer searched through his cell phone after he had been arrested for violating his probation. Ultimately, the court held that the search was reasonable and permissible because, in accepting probation, the defendant permitted warrantless searches of his property.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, in 2014, the defendant was on probation for an Arizona domestic violence offense. The defendant was placed on probation. As a part of his probationary sentence, the defendant signed a document outlining the conditions of probation. Condition 4 stated that the defendant consented to warrantless searches of his property.

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Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case that addressed an important issue that arises in many cases that begin with an Arizona traffic stop. The case, Kansas v. Glover, presented the Court with the question of whether a law enforcement officer is able to reasonably assume that the person driving a vehicle is that vehicle’s registered owner.

The import of the Court’s decision is in how courts evaluate the legality of a traffic stop. Under longstanding Supreme Court case law, a police officer must have “a particularized and objective basis to suspect legal wrongdoing” to stop a vehicle based on a traffic violation. This has come to be known as the “reasonable suspicion” standard. Notably, reasonable suspicion requires less than a finding of probable cause. The question in this case was whether a state frooper’s assumption that the driver of a pick-up truck was the truck’s registered owner was a “reasonable” assumption.

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, a state trooper was on routine patrol when he ran the tags of a pick-up truck being operated by the defendant. The tags indicated that the vehicle’s owner had a revoked license. The trooper, assuming that the driver of the pick-up truck was the registered owner, pulled the truck over.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona child sex sting operation, discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle because he had not committed a crime or a traffic offense. The court, however, disagreed, finding that the stop was valid because there was probable cause to believe the defendant committed “luring a minor for sexual exploitation.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police set up a fake account in the name of “Sandi” in a teen chat room. The defendant began chatting with Sandi, and eventually, the nature of the conversation turned sexual, when the defendant asked Sandi if she would perform oral sex on him. The two arranged a time to meet at a location which was about 30 miles from the defendant’s home.

Police arrived at the area beforehand and waited for the defendant to arrive. However, when the defendant neared the park, he just drove around. Police officers claim that they eventually became concerned that the defendant would try to contact a real minor, and they pulled over his vehicle. No evidence was found linking the defendant to the crime, but he was arrested based on the chat conversations.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona drug possession case discussing the defendant’s request for specific discovery related to a border checkpoint. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s request for additional discovery, finding that he could not establish that there was a “substantial need” for the material or that he was unable to obtain the requested discovery on his own. The case illustrates the importance of understanding the legal framework that governs discovery requests and how to effectively request desired discovery.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was driving through a border checkpoint when he was stopped by border patrol agents. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to the defendant’s car, and an agent directed the defendant to pull into an area for secondary screening. Upon searching the vehicle, agents found marijuana and methamphetamine. The defendant was eventually charged with possession of marijuana and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Before trial, the defendant requested “all search and seizure raw data” from the border checkpoint where he was stopped. The defendant argued that the information was relevant to determine whether the primary purpose of the checkpoint was for immigration enforcement or drug detection and enforcement. The court denied his request, and the defendant was ultimately convicted.

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