Articles Posted in Sex Crimes

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In a recent Arizona appeals court opinion, a defendant filed a motion to suppress statements he made to detectives based on whether the statements were made voluntary. The lower court delayed a ruling on the motion until testimony was made during the course of the trial, eventually finding that the statements were made voluntarily by the defendant. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision because the lower court was not required to make a voluntariness determination in this matter and because the court’s delayed ruling did not impact the evidence.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, a minor child testified that the defendant, who was her adoptive father, had been sexually abusing her for over ten years. A recorded phone call during a police investigation revealed that the defendant also had similarly sexually abused the child victim’s mother, starting when the mother was about fourteen years old. The mother married the defendant, and the defendant adopted the child victim.

Before the trial occurred, the defendant filed a motion to suppress involuntary statements, but in his motion, he only asked the court to examine whether his statements were admissible under the law based on voluntariness. The defendant did not raise the voluntariness claim in a timely manner or argue that the statements he made to detectives should be suppressed. The lower court noted the untimeliness of the defendant’s motion and did not make a ruling on it before trial, but instead decided to consider the voluntariness of the defendant’s statements during the course of the trial. During the trial, it was revealed that the defendant fully cooperated with the investigation and consented to an interview before he was in custody. The jury found the defendant guilty of child sex abuse and sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years. The defendant appealed.

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The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona recently issued an opinion setting forth the procedure for determining whether an individual is a “sexually violent person” (SVP). The case arose after prosecutors charged the Arizona defendant with one count of sexual conduct with a minor. The defense moved for a competency examination, and the trial court found him not competent and not restorable (NCNR).

In response, the prosecutors requested an SVP screening, arguing that the procedure was warranted under § 13-4518(A). The defendant argued that the statute did not require a screen, and it is an abuse of discretion for a trial court to order one when the record does not support the order. At a hearing on the issue, the defendant argued that although the State met two elements of the statute, that alone did not require the trial court to grant the request. Nevertheless, the trial court ordered the screening.

Under Arizona’s SVP Act, a sexually violent person is one who has “been convicted or been found guilty but insane of a sexually violent offense” or was charged as such and was found guilty but insane and has a mental disorder that makes it more likely that they will engage in sexually violent acts.

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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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The Supreme Court of Arizona recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of his conviction based on an illegal search and seizure. The case focused on whether law enforcement must obtain a search warrant in cases involving Arizona criminal defendant’s Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or subscriber information the user provides to an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

In this case, an undercover detective joined an internet forum seeking users interested in child pornography. A user responded and requested to be added to the group. After the detective added him, the defendant sent illicit photos and videos depicting child pornography. Federal agents served a subpoena to obtain the user’s IP address. After obtaining the IP address and ISP, the detective retrieved the name, addresses, and phone number of the defendant. Law enforcement executed a search warrant and confiscated the defendant’s external hard drive, laptop, desktop computer, and cell phone. An in-depth search of these items revealed child pornography and messages the defendant sent to the law enforcement officer.

After he was indicted, the defendant moved to suppress the subscriber information and all evidence seized from his residence. He argued that it was an illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution (US Constitution) and article 2, section 8 of the Arizona Constitution (AZ Constitution). He argued that the US Constitution and AZ Constitution require a warrant or court order to obtain his IP and ISP information. The trial court denied his motion, and a jury convicted the defendant on all counts. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona child molestation case. In its opinion, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress two identifications made by the complaining witness.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the eleven-year-old victim was sleeping on an Amtrak train on the way back from a volleyball tournament. At some point, she awoke to someone touching her vagina over her jeans. The man asked the girl to come with him to the back of the train, but the girl refused. Instead, she woke up her coach ad pointed out the man who touched her.

The girl’s coach notified the train conductor. The conductor found the defendant, who matched the description provided by the girl. The conductor brought the defendant to the girl, and she positively identified him. When the train arrived in Flagstaff, the police were waiting. Police officers removed the defendant from the train, and then asked the girl if he was the man who had touched her. Again, she indicated that he was.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona sexual assault case involving the defendant’s claim that evidence of the alleged victim’s mental state was improperly and prejudicially admitted. Ultimately, the court determined that the victim’s mental state was relevant, as it went to her ability to consent to sex.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a friend of the alleged victim’s family. The alleged victim was a 66-year-old woman with schizoaffective disorder. Evidently, the defendant took the woman on a walk to a nearby home where he had sex with her despite her telling him not to.

Later that day, the woman told a family member that the defendant had raped her. She went to the hospital, where medical professionals performed a rape kit. While there, she told the police what happened.

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts are dealing with many novel legal issues. One of those issues is how to conduct Arizona criminal trials in a time of social distancing. Thus far, there is no consensus on how to effectively hold a trial while protecting a defendant’s constitutional rights, however, some courts are considering allowing witnesses to testify through the use of two-way video calls.

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” This is referred to as the Confrontation Clause. Over the years, the United States Supreme Court has issued several important opinions discussing a defendant’s right to confront their accusers. However, this issue seems more salient than ever, and will likely come before the Court again.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that, while not dealing specifically with the complications presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrates the issue quite clearly. In that case, a defendant faced sexual assault charges stemming from an incident in 1996. At the time, a rape kit was performed, however, it was not analyzed until 2015. The results of the testing tied the defendant to the crime.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona sex offense case involving the defendant’s motion to suppress statements that he made to police after his arrest. The defendant claimed that his statements must be suppressed because they were taken without police having provided him with his Miranda warnings, as required by the United States and Arizona constitutions. Ultimately, the court concluded that police did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights in taking the statement, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant lived with his girlfriend, as well as her daughter, the complaining witness, between 2004 and 2007. During this time, the defendant’s girlfriend’s daughter was between the ages of three and six. In 2014, the young girl disclosed to her grandmother that the defendant had sexual contact with her several times back when they lived in the same home.

After the grandmother contacted the police, two officers went to the defendant’s workplace to talk with him. The officers asked to speak with the defendant, who did not verbally respond, but followed the officers to a room where they interviewed him. One of the officers told the defendant he was not under arrest, and began to question him.

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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, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona sex offense case discussing whether the defendant was properly ordered to register as a sex offender after he was convicted by a jury. The case involves the guarantees of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial in criminal cases.

A Little Background into the Sixth Amendment

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides, among other rights, that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” This right to a trial by jury has been expanded over the years. For example, in the case, Apprendi v. New Jersey, the U.S. Supreme Court held that any fact that increases the punishment a defendant may face must be found beyond a reasonable doubt by the jury.

The Facts of the Case

In the recent opinion issued by the Arizona Supreme Court, the defendant was convicted of a sexual offense. At trial, the jury determined that the victim was “fifteen or more years of age.” However, the jury did not formally make a specific finding as to the victim’s exact age.

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