Articles Posted in Supreme Court

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Recently, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving a defendant’s sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The ACCA is a federal law that provides for enhanced sentencing for someone who is convicted of a crime involving the use or possession of a gun, if the defendant has prior convictions for “violent felonies.” In recent years, there has been significant litigation over what constitutes a violent felony. The case is important for Arizona defendants because the Court’s decision may significantly affect potential sentences for many defendants charged with Arizona gun crimes.

The case arose out of an appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. According to that court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with possession of ammunition. The defendant was found guilty by a jury. At sentencing, the prosecution moved to sentence the defendant as a repeat offender under the ACCA. The prosecution claimed that the defendant had five prior violent felonies, including a 1982 conviction out of Texas for robbery. Although the defendant would typically only be eligible for a sentence of up to 10 years, because of his prior convictions, the court sentenced the defendant to 15 years.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declared part of the ACCA unconstitutional in 2015, the defendant appealed his sentence. The defendant claimed that under the post-2015 ACCA, several of his convictions no longer qualified as violent felonies. The court agreed, finding that two of the defendant’s convictions were no longer considered violent felonies. However, that still left the defendant with three violent felonies:  two Tennessee robberies and the Texas robbery. The defendant appealed, arguing that his Texas conviction for robbery should not have been considered a violent felony under the ACCA.

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Police officers make assumptions about their environment all the time. In fact, rarely is a police officer’s behavior based on something that they know to be the case. Police officers may assume, for example, that someone who called 911 reporting a crime was accurate in their description of the perpetrator. Arizona criminal law allows for police officers to make some assumptions; however, there are limits to a police officer’s discretion.

In a recent case in front of the United States Supreme Court, the Court was tasked with determining whether a police officer can reasonably assume that the driver of a vehicle is also the vehicle’s registered owner. The case came to the Court by way of a traffic ticket that was issued by Kansas police officers.

Evidently, while on a regular patrol, a police officer ran a registration check on the defendant’s pickup truck. The check revealed that the registered owner of the truck had a suspended license. Assuming that the driver of the pickup was the registered owner (who had a suspended license), the police officer initiated a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer confirmed that the driver of the truck was indeed the truck’s registered owner, and he had a suspended license. The officer issued the defendant a citation for being a habitual violator of state traffic laws.

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If an Arizona criminal trial ends up in a conviction, the defendant is entitled to an appeal to review any and all alleged legal errors that were made by the court during the trial. While the right to an appeal is automatic, there is not necessarily a corresponding right for the appellate court to hear every issue that the defendant raises on appeal. Typically, to preserve an issue for appeal, the defendant must lodge an appropriate objection during the trial allowing the trial judge to correct the alleged error. If a defendant fails to make an objection to a judge’s legal decision during the trial, they may be precluded from raising the issue on appeal.

Importantly, not every issue needs to be objected to in order to preserve a defendants’ appellate rights. For example, a defendant can always challenge the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, even if the issue was not raised in a post-trial motion. However, most other potential issues, including evidentiary issues and weight-of-the-evidence issues, must be raised to be preserved. If an issue is not preserved, an appellate court can still review the record for plain error; however, this is an exceedingly difficult standard to meet.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear argument on a case involving the purported waiver of a defendant’s right to challenge the reasonableness of his sentence. In that case, the defendant was convicted of a federal drug crime and sentenced to 24 months of incarceration to be followed by a period of supervised release. While on supervised release, the defendant was arrested for another drug case. The defendant was convicted of the second drug offense, which was a violation of his supervised released. The defendant conceded that he was in violation of his supervised release, and asked the court for a concurrent 12-month sentence. However, the court sentenced the defendant to a consecutive 12-month term of imprisonment.

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The Double Jeopardy Clause, contained in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, states that no person can be “be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Given that seemingly clear language, it would stand to reason that someone who was arrested for a crime in Arizona could only be charged by the State of Arizona or by the federal government, but not both. However, in a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion, a majority of the Court reaffirmed an old exception to the Double Jeopardy clause allowing a defendant to be prosecuted for the same crime under both state and federal law.

In that case, the defendant was pulled over when a police officer noticed that his vehicle had a damaged headlight. The officer smelled marijuana inside the defendant’s car, searched it, and found a handgun. The defendant was ineligible to own the gun because he had previously suffered a conviction for second-degree robbery. The defendant pleaded guilty in state court. Subsequently, the federal authorities indicted him for the same offense.

The defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the federal conviction exposed him to double jeopardy for the same offense. The defendant’s motion was denied, and he appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case that limits the government’s ability to seize the assets of those convicted of crimes. Typically, when someone is arrested for an Arizona crime, any assets that are potentially evidence will be seized. For example, it is common that a vehicle used to transport drugs will be seized as potential evidence. In the event that the defendant is found guilty, the government can proceed with a civil forfeiture claim in an attempt to keep whatever assets were seized.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant pleaded guilty to dealing in a controlled substance. When the defendant was arrested, he was driving a Land Rover that he had recently purchased for $42,000 with the proceeds from a life insurance policy.

The defendant was sentenced to one year of house arrest, followed by five years’ probation. The defendant was also fined $1,203. After the defendant was convicted, the state moved for civil forfeiture of the Land Rover. The trial court denied the government’s claim, noting that the value of the Land Rover was over four times the maximum fine for the crime for which the defendant was convicted. Thus, the court held that the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines precluded the government from taking ownership of the vehicle.

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In a recent United States Supreme Court opinion, the Court reversed the lower court’s ruling that denied a defendant’s motion to suppress the historical location data obtained by the police from the defendant’s cellular phone provider. The opinion is very important to those charged with an Arizona crime where the prosecution is planning on introducing evidence that was seized as a result of a questionable police search or seizure.

The Facts of the Case

The police were investigating a series of robberies. They arrested one man they believed to be involved and asked him who else was involved. The man provided the police with the defendant’s name and phone number.

Under the Stored Communications Act, the police were able to obtain the historical location data from the defendant’s cell phone. In order to obtain this information, the police needed only to show that there was a “reasonable probability” that the evidence was “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation.” This is a significantly easier burden for police to meet than the normal “probable cause” that police are generally required to have before conducting a search.

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Arizona Domestic Violence Laws, Penalties, Criminal Defense

The Lautenberg Amendment in Title 18 U.S. Code § 922(g)(9) prohibits shipment, transport, ownership and use of guns or ammunition by individuals who were convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense or are under a protection order (commonly referred to as a restraining order) for domestic violence. The amendment was enacted in 1996 and has been the subject of numerous court challenges.

On June 27, 2016, the United States Supreme Court further clarified that even convictions for reckless domestic assault can be construed as domestic violence offenses that prohibit firearm possession. The 6-2 decision resolved lingering questions about the nature of misdemeanor domestic violence convictions than can lead to loss of firearm rights.

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On November 20, 2015, the Supreme Court of Arizona decided Dobson v. McClennen (P.3d, 2015 WL 7353847, Arizona Supreme Court 2015). The decision has important implications for individuals that use medical marijuana and might have THC or its metabolite in their system but drive at a time when they are not impaired. Jokingly called the “Driving While a Habitual User of Marijuana,” these prosecutions are no joke.

Although the responsible use of cannabis for medical purposes has largely been decriminalized in Arizona, prior to this decision the DUI laws effectively made it a crime to drive as a medical marijuana patient (even after the impairing effects faded and disappeared). In other words, using medical marijuana should not automatically be a DUI when there was no actual impairment at the time of driving.

The decision in Dobson v. McClennen didn’t make either side happy. The defense wanted a ruling that Medical Marijuana Patients were immune from the “per se” version of DUI under § 28–1381(A)(3). On the other hand, the prosecution wanted a ruling that a positive blood test meant an automatic “per se” DUI conviction under § 28–1381(A)(3). The Court rejected both positions and came up with a middle ground that leaves many of the complicated issues surrounding driving after consuming medical marijuana unresolved.

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“State of Arizona v. Hon. Jane A. Butler and Tyler B” Decision: The Impact of the AZ Supreme Court’s Ruling on Arizona Drivers.

In an unprecedented ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected the Prosecution’s holding that all motorists who drive in Arizona, give their absolute voluntary consent to DUI breath or chemical testing, solely due to the existence of the “Implied Consent” traffic law A.R.S. 28-1321; and that the voluntary consent by a juvenile is not absolute.

This case involved a 16-year-old student who was accused of driving to school under the influence of Marijuana. The student was detained when after school security reported a strong odor of Marijuana in the vehicle, and drug paraphernalia in plain view inside the vehicle. The Court records revealed that the student agreed to have A DUI blood test, only after being handcuffed by police, informed of the existence of the Implied Consent Law, and then instructed that he was required to submit to the DUI chemical test.

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On April 17, 2013, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Missouri v. McNeely, siding with the lower courts’ decisions in a 5-4 ruling to suppress DUI evidence from being used against the defendant.

The case involved a DUI stop, following a moving traffic violation. After questioning, the driver was arrested for suspicion of DUI, after he refused to submit to a DUI breath and blood test.

Following the arrest he was transported to a nearby hospital where a DUI blood test was taken by a lab technician, at the direction of the police officer. The blood test was conducted without the driver’s consent, and in absence of a warrant. The police officer made no attempt to obtain a warrant to collect the blood for the DUI investigation.