Articles Posted in Violent Crime

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona homicide case discussing the state’s challenge to the defendant’s sentence. The state claimed that the trial court failed to follow the law when it sentenced the defendant to “life without possibility of parole for twenty-five years.” However, the court held that because the state failed to raise the issue in a timely manner, it was precluded from raising it after the defendant sought parole after having served 24 years. As a result, although the defendant’s sentence was illegally lenient, he was entitled to parole after serving 25 years in custody.

The defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder for a killing that took place in 1995. At sentencing, the trial court sentenced the defendant to “life without possibility of parole for twenty-five years,” to be followed by a period of “community supervision.” However, at the time, there was a law on the books that prohibited defendants who were convicted of first-degree murder from being eligible for parole. At the time of the defendant’s sentencing, the prosecution did not object, nor did it appeal the sentence.

After the defendant served 24 years in custody, he sought parole. The defendant was told he was not eligible for parole, and the defendant sued the Arizona State Department of Corrections. The state then sought a determination as to whether the defendant was eligible for parole.

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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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona manslaughter case involving a defendant’s claim that he should have been entitled to fully inform the jury about the prior aggressive actions taken by the victim against the defendant’s pregnant step-daughter. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s claim, affirming his conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff lived with his wife and step-daughter and her boyfriend, M.R. One day, the defendant got into an argument with M.R., and pulled out a gun. The defendant put the gun down, but then the two men got into a subsequent argument, and the defendant shot M.R., killing him. The defendant claimed that M.R. tried to wrestle the gun from him; however, no other family members were present to corroborate the defendant’s account.

The defendant was charged with manslaughter. Before trial, the defendant sought to introduce evidence of the prior aggressive and abusive actions of M.R. toward his step-daughter, who was pregnant at the time several of the incidents took place. The court reviewed the defendant’s request, and determined that the jury should be permitted to hear about the incidents, but not that the defendant’s step-daughter was pregnant at the time. The court explained that “the fact of the pregnancy is prejudicial and raises a greater possibility that the jury would be misled by focusing on the unborn baby as opposed to the Defendant’s state of mind.” Thus, the court allowed evidence of the incidents, but left out the fact that the step-daughter was pregnant.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona homicide case discussing the admissibility of the defendant’s statement. Ultimately, the court allowed the admission of the defendant’s inculpatory statement, although it was made after he invoked his right to an attorney, because the defendant “reinitiated communication” with law enforcement.

According to the court’s opinion, an inmate was allegedly attacked by the defendant and several others while in prison. The inmate died as a result of his injuries, and the state brought murder charges against the defendant. After the incident, the criminal investigations unit (CIU) tried to speak with the defendant, who invoked the right to an attorney.

The next morning, members of the prison’s special security unit (SSU) tried to talk with the defendant, who again refused to speak about the incident. However, as the SSU members were leaving, the defendant stated that he would talk to one specific member of the SSU. The defendant explained that he had “game-changing information” for this individual. The SSU arranged to have the requested member of SSU meet with the defendant, and the defendant admitted he was involved in the incident, but claimed he was not the killer.

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Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a written opinion in an Arizona homicide case discussing whether the defendant’s conviction for murder was invalid based on a double-jeopardy violation. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” While the language used in the clause is somewhat archaic, this case illustrates that the principles behind the clause are as essential today as they ever were.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was tried for murder in 2013, after he shot his neighbor. Evidently, the neighbor approached the defendant after the defendant asked him to leave. The defendant testified that he believed the neighbor was armed.

After the parties presented their cases, the jury could not agree on whether the defendant was guilty of first-degree murder, marking the box “unable to agree” next to the first-degree murder charge. The jury found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, and the court sentenced him to 16 years incarceration. An appellate court later reversed the conviction based on procedural grounds, remanding the case for a new trial.

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Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona homicide case discussing whether the lower court properly excluded evidence of the defendant’s brain damage. The court acknowledged that a defendant is permitted to introduce evidence showing he had a character trait for acting impulsively. However, ultimately, the court concluded that he could not present evidence of brain damage to corroborate that trait. As a result, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for murder.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with murder after he shot his then-girlfriend. Evidently, the defendant’s girlfriend ended their relationship. Two days later, she went to his home to return a gift. The defendant begged her to stay, and she refused, taking the couple’s children with her. The defendant allegedly followed his ex-girlfriend, blocked her car, and then shot her.

The state charged the defendant with first-degree premeditated murder. In support of his defense, the defendant sought to admit testimony from a medical doctor. The doctor planned to testify that the neuropsychological tests he performed were “consistent with significant and permanent diffuse brain damage.” According to the doctor, this meant the defendant was “more likely to have a character trait for impulsivity.” The prosecution objected, and the court precluded the admission of the doctor’s testimony. The defendant was convicted, and appealed the court’s decision to exclude his expert’s testimony.

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Any experienced Arizona criminal defense attorney knows that not every case can be won. Or, better put, “winning” a case does not always mean that a client was found not guilty. In some cases, the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, perhaps due to a post-arrest admission given by the defendant. In other situations, a defendant does not want to put themselves and their loved ones through the stress of a criminal trial. Because of these realities, plea bargains are not uncommon in Arizona criminal cases.

A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense under which the defendant will plead guilty, usually for a negotiated sentence. In some cases, a defendant may choose to “open plea,” in which case there are no negotiations, and the defendant places complete discretion in the judge’s hands. Typically, an open guilty plea would be appropriate when the offer made by the prosecution was unreasonable, or there are significant mitigating circumstances warranting a lesser sentence.

Pleading guilty, however, is an important decision that should only be made after careful discussion with an Arizona criminal defense attorney. By entering a guilty plea, a defendant gives up almost all of their pre and post trial rights. And after the sentence is imposed, there is very rarely an opportunity to have the finding of guilt or sentence reviewed by a higher court.

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As a general matter, Arizona criminal law prohibits assaulting another person. An assault can occur in several different ways. Under Arizona’s assault statute, it is against the law to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause physical injury to another person; to intentionally place someone else in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury; or to knowingly touch another with the intent to injure, insult, or provoke them. However, there are exceptions when using force against another person is justified.

A justification defense is considered an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is one that, if proven by the defendant, defeats the legal consequences of what would otherwise have been an illegal act. In other words, when claiming a justification offense, the defendant is not contesting any of the elements of the offense. Instead, the defendant is saying “yes, I did what you say I did, but I did it for a good reason.”

As noted above, there are several different situations in which physical force can be used against another person. These include self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property. While each of these defenses is outlined in separate statutes, a defendant must establish that they reasonably believed the force was necessary. However, physical force is never justified based on verbal provocation. Courts consider both whether the person using force was justified in the use of force, as well as whether the extent of the force used was proportionate to threat posed.

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Of the thousands of cases filed by Arizona prosecutors each year, many involve allegations of assault. Depending on the circumstances of the allegations, an Arizona assault charge can be either a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

In Arizona, there are two types of assault that do not involve a sexual element: assault and aggravated assault. To prove either of these crimes, the prosecution must establish that the defendant, 1.) performed an act, 2.) while exhibiting the necessary mindset. In Latin, these terms are known as the “actus reus” and “mens rea.”

The actus reus is the physical action that constitutes an element of a crime. For example, in an assault case, the actus reus may be a punch, a stabbing motion, or the pulling of a gun’s trigger. However, to find a defendant guilty of a crime, the prosecution must establish that the defendant performed the act with the necessary “guilty mind.”

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A defense attorney’s job is to vigorously fight for the rights of his client, and, ultimately to do what is in his client’s best interest. At the same time, any seasoned Arizona criminal defense attorney knows that not every case can result in a “Not Guilty” verdict.In some cases where there is a concern about an unfavorable verdict, pre-trial motions can be litigated in hopes of creating a more favorable scenario. For example, a pre-trial motion to suppress physical evidence or a motion in limine to preclude certain harmful testimony may make a defendant’s case much stronger. However, in situations where these pre-trial motions are denied or where the prosecution’s case against the accused is exceptionally strong, an experienced Arizona criminal defense attorney should discuss the idea of a negotiated guilty plea, or a plea bargain.

Plea bargains get a bad rap. However, tens of thousands of Arizona criminal defendants accept plea bargains to resolve their cases each year. This is because Arizona plea deals are the product of significant negotiation and take into account several factors. Most notably, when a defendant accepts responsibility for a crime, the prosecutor is able to divert scarce resources elsewhere. Thus, a prosecutor is motivated to resolve cases through negotiated plea bargains in order to focus on other, potentially more serious, cases.

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