Last month, a state appellate court released a written opinion involving a defendant charged with making gang-related threats to law enforcement officers as they were investigating an unrelated crime. Initially, the jury convicted the defendant on several charges, but the trial court reversed that conviction, finding that the jury’s decision was against the weight of the evidence. The appellate court affirmed.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was the passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. Police suspected that the driver of the car was intoxicated, and began processing the driver’s arrest. While police officers were arresting the driver, the defendant—a known gang member—began shouting at the police. Specifically, the defendant shouted that he was “West Side City,” the police didn’t “even know what’s coming,” the officers were “done,” and that he was going to start a “war.”
Police arrested the defendant, who was later charged with three counts of threatening or intimidating to promote a criminal street gang and several other related charges. The case proceeded to a jury trial, after which the jury found the defendant guilty of making the threats. The defendant filed a post-trial motion, arguing that the jury’s finding was against the weight of the evidence, which the court granted. The State appealed.
On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant a new trial on the three felony threat charges. The court explained that, while the jury is charged with examining and weighing the evidence, a trial judge maintains the ability to overrule a jury’s verdict if the judge believes the jury’s finding was against the weight of the evidence. Once a trial judge makes this determination, appellate courts must defer to the judge’s credibility determinations, as they were the ones to observe the witnesses testify first-hand.
Here, the court noted that the trial judge thoroughly recounted and reviewed all relevant evidence in the record before coming to a reasoned decision to grant a new trial. For example, the court pointed out that the defendant did not make any of the threats until after the driver of the car had been arrested, meaning his comments were not likely made to influence the police officer’s decision to arrest the driver. Given the discretion afforded to trial judges, the appellate court would not reverse the lower court’s decision. Thus, the defendant’s convictions remained vacated, and he will be re-tried for the same offenses in a new trial.
Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Gang-Related Crime?
If you have recently been arrested for an Arizona violent crime, or any other gang-related offense, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of serious misdemeanor and felony cases. With Attorney Novak in your corner, you can rest assured that your case—and your freedom—are in capable hands. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with Attorney Novak, call 480-413-1499.