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.
In a pre-trial motion, the defendant argued that he gave the officer consent to search his person, but not the vehicle. However, the officer also testified, and explained that the defendant provided consent to search the car. The trial court found the officer more credible, and denied the defendant’s motion. The defendant appealed.
On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the motion. The court explained that credibility determinations are typically left to the trial court judge, because they can assess the demeanor of witnesses. Additionally, there was no testimony that the defendant tried to stop the officer from searching the car, which, according to the court, one might have expected the defendant to do if he did not provide consent. The court also pointed out that the officer’s post-arrest paperwork indicated that the defendant provided consent to search both his person and his vehicle. Thus, the court determined that the trial judge’s credibility determination was not clearly erroneous, and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion.
Credibility is crucial in almost all criminal cases, especially those in which the defendant testifies. While a defendant’s testimony can provide their side of the story, it can also be met with skepticism—perhaps wrongly so. For those defendants who choose to testify, it is imperative to prepare with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help them understand the proper ways to do so, and what questions to expect from the prosecution.
Have You Been Arrested After a Questionable Search?
If you have recently been arrested and charged with a crime after police officers searched your person, home, or vehicle, contact the Law Office of James Novak. Attorney Novak is an aggressive Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients facing all types of offenses, including Arizona drug charges, weapons offenses, sex crimes, vehicle crimes, and more. He commands an impressive knowledge of the substantive law that governs these cases, and is adept at cross-examining both police and civilian witnesses. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 480-413-1499 today.