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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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona retail theft case requiring the court to determine if the defendant’s pre- and post-arrest statements to police should have been suppressed at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the police officer’s interaction with the defendant before his arrest did not constitute “custodial interrogation,” and thus neither of the defendant’s statements were suppressible.

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call that a man wearing a black and orange backpack walked into a convenience store and took beer on two separate occasions on the same day. Shortly after the second alleged theft, police officers stopped the defendant, who was carrying two 24-packs of beer, one on each shoulder. When asked where he got the beer and how he paid for it, the defendant responded that he got it from a store up the street and that a “higher power” paid for it.

The officer handcuffed the defendant, read him his Miranda rights, and then asked several follow-up questions. The defendant admitted to stealing the beer. The officer then searched the defendant’s backpack, and found additional beer. Finally, the store employees who witnessed the theft were transported to the defendant’s location, and they positively identified him as the person who entered the store and stole the beer.

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In December of last year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona theft case involving a question about the admissibility of the defendant’s confession. Specifically, the court had to determine if the fact that the defendant, who did not speak English, validly waived her constitutional rights before agreeing to make a statement. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant was “adequately informed” of her Miranda rights, and affirmed her conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, detectives were investigating a claim that a person was making unauthorized withdrawals from an elderly woman’s account. Through their investigation, the detectives ended up arresting the defendant, a non-native English speaker who was originally from Thailand.

On the way to the police station, the detective spoke with the defendant to assess her fluency in English. She told him that she started to learn English in 1975, when she arrived in the United States, and that she had difficulty understanding the “hard words.” When they got to the station, the detective went over the defendant’s Miranda rights with her, a transcript of which was provided to the court. During the exchange, the defendant repeatedly explained that she did not understand what was going on, expressed an interest in not going to jail, and stated that maybe she should have an attorney present. After this initial exchange, the defendant provided a partial confession that eventually led to her conviction.

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When someone is arrested for a crime, such as robbery, it is up to the prosecution to determine what charges they will face. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the prosecution to overcharge a defendant. Typically, when a defendant is overcharged they will have far more charges than necessary, and of a more serious nature. Prosecutors may have several reasons when they overcharge a defendant; however, it is commonly understood that prosecutors overcharge at least in part out of a hope that the serious nature of the charges will persuade the defendant to consider pleading to a lesser offense. Thus, someone who is charged with an Arizona crime must understand the elements of that crime and the prosecution’s chances of proving it at trial.

Robbery is among the most overcharged offenses in Arizona. An Arizona robbery offense is committed when “in the course of taking any property …, such person threatens or uses force against any person with intent either to coerce surrender of property or to prevent resistance to such person taking or retaining property.” Simply stated, a robbery occurs when someone takes or attempts to take an object by force or threat of force. Another way of looking at a robbery offense is that it is an assault that is committed in the course of a theft. Notably, there is no requirement that the person charged with robbery be successful in their attempt to remove an item from another person.

There are several types of defenses to a robbery charge. In some cases, the eyewitness identification may be suspect and susceptible to attack. For example, often, robberies occur in a split second, and an eyewitness’s mental notes about what the alleged doer looked like may not be accurate. However, police will use the eyewitness’ description to stop anyone that matches that description. Once police stop someone they believe matches the description, there may be an issue with the suggestiveness of the identification. For example, if a witness is asked if a suspect was the person that robbed him, and the person is in handcuffs and surrounded by eight police officers, the witness may be subconsciously cued to believe that the suspect was the person who robbed them.

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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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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona gun crime case involving the defendant’s challenge to the legality of the search conducted by police officers that led to the discovery of the firearm. Ultimately, the court held that the defendant voluntarily answered the questions posed by police, and he was not seized before the police officers developed probable cause to search his vehicle. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, two police officers pulled into a dark parking lot and saw the defendant sitting in a car with another person. The officers observed the two men for about a minute before approaching the defendant’s car. One officer approached on each side of the car, and as they approached, they recognized the smell of burnt marijuana.

One of the officers asked the defendant, “Real quick, [are] there any guns, bombs, knives, Bazookas, or dead bodies inside the vehicle that I need to learn about?” The defendant replied that there were not. When the officer followed up with a request that the defendant exit the car, the defendant told him no and asked for a supervisor or a lawyer. The defendant was removed from the car, and the officers recovered a firearm and narcotics from the car. Subsequent to his arrest, the defendant admitted to possession of the gun and the drugs.

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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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When someone is charged with an Arizona crime, they have the ability to file a motion to suppress, challenging the admission of evidence that the prosecution plans to introduce at trial. In essence, a motion to suppress argues that certain evidence obtained by police was done so in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. Most often, motions to suppress are litigated in Arizona drug cases or cases in which there was a weapon recovered. However, a motion to suppress can be argued any time that evidence is illegally seized or when a statement is illegal taken.

One important aspect of a motion to suppress is the concept of standing. Standing refers to the defendant’s ability to argue a motion to suppress. In order to bring a motion to suppress, the defendant must have standing. Standing is a complex legal concept, but at its most basic it requires a defendant to have a subjective expectation of privacy in the place searched. In addition, that sincerely held expectation of privacy must be one that is recognized by society as reasonable. For example, a defendant who tosses a gun into a trash can as police drive by may not have standing to bring a motion to suppress. This is because the defendant abandoned the gun, eliminating any expectation of privacy that he may have otherwise had.

If the court grants a motion to suppress, the challenged evidence cannot be admitted at trial. In many cases, this results in the prosecution withdrawing the case because there is no longer sufficient evidence to prove the case. However, there are cases in which a successful motion does not end the case. For example, a motion to suppress may preclude only some of the evidence from admission.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona gun case requiring the court to determine if the lower court should have granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. The case contains an informative discussion on police officers’ ability to stop a motorist. Specifically, the case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss whether the police had a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged in criminal activity when they stopped his car. Finding that such a suspicion existed, the court affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

According to the court’s opinion, detectives responded to a sexually explicit ad on backpages.com, a website known to the detectives as one that frequently contained ads for prostitution. Through text messages, the detectives set up a meeting with two women. The detectives waited at the pre-arranged meeting place. They saw the defendant driving a car into the apartment complex and drop off two women. Police stopped the women, and detectives determined the vehicle was registered to the defendant, who was on supervised release for a robbery.

The detectives stopped the defendant’s car and approached. Ultimately, a handgun was recovered from the front seat, by where the defendant was sitting. The defendant was arrested and charged accordingly. Before trial, he filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that it was recovered as the result of an illegal stop. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed.

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