Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order granting Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that Arizona's standard conditions of probation, which permit warrantless searches of a probationer's "property," apply to cell phones and that the search in this case was compliant with the Fourth Amendment. While Defendant was on probation, an adult probation department surveillance officer arrested Defendant for violating several conditions of probation. En route to jail, the officer looked through incriminating text messages and photos on Defendant's phone. The State subsequently indicted Defendant on sex counts of sexual conduct with a minor. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence gathered from the cell phone search. The trial court granted the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the plain meaning of "property" in one of Defendant's conditions of supervised probation included cell phone, and Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014), did not vary that meaning; and (2) under the totality of the circumstances, the officer's search of Defendant's cell phone was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. View "State v. Lietzau" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that, for purposes of imposing mandatory sex offender registration under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3821(A)(3), a judge has the authority to make the necessary factual finding that the victim is under the age of eighteen and that Arizona's sex offender registration statutes are civil regulatory statutes, not criminal penalties. Defendant was convicted by a jury of one count of sexual abuse. In reaching its verdict the jury determined that the victim was "fifteen or more years of age." At sentencing, the trial court ordered Defendant to register as a sex offender. Defendant objected, arguing that, pursuant to Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), a jury was required to find whether Defendant was under eighteen pursuant to section 13-3821(A)(3). The trial court denied the objection. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Apprendi does not apply to factual findings that are necessary to impose registration because sex offender registration is a civil regulatory requirement, not a criminal penalty; and (2) the trial judge did not violate Apprendi by determining that the victim was under eighteen. View "State v. Trujillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first degree murder and his death sentence but vacated the sentences imposed for counts two, four, and five and remanded for resentencing on those counts, holding that the trial court committed fundamental error by imposing greater than presumptive sentences on those counts. Defendant was found guilty of first degree felony murder (count one), conspiracy to commit child abuse (count two), and three counts of child abuse (counts three through five). The court sentenced Defendant to death for the murder conviction. On the non-capital counts, the court sentenced Defendant to aggravated (counts two through four) and maximum (count five) prison sentences. Count four ran concurrently with the death sentences, with the remaining sentences running consecutively. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but reversed three of the sentences imposed, holding (1) there was no error in the guilt phase of the trial; (2) the jury did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant to death; (3) Defendant was incorrectly sentenced on count two as a dangerous crime against children in the first degree under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-705(D); and (4) insufficient aggravating factors supported the sentences on counts two, four and five. View "State v. Allen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for first degree murder and assisting a criminal street gang and his sentence of death, holding that there was not prejudicial error in the proceedings below. (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to change lead counsel; (2) Defendant failed to show that he was prejudiced by the trial court's failure to question jurors on questionnaire answers sua sponte; (3) any error in the admission of certain evidence was harmless; (4) Defendant did not suffer any prejudice by the trial court's instructions to the jury; (5) Defendant provided no valid arguments challenging the constitutional sufficiency regarding Arizona's (F)(6) aggravator or the constitutional applicability of the aggravator by a jury, rather than a judge; (6) the prosecutor's recitation of the guilt-phase accomplice liability instruction in the aggravation phase did not constitute error; and (7) any other errors in the trial court proceedings did not prejudice Defendant. View "State v. Riley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a certified question by holding that a sentence imposing "life without possibility of parole for twenty-five years" means the convicted defendant is eligible for parole after serving twenty-five years' imprisonment despite Ariz. Rev. Stat. 41-1604.09's prohibition of parole for persons convicted of offenses occurring on or after January 1, 1994 and that a court lacks jurisdiction to correct and illegally lenient sentence absent timely correction or appeal. Defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder committed in 1995. The trial court sentenced Defendant to "life without possibility of parole for 25 years." After serving twenty-four years of his sentence, Defendant sued the Arizona Department of Corrections under 42 U.S.C. 1983 asserting his entitlement to parole eligibility. The State sought a determination as to whether Defendant's sentence entitled him to parole eligibility. The district court issued a certification order. The Supreme Court held (1) regardless of section 41-1604.09, Defendant was eligible for parole after serving twenty-five years pursuant to his sentence because the sentencing hearing and order manifested the trial court's intent for Defendant to be parole eligible; and (2) Defendant's illegally lenient sentence was final under Arizona law. View "Chaparro v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions but vacated his sentences and remanded for resentencing, holding that convictions for possession of drugs for sale, whether completed or inchoate, are not disqualifying convictions for purposes of determining eligibility for mandatory probation and drug treatment under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-901.01 and that the statute applies equally to qualifying inchoate and completed drug offenses. In 2017, Defendant was convicted of two counts of possession of a narcotic drug and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. Defendant argued that he should be sentenced to probation under section 13.901.01 because his 2006 conviction for solicitation to sell a narcotic drug did not qualify as a personal possession or use offense under section 13.901.01. Therefore, Defendant argued, his 2017 drug convictions did not count as a third personal possession or use conviction. The trial court ruled that Defendant's 2006 conviction was a strike, and therefore, Defendant was not eligible for mandatory probation. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's sentences, holding that Defendant's conviction for solicitation to sell a narcotics drug was not a strike. View "State v. Green" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals dismissing Richard Allen Reed's appeal from a criminal restitution order, holding that the legislature lacked authority to require the court to dismiss a pending appeal upon a convicted defendant's death but possessed authority to prohibit abatement of the defendant's conviction and sentence. Reed was convicted of voyeurism and required to pay $17,949.50 as restitution to the victim. Reed appealed, challenging the restitution amount. Reed appealed, but pending a decision, Reed died. Reed's wife moved to intervene or substitute as a party in the appeal. The court of appeals denied the motion because the wife did not cite authority permitting intervention or substitution in a criminal case. The court then dismissed the appeal pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-106(A). The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and remanded the case to the court of appeals, holding (1) the legislature lacked authority to require the court to dismiss a pending appeal upon a convicted defendant's death under section 13-106(A); but (2) the legislature possessed authority to prohibit abatement of that defendant's conviction and sentence under section 13-106(B). View "State v. Reed" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and death sentence for the murder of Xiaohung Fu, holding that none of Defendant's claims of error warranted reversal of his convictions. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant's challenges to the Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-751(F)(6) aggravator were unavailing; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion for mistrial; (3) Defendant was not prejudiced by the trial court's significant impairment instruction to the jury; (4) the trial court's error in allowing the State to introduce evidence of prison housing conditions was harmless; (5) there was no other error or abuse of discretion in the court's remaining challenged evidentiary rulings; (6) no abuse of discretion occurred during voir dire; (7) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motions to strike jurors for cause; (8) any error on the part of the prosecution was harmless; (9) the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motions to change counsel; and (10) the jury did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant to death. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for first degree murder, kidnapping, and burglary in the first degree and death sentence, holding that none of Defendant's allegations of error warranted reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant's challenges to the Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-751 sentencing scheme were unavailing; (2) the Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-751(F)(6) aggravator is constitutional; (3) the court's instructions to the jury were not erroneous; (4) even if the court erred by allowing the introduction of evidence of prison housing conditions the error was harmless; (5) the court did not abuse its discretion by excluding execution impact evidence or limitation of mitigation evidence; (6) the court did not abuse its discretion by ordering the disclosure of defense counsel's attorneys' notes; (7) there was no abuse of discretion during voir dire; (8) the court did not abuse its discretion in failing to strike certain jurors for cause; (9) Defendant failed to show that prosecutorial misconduct so infected his trial as to deprive him due process; (10) the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to change counsel; and (11) the jury did not abuse its discretion when it sentenced Defendant to death. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction and sentence, holding that trying Defendant a second time for first-degree murder under the circumstances of this case violated his constitutional right to be free from double jeopardy. In 2013, Defendant was tried for first-degree murder. The jury was unable to agree on that charge and found Defendant guilty of the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder. Defendant appealed on procedural grounds, and the court of appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. Before the second trial, the trial court granted the State's motion to retry Defendant for first-degree murder. Defendant was then retried and convicted of first-degree murder. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision, holding that double jeopardy barred Defendant's retrial for first-degree murder because the State had a full and fair opportunity to try him on that charge in the first trial, and the jury refused to convict. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court to consider whether to reduce Defendant's conviction to the lesser-included offense or to order a new trial. View "State v. Martin" on Justia Law