Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions and sentences, holding that the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) statutory scheme, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 36-2901 to -2999.57, abrogates and creates an exception to Arizona’s statutory physician-patient privilege, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-4062(4), in cases of suspected AHCCCS fraud. Defendant was convicted of defrauding AHCCCS for lying about having cancer so her abortion would fall within the exception to the rule that AHCCCS does not cover abortions except when necessary to save a woman’s life or to protect her health. On appeal, Defendant argued that the superior court erred by admitting her medical records and by allowing her physicians to testify against her. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the AHCCCS statutes abrogated the physician-patient privilege in cases of suspected AHCCCS fraud. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the legislature’s grant of brand authority to AHCCCS to investigate suspected fraud necessarily implies an exception to the privilege for internal AHCCCS investigations and proceedings; and (2) the AHCCCS statutes implicitly abrogate the privilege in the criminal investigation and prosecution of suspected AHCCCS fraud because the provisions at issue exhibit an intent to provide law enforcement access to patient information when investigating and prosecuting AHCCCS fraud. View "State v. Zeitner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s ruling that reversed the municipal court’s grant of Petitioner’s motion to suppress, holding that, apart from any constitutional considerations, Arizona’s implied consent statute does not require that an arrestee’s agreement to submit to a breath test be voluntary. In her motion to suppress, Petitioner argued that her consent was not voluntary under either the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or Ariz. Rev. Stat. 28-1321, Arizona’s implied consent statute. The municipal court concluded that Petitioner’s consent to testing was involuntary, found the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule inapplicable, and granted Petitioner’s motion to suppress. The superior court reversed, holding that consent to testing was involuntary but that the good-faith exception was applicable. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the statutory requirement of “express agreement to testing” does not equate to or necessarily imply a voluntary consent requirement. View "Diaz v. Honorable Deborah Bernini" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant’s motion to suppress results of a blood test he submitted to after he was arrested for driving under the influence, holding that Defendant’s consent was not involuntary under the Fourth Amendment. Before Defendant was asked if he would submit to a blood test, the police officer told Defendant his driving privileges would be suspended if he refused. Defendant moved to suppress the blood test results, arguing that under State v. Valenzuela, 239 Ariz. 299 (2016) (Valenzuela II), his consent was involuntary. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, unlike the officer in Valenzuela II, the officer in the instant case did not tell Defendant he was required to submit to the test, and the officer’s identifying the consequences of refusal before asking whether Defendant would submit to the testing did not in itself establish that Defendant’s consent was involuntary. View "State v. De Anda III" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions and sentences, holding that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies in a prosecution for driving under the influence (DUI) to admit blood evidence unconstitutionally obtained after State v. Butler, 232 Ariz. 84 (2013), but before State v. Valenzuela (Valenzuela II), 239 Ariz. 299 (2016). Before her trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained through a warrantless search and seizure of her blood sample. The trial court denied the motion, and Defendant was convicted of aggravated DUI while impaired to the slightest degree and one count of aggravated DUI with blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or more. Defendant appealed, arguing that her blood was obtained without a warrant and without valid consent and that the good-faith exception recognized in Valenzuela II did not apply. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the deterrent purpose of the exclusionary rule did not apply in this case because the police followed binding appellate precedent that persisted in the wake of Butler. View "State v. Weakland" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s sentence of death imposed in connection with his convictions for first-degree and second-degree murder, holding that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals erred in finding that habeas relief was warranted in this case. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to federal district court with instructions to grant a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the Supreme Court erred in its independent review of the death sentence when considering Defendant’s mitigation evidence. The Supreme Court granted the State’s motion to conduct a new independent review and affirmed the death sentence, holding that the mitigating evidence was not substantial enough to call for leniency in light of the commission of a murder for pecuniary gain. View "State v. Hedlund" on Justia Law

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After granting the State’s motion to conduct a new independent review of Defendant’s two death sentences, the Supreme Court affirmed the sentences, holding that there was no error in the trial court’s findings of aggravation and mitigation and that the death sentence was not an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court previously affirmed Defendant’s sentences on independent review. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Court applied an unconstitutional “causal nexus” test to Defendant’s mitigation evidence. Upon conducting a new independent review of Defendant’s death sentences, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the mitigating evidence was not sufficiently substantial to warrant leniency and that the aggravators weighed heavily in favor of the death sentence. View "State v. McKinney" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of first degree murder, discharge of a firearm at a structure, and misconduct involving weapons and sentences of death for the murder and concurrent prison sentences for the remaining convictions to be served consecutively to the death sentence. The Court held (1) the trial court did not err by failing to sue sponte sever the misconduct-involving-weapons charge; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion during voir dire; (3) there was no error in the jury instructions; (4) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to vacate judgment without holding an evidentiary hearing; (5) the cumulative effect of any instances of prosecutorial misconduct during trial did not render it unfair; and (6) the death sentence was not an abuse of discretion. View "State v. Valenzuela" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s drug-related convictions and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the admission and pervasive use of drug-courier profile evidence during Defendant's trial constituted fundamental error and prejudiced Defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant’s drug-related convictions and sentences, reviewing for fundamental error whether the trial court correctly admitted the drug-courier profile evidence and hearsay statements. The Supreme Court granted review to clarify what a defendant must show to establish fundamental, prejudicial error. The Court held that to show fundamental error, a defendant must demonstrate that the error goes to the foundation of his case, takes away a right essential to the defense, or is of such magnitude that it denied the defendant a fair trial. To warrant reversal, the defendant must then show prejudice, but if the trial was unfair, prejudice is automatically established. In the instant case, the Court held that Defendant’s trial was infected with fundamental, prejudicial error that deprived him of a fair trial. View "State v. Escalante" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for first degree murder and child abuse and Defendant’s sentence of death, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not commit an error under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994) by failing to instruct the jury that Defendant was ineligible after instructing the jurors that a life sentence includes the “possibility of release from prison after serving 35 years”; (2) there was no error in empaneling a juror who was a convicted felon; (3) there was no merit to Defendant’s challenges to each of the aggravating factors found by the jury; (4) the trial court did not commit reversible error in its evidentiary rulings; (5) there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions; (6) the prosecutor did not violate Defendant’s due process rights by misstating the law on mitigation during the penalty phase; (7) Defendant’s claim of cumulative prosecutorial misconduct failed; and (8) the jury did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant to death. View "State v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that an abuser’s ongoing threats of harm over a three-month period may establish a “threat or use of immediate physical force” under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-412(A) supporting a defendant’s duress defense to charges of abusing her children. Defendant and her husband were convicted of the kidnapping and child abuse of their three daughters. At issue on appeal was whether the husband’s threats and abuse of Defendant created a threat of immediate harm sufficient to support a duress defense and whether Defendant’s proposed expert testimony was admissible as observation evidence. The Court of Appeals answered both questions in the affirmative. The Supreme Court vacated a portion of the court of appeals’ opinion, reversed Defendant’s convictions and sentences, and remanded this case for a new trial, holding (1) the trial court erred when it precluded Defendant from raising a duress defense and from introducing evidence in support of that defense; and (2) the expert testimony regarding the psychological effects of Defendant’s husband’s ongoing threats of harm did not constitute permissible observation evidence under Clark v. Arizona, 548 U.S. 735 (2006). View "State v. Richter" on Justia Law