Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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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

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentences for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping, and two counts of abandonment or concealment of a dead body, holding that Defendant's allegations of error did not warrant reversal. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) while the trial court did not explicitly refer to the factors set forth in State v. LaGrand, 152 Ariz. 483 (1987), the court considered those factors in assessing and denying Defendant's request for change of counsel; (2) the trial court did not err by telling the jury during voir dire and in the jury questionnaire that a life sentence could result in the possibility of Defendant's release after twenty-five years; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion or violate Defendant's constitutional rights by refusing to suppress incriminating statements Defendant made to an undercover police detective while Defendant was incarcerated; and (4) Defendant's remaining allegations of error and challenges to Arizona's death penalty scheme were unavailing. View "State v. Champagne" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for premeditated first degree murder, holding that a defendant who introduces expert evidence of a character trait for impulsivity to challenge premeditation cannot introduce evidence of brain damage to corroborate the existence of that trait. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion by precluding expert testimony from a psychologist that Defendant likely had diffuse brain damage, meaning that he was more likely to have a character trait for impulsivity. The court of appeals agreed, holding that the trial court erred by precluding the testimony but that the error was harmless. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and affirmed, holding (1) mental disease or defect evidence cannot be admitted to show that a defendant was less likely to have formed the mens rea element of a crime even if that evidence corroborates behavioral-tendency evidence; and (2) the trial court did not err in precluding the expert from testifying that Defendant suffered from brain damage even if the impairment made it more likely that Defendant had a character trait for impulsivity. View "State v. Malone" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the lower courts concluding that Defendant, an undocumented immigrant, received ineffective assistance of counsel resulting in his mandatory deportation, holding that Defendant was entitled to post-conviction relief. Defendant entered a guilty plea to possession of drug paraphernalia, resulting in his mandatory deportation. Defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that he would not have entered the guilty plea if his counsel had accurately advised him of the immigration consequences. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court concluded that Defendant had established ineffective assistance of counsel. The court of appeals affirmed. On appeal, the State argued that it met its burden of proving that the violation was harmless because Defendant would have been deported regardless of his plea. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, while Defendant had little chance of winning at trial, he was entitled to effective assistance of counsel in deciding whether to go to trial or to accept a plea offer and that by giving up his right to trial based on counsel's deficient advice, he was assured the outcome he most feared. View "State v. Nunez-Diaz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's convictions and sentences arising from his possession of hashish, a form of cannabis resin, holding that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) immunized Defendant's conduct because AMMA's definition of marijuana includes both its dried-leaf/flower form and extracted resin, including hashish. Defendant, a registered qualifying patient under AMMA, was charged with possession of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia after he was found in possession of a jar containing hashish. Defendant moved to dismiss the charges on the grounds that his use was allowed under AMMA. The trial court denied the motion and convicted Defendant. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the definition of marijuana in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 36-2801(8) includes resin, and by extension hashish, and that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 36-2811(B)(1) immunizes the use of such marijuana consistent with AMMA. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law