Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court vacated the order of the trial court appointing a special master to conduct an in camera review of recordings of jail phone calls between Defendant and a criminal defense attorney to determine whether the calls were privileged, holding that a court may not invade the attorney-client privilege to determine its existence, even in camera using a special master.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) a party claiming the attorney-client privilege must make a prima facie showing supporting that claim, and upon such a showing, the court may hold a hearing to determine whether the privilege applies; (2) once the privilege has been established, a party attempting to set it aside under the crime-fraud exception must demonstrate a factual basis adequate to support a good faith belief by a reasonable person that in camera review of the materials may reveal evidence to establish the claim that the crime-fraud exception applies, and only then may a special master review the privileged communications; and (3) because the State conceded that it cannot meet its burden, if the court determines that the privilege applies, the State may not review the recordings between Defendant and his attorney. View "Clements v. Honorable Deborah Bernini" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court held that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-1202(B)(2), which enhances the sentence for threatening or intimidating if the defendant is a criminal street gang member, is unconstitutional because it increases the defendant's sentence based solely upon gang status, in violation of substantive due process.Defendant was arrested and charged with two counts of threatening or intimidating, in violation of section 13-1202(B)(2). The trial court dismissed all threatening or intimidating charges, holding that section 13-1202(B)(2) is unconstitutional because it violates due process by punishing a defendant for mere gang membership or association. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 13-1202(B)(2) violates due process because it enhances criminal penalties based solely on gang status without a sufficient nexus between gang membership and the underlying crime of threatening or intimidating. View "State v. Arevalo" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court held that Arizona's statutory framework for adjudicating intellectual disability complies with the constitutional requirements announced in the recent United States Supreme Court cases, Moore v. Texas, 137 S. Ct. 1039 (2017) (Moore I), and Moore v. Texas, 139 S. Ct. 666 (2019) (Moore II).Pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-753(K)(3), a finding that a defendant has an intellectual disability requires a mental deficit "existing concurrently with significant impairment in adaptive behavior" before the defendant is eighteen. At issue in this case was the impact of Moore I and Moore II on section 13-753(K)(1)'s definition of "adaptive behavior." The Supreme Court held that Moore I and Moore II did not eliminate section 13-753(K)(1)'s requirements that the trial court conduct an overall assessment to determine if the defendant has a deficit in any life-skill category and, if a deficit exists, determine whether it affects the defendant's ability to meet "the standards of personal independence and social responsibility expected of defendant's age and cultural group." Because the trial court did not conduct an overall assessment of Defendant's ability to meet society's expectations of him, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case for a new intellectual disability determination using the standard set forth in this opinion. View "State v. Honorable Michael W. Kemp" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part Defendant's convictions and sentences for two counts of theft, two counts of vehicle theft, and one count of robbery, holding that theft is a lesser-included offense of both vehicle theft and robbery but that vehicle theft is not a lesser-included offense of robbery.At issue was whether Defendant's convictions and sentences constituted multiple punishments for the same offense in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court held (1) theft is a lesser-included offense of vehicle theft, and therefore, the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibited Defendant's convictions for both theft and vehicle theft; (2) theft is a lesser-included offense of robbery; (3) vehicle theft is not a lesser-included offense of robbery, and vehicle theft and robbery may be punished separately; and (4) an offense with a greater penalty can be a lesser-included offense of one with a lesser penalty. View "State v. Carter" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's probation revocation and sentence on the basis that Defendant was precluded from challenging her sentence on appeal because she had invited any potential error, holding that an appellate court may not apply the invited error doctrine to preclude review of an illegal, stipulated sentence in a plea agreement.Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter and reckless child abuse. Consistent with the agreement, the trial court sentenced Defendant to ten years' imprisonment for the manslaughter and a consecutive term of lifetime probation for child abuse. After Defendant violated her probation, Defendant argued that her convictions for manslaughter and child abuse comprised a single criminal act against a single victim, and therefore, the stipulated consecutive sentences in her plea agreement resulted in an illegal double punishment. The trial court disagreed and revoked Defendant's probation. The court of appeals affirmed, finding that Defendant was precluded from challenging her sentence on appeal because she had invited any potential error by stipulating to consecutive sentences in her plea agreement. The Supreme Court vacated the court's opinion, holding that the court of appeals erred in applying the invited error doctrine to preclude Defendant from challenging the error on appeal. View "State v. Robertson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court held that the practice of placing a cap on the amount of restitution a defendant may be liable for in a plea agreement, without the victim's consent, violates the right to restitution.In State v. Lukens, 151 Ariz. 502 (1986), State v. Phillips, 152 Airz. 533 (1987), and State v. Crowder, 155 Ariz. 477 (1987), the Supreme Court held that a specific amount of restitution or a cap is necessary for a defendant to make a voluntary and intelligent plea. Here, the Supreme Court overruled these former decisions, holding (1) there is no constitutional requirement to inform a defendant of a specific amount of restitution or to cap the amount of restitution that a court may order; and (2) the change will apply prospectively. Further, the Court held that a lawyer representing a victim has a presumptive right to sit in the well of the courtroom during a hearing involving a victim's constitutional or statutory right, subject to the physical limitations of a courtroom or other trial exigencies.In the instant case, the Supreme Court vacated the cap on restitution available to the victim. View "E.H. v. Honorable Dan Slayton" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court held that a defendant presenting an appellate claim of fundamental error due to cumulative prosecutorial misconduct does not need to assert fundamental error for every allegation in order to preserve for review the argument that misconduct occurred.Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutor committed several instances of misconduct. For all but three of the alleged incidents of misconduct, the court of appeals concluded that Defendant waived argument that error occurred because he failed to set forth an argument of fundamental error for each allegation. The court then determined that Defendant failed to successfully argue misconduct for any of his allegations. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision, holding (1) when a defendant raises a claim on appeal that multiple incidents of prosecutorial misconduct, for which the defendant failed to object, cumulatively deprived him of a fair trial, the defendant need not argue that each instance of alleged misconduct individually deprived him of a fair trial; and (2) Defendant indisputably argued that cumulative error entitled him to a new trial due to pervasive prosecutorial misconduct. View "State v. Vargas" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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