Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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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

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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