Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, two counts of aggravated assault causing temporary but substantial disfigurement, and one count of attempted second degree murder, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error.At issue on appeal was whether the trial court committed fundamental error by instructing the jury that a conviction for attempted second degree murder may be based not only on intent to kill but on recklessness or the defendant's knowledge that serious injury would result. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions, holding (1) the trial court's instruction on second degree murder was erroneous, and a new instruction is necessary, which the Court adopts in this opinion; and (2) based on the evidence, the nature of the charged offense, and other factors, Defendant fell short of meeting his burden of persuading the Court that he suffered prejudice. View "State v. Fierro" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion seeking remand to the grand jury for a redetermination of probable cause pursuant to Ariz. R. Crim. P. 12.9, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's Rule 12.9 motion.A grand jury indicted Defendant for attempted second degree murder and other crimes. Defendant subsequently filed the motion at issue, arguing that the State withheld clearly exculpatory evidence of a justification defense that it was obligated to present despite the evidence not being requested by the defense. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Arizona Constitution guarantees a person under grand jury investigation a due process right to a fair and impartial presentation of clearly exculpatory evidence, and a prosecutor has a duty to present such evidence to a grand jury even in the absence of a specific request; (2) where there is evidence relevant to a justification defense that would deter a grand jury from finding probable cause the prosecutor has an obligation to present such evidence; and (3) the State failed to present clearly exculpatory evidence in this case, denying Defendant a substantial procedural right. View "Willis v. Honorable Bernini" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of sexual conduct with a minor under age fifteen and other charges, holding that contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3613, is not a lesser-included offense of sexual conduct with a minor, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-1405.The court of appeals vacated Defendant's conviction of committing sexual conduct with a minor under age fifteen, holding that contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a lesser-included offense of sexual conduct with a minor under age fifteen. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and remanded to the court of appeals for further proceedings, holding that contributing to the delinquency of a minor is not a lesser-included offense of sexual conduct with a minor. View "State v. Agueda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant, following a jury trial, of murdering her ten-year-old cousin, but remanded the case for resentencing, holding that the sentence imposed for count four was illegal.A jury convicted Defendant of first-degree felony murder, conspiracy to commit child abuse, and three counts of child abuse (counts three through five). The jury imposed the death sentence on the murder conviction and maximum and aggravated terms of imprisonment on the remaining counts. Defendant appealed both the judgments and the sentences. The Supreme Court largely affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not entitled to reversal of her convictions based on her allegations of error; and (2) as to count four, because only one aggravating factor was found, the imposition of an aggravated sentence was illegal. View "State v. Allen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of thirteen felony counts of aggravated harassment, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in accepting Defendant's jury-trial waiver.At issue on appeal was whether, in a case where a criminal defendant's competency has been put at issue, a trial court must make a specific finding of heightened competency before determining that the defendant's waiver of the right to a jury trial is voluntary, knowing, and intelligent. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding (1) Arizona law does not require a finding of heightened competency for a jury-trial waiver where a defendant's competency has been put at issue; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Defendant had knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his right to a jury trial. View "State v. Muhammad" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the lower courts in this matter arising from two criminal cases, holding that the Cochise County Superior Court's innominate jury system does not violate the First Amendment.This case arose from two criminal cases that used innominate juries without objection by either party. In both cases, Appellant, a journalist, unsuccessfully sought access to prospective and impaneled jurors' names before and after trial. The court of appeals affirmed. On appeal, Appellant argued that the First Amendment provides a qualified right of public access to jurors' names during voir dire, thus creating a presumption of access that can be overcome only on a case-by-case basis by showing both that a compelling state interest exists in a particular case to shield the names and that denying access is a remedy narrowly tailored to serve that interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the First Amendment does not provide the press or public with a qualified right to access jurors' names, and the law is facially valid. View "Morgan v. Honorable Dickerson" on Justia Law

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On July 18, 2012, Robinson beat, bound, and immolated his nine-months-pregnant girlfriend, S.H., in their apartment, killing her and their unborn child, B.H. He then placed a 9-1-1 call to report a fire. Upon extinguishing the fire, responders discovered S.H.’s partially burned body lying face down on the bedroom floor with her feet and hands bound, wrists handcuffed, mouth and eyes covered with duct tape, and mouth stuffed with cloth. A search of Robinson’s backpack revealed rolls of duct tape, pieces of crumpled duct tape, a matchbook with at least one match missing, and a receipt reflecting purchases of duct tape and a bottle of lighter fluid that day. Police found a handcuff key in Robinson’s pocket.Robinson was sentenced to death. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, first rejecting “Batson” challenges to the dismissal of potential minority jurors. The court upheld the jury’s “especial cruelty” and its “heinous or depraved conduct” findings. The legislature’s decision to equate feticide with infanticide also makes B.H.’s murder senseless as a matter of law. Robinson’s double-counting argument failed. Although the jury was prohibited from weighing B.H.’s age twice as it “assesse[d] aggravation and mitigation” at the penalty phase, it was permitted to “use one fact to find multiple aggravators” at the aggravation phase. The court also rejected challenges to jury instructions and statements made by the prosecutor. View "State of Arizona v Robinson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the identity of an alleged narcotic drug is an element of Arizona's drug possession statute, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3408, and therefore, jury unanimity is required as to which drug or drugs listed in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3401(6), (19), (20), or (23) was involved in an offense under section 34-3408.Petitioners in this case were Mexican natives lawfully residing in the United States who were convicted of drug-related counts. Based on their convictions, the immigration court ordered them removed from the country. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified for the Supreme Court questions regarding whether Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3415 and section 13-3408 were divisible as to drug type. The Supreme Court declined to answer the first two certified questions but did hold that jury unanimity regarding the identity of a specific drug is required for a conviction under section 13-3408. View "Romero-Millan v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that because the alleged conduct of a victim of the collision in this case occurred simultaneously with Max Fontes's alleged criminal conduct, Fontes was not entitled to a superseding cause jury instruction.Max Fontes was speeding when he struck Angel Shelby's vehicle. Shelby and his son were not restrained, and the child died. Shelby later pled guilty to driving under the influence and endangerment. Fontes was charged with, inter alia, manslaughter. Before trial, the State filed a motion in limine to preclude Fontes from raising a superseding cause defense. The trial court denied the motion, finding that Shelby's acts could constitute a superseding cause. The court of appeals vacated the trial court's order, concluding that a superseding cause instruction was precluded under the circumstances. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts, holding (1) Fontes was not entitled to a superseding cause jury instruction because Shelby's alleged acts and omissions were not intervening events; but (2) the court of appeals failed to analyze the predicate issue of whether Shelby's alleged acts and omissions were intervening events. View "State v. Honorable Aragon" on Justia Law

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In this criminal case concerning a defendant who asserted the attorney-client privilege the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the trial court ruling that all of the defendant's communications with his mitigation specialist, Anna Nelson, and the defense team's paralegal, Nicole Erich, were confidential, privileged, and non-discoverable, holding that there was no error.Defendant was in jail awaiting trial on charges of, among other things, first degree murder. Defendant used the jail's electronic tablets, including its text messaging capabilities, to communicate with members of the defense team. The State issued and served a criminal subpoena duces tecum on the jail requesting Defendant's texts to dispute his claimed intellectual disability. The State filed a motion to determine non-privileged status of communications with the trial court, arguing that Defendant's texts with the defense team were not privileged. The court ruled in favor of Defendant. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's ruling, holding the remand was required pursuant to Clements v. Bernini ex rel. County of Pima, 249 Ariz. 434 (2020), and the reasoning in this opinion. View "State ex rel. Adel v. Honorable Adleman" on Justia Law