Arizona’s New Medical Marijuana Law: What Does It Mean?

November 19, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

With the recent passage of Proposition 203, voters made Arizona the 15th state (along with the District of Columbia) to legalize medical marijuana. The vote was a close one, with just 841,346 in favor and 837,005 opposed, just passing the 50% mark. The count from vote on election day, Nov. 2, was so close that the result wasn’t declared until nearly 2 weeks later.

Of course, Proposition 203 does not give free rein to hopeful or would-be marijuana users in the state. The new measure makes it lawful for patients with certain “chronic or debilitating” diseases or conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, or hepatitis C, to purchase up to two and a half ounces of marijuana every two weeks. In certain situations they may even be allowed to grow their own marijuana plants. A regulatory scheme will now apply to this category of marijuana use, bringing it beyond what had been strictly the realm of criminal law. To meet the medical use criteria, patients will have to receive a recommendation from their doctor and will also need to register with the Arizona Department of Health Services. Distribution will be through medical marijuana dispensaries.  Initially, Arizona will permit up to 124 such dispensaries.

The campaign in favour of Proposition 203 was run by Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project. It was opposed by all of Arizona’s sheriffs and county prosecutors, Governor Brewer, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard along with other politicians.

If you have a specific question, please contact The Koplow Law Firm Online or by phone at 602.494.3444.

Lawrence Koplow

ARIZONA CRIMINAL LAW: Sometimes It Is Just About Fairnes

October 28, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

The Arizona Supreme Court’s holding in State v. Geeslin was a rare event. In most circumstances, when a court makes a mistake, a formal objection to the court’s ruling must be found in the record. Put another way: if you fail to object to a court’s decision, you waive your right to appeal the ruling. However, as shown in Geeslin, there are some exceptions.

In Geeslin, the defendant was arrested for putting shoplifted goods in a stolen vehicle and was charged for Theft of a Means of Transportation (car theft.) The car theft charge may also have what is known as “a lesser included” charge of “Unlawful Use of a Means of Transportation” (joy riding.) Thus, if you take the car and intend to keep it, then it is considered car theft. If you take the car, without permission, but intend to return it is considered an “unlawful use” of the car. “Unlawful use” of the car is a lower level felony than “Theft” of the car. It is a common defense for someone accused of “theft” of a car to claim they intended to return it (i.e. “it was only a joyride”).

Here, the defendant’s attorney asked for a specific jury instruction regarding the charge of “Unlawful Use of Means of Transportation.” The judge denied the request and the attorney objected. However, something unusual occurred: the “record on appeal did not contain Geeslin’s requested instruction.” Thus, The Arizona Court of Appeals presumed that the missing record supported the trial court’s decision and denied the appeal.

The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the decision. The Court stated that fairness and due process required the trial judge to instruct the jurors of all offenses “necessarily included” in the offense charged. The court held that the jury must know exactly what is included in the charge in order to successfully fulfill their roles as finders of fact.

Although seeming insignificant at times, proper objections presented by an attorney may be critical to winning a case – even if it is on appeal. Here, the Defendant was extremely fortunate that the Court “overlooked” the absence of a formal record. While sometimes a court will resort to looking at what’s “fair,” those cases are few and far between.

If you have a specific question, please contact The Koplow Law Firm Online or by phone at 602.494.3444.

Lawrence Koplow

Do We Really Care About Prosecutorial Misconduct?

October 18, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

In my experience most prosecutors play by the rules.  They know their ethical duties and abide by them.  However, I, along with many of my colleagues, have observed a growing number of prosecutors that have no problem stepping over the ethics line.  The issue seems more to do with ignorance than intent.

For the most part, the public is unaware of this growing problem.  It is only when the misconduct is so outrageous and the victim has the means to fight it does the misconduct make its way to the public’s attention (e.g. the 2006 Duke University lacrosse case.)   When prosecutorial misconduct truly does occur, only a small percentage of prosecutors are disciplined for their actions.  Apparently, a new report from the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law demonstrates this problem is not isolated to Arizona.

The Report examined more than 4,000 cases where prosecutorial misconduct was alleged over a twelve year period.  The Report found that courts only made prosecutorial misconduct a finding in approximately 700 of 4,000 of the cases.  In those 700 cases, only six (6) prosecutors were charged with misconduct.  Obviously, as a former prosecutor, I understand that when someone is convicted of a crime, it may result in a frivolous claim; still these numbers are still extraordinary.

In addition, this report determined that judges often failed to report prosecutorial misconduct to the state bar despite their legal obligation to notify the bar of such behavior.  Although over sixty prosecutors (60) committed misconduct more than once, and some more than five times, the majority of those prosecutors were never publicly disciplined.

In response to the report, the State Bar of California, issued the following written statement:

“Prosecutorial misconduct as indicated in the Innocence Project report does not always equate with attorney misconduct for disciplinary purposes.  The State Bar believes that it is disciplining criminal prosecutors where appropriate and where the misconduct was willful and can be established by clear and convincing evidence.”

If you have a specific legal question regarding prosecutorial misconduct in an Arizona Criminal Case, please contact The Koplow Law Firm at 602-494-3444.

Lawrence Koplow

Arizona Criminal Law: A Review Of What Happened To SB 1070

August 19, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

On July 28, 2010 the federal district court issued an injunction to part of the highly publicized and talked about immigration bill in Arizona, known through-out the country as SB 1070.

Practically speaking, this means that part of the bill is not enforceable until the appellate courts determine its constitutionality. Judge Susan Bolton had to read the bill piece by piece and line by line using the appropriate legal standards, statutes, and case law, to determine which provisions of the bill were constitutional, and which were not.

When the United States brought the lawsuit against the state of Arizona, their main legal argument was that Arizona could not make immigration law, because that is a power given only to the Federal Government. Arizona argued that this bill added to already existing Arizona statutes and that Arizona was not stepping on or over, the current federal laws.  The legal principal at issue is known as Federal Preemption.

For the most part, the decision of the court at this point was to allow Arizona to continue to enforce some parts of the bill. The sections of the law left in place include:

  • Making it a crime to knowingly or intentionally employ an illegal alien
  • Requiring employers to check for the immigration eligibility of an employee
  • Making it a crime to smuggle human being across the border
  • Making it a crime to stop a car to pick up day laborers if it interrupts the normal flow of traffic
  • Impounding vehicles that were used for transportation or harboring people who are unlawfully in the United States
  • Allowing Arizona to create the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission Fund

This order also prevents Arizona law enforcement from enforcing some of the bill.  The sections of the law struck down by the court include:

  • Making it a crime for persons not to carry their registration papers
  • Having the status of a person’s immigration checked before releasing them from custody
  • Allowing a warrantless arrest based on probable cause of a person who is believed to have committed a crime that would subject them to removal from the United States

To read the entire decision, click on here.

The Arizona Supreme Court also addressed the federal court’s decision on SB 1070.  Soon after the federal court’s ruling the Arizona Supreme Court released an Administrative Order regarding the bill.  The Order made changes to procedures and forms used when an illegal alien is arrested, or sentenced. For example, if a criminal defendant is sentenced, including even to pay a fine, and it has been found that the defendant is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, the judge must include this fact in the sentencing report. Then the clerk of the court must submit that report to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office.

The form used at the time of arrest will be modified to include a place for the law enforcement agent to ask the person in custody for his place of birth, country of citizenship, and amount of time present in the United States. The form also includes a place for the law enforcement agent to spell out what the reasonable suspicion was that prompted the law enforcement agent to make the arrest, and a reminder to the agent to check with Federal Immigration Agencies to verify the immigration status of the defendant.

If you have a question about a specific legal issue, please contact The Koplow Law Firm.

Lawrence Koplow

Best In Criminal Defense: July 2010

August 1, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

Here is a round up of the best criminal defense blog posts for July, 2010.  I always look for posts that provide either strong opinion, insight or novel information.  While July had a great selection to choose from, here are the top five:

  • The Hatred of Being In Trial – published by Brian Tannebaum a Miami criminal defense attorney.  He provides his view of doing trial work and being a criminal defense attorney.
  • Blagojevich Recap (Part II) – published by Tom Whithers a Georgia criminal defense attorney.  Mr. Withers presents a thourough and detailed recap of the Blagojevich trial.
  • On Jumping Without A Parachute – published by the great Gerry Spence.  Gerry discusses what is next for him and shares his philosophy and wisdom.

If you have written a post, or have read one that you think may qualify for the Best In Criminal Defense, then please let me know.

Lawrence Koplow

If It’s Broken, Does It Matter Who Broke It?

June 25, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

At the core of the United States Constitution is the principle of Due Process.  In its most basic form, this principle provides that the government must respect all of the legal rights owed to the people. One of those legal rights is the guarantee of a fair trial to a person accused of a crime.A fair trial includes preventing the State from unfair or suggestive identifications which would direct a witness to make a false identification. The most common situation where these protections are needed is a “line-up.”  This is a procedure where a witness tries to identify someone that may have committed a crime.

In State v. Garcia, a man appealed his armed robbery and murder convictions based on a flier containing a photograph. Here, when police arrived on scene, a witness provided a detailed description of the first man to walk into the bar. A few days later, the police showed the same witness a photographic line-up.  Garcia’s picture was included in a group of photos.  The witness failed to identify Garcia in the picture line-up.

Television stations were later given pictures from a security camera to help find the suspects.  It appears the pictures may have been provided by the police.  Subsequently, the police contacted the witness that failed to identify Garcia in the photographic line-up (and other witnesses); and told them not to watch any news broadcasts or any other coverage regarding the shooting.

However, despite the warning, the witness that previously failed to identify Garcia saw a “reward flier” containing the picture released by law enforcement. A key fact (for the court) was the reward fliers were not made, or passed out by the police.  Later, Garcia’s attorneys argued this identification was unfairly suggestive.  A motion to exclude the identification by witness was made.  The trial court denied the motion.

The Arizona Supreme Court held that because the flier was not made or authorized by the police, it did not fall within the protections of the Due Process Clause.  They reasoned there was no state interference of the witness and Due Process protection only forbids the State from causing this type of tainted identification.

It appears the court believed that releasing the photo was not enough state action to violate Garcia’s Due Process rights. Perhaps, if the defense was able to identify the creator of the flier, the result may be different.  What if the person was part of a silent witness program or some other quasi-government program?  Moreover, the opinion plainly states the defense did not admit a copy of the flier into evidence.  Could the contents of the flier have supplied some evidence of state action?

In sum, the behavior that taints the identification needs a closer connection (at least in Arizona) to state action, in order to be rise to the level of a Due Process violation.  Moreover, while the Court permitted the witness to testify about his identification, the defense still has the right to cross-examine the witness as to suggestive circumstances of the identification.

If you have questions regarding a specific legal issue please contact The Koplow Law Firm.

Lawrence Koplow

Arizona Marijuana Law: Something You Probably Already Knew About Marijuana and Religion

June 23, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

Just in case there was any doubt, the Arizona Court of Appeals made it official that your religious beliefs are not a legal defense to the crime of Possession of Marijuana.

In the case of State v. Hardesty, Mr. Hardesty was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. After a routine traffic stop, drugs were found in Mr. Hardesty car.  He claimed that the drugs were part of his religion, and tried to assert a defense under the Freedom of Religion Act.

He argued that under both the federal and state constitutions, the Act protected his use of the drug. While many people believe that government may not restrict religious activity, this is simply untrue. The court here points out that the Government may restrict religious activity if: (1) the restriction furthers a substantial government interest, and (2) there is no less restrictive means of furthering the interest. The least restrictive means refers to an alternative way to protect the asserted interest, without a complete ban on the activity.  Here, Hardesty claimed that his religion allowed him to smoke and eat marijuana wherever, whenever, and in whatever amounts he felt necessary.

On the other hand, the government argued that there is a substantial interest is public safety, and a complete ban on its use is necessary. The court agreed with the government’s public interest argument.  The Court went on to there is no other way to insure public safety aside from the ban on marijuana use, because Hardesty insisted he could use marijuana at anytime and anyplace.

This one was not that hard to predict.  If you have question about a specific legal issue please contact the Koplow Law Firm.

Lawrence Koplow

Arizona Drug Law: Cheat First And Search Later

June 23, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

Drug sniffing dogs – you see them at the airport, the bus station, and on television. They serve an important purpose for law enforcement and the public. That is, they smell drugs when humans cannot. Moreover, the dogs do it in a manner that is not invasive to the people being search. However, there are some rules, like the 4th Amendment to constitution, that restrict how these dogs can be used.

For example, law enforcement can’t just bust down your door without a warrant and take a dog through your house to smell everything. When it comes to your home, the Fourth Amendment to the Unites Constitution was created protect against such unreasonable entries. However, the courts are giving law enforcement more and more “leeway” on how they use man’s best friend to overcome the constitutional hurdles of the Fourth Amendment.

Look for example at a 2010 Arizona Court of Appeals case, State v. Guillen. In Guillen, one of questions asked was: if consent to search a home is valid, when the resident giving consent was unaware of a dog-sniff conducted on her property, without a warrant, before she arrived home. That is, law enforcement went on her property without a warrant, had the dog sniff the garage and the dog smelled something. Then they asked the homeowner to search the house. At the heart of the case is the fact she consented to search.

One could could argue this way: law enforcement violated her fourth amendment rights, used the information they got illegally to help make an arrest that merely appeared legal. After all, would the resident have consented if she had known that a potentially illegal search / entry on her property had just occurred?

The above theory was essentially adopted by the defendant’s attorney in front of the Arizona Court of Appeals. They posited that the initial dog sniff on the property without the owner’s knowledge was illegal police misconduct in the first place. Thus, the later consent was not valid, and the entire search of the home would be illegal.

In general, courts consider the term “Consent” to mean the voluntary, and un-coerced permission of a person which allows a government official to take a specified action without a warrant.

However, the court disagreed with this argument after looking at the chain of events. The Court stated that the relationship between the sniff and the consent was the determining factor. For the consent to be invalid as the defendant’s attorney suggested, the consent must have been caused as a result of police misconduct. The fact that the resident did not know about the dog sniff, and she was not forced to allow police in the home, and she was not forced to allow police in the home, means that the consent was not a result of the dog sniff, and was not invalid on that argument alone.

It appears the court did not address the actual constitutionality of the dog sniff in the driveway. Consequently, the door may be left open to argue the constitutionally of this type search in the future if the facts distinguishable.

If you have question about a specific legal issue please contact the Koplow Law Firm.

Lawrence Koplow

Arizona Drug Law: I Bet You Never Knew How Important Your Blinker Was

June 17, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

When being stopped by an officer there are many things that go through a driver’s head. “Was I speeding?” “Is there a taillight out?” “Did I swerve?” On the other hand, most people don’t usually think “did I use my blinker appropriately.” However, the issue of the appropriate use of a blinker, was one of the primary questions decided by the recent Arizona Court of Appeals Case: Arizona v. Douglas Dean Starr.

In the Starr case, a DPS officer was driving along the highway behind Starr. The officer reported that he observed Starr following the car behind him too closely, and also changing lanes multiple times. Also the officer says he observed Starr, without using a turn signal, change lanes and pass a large commercial truck that was merging in the same lane, onto the highway. The officer pulled Starr over. During the stop, the officer found marijuana and other drug paraphernalia, resulting in confiscating the property, and multiple drug possession charges.

Starr challenged the traffic stop as being unconstitutional. That is, his attorneys argued there was not a constitutionally valid reason to pull his car over. If this were the case, then the drug charges would be dismissed. Their specific argument was that the wording of the statute that regulated the use of a turn signal, only mandates a driver use a blinker, when a driver makes a full 90 degree turn. They asserted the law does  not apply to situations when a driver  merely change lanes. This argument required the court to look at the statute and interpret the law’s true meaning.

The interpretation of this particular statute had not yet been analyzed by the Arizona courts until this case.  In its decision, the court looked to similar rulings in other states. Many other jurisdictions held that a turn signal is required when any type of movement of one car would affect the course of another car. For example, if there was no car in sight for miles, a person would not need to use a blinker.  The reason being, there is no chance of another car, having to change their pattern of driving due to the lack of blinker use.  Put another way, there are no safety reason requiring notice of a lane change. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that because the wording of the Arizona statute specifies the necessity for safety, and that there were other cars on the road when Starr changed lanes, the use of a blinker was required. Thus, the conviction was upheld.

Consequently, to be successful on this type of motion you need both: (1) a factual scenario with light or no traffic; and (2) you must argue the safety of the lane change (i.e no other cars needed to brake; no other cars took evasive action; traffic was not disrupted) .

If you have question about a specific legal issue please contact the Koplow Law Firm.

Lawrence Koplow

The Best Criminal Defense Blog Posts For December

December 22, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Criminal Court

Since the “best of the month” blog post at my DUI blog has received a lot of positive feedback, I thought I should do the same here.  I have searched far and wide and these are the best criminal defense blog posts that I have found in December.

If you think I left out a deserving author, please let me know.



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