Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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In 2011, Daniel Santillanes was convicted of a felony charge for facilitating the sale or transportation of marijuana in Arizona. In 2020, Arizona voters passed Proposition 207, which permitted the expungement of certain marijuana-related offenses. Following this, Santillanes sought to have his felony marijuana conviction expunged and his civil rights restored, including his right to possess a firearm. The trial court granted his request. The state then appealed the decision, questioning whether they had the right to do so.The main issue under consideration by the Supreme Court of the State of Arizona was whether the state had the right to appeal the trial court's decision to expunge Santillanes's record and restore his civil rights. The court concluded that the state did indeed have the right to appeal this expungement order under A.R.S. § 13-4032(4). The court found that an order expunging records of a felony conviction affects the substantial rights of the state, and therefore, the state has the right to appeal such a decision.The Supreme Court vacated parts of the lower court's opinion and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings, consistent with the remainder of the appellate court's opinion. View "STATE OF ARIZONA v SANTILLANES" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the "anti-abrogation clause" set forth in Ariz. Const. art. XVIII, 6 guaranteeing that the "right of action to recover damages for injuries shall never be abrogated" does not extend to dram-shop actions because they were recognized after statehood.At issue was whether the anti-abrogation clause extends to rights of action created after the Arizona Constitution was ratified, such as the common law dram-shop action recognized in Ontiveros v. Borak, 136 Ariz. 500 (1983). Plaintiffs sued Defendant, the owner of Jaguars Club in Phoenix, under theories of statutory and common law dram-shop liability. The jury found Defendant was liable under the common law dram-shop action recognized in Ontiveros but not liable under the dram-shop cause of action codified at Ariz. Rev. Stat. 4-311(A). The jury apportioned forty percent of the fault to Defendant. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for entry of judgment in favor of Defendant, holding that the legislature's limitation of dram-shop liability to actions brought under section 4-311 did not run afoul of the anti-abrogation clause by abrogating the common law dram-shop action recognized in Ontiveros. View "Torres v. JAI Dining Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this murder case, the Supreme Court established a standard a defendant must satisfy to compel extraction of GPS data by a defendant's third-party agent from a crime victim's automobile for the trial court's in camera inspection and held that remand was required in the instant case.Defendant was charged with the second-degree murder of Grant Draper, making his brother Lane Draper a victim by virtue of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-4401(12), a statute that implements the Arizona Constitution's Victims' Bill of Rights. During plea negotiations and without notice to Lane, Defendant obtained a court order to access GPS data to support his third-party defense identifying Lane as the possible killer and for cross-examination regarding the time Defendant argued he was asleep. The trial court allowed the data to be extracted for a limited in camera interview. Lane filed a petition for special action, which the court of appeals denied. The Supreme Court held (1) a defendant is entitled to discovery from a victim if the defendant seeks evidence of a constitutional dimension and the defendant establishes that the requested discovery is very likely to contain such evidence; and (2) remand was required in this case. View "Draper v. Honorable Gentry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that felony resisting arrest constitutes a single unified offense, thus affirming the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of felony resisting arrest and other offenses and sentencing him accordingly.On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court's instruction regarding the elements of resisting arrest under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-2508(A)(2) improperly conflated subsections (A)(1) and (A)(2). The court of appeals rejected the argument and affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 13-2508 is ambiguous because it may be reasonably read as setting forth a single unified offense or distinct crimes, and this Court concludes that subsections (A)(1) and (A)(2) are alternative means of committing one offense; (2) this Court's interpretation of section 13-2508 comports with the Sixth Amendment; and (3) because the two subsections set forth a single unified offense the jury instruction regarding this crime did not constitute error. View "State v. Luviano" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that certain statements made on air by a radio talk show host about a political figure could not serve as a basis for a defamation action given each statement's content, the overall context, and the protections afforded to core political speech by the First Amendment.Respondent Daniel McCarthy, a "Republican political hopeful," sued James Harris, a radio host on a local station owned by iHeartMedia, Inc. (collectively, Petitioners), alleging that statements made by Harris on his radio show were defamatory. Petitioners filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the statements were rhetorical hyperbole incapable of being proved false and thus protected by the First Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that none of the statements at issue were actionable because none of them could be reasonably interpreted as asserting or implying false statements of fact that defamed McCarthy. View "Harris v. Honorable Warner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the post-conviction relief (PCR) court determining that Appellant raised a colorable claim for ineffective assistance of trial counsel and ordering him to disclose certain materials, holding that the PCR court did not err in ordering the disclosure of the records.Appellant was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to death. In these PCR proceedings, the PCR court determined that Appellant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim in III(A)-III(E) of the PCR petition was colorable. The court then ordered Appellant to disclose materials associated with trial counsel's interviews of three of Appellant's family members who did not testify during the penalty phase of trial. Appellant filed a petition for special action, claiming that he should not have to disclose the records at issue. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was good cause for the disclosure of materials associated with the interviews under Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.6(b)(2). View "Naranjo v. Honorable Sukenic" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Ariz. Rev. Stat. 23-1043.01(B), which limits workers' compensation claims for mental illnesses to those that arise from an "unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress" situation, does not violate Ariz. Const. art. XVIII, 8 or equal protection guarantees under Ariz. Const. art. II, 13.Plaintiff, an officer with the Tucson Police Department, filed an industrial injury claim arising from an incident in June 2018, claiming that it exacerbated his preexisting post-traumatic stress disorder. An administrative law judge found Plaintiff's claims for mental injuries non-compensable because the June 2018 incident was not an "unexpected, unusual or extraordinary stress" situation under section 23-1043.01(B). The court of appeals affirmed the denial of benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 23-1043.01(B) does not unconstitutionally limit recovery for stress-related workplace injuries. View "Matthews v. Industrial Comm'n" 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 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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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