Year: 2014

Would an Arizona grand jury indict in the Michael Brown case?

The news recently broke that a grand jury has declined to indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In that case, the officer, Darren Wilson, testified at the grand jury proceedings. In Arizona, it is common for law enforcement to testify at grand jury proceedings, but not as common for a suspect (i.e., someone about whom the grand jury is deliberating) to testify before the grand jury. In the Brown case, Wilson was both law enforcement and the person under scrutiny for killing Michael Brown, which he admitted doing. Arizona has its own set of grand jury laws. Let’s reflect on some of those now, in light of the Michael Brown case.

It is settled law in the State of Arizona that a grand jury proceeding may be challenged for the denial of substantial procedural rights. Rule 12.9, ARIZ.R.CRIM.PROC. The accused is entitled to due process during a grand jury proceeding, requiring the use of an unbiased grand jury and fair and impartial presentation of the evidence. Crimmins v. Superior Ct. In & For Maricopa Cty., 137 Ariz. 39, 668 P.2d 882, 884 (1983).

Arizona has long recognized the historical independence of the grand jury. The purpose of the grand jury is to “clear the innocent, no less than to bring to trial those who may be guilty.” United States v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1, 16-17 (1973). In order to fulfill its purpose, the grand jury must “be both independent and informed in order to render a decision free from bias.” Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 390 (1962).

Arizona courts have attempted to safeguard grand jury independence by regulating the prosecutor’s presentation of the evidence and law and also by enforcing the prosecutor’s good faith duty. Justice Feldman of the Arizona Supreme Court described the role of the grand jury as:

The grand jury is neither an arm nor a servant of the prosecution. It has an independent responsibility to determine whether there is probable cause to believe a particular crime has been committed. A further function is to protect citizens against unfounded criminal prosecutions.

Crimmins, supra, 668 P.2d at 886 (Feldman, J. specifically concurring).

In Arizona, the State is also obligated to present to the Grand Jury “exculpatory evidence.” More specifically, while the State is not obligated to present evidence that is “arguably” exculpatory to the grand jury, the State must present evidence that is “clearly” exculpatory. State v. Coconino County Superior Court, 139 Ariz. 422, 687 P.2d 1386 (1984).

It is difficult, if not impossible, to say what an Arizona grand jury would do in the Michael Brown shooting. We note that grand jury proceedings in Arizona, due to their secretive nature and limited witness testimony, do not compare to a real trial. That’s why some indictments are issued by a grand jury but ultimately rejected by a trial jury after hearing all of the evidence, from both sides.

Also, in Arizona, the law on self-defense can be a huge hurdle for the State to overcome to obtain a conviction. That’s because, in Arizona, the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the actions of the defendant were not self-defense. That’s right, the State must prove a negative: that the defendant was not acting in self-defense, within the limitations of Arizona’s criminal justification laws. We encourage our readers to review the grand jury transcript in the Michael Brown case for themselves. It has been published on many national media websites. Then, ask yourself: would an Arizona grand jury have acted differently in the Michael Brown case?

Most importantly, we grieve for the Michael Brown family, who have suffered the greatest loss. We hope his life and his story cause a positive social change, to include appropriate self-restraint by law enforcement, while keeping everyone as safe as possible.

Tequila Sunrise in Flagstaff

Tequila Sunrise is a Flagstaff and NAU tradition – the perfect kick-off to NAU Homecoming festivities. However, mixing alcohol and a heavy police presence can lead to confusion and arrests. Each year, we have routinely defended NAU students and other young adults who find themselves in handcuffs on Tequila Sunrise morning. We offer free consultations on all criminal charges in Arizona, ranging from disorderly conduct to assault to DUI, and more.

As a general reminder, a criminal case is charged through an Arizona Ticket and Complaint, which the police can hand to you, or a Court can provide to you later. Typically, a misdemeanor case that occurs in Flagstaff will result in a criminal case being filed in Flagstaff Municipal Court. However, if the allegation arises out of events on the NAU campus, the case will typically be filed in the Flagstaff Justice Court. And if it’s a felony case, it will be in the Flagstaff Justice Court or the Coconino County Superior Court. Regardless of where the case is filed, the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure will dictate how the case proceeds.

First, there will be an Arraignment. If you don’t have a lawyer, you must appear in person for the Arraignment, or else a warrant will be issued for your arrest. However, if you have an attorney, you do not need to go to the Arraignment if your lawyer tells you it’s okay to skip. Second, there will be a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC) and police reports (the “disclosure”) will be provided to you or your attorney.

Ultimately, you will be able to decide between accepting a plea agreement — or deferred prosecution or diversion agreement, if available — or proceeding to a trial. Some cases have the right to a jury trial; other cases will be a bench trial (where the Judge is both the fact-finder and the Judge). It is our job to get the best possible plea offer, deferred prosecution, or diversion agreement for our clients. And, if the offer is not good enough, we are well known as Flagstaff’s successful trial attorneys. We are honored to utilize our trial experience, reputation, and skills to achieve the best possible outcome in a courtroom.

We offer free consultations on all criminal defense and personal injury cases in Northern Arizona. No pressure, no cost. Use the free contact form to the right, or call us at the number at the top of the page. Let the Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC fight for you.

The New Early Disposition Court

Yavapai County’s “early disposition court” (EDC) has been overhauled. New rules, new times for hearings, new ideas. The concept remains the same: substantively address felony cases at the preliminary hearing stage and try to resolve certain cases without expending unnecessary resources. The risks associated with this concept include not treating defendants fairly, putting undue pressure on defendants to accept a plea, limiting the time for the defense to investigate, develop strategy, and possibly crack a case wide open. Once you take a plea deal in early disposition court, you can’t retract it, except under very rare circumstances.

The new EDC rules allow for the defense to spend more time reviewing the police reports and developing a defense strategy while still in early disposition court (preliminary hearing stage). The old rules would limit a defendant’s ability to accomplish much work while still in the preliminary hearing stage. As a result, defendants used to waive preliminary hearings and proceed to the Yavapai County Superior Court more quickly. Now, however, cases are more likely to be resolved while in the early disposition court, without a defendant having to step foot into a Yavapai County Superior Court courtroom. The new rules also affect whether a defendant appears at the 8:00AM docket or the 1:00PM docket.

There are numerous options still available at an early disposition court proceeding: waive a preliminary hearing, continue the early disposition court to a new date, request a preliminary hearing (which is likely to trigger a grand jury indictment proceeding), take a plea, make a counter offer, and potentially more. All of these options should be discussed with a qualified criminal defense attorney. You are also entitled to receive the initial disclosure (police reports, etc.) at the early disposition court stage. The dangers of early disposition court are high: felony convictions, prison, probation, probation violations, parole violations, and more. Don’t fall for the trap of feeling pressured to take a plea deal. Make sure you are certain, with the assistance of legal counsel, that any plea agreement you accept is an appropriate resolution to your case.

At the Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC, we are honored to represent defendants in the early disposition court on a regular basis. We know the new rules. We know the new risks. We can protect your rights.

Injured in Northern Arizona? A legal strategy.

Northern Arizona has some of the most dangerous roads. Whether it’s a high-speed road through Indian Country, a crash on I-17 or I-40 in Northern Arizona, or a country road on the way to the Grand Canyon, or a dangerous intersection in the City of Flagstaff, accidents happen. Injuries happen. Negligent (i.e., bad) driving happens. Vehicles hit pedestrians and cyclists. All of these types of events can cause serious or fatal injuries. And very few people know how what to do if it happens to you or someone you know.

First, get medical help immediately. At the Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC, we sometimes see injury cases where the injured person refuses medical care, or is afraid to seek medical care due to the cost of an ambulance or treatment. It is incredibly important to get good quality medical care as fast as possible. Let us guide you through Arizona law as it relates to medical bills and liens later.

Second, call the police to make a report and ensure that a proper investigation is performed. In a motor vehicle accident, or MVA, it is appropriate for the police to review the accident scene, view the injuries, reconstruct what happened, and file a ticket or complaint against the negligent driver (if there is one). Detailed accounts of what happened are necessary to the proper handling of a personal injury case.

Third, when you feel ready, and medically stable, contact us for a free consultation. There are several reasons to do that. You may have a right under Arizona law to be reimbursed for your damages (bills, pain, suffering, etc.). You also may need advice and guidance on how to handle your medical bills, bill collectors, liens, subrogation claims, and pushy insurance adjusters. We do all of those things – diligently and professionally – for our clients.

Fourth, consult with us before you make any agreements with an insurance company or insurance adjuster. While they may seem nice on the phone (sometimes), you may not realize that you are getting a bad deal or unfair settlement. You should review any settlement offer with a lawyer. We do free case reviews in that regard. If you’re getting an unfair deal, we may be able to help you get substantially more money for your damages.

In addition to all of those things, you may also be faced with complicated issues involving medical liens, subrogation claims by insurance companies, lawsuit, mediation, arbitration, and more. If the insurance company for the negligent person that injured you cannot cover all of your damages, call us for more information about underinsured motorist coverage and/or uninsured motorist coverage. We would be honored to consult with you.

At the Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC, we professionally handle all personal injury claims with the utmost professionalism and diligence. We are trial lawyers, unafraid to fight insurance company lawyers in the courtroom. We go the distance to show those insurance companies that we will not back down and accept an unfair settlement, just to avoid litigation. We do the work. You get the results.

Flagstaff’s Criminal Courts Explained

Over 5 million people visit Flagstaff and Northern Arizona each year. Whether it’s a visit to Northern Arizona University (NAU) or the Grand Canyon, or perhaps to ski at Snow Bowl in the winter, Flagstaff welcomes tourists and travelers every day. With that many people, not to mention all of the NAU students who live here, people who work in town, and visitors from the Reservation, it’s no surprise that Flagstaff police, DPS, and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office stay busy with arrests and citations. This article is part of our “Criminal Defense in Northern Arizona Courts” series. Here, we’re going to explain the differences between the criminal courts located in Flagstaff. Believe it or not, there are five (5) different criminal courts in Flagstaff alone!

(1) Coconino County Superior Court – This is Flagstaff’s adult felony court. If you have a criminal case in Coconino County Superior Court, it means you are charged with – and being prosecuted for – a felony case. A felony, by definition, is any crime for which you can be punished in excess of one (1) year in prison. Therefore, major felony cases involving life in prison, the death penalty, and decades of incarceration are heard and tried in the Coconino County Superior Court. There are four (4) main divisions that handle felony cases in Coconino County Superior Court. However, there are six (6) divisions total. This is also the location in which the DUI/Drug Court Program operates.

(2) Flagstaff Justice Court – Like the Coconino County Superior Court, this court is a county court. It is located in the same building as the Coconino County Superior Court at 200 N. San Francisco Street. Flagstaff Justice Court handles both misdemeanor and felony cases. However, a felony case cannot be resolved as a felony in Flagstaff Justice Court. This court can handle the preliminary stages of a felony case. If a felony case proceeds beyond the preliminary hearing, the case would have to be transferred to the Superior Court. But if a case is a misdemeanor – like a DUI, domestic violence simple assault, disorderly conduct, etc. – the Flagstaff Justice Court will handle it through completion. Criminal charges that arise inside the Flagstaff city limits generally are not sent to the Flagstaff Justice Court, although this court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Flagstaff Municipal Court. As a general rule, all criminal charges arising from the NAU campus are handled in Flagstaff Justice Court. Also, all criminal charges (except felonies that are indicted by a grand jury) that occur within the Flagstaff precinct of Coconino County will be heard in Flagstaff Justice Court. There are two Justices of the Peace in Flagstaff Justice Court. Both have prior experience working in criminal defense.

(3) Flagstaff Municipal Court – This court hears all misdemeanor cases that occur in the Flagstaff city limits, except those that occur on the NAU campus. This court can only hear misdemeanor cases. Because of cases like DUI and shoplifting, the Flagstaff
Court does have the authority to conduct jury trials. Other misdemeanors are tried to the judge, also called a bench trial. There are several judges that work in the Flagstaff Municipal Court, although only two are assigned to resolve the large majority of all Flagstaff misdemeanor cases.

(4) Coconino County Juvenile Court – This is the court for juvenile offenders and juvenile criminal charges (i.e., criminal charges against a minor under the age of 18). Arizona law does allow the prosecutor’s office to charge certain felony cases in adult court, even if the accused is under 18 years old. This court has one main judge. She is very experienced in juvenile law.

(5) U.S. Magistrate Court (Federal) – This is Flagstaff’s only federal court dedicated to criminal cases. This court handles misdemeanor cases through completion, and the preliminary stages of felony cases (including a preliminary hearing and detention hearing). If a felony case proceeds beyond the preliminary stages (i.e., the case is not pled down to a misdemeanor), then the case will be transferred to U.S. District Court in Phoenix. This court handles cases that arise in the Grand Canyon National Park, Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area, Lake Powell, Lake Mohave, and other federal jurisdictions. For major felony cases, as noted in the Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1153, that occur on the Indian Reservation, oftentimes the preliminary stages of the case will occur in this court.

We hope Flagstaff’s residents and visitors have a wonderful summer. Be careful out there and enjoy beautiful Flagstaff!