Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arizona Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentences for first-degree murder and child abuse, holding that no prejudicial error occurred during the trial proceedings.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress; (2) the trial court did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by admitting a pretrial identification of Defendant; (3) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's Batson challenges to the State's peremptory strikes of two jurors; (4) the trial court did not err by admitting a video demonstrating the location and movement of Defendant's and the victim's cellphones on the day of the murder; (5) the trial court did not err by restricting Defendant's cross-examination of the State's former case agent; (6) the trial court did not commit fundamental error by failing to reinstruct the jury at the close of the aggravation stage; (7) substantial evidence supported the jury's finding that Defendant killed the victim for pecuniary gain; (8) the jury was properly instructed; (9) the State did not engage in prosecutorial error; and (10) the jury did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant to death. View "State v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that consecutive sentences imposed for separate crimes, when the cumulative sentences exceed a juvenile's life expectancy, do not violate the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016).Defendants in these cases argued that their sentences violated the Eighth Amendment. At issue was whether Graham, Miller, and Montgomery prohibit aggregated consecutive sentences for separate crimes that exceed a juvenile's life expectancy. The Supreme Court held that Graham, Miller, and Montgomery do not prohibit such de facto life sentences, and therefore, Graham and its progeny do not constitute a significant chance in the law under Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(g). View "State v. Soto-Fong" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the constitutional prohibition on state and local governments from imposing or increasing taxes or other "transaction-based" fees on services does not extend to "trip fees" imposed by the City of Phoenix on commercial ground transportation providers who transport passengers to and from an airport.The Attorney General filed a special action pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. 41-194.01(B)(2) asking whether the City's newly adopted ordinance adjusting passenger pick-up fees and imposing new trip fees for dropping off departing passengers at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport violates Ariz. Const. Art. IV, 25 as to commercial ground transportation providers. The Supreme Court held (1) the ordinance does not violate section 25 because the fees are not "transaction-based"; and (2) the bond provision in section 41-194.01(B)(2) is incomplete and unintelligible and therefore unenforceable. View "State ex rel. Brnovich v. City of Phoenix" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a defendant presenting an appellate claim of fundamental error due to cumulative prosecutorial misconduct does not need to assert fundamental error for every allegation in order to preserve for review the argument that misconduct occurred.Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. On appeal, Defendant argued that the prosecutor committed several instances of misconduct. For all but three of the alleged incidents of misconduct, the court of appeals concluded that Defendant waived argument that error occurred because he failed to set forth an argument of fundamental error for each allegation. The court then determined that Defendant failed to successfully argue misconduct for any of his allegations. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision, holding (1) when a defendant raises a claim on appeal that multiple incidents of prosecutorial misconduct, for which the defendant failed to object, cumulatively deprived him of a fair trial, the defendant need not argue that each instance of alleged misconduct individually deprived him of a fair trial; and (2) Defendant indisputably argued that cumulative error entitled him to a new trial due to pervasive prosecutorial misconduct. View "State v. Vargas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Arizona Corporation Commission may appoint an interim manager to operate a public service corporation (PSC) based on its permissive authority under Ariz. Const. art. XV, 3.Under article 15, section 3, the Commission has permissive authority to make and enforce reasonable orders for the convenience, comfort, safety, and health of the public. Concluding that it was necessary to protect public health and safety, the Commission appointed EPCOR Water Arizona as an interim manager for Johnson Utilities, LLC, an Arizona PSC. Johnson filed a special action seeking to enjoin its enforcement, but the court of appeals denied relief, holding that the Commission has both constitutional and statutory authority to appoint an interim manager of a PSC. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion, holding that the Commission may appoint an interim manager based on its permissive authority under article 15, section 3 of the Arizona Constitution. View "Johnson Utilities, LLC v. Arizona Corp. Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a one-time payout for accrued sick leave does not form part of an employee's compensation for purposes of calculating that employee's pension benefit.The City of Phoenix paid pension benefits to eligible retiring employees, and the amount of that benefit partly depended on the employee's highest average annual compensation paid over a multi-year period. The City also paid employees for unused accrued sick leave upon retirement. Petitioners brought this action alleging that the City violated their constitutional rights by not considering accrued sick leave payouts upon retirement as pensionable compensation. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Petitioners, ruling that Petitioners had common law and constitutional rights to have one-time payouts for accrued sick leave included in the calculation of the employee's average compensation. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that one-time payouts for accrued sick leave upon retirement are not salary or wages because they are not paid annually or at regular intervals. View "Piccioli v. City of Pheonix" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order granting Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that Arizona's standard conditions of probation, which permit warrantless searches of a probationer's "property," apply to cell phones and that the search in this case was compliant with the Fourth Amendment.While Defendant was on probation, an adult probation department surveillance officer arrested Defendant for violating several conditions of probation. En route to jail, the officer looked through incriminating text messages and photos on Defendant's phone. The State subsequently indicted Defendant on sex counts of sexual conduct with a minor. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence gathered from the cell phone search. The trial court granted the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the plain meaning of "property" in one of Defendant's conditions of supervised probation included cell phone, and Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014), did not vary that meaning; and (2) under the totality of the circumstances, the officer's search of Defendant's cell phone was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. View "State v. Lietzau" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that, for purposes of imposing mandatory sex offender registration under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-3821(A)(3), a judge has the authority to make the necessary factual finding that the victim is under the age of eighteen and that Arizona's sex offender registration statutes are civil regulatory statutes, not criminal penalties.Defendant was convicted by a jury of one count of sexual abuse. In reaching its verdict the jury determined that the victim was "fifteen or more years of age." At sentencing, the trial court ordered Defendant to register as a sex offender. Defendant objected, arguing that, pursuant to Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), a jury was required to find whether Defendant was under eighteen pursuant to section 13-3821(A)(3). The trial court denied the objection. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Apprendi does not apply to factual findings that are necessary to impose registration because sex offender registration is a civil regulatory requirement, not a criminal penalty; and (2) the trial judge did not violate Apprendi by determining that the victim was under eighteen. View "State v. Trujillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for first degree murder and assisting a criminal street gang and his sentence of death, holding that there was not prejudicial error in the proceedings below.(1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's motion to change lead counsel; (2) Defendant failed to show that he was prejudiced by the trial court's failure to question jurors on questionnaire answers sua sponte; (3) any error in the admission of certain evidence was harmless; (4) Defendant did not suffer any prejudice by the trial court's instructions to the jury; (5) Defendant provided no valid arguments challenging the constitutional sufficiency regarding Arizona's (F)(6) aggravator or the constitutional applicability of the aggravator by a jury, rather than a judge; (6) the prosecutor's recitation of the guilt-phase accomplice liability instruction in the aggravation phase did not constitute error; and (7) any other errors in the trial court proceedings did not prejudice Defendant. View "State v. Riley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the owners of Brush & Nib Studios, LC (together with Brush & Nib, "Plaintiffs") have the right to refuse to create custom wedding invitations celebrating same-sex wedding ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs under article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution and Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion Act (FERA), Ariz. Rev. Stat. 41-1493.01.At issue was whether the City of Phoenix could apply its Human Relations Ordinance Plaintiffs to create custom artwork for same-sex weddings. The trial court granted summary judgment for the City, concluding that the Ordinance did not violate Plaintiffs' rights to free speech or free exercise of religion under FERA. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion and reversed the trial court's rulings, holding that the Ordinance, as applied to Plaintiffs' custom wedding invitations, and the creation of those invitations, unconstitutionally compels speech in violation of the Arizona Constitution's free speech clause and substantially burdens Plaintiffs' free exercise of religion under FERA. View "Brush & Nib Studio, LC v. City of Phoenix" on Justia Law