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ARIZONA CRIMINAL LAW: Sometimes It Is Just About Fairness

October 28th, 2010 Comments Off

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

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