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Supreme Court Upholds Warrantless Apartment Search

February 26th, 2014 Comments Off

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Fernandez v. California, has upheld the warrantless search of an apartment when the suspect objected, but his girlfriend (and co-occupant) consented to the search after the suspect was arrested.

The court made an exception to its prior decision in Georgia v. Randolph, which held police cannot search a home when one person who lives there objects and the other consents.

Factual Summary

Police officers observed a suspect in a violent robbery run into an apartment building, and then heard screams coming from an apartment. Police go to the apartment and knocked on the door.

A woman who appears to have been assaulted (blood on her shirt and a bump on her nose), Roxanne Rojas, opens the door.

Walter Fernandez then also comes to the door and told police they had no right to enter.

Suspecting that Fernandez had assaulted Rojas, police arrested him.

The robbery victim then identified Fernandez as his attacker and Fernandez was taken to the police station for booking.

About an hour later, Rojas consented to a search of the apartment.

Majority’s Opinion

Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion.

Putting the exception the court adopted in Randolph to one side “the lawful occupant of a house or apartment should have the right to invite the police to enter the dwelling and conduct a search. Any other rule would trample on the rights of the occupant who is willing to consent.”

The occupant may want the search to quell suspicion, or to remove dangerous contraband.

“Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence…”

“Having beaten Rojas, petitioner would bar her from controlling access to her own home until such time as he chose to relent. The Fourth Amendment does not give him that power.”

Dissenting Opinion

Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent (joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.)

Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement “today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it, nevermind ample time to secure the approval of a neutral magistrate.”

The decision “shrinks to petite size our holding in Georgia v. Randolph.”

Click here for the entire decision.

SCOTUS, Preliminary Hearings & Brady Material

November 28th, 2013 Comments Off

The United States Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear a case where the prosecution is arguing – Brady evidence is not required to be disclosed before a preliminary hearing.

The cases is: California v. Gutierrez


Does the due process obligation, outlined in Brady v. Maryland, require prosecutors to provide exculpatory evidence to a defendant before a preliminary hearing at which a magistrate determines whether sufficient cause exists to require the defendant to stand trial?

May a state permit a defendant to move for pre-trial dismissal, pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), upon learning that the prosecution failed to disclose material exculpatory information in its possession at the time of the preliminary hearing?


• Gutierrez is charged with molesting his two foster daughters.

• The Prosecution fails to turn over evidence that one of the foster children had twice made false claims about her mother’s boyfriend assaulting her.

• Subsequently, the defense discovers police reports about the previous false claims;

• Lower court dismisses the case based on prosecutorial misconduct.


• The First District Court of Appeal in California upholds the lower court’s dismissal.

• A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that the state’s obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to criminal defendants under Brady v. Maryland (1963) applies not just trials but also to preliminary hearings. The California Supreme Court denied review.


Sep 16 2013 – Petition for a writ of certiorari filed.

Oct 17 2013 – Brief of respondent Gutierrez in opposition filed.

Oct 17 2013 – Brief amicus curiae of Jackie Lacey, District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles filed.

Oct 18 2013 – Brief amicus curiae of California District Attorneys Association filed.

Oct 31 2013 – Reply of petitioner California filed.

Nov 4 2013 – DISTRIBUTED for Conference of November 26, 2013.

A decision from the Supreme Court on whether to hear the case should come soon.

Due Process, Half-Truths, And Brady Material

November 1st, 2013 Comments Off

Real justice means everyone accused of a crime gets a fair process to defend against the accusations. In many cases due process happens. Our system of justice, however, requires that occurs in all cases. This isn’t exactly an onerous requirement. It starts with the truth.

The truth means…

…the whole truth, not a half-truth. A half-truth is a type of lie. A half-truth can make something that is merely a belief appear to be knowledge. A half-truth is a deceptive statement that contains an element of truth. The fallacy uses a kernel of truth in the statement, as support to deceive the recipient into believing the entire statement is true. Half-truths are difficult to detect because they are wrapped in the appearance of believability.

As one court aptly stated:

“[s]quarely false statements are not the problem. They are easily and effectively eliminated from the case law. The more elusive, and therefore more tenacious, culprit is the half-truth. Glenn v. State, 68 Md. App. 379, 381-82, 511 A.2d 1110, 1112 (1986).

The half-truth is most dangerous…

…in criminal prosecutions. The primary safeguard used to help ensure that someone gets due progress is the holding of Brady v. Maryland. Because of Brady, the law requires the prosecution to disclose any evidence that shows a person accused of a crime is actually innocent.

Brady is meant to prevent the half-truth deception. For example, when someone is charged with aiding in a murder by providing a gun to the killer, an eyewitness saying the accused was at the scene carrying a gun is damming evidence. However, are there any other facts that might make you question whether he actually committed the crime?

  • How about if the witness was on felony probation?
  • How about the fact he was on probation for robbery?
  • How about if the witness had a motive to lie?

Here, the half-truth is the witness’s statement about the accused being at the scene while carrying the gun. However, revealing the other half of the truth tells a much different story. Providing only a half-truth means the accused received process. Providing the whole truth means they received due process.

Think the above scenario is far fetched: read this decision from the 9th Circuit that was issued a few days ago.

Executive director of Arizona Medical Board fired

October 14th, 2013 Comments Off

By Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Mary K. Reinhart
The Republic |

Days after a scathing report accused her of violating multiple state laws and rules, a divided Arizona Medical Board on Saturday fired longtime Executive Director Lisa Wynn during a hastily called special meeting.

That meeting came after Wynn refused to step down.

Board Chairman Gordi Khera called Wynn on Friday and asked for her resignation at about the same time board staff posted the unusual Saturday meeting to discuss her performance.

The board voted 5-4 to fire her; two members of the 12-member board were absent for unknown reasons, and one seat is vacant. Phoenix attorney Tim Nelson, who represented Wynn at the hearing, said that public safety has never been jeopardized, that the report did not prove the public was at risk and that Wynn was acting in the best interests of the agency.

Read the entire article here:

DUI Conviction Overturned – Court Erred By Denying Continuance

September 20th, 2013 Comments Off

Kennedy Case

Six days before his trial, Defendant moved for a continuance in order to substitute new counsel.  Defendant stated:

  • He had concerns with “his current attorney’s defense strategies and trial presentation;”
  • He also explained to the trial court he was uncomfortable with the firm he originally had hired after being transferred between attorneys several times;
  • He did not have the funds to retain new counsel until recently, and he had already paid a substantial consulting fee to the new attorney.

The court denied his motion.  After a jury trial, he was convicted of Aggravated DUI.  On appeal, he argued the trial court erred by denying his motion to continue in order to substitute his counsel, thus denying him the right to counsel of his choosing.

The Trial Court Ruling

The trial court reasoned that “[t]here has been extensive litigation in this case, and, considering the age of the case and the activity in the case, the motion will be denied.” The court also noted its concerns that substitute counsel would not be ready by the scheduled trial date, as required by Rule 6.3(c), Ariz. R. Crim. P.  However, the court did not articulate this concern as a basis for its final ruling.

The Appellate Court Ruling

The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction concluding:

The trial court erred by focusing solely on its own schedule and not giving due regard to Kennedy’s request to exercise his right to counsel of his choosing. See Aragon, 221 Ariz. 88, ¶ 9, 210 P.3d at 1262. The court’s ruling thus constituted “an ‘unreasoning and arbitrary’ adherence to its schedule.” Id.; Morris, 461 U.S. at 11–12. Because the “erroneous deprivation of the right to counsel of choice, ‘with consequences that are necessarily unquantifiable and indeterminate, unquestionably qualifies as structural error,’ “ we must vacate Kennedy’s conviction and sentence. See Gonzalez–Lopez, 548 U.S. at 150, 152, quoting Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275, 282 (1993); Aragon, 221 Ariz. 88, ¶ 9, 210 P.3d at 1262.

The conviction was vacated and a new trial was granted.

DUI Posts: From My DUI Blog

September 17th, 2013 Comments Off

Here are the latest posts from my DUI Blog:

  • A Reported Result vs. A Complete Result

In DUI cases, a machine called a gas chromatograph is often used to measure an alcohol concentration in a blood sample.   The measurement, which the machine prints at the end of the process, is called a reported result.  We are finally at the point in Arizona, where courts are starting to recognize that merely providing a reported result is not sufficient evidence.  The law is coming to the same realization that science did many years ago: a reported result from a machine is an incomplete measurement…Read the entire post HERE.

  • Scottsdale DUI Blood Tests Ruled Unreliable 

In July of 2012, I asked a member of the Scottsdale Crime Lab for an interview about some rumors. She refused and told me to get a court order.  At that time I was surprised.  Why would she refuse to do a routine interview? 

 Today we know the answer…Read the entire post HERE.

Categories: Appeals, DUI, Falsely Accused

Ambien & Driving Makes The Front Cover of The New York Times

August 14th, 2013 Comments Off

From The New York Times: “To Judge Sleep Aids, U.S. Looks at Drowsy Driving in the Morning.”

The Food and Drug Administration is considering the residual drowsiness that can persist the day after taking prescription sleep aids, and whether users can drive safely upon waking.

Click here to read the story:

Categories: Drug Charges, DUI

New Times: Bill Montgomery Opposes Ethics Rule Requiring Prosecutors to Reveal Evidence of Wrongful Convictions

August 8th, 2013 Comments Off

Stephen Lemons | New Times

As Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery fights to keep Debra Milke behind bars pending a retrial on her overturned murder conviction, he also is fighting a proposed rule to the State Bar of Arizona that would require prosecutors to act on new evidence of a wrongful conviction.

For the past two years, the Arizona Justice Project has petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court to change the State Bar of Arizona’s ethics rules, adding a provision based on the American Bar Association’s Ethical Rule 3.8.

The ABA’s rule states that if a prosecutor discovers “new, credible, and material evidence” of a wrongful conviction, he or she must disclose the evidence to the defendant and “undertake further investigation or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit.”

Read the rest of the article here:

Milke Wants MCAO Conflicted Off The Case

August 1st, 2013 Comments Off

Here is latest news article on the Milke case. It discusses the potential conflict of interest issues with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) prosecuting her case after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed her conviction. The court’s ruling was based upon MCAO’s prior violation of their duty to disclose exculpatory evidence pursuant to Brady v. Maryland.

Anna Edney | Bloomberg News as reported in the Arizona Republic

An Arizona woman awaiting retrial on charges she had a part in the murder of her 4-year-old son in 1989 asked a court Wednesday to disqualify the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the case.

A 14-page motion filed by Debra Jean Milke’s attorneys said the county attorney’s office shouldn’t be allowed to prosecute the retrial “based on the conflict of interest created by their own misconduct” and “the significant political, public and financial interest they have in the outcome.”

Milke, 49, was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to death for sending her young son off to visit a mall Santa Claus with two men who fatally shot the boy in the desert.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Milke’s conviction on March 14, concluding that prosecutors hadn’t turned over evidence of the history of misconduct by a detective who testified at her trial that she had confessed to him in a closed interrogation room.

Milke has always maintained her innocence. A Sept. 30 retrial has been set, and prosecutors are again seeking the death penalty.

A hearing was scheduled Thursday on whether Milke can be released on bond as she awaits her retrial.

Prosecutors adamantly oppose her release and argue that she isn’t entitled to bail.

Defense attorneys said Milke should be released because the evidence against her is weak and cite the federal appeals court ruling that threw out her conviction and death sentence.

They also said Milke wants to visit her terminally ill mother, who’s been battling cancer for more than three years.

Prosecutors claimed Milke had her son killed to collect on a $5,000 insurance policy.

Milke’s roommate, James Lynn Styers, and his friend Roger Mark Scott are on death row for carrying out the killing. Authorities say Milke’s motive was that she didn’t want the child anymore and didn’t want him to live with his father.

Milke’s lawyers also are planning to ask the judge in the coming weeks to throw out Detective Armando Saldate Jr.’s claim that Milke confessed to the killing. An Aug. 30 hearing has been set to consider the request to suppress the detective’s claim.

It’s unknown whether prosecutors will call Saldate as a witness or whether Styers and Scott will testify after declining to do so at Milke’s first trial.

The Latest Ruling In the Massachusetts Crime Lab Scandal

July 28th, 2013 Comments Off

Here is an update of the Massachusetts Crime Lab Scandal:

• In June, 2011, allegations of misconduct at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain (Hinton drug lab) surfaced regarding work performed by Annie Dookhan, a chemist who had been employed in the forensic drug laboratory since November 2003.

• Following an internal review, the Department of Public Health launched a formal investigation of the matter in December, 2011. The investigation concluded that “Dookhan failed to follow [Hinton drug l]ab protocols for the transfer and documentation of samples for testing, and subsequently created a false record of said transfers.”

• After being placed on paid administrative leave, Dookhan resigned from her position, effective March 9, 2012.

• A more extensive investigation of the Hinton drug lab was initiated in August, 2012, by the State police. As a result of this investigation, it has been alleged that, among other things, Dookhan deliberately and repeatedly falsified drug testing results, tampered with evidence, and forged signatures on documents.

• Although the full scope of Dookhan’s purported misconduct is not yet known, it has been estimated conservatively that, during her tenure, Dookhan worked on at least 34,000 cases. The investigation of misconduct at the Hinton drug lab remains ongoing.

Read the latest ruling by clicking here:

Arizona Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

The Arizona Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog is published by Koplow Law Firm. Our criminal practice experience includes a wide variety of defense representation and cases; and is led by Lawrence Koplow, a former prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

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