Arizona Defendant in Aggravated Assault Case Challenges Guilty Conviction Based on Officer’s Muted Body Camera

In a September 2023 case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant appealed a jury’s finding that he was guilty of aggravated assault. The defendant was first charged after a security guard saw him attack a man on the sidewalk. The defendant pled not guilty, and he also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the officer involved in the investigation muted her body camera during a potentially critical part of her interview with the victim. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, and he appealed.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, a security guard for a local business was working the night shift when he noticed the defendant on the business’s property. Finding the defendant’s presence suspicious, the officer finished his shift and drove around to find the defendant. He ended up locating him at another individual’s workplace, and he immediately saw the defendant attack the individual on the sidewalk. The defendant used a knife to stab the individual’s neck and back, and the security guard immediately detained the defendant until police officers could arrive.

Later, investigators found a knife with DNA from both the defendant and the individual on the sidewalk. The State charged the defendant with aggravated assault, and he filed a motion to dismiss. The lower court denied that motion, and a jury found the defendant guilty as charged. The defendant promptly appealed the lower court’s denial of his motion to dismiss.

The Decision

According to the defendant, he was entitled to a dismissal because one of the officers investigating the crime muted her body camera while interviewing the individual that was stabbed. Because the State’s evidence did not have volume for part of the interview, it was impossible to say whether there was key evidence in the conversation.

Reviewing the trial court’s record, the higher court ultimately disagreed with the defendant and denied his appeal. In Arizona, said the higher court, an officer’s failure to preserve evidence is only a violation of a defendant’s due process rights if the officer acted in bad faith when he or she failed to preserve the evidence. If there was no bad faith, the failure to preserve evidence is only a violation of the defendant’s rights if the evidence could not have been obtained any other way.

Here, said the court, there was no evidence that the officer acted in bad faith. What’s more, there was no reason to believe that the portion of the interview excluded from evidence was critical to the defendant’s case. The State’s evidence sufficiently proved that the defendant committed the assault even without this evidence, and the recording was not necessary for the defendant to fully make his case.

The court therefore affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence.

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