Arizona Supreme Court Clarifies Law in Case Revolving Around Possible Prosecutorial Bias

Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an important ruling clarifying how trial courts must deal with the conflict when they are faced with the reality of (or appearance of) bias. In the case at issue, the state charged a defendant with several fraud-related offenses, including illegally obtaining and using another person’s credit card. As it turns out, the credit card owner worked for the agency responsible for prosecuting the defendant. The trial court therefore had to decide whether to send the case to another jurisdiction for prosecution, given the agency’s potential bias in the case.

The Gomez Factors

In laying out the facts of the case, the higher court noted that one case in particular, Gomez v. Superior Court, outlines the factors a trial court should consider when deciding whether to disqualify counsel given possible bias. These factors are: (1) whether the request is made to harass the defendant; (2) whether the party asking for an attorney’s disqualification will be damaged if the request is not granted; (3) whether there are alternative solutions available; and (4) whether the possibility of public suspicion will “outweigh any benefits” afforded by the continued representation.

It is the trial court’s job, said the Arizona Supreme Court, to consider these four Gomez factors when deciding whether to disqualify counsel because of a potential bias. The court must make an adequate record describing how the facts of the case fit into each of the factors.

In this particular case, the trial court decided to disqualify the prosecuting agency because the crime victim was an agency employee. While that decision might have been warranted, said the court, the trial court failed to go through the necessary Gomez factors. There is no question that Gomez is the appropriate case law and therefore the appropriate test to apply. Therefore, not seeing anything in the trial record about the court’s consideration of these factors, the case was remanded for additional proceedings.

The court’s ruling serves as an important reminder that any bias in a courtroom, whether significant or slight, should be challenged. It is every defendant’s right to have an impartial trial, and any possible infringement on that right should be closely examined.

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The legal landscape in Arizona is tough to navigate and constantly changing, which is why if you have been charged with a financial or fraud-based crime, you need a Phoenix white collar crime lawyer to help you get your charges dropped. With so much at stake, it is important to retain an attorney that listens to what you need and implements a litigation strategy that puts you front and center.

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