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Scottsdale Criminal Law Blog

Court skeptical of 'therapeutic' polygraph tests for parolees

The U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services has apparently been using lie detector tests as on criminal defendants in what it refers to as "therapeutic polygraphy." That this has been going on for decades comes as a surprise, since in 2004 the American Psychological Association said that there is "little evidence that polygraph tests can accurately detect lies."

In a recent case before a U.S. District Court in another state, a federal prosecutor asked a court to order therapeutic polygraphy for a defendant as part of his supervised release after his sentence is complete. The judge grilled a number of witnesses in a three-hour hearing and still seemed skeptical.

Sheriff's dragnet-style mass search of students spurs controversy

Should law enforcement pursue the War on Drugs by searching everyone they encounter until every hidden cache of drugs is found? Most people would say no; even more if it meant an intimate, under-clothes search of each of our kids. Searching every student because a small minority is involved in drug activity seems absurd.

Yet that's what happened recently in a high school in Worth County, Georgia. On June 1, a Sheriff and 29 deputies locked down the high school and performed intrusive searches on virtually all of the 900 students in attendance.

Did ExxonMobil use sham accounting to justify oil sands project?

The Attorney General of New York has accused ExxonMobil of providing what may be "materially false and misleading statements" to investors, and he's not the only prosecutor with its site set on the oil giant. Massachusetts' Attorney General is involved in a federal case against the company, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating.

The issue is how the company evaluates the potential cost of climate change when it accounts for the total costs of a project. If it underestimates that cost, it could be misleading investors about its future profitability of the company. False and misleading statements are a violation of both state and federal laws.

Are you dying to know if it's homicide or murder?

The last time you watched a crime show or a movie involving the death of one person at the hands of another, chances are the characters used the words homicide and murder interchangeably. In reality, the definitions of the two words include important distinctions.

Where it's true that murder falls under the definition of homicide, a homicide isn't necessarily a murder. The killing of one human by another defines homicide. The definition of murder involves more complex issues and varying degrees, depending on the circumstances.

Why was Tiger Woods arrested for DUI if he wasn't drunk?

Golfing legend Tiger Woods was found asleep in his Mercedes Benz on Memorial Day. He wasn't far from his home in Jupiter, Florida. Instead of waking him up and sending him on his way, however, local police asked him to perform field sobriety tests, which he failed. He was arrested for DUI.

Later, however, the news came out that he had taken two Breathalyzer tests -- both read 0.00. He also passed a urine test for alcohol. The star has insisted from the beginning that he wasn't drinking, but admitted he had been unfamiliar with the effects of his prescription medication.

AZ Dept. of Corrections caught reading private inmate-lawyer mail

In 2011, an Arizona state prison inmate was infuriated when corrections officers read his confidential correspondence with his attorney, even though it was marked "legal mail." He sued the Department of Corrections for violating his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, among others.

A federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit as stating no valid claim. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and ordered the judge to rehear the case.

Does Arizona's Victims' Bill of Rights violate defendants' rights?

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant's right to "be confronted with the witnesses against him" in all prosecutions. That's one reason why the state can't bring hearsay evidence against you in a criminal case, for example. You have the right to see, hear and confront any witness (or even a document) accusing you of any crime. It's an essential part of due process of law.

Is it enough to confront those witnesses on the stand at trial, or should the defense team have the right to talk to prosecution witnesses earlier, during the investigation stage? A group of criminal defense attorneys and an investigator say no, cross examining witnesses at trial is not good enough.

Did police have probable cause to search your car?

Any Arizona motorist who has ever been pulled over by police knows how distressing such situations can be. One minute, you're driving along, perhaps after enjoying a nice evening out with some friends, and the next thing you know there are red and blue lights flashing in your rear-view mirror. Sometimes, simply finding a spot on the roadside to safely pull over and stop is enough to cause anxiety.

What happens next may amount to a minor inconvenience that resolves itself in minutes or a serious situation that negatively affects your life for weeks, months or years to come. If a police officer approaches your vehicle, what he or she says and does, as well as how you respond may significantly impact your circumstances.

Will the DOJ push prosecutors toward the harshest possible sentences?

The Associated Press has obtained information about an upcoming policy guidance memo that would urge prosecutors to file the most serious charges they believe they can prove in court. This would be a reversal of the Obama Justice Department's guidance that low-level offenders should not be sentenced to long-term incarceration.

In cases without a grand jury, U.S. Attorneys, who prosecute federal crimes on behalf of the Department of Justice, have traditionally had the discretion to choose the appropriate charges from among those that could be proved. This is important not only so that they base criminal cases on justice and proportionality, but also because there is strategy involved in choosing what charges to file.

Don't let the results of field sobriety tests get you down

Impaired driving is not something that the state of Arizona takes lightly. If a court convicts you, the potential consequences can be rather serious -- in some cases life-altering. An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in fighting your case. One defense strategy that is often effective is questioning the results of field sobriety tests.

Why would this be a possible defense strategy? Won't the court take the word of an officer over the word of someone accused of impaired driving?

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