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Court Must Consider Defendants Arguments Of False Accusation

State v. Mohajerin
Court of Appeals of Arizona
Dec 29, 2010

Holding: The Court of Appeals of Arizona held that the trial court must consider the defendant’s arguments that he was falsely accused, but it also held that defendant failed to demonstrate that he was wrongfully arrested and charged.

Why This Case is Important: Arizona Revised Statute §13-4051 states that a person who is wrongfully arrested, indicted or charged for any crime may request to have the court clear their criminal records related to that crime. In creating this statute, the Legislation intended the word “wrongful” to mean injustice. This means that the person claiming he was wrongfully accused must provide evidence showing that he or she did not commit the crime. This case clarified that the statute did not mean a showing that there was unlawful conduct made by law enforcement officer, in a procedural sense, to arrest, indict or charge that person of the crime.

Facts of This Case: The defendant was charged with sexual assault and threatening or intimidating based on reports and physical evidence by his wife. His wife later recanted her allegations and the charges against defendant were dismissed in 2006. In 2010, defendant filed a petition for relief. At the hearing, defendant’s wife testified that defendant was not at fault and that there was no crime and that the police were wrong in arresting and charging the defendant. The district court denied defendant’s request, stating that defendant’s wife’s report to the police officers had been corroborated by physical evidence and that the charges were supported by probably cause when made.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it applied the wrong legal standard when ruling on his motion and it did not fully evaluate the evidence defendant presented at the hearing. Defendant specifically argued that the evidence he presented proved that his arrest and indictment was wrongful because they were made on false accusations, therefore under A.R.S. §13-4051 he was entitled to have his criminal records cleared.

The Court of Appeals of Arizona stated that the word “wrongful” in the statute has two meaning. One meaning is characterized by unfairness or injustice, while the other meaning is something that is contrary to the law or unlawful. The Court found that it was the Legislatures’ intent that the word should follow the first more general meaning based on considerations of justice rather than proving that there was illegal or unlawfully conduct made by law enforcement. In short, the Court agreed that §13-4051 does provide defendant relief if defendant was wrongfully arrested, indicted or charged. However, such relief would not hide the record from law enforcement officials. Furthermore, it falls on the trial court to evaluate the facts and evidence in order to make such a ruling.

From this analysis, the Court found that when the trial court conducted an investigation into whether or not the defendant was wrongfully arrested, indicted or charged, the trial court was required to consider defendant’s argument that he was falsely accused. The trial court was wrong for denying relief based on a finding that there was probable cause for his arrest and charge. However, even though the trial court had applied the legal standard incorrectly, the Court found that defendant had not sufficiently shown that he was wrongfully accused. The Court found the testimony presented by defendant’s wife not credible. Furthermore, even if the Court was to accept the testimony as credible, it still does not support the conclusion that defendant was factually innocent. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment

Key Language: In order to be entitled to have one’s criminal records wiped under A.R.S. §13-4051, the person making the request must prove to the court that the person was wrongfully arrested, indicted or charged with the crime. Furthermore, the court must consider evidence related to subject of being wrongfully accused and not make determination based on other evidence such as procedural evidences.

Expert Advise: “In Arizona, a person must prove to the court that the person was wrongfully arrested, indicted or charged of his or her crime in order to be entitled to request the court erase records related to such crimes.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

To read about more cases that help to define record clearing relief laws click here.

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