Judge rules tainted evidence can be presented at trial
KINGMAN — Attorneys conducted a tedious two-hour evidentiary hearing Wednesday morning before taking less than five minutes to make opening statements in a trial for a Mohave Valley man facing various drug and weapons offenses.
Prosecutor Jaimye Ashley zipped through her presentation, telling Mohave County Superior Court jurors they will have no trouble finding Joseph Carter, 42, guilty on all counts. She said officers seized an assortment of drugs and weapons when they executed a September 2017 search warrant at Carter’s home on King Way in Mohave Valley.
Ashley said more than 10 ounces of methamphetamine, nine grams each of heroin and cocaine, nine pounds of marijuana, drug pipes, scales and baggies were confiscated during the raid. She said four firearms were located in the home and that Carter was prohibited from possessing weapons.
Defense attorney Melissa Barry told jurors they’ll have reasonable doubt and should acquit Carter because of difficulty linking him to the drugs and weapons and whether he “knowingly” possessed the evidence in question. Barry also said her client’s right to a fair trial was compromised by a court clerk who mishandled evidence transferred to the courthouse Monday.
The clerk testified that she opened a manila envelope to access four separate packages of drugs within, marking them one by one as evidentiary exhibits to be admitted at trial. She said she didn’t realize she was supposed to mark the entire envelope as one exhibit.
Barry argued at the evidentiary hearing that opening the envelope tainted the evidence that should be precluded at trial. Ashley countered that there was no showing that any tampering or removal occurred and that the jury should be able to hear about the seizures and view all of the drug packages.
Detectives Aaron Devries and Jesus Alvarez both testified that the drugs in the packages in question appeared the same as when they were initially logged into evidence.
“I haven’t heard anything today that would make me raise my eyebrow and worry that the evidence has been tampered with,” said Judge Rick Lambert. “I don’t see any prejudice to Mr. Carter.”
Lambert denied the defense motions to preclude the evidence and/or declare a mistrial. He said any remedy of the mishandling should be to allow the jury to assign the matter whatever weight it deserved during its deliberations rather than ruling the evidence to be inadmissible.
Lambert said court clerks undergo training to master their tasks and that they are hard working and dedicated, but he noted there might be room for improvement as demonstrated by the Carter case.
“I’m not comfortable with some of the things I’ve seen with the clerks handling the evidence,” he said, emphasizing he was not speaking critically of the Superior Court clerk or her staff.