Judge orders Mohave Valley man’s trial delayed over evidence mishandling
BULLHEAD CITY — You almost need a scorecard to keep track of legal proceedings involving a Mohave Valley man who has had three trials in the last five weeks, with an unusual development marring the start of his fourth trial in Kingman on Tuesday afternoon.
Judicially directed verdicts for a legal technicality involving a witness identification procedural issue saw Joseph Carter, 42, acquitted of drug and weapons charges in late March. Carter was convicted in separate trials last week for the lesser, separate offenses of unlawful use of means of transportation and unlawful flight from law enforcement.
Before delivering opening arguments following jury selection for Carter’s fourth trial, defense attorney Melissa Barry alleged evidence tampering and argued the case should be continued. Carter faces various drug and weapons charges related to the September 2017 search of a home in 500 block of King Way.
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office reported that officers seized about a half pound of methamphetamine, an ounce of cocaine, a half-ounce of heroin, nine pounds of marijuana and four rifles.
Prosecutor Jaimye Ashley informed Superior Court Judge Rick Lambert that case evidence had been transported to the courthouse Monday, the day before start of jury selection, which she said was customary practice. A clerk who handled the evidence somehow opened a large plastic bag that contained smaller bags of drugs.
“That would violate my client’s rights,” Barry told the court. “We would oppose the evidence being admitted.”
Ashley argued that the evidence was processed, packaged and logged by detectives and evidence technicians, that the items in question should be admissible and that the trial should proceed. Ashley said defense counsel could bring up the evidence issue during the trial, but that the proceeding should not be stalled.
Lambert decided to delay the trial start and conduct an evidentiary hearing today.
“There’s a taint right now on the chain of custody and it’s not the fault of any of the parties in this case,” Lambert said. “I’m not going to take a chance on a man’s life when he’s looking at a century in prison.”
Lambert sent the jury home for the afternoon. He directed attorneys to submit legal briefs for his overnight consideration.
Lambert said attorneys can question the court clerk who handled the evidence and anyone else necessary during today’s evidentiary hearing at 9 a.m. He said attorneys can present their opening statements to the jury early this afternoon once the evidentiary issues are resolved.