October 4, 2008

Arizona Defends Evidence

By Ben Winslow Deseret News

Arizona prosecutors are responding to a challenge of evidence seized from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch in the upcoming trial of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

"The defendant seeks suppression of evidence that is either not relevant to the current charges or that the state does not intend to use in the prosecution of the charges," Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith wrote in court papers filed earlier this week.

Jeffs, 52, is charged in Arizona with sexual conduct with a minor, accusing him of performing child-bride marriages.

Concerned that Arizona investigators spent time in Texas reviewing thousands of documents seized by authorities there, Jeffs' attorneys filed a motion to suppress any evidence seized in the YFZ raid and keep it out of his case in Kingman, Ariz.

"Accordingly, the state of Arizona now bears the burden of proving that no evidence obtained from the Texas raid is used, directly or indirectly, against Mr. Jeffs in the present proceedings," Jeffs' defense attorneys Richard Wright and Michael Piccarreta wrote in a motion filed earlier this month.

In their response, prosecutors said they did disclose a pair of marriage certificates from the YFZ Ranch to the defense but do not plan to use them in their case against Jeffs.

"As of the date of this filing, the state of Arizona has not charged the defendant with any crimes arising from evidence seized during the execution of the search warrants at the YFZ Ranch," Smith wrote. "This obviates standing to raise the issues the defendant asserts in his motion to dismiss."

As leader of the FLDS Church, his attorneys say, Jeffs has standing to challenge the search warrants, something Smith questioned. Jeffs relinquished his role as leader of the polygamous church in a series of jailhouse conversations recorded by Washington County authorities, and his life as a fugitive and years of incarceration also show he is no longer a resident of the YFZ Ranch, the Mohave County Attorney says.

"Additionally, since the defendant relinquished his role as leader of the FLDS while in Utah custody, he cannot now assert that he was in control of the YFZ Ranch as the leader of the FLDS at the time of the search on April 6, 2008," Smith wrote. "It is settled law that one has no standing to complain of a search or seizure of property he has voluntarily abandoned."

The YFZ Ranch was raided based upon a call from someone claiming to be a pregnant, abused 16-year-old girl married to an older man. The call is believed to be a hoax, something Jeffs' attorneys pounced on in their challenge.

"Under the guise of looking for a man they knew was not there and a child that did not exist, the Texas authorities conducted a general search to see what they could find," Wright and Piccarreta wrote. "The United States and Arizona constitutions clearly prohibit the use of any such illegally obtained items against Mr. Jeffs."

Jeffs' attorneys mischaracterize the nature of probable cause, Smith countered, defending Texas authorities' belief that they were looking for an actual victim and perpetrator.

"Search warrant affidavits do not represent the end of a criminal investigation, in which contested issues of fact are resolved by a jury in determining guilt or innocence," he wrote. "Rather, search warrant affidavits are presented in support of investigative tools that are used as part of a criminal investigation to determine whether criminal violations have occurred."

Lawyers for FLDS Church in Texas recently backed off their challenge to the search warrants served on the YFZ Ranch, acknowledging the church itself is not a defendant. Nine men indicted by an Eldorado grand jury on sexual assault, bigamy and other charges could also file their own challenges to the search warrants, FLDS attorneys said. Jeffs is among the indicted men.

A federal search warrant was also executed by the FBI on the last day of the raid.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year- old cousin. He was sentenced to a pair of 5-to-life terms.

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