3 charges dropped in Escalante case after AZ Supreme Court ruling
CAMP VERDE -- Three charges were dropped in a drug courier case involving a 2015 Cottonwood traffic stop Monday.
In October 2015, Erick Escalante was convicted of felony charges of transporting a dangerous drug, possession of drug paraphernalia, tampering with physical evidence and five charges of misconduct involving weapons. Escalante is serving a 14-year sentence on these charges.
In September, the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the convictions on three of the charges stating that “the trial was infected with fundamental, prejudicial error that deprived him a fair trial,” according to the ruling.
Justice Ann Timmer authored the opinion of the court. She cited a “trial error” as part of their decision.
“Here, the admission and pervasive use of drug-courier profile evidence during the defendant’s trial on drug-related charges constituted fundamental error and prejudiced his ability to receive a fair trial. We therefore reverse and remand for a new trial.”
According to court documents, detectives in a multiagency task force suspected Escalante of selling methamphetamine in the Verde Valley after receiving several tips.
Detectives were able to obtain a search warrant and placed a GPS tracking device on his truck.
Authorities suspected Escalante was transporting drugs from Phoenix and conducted a traffic stop in Cottonwood, according to court documents. Escalante initially was agitated but eventually complied. During a search, deputies found a handgun, several knives and a machete. They also found a digital scale, dryer sheets, coffee beans, a flip cellphone they suspected to be a “throw phone” and $200. They later found a plastic baggie containing 47.8 grams of methamphetamine.
Before the trial, the State introduced evidence that Escalante “engaged in behaviors indicative of and consistent of drug trafficking,” according to court documents. They cited Escalante driving in a manner “designed to avoid police scrutiny” and traveling to areas known of “drug activity.”
During an appeal, Escalante argued that the court committed an error by permitting the State to introduce “drug-courier profile” and hearsay as evidence, and that his defense chose not to object to the “impermissible evidence.”
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Escalante’s trial was infected with a fundamental, prejudicial error on counts one, three and five.
Monday, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Michael Bluff dropped the three charges; transporting a dangerous drug for sale, tampering with physical evidence, and one of the misconduct involving weapons charges.
Escalante will be re-sentenced for the rest of the charges during a bench trial scheduled for Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, at 4 p.m., at the Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde.