Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant appealed her restitution order after pleading guilty to conspiracy to accept gratuities with the intent to be influenced or rewarded in connection with a bank transaction. The district court ordered her to pay $251,860.31 to her former employer, Wells Fargo, pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, 18 U.S.C. 3663A, finding that her conviction qualified as an "offense against property." The court affirmed the judgment, concluding that defendant facilitated bank transactions that proximately caused Wells Fargo's losses, and she intended to derive an unlawful benefit from the property that was the subject of these transactions. Therefore, the court concluded that defendant committed an "offense against property" as that phrase was understood in its ordinary and contemporary sense. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of five sex-related crimes involving minors. When defense counsel returned a few minutes late from a lunch break on the third day of defendant's six-day trial, he missed a small part of the testimony of the 12th of 13 government witnesses. Counsel had missed 7 minutes of a trial that lasted 31.4 hours. In this case, the parties agreed that it was Sixth Amendment error for inculpatory testimony to be taken in the absence of defense counsel. The court held that the harmless error rule was applicable to this brief absence of counsel from the courtroom. The court explained that the error that occurred when the trial resumed before counsel returned from lunch was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because overwhelming evidence offered while counsel was present went to and proved the charges in Counts 2–5, which were the only counts relevant to the testimony given during counsel's absence; the same questions were repeated and not objected-to after counsel returned to the courtroom; and there was no reasonable doubt that counsel's brief absence was harmless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Roy" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted under 18 U.S.C. 666 of embezzlement from an organization receiving federal funds. In this case, defendant, a professor in the College of Business, was embezzling from Florida State University (FSU). Defendant was also a director and officer of the Student Investment Fund (SIF), a non-profit corporation established by FSU for charitable and educational purposes, and had signatory authority over the SIF's bank account. On appeal, defendant argued, among other things, that any embezzlement was not from FSU and that the Government did not prove that the victimized organization under the statute was a recipient of federal benefits. The court concluded that its decision in United States v. McLean was dispositive. The court reasoned that the SIF received no federal funding, directly or indirectly. Therefore, there were no federal funds owned by, or under the care, custody, or control of the SIF. The court explained that defendant was a director and officer and thus an agent of the SIF, and his employment as a professor at FSU was irrelevant inasmuch as he did not embezzle any FSU funds. Therefore, because the Government failed to prove that the relevant local organization, the SIF, received any federal benefits, the court reversed the judgment and directed the district court to enter a judgment of acquittal. View "United States v. Doran" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, sentenced to death for his involvement in a murder-for-hire, sought a certificate of appealability (COA) to challenge the district court's denial of his habeas petition. The court denied a COA as to the procedural default ruling because the grounds petitioner cited for cause were either not raised in the district court or sought an extension of Martinez/Trevino beyond the realm of ineffective assistance claims for which there was no supporting authority. The court also concluded that petitioner failed to met the COA standard for any of his claims relating to the failure to disclose the circumstances surrounding a codefendant's confession; claims relating to the denial of petitioner's right to present mitigating evidence; claims of error for the trial court to allow the prosecution to introduce evidence of past adjudicated offenses; and a claim that petitioner did not pull the trigger in the victim's murder. Accordingly, the court denied the application of COA. View "Prystash v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction of one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and one count of possessing heroin with the intent to distribute. Defendant admitted that he distributed heroin, but he argued that the government's decision to prosecute him violated his free exercise rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1. Defendant alleged that he is a student of Esoteric and Mysticism studies who created a religious non-profit to distribute heroine to the sick, lost, blind, lame, deaf, and dead members of God's Kingdom. The district court assumed without deciding that defendant's practice of distributing heroin was an exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs and that the prosecution therefore substantially burdened his exercise of religion. The court explained that the government was not prosecuting defendant for engaging in a "circumscribed, sacramental use" of heroin, but for distributing heroin to others for non-religious uses. The court explained that it had no difficulty concluding that prosecuting defendant under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), would further a compelling governmental interest in mitigating the risk that heroin will be diverted to recreational users; the government has chosen the least restrictive means necessary to further that interest; and the court rejected defendant's argument that he was entitled to present his RFRA defense to the jury. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from this 18 month prison sentence imposed after revoking his supervised release. The court concluded that the district court did not err when it properly analyzed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors; the sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing defendant, given his troubled history while on supervised release, as well as domestic assault; and thus the court affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Ford" on Justia Law

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Shane Marcum, who was being held on felony charges, allegedly sustained injuries during a cell extraction. Marcum filed a civil action against the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority (the Regional Jail). The proceeding was removed to federal court. During the federal court proceeding, Marcum requested, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, a copy of a videotape that recorded his cell extraction. The Regional Jail refused to turn over the videotape, arguing that it was exempt under W. Va. Code 29B-1-4(a)(2) and (19). Marcum then filed a complaint for preliminary injunction and declaratory relief against the Regional Jail seeking a court order requiring the regional Jail to produce the cell extraction videotape. The circuit court entered an order requiring the Regional Jail to turn over the videotape to Marcum. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) pursuant to section 29B-1-4(a)(19), disclosure of a videotape of the cell extraction of an inmate is prohibited; and (2) therefore, the circuit court committed clear error in ordering the disclosure of the cell extraction videotape. View "W. Va. Regional Jail & Correctional Facility v. Marcum" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder. The jury refused to recommend murder, and the circuit court sentenced Petitioner to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner’s motion for a change of the trial venue; (2) the circuit court did not commit reversible error by denying Petitioner’s motion to present evidence of the victim’s prior bad acts pursuant to W. Va. R. Evid. 404(b); and (3) there was sufficient evidence presented at trial to prove that the murder was premeditated. View "State v. Zuccaro" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Appellant was charged with two counts of first-degree driving while impaired (DWI). Appellant contested the use of his 1998 conviction for criminal vehicular operation resulting in substantial bodily harm to enhance his 2015 DWI charge to a first-degree offense. The district court found sufficient probable cause for enhancement. Thereafter, Appellant pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree driving while impaired. Appellant appealed, arguing that he was entitled to withdraw his plea because his 1998 conviction was not included in the list of predicate felonies in Minn. Stat. 169A.24 that enhance a DWI charge to a first-degree DWI. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a criminal vehicular operation conviction from a year not specifically listed in the current version of the first-degree DWI statute can be used to enhance a DWI charge to a first-degree offense; and (2) accordingly, Appellant’s plea was established with an accurate factual basis. View "State v. Boecker" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, Appellant was convicted of three counts of first-degree premeditated murder. The Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal. Appellant then filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief, arguing that he was entitled to a new trial based on newly discovered evidence in the form of affidavits signed by five alibi witnesses. Appellant also claimed ineffective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel. The postconviction court summarily denied Appellant’s motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the postconviction court did not abuse its discretion by summarily denying Appellant’s request for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence and based on Appellant’s claim that both his trial counsel and appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance. View "State v. Mosley" on Justia Law