Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The test applied in evaluating the constitutionality of a reasonable doubt jury instruction instruction is not whether a court finds it exemplary. Rather, the proper inquiry requires a court to consider the instructions in their entirety and ask whether a “reasonable likelihood” exists that the jury “understood the instructions to allow conviction based on proof insufficient to meet the [reasonable doubt] standard.” The Government charged Defendant Ishmael Petty with assaulting three employees at the federal correctional facility in Florence, Colorado. At Defendant’s trial, the district court tendered the jury a reasonable doubt instruction that tracked verbatim the Tenth Circuit’s Pattern Jury Instruction on reasonable doubt. The district court overruled Defendant’s objections to the instruction, and a jury found Defendant guilty. Defendant contended the district court’s instruction diluted the Government’s burden of proof contrary to his Fifth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Defendant’s argument that the reasonable doubt instruction as tendered was unconstitutional, and affirmed. View "United States v. Petty" on Justia Law

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When a defendant knowingly and intelligently waives his Miranda rights, knew he was free to leave an interview, and confessed to committing a crime during the course of a conversational, friendly interview devoid of coercive promises or threats, he gave his statements voluntarily. This interlocutory appeal required the Colorado Supreme Court to determine whether an defendant's confession to an Army investigator during basic training was the product of coercion. A thirteen-year-old victim told a sheriff's office that seven years prior, defendant Z.T. forced her to give him oral sex. At the time of the alleged assaults, Z.T. was thirteen, and the victim was six. At the time the victim made the allegations in 2015, Z.T. was in Army basic training in Georgia. A sheriff's deputy formally asked an Army investigator to interview Z.T. about the allegations. Z.T. would ultimately be charged with sexual assault on a child. He was extradited to Colorado to stand trial. He moved to suppress the confession, and the trial court granted the motion, finding the Army investigator engaged in coercive conduct that played a significant role in inducing the confession. Finding no such coercive behavior and that the confessions were given voluntarily, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's suppression order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Colorado in the Interest of Z.T.T." on Justia Law

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Darrell Ellis filed criminal charges against Andrew Baker for an incident involving a shoot-out. Baker then filed criminal charges against Ellis for an alleged assault that occurred two days later. At Baker’s trial for allegedy assaulting Ellis, it was discovered that Ellis’ defense counsel for the charges related to the second incident was related to the assistant state’s attorney who was prosecuting Baker for the charges stemming from the first incident. Upon learning this information, the trial court declared a mistrial over Baker’s objection. Baker filed a motion to dismiss his indictments on grounds of double jeopardy. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Special Appeals reversed and ordered the indictments be dismissed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that retrial of Baker was barred by double jeopardy principles because the trial court’s declaration of a mistrial over Baker’s objection was not supported by manifest necessity. View "State v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the denial of his habeas corpus petition, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request an alibi instruction. The Fifth Circuit held that the post-conviction relief court's decision was a reasonable application of Strickland v. Washington. Although the parties accept for purposes of appeal that trial counsel's performance was deficient, even if the instruction had been given, there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different. Therefore, because petitioner was not prejudiced by the error, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Maurice Hope v. Warden Cartledge" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, and aiding and abetting retaliation against a witness in a crime investigation. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress, because even if the Ping Order for authorization to obtain the locations of cell site towers being accessed by a cellular device was issued in violation of federal or state law, defendant was not entitled to suppression. The court explained that suppression is not a remedy for a violation of either the federal pen-trap statute or the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. In the alternative, even if accessing prospective cell site data did constitute a Fourth Amendment search, DPS's actions were covered by the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion to suppress, and dismissed as moot defendant's request for remand for resentencing regarding his aiding and abetting conviction. View "United States v. Wallace" on Justia Law

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In 1984, Ben-Yisrayl was convicted in Indiana state court of capital murder, rape, criminal confinement, and burglary. The case bounced back and forth for many years in the state courts as the death sentence and other issues were litigated on direct review and in postconviction proceedings, eventually resulting in a 60-year sentence on the murder conviction. In the meantime, Ben-Yisrayl pursued habeas relief in federal court under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Because he had not completed state post-conviction review, the district judge stayed the proceedings. When the state courts finally finished with the case, the judge lifted the stay and ordered the state to respond to the petition. Indiana did so. Ben-Yisrayl failed to file his reply within the allotted time, so the case proceeded to decision without a reply brief from him. The judge denied relief on all grounds without an evidentiary hearing and denied Ben-Yisrayl’s motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Ben-Yisrael had waived his only argument on appeal: that his resentencing counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to introduce “a veritable mountain of mitigation evidence.” View "Ben-Yisrayl v. Neal" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a jury convicted Alejandro Estrada-Huerta of second-degree kidnapping and sexual assault. Estrada-Huerta was seventeen at the time he was charged, and he was tried as an adult. The trial court sentenced Estrada-Huerta to twenty-four years for the kidnapping conviction and sixteen years to life for each count of sexual assault. The sexual assault sentences were ordered to run concurrently with each other but consecutive to the kidnapping sentence, resulting in an aggregate sentence of forty years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Estrada-Huerta moved to vacate his sentences, arguing his aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and was therefore unconstitutional under Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, because Estrada-Huerta would be eligible for parole at age fifty-eight, he had a meaningful opportunity to obtain release, therefore his sentence complied with “Graham” and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s result, though on different grounds. The Court found that “Graham” and “Miller” did not apply in this matter; Estrada-Huerta was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole: he received consecutive terms for three separate convictions. View "Estrada-Huerta v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Radford boarded a train in Flagstaff, to deliver heroin to Toledo. The train stopped in Galesburg. Officer Mings, who goes to the station daily to study passengers, noted indicators of drug trafficking. Radford had purchased a one-way ticket two days earlier, paying a premium for a roomette, and was traveling between locations associated with illegal drugs. Radford had been arrested seven years earlier for assisting undocumented aliens and for possessing marijuana. Mings, in uniform, knocked on Radford’s door and stated that he was doing “security checks” for ”illegal narcotics.” Radford answered Ming’s questions. He asked to search her luggage. Radford responded, “I guess so. You’re just doing your job.” He never advised Radford that she could refuse his requests. The search revealed heroin. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of her motion to suppress, finding that the encounter was consensual, not a seizure, and that Radford voluntarily consented to the search. Even with no basis for suspecting a particular individual, officers may pose questions, request identification, and request consent to search—"provided they do not induce cooperation by coercive means.” No seizure occurs if “a reasonable person would feel free to … terminate the encounter.” Rejecting claims of intimidation, the court noted Mings did not enter Radford’s roomette before her consent, told her why he wanted to search, and did not threaten Radford; there cannot be a rule that an "officer is forbidden to speak to a person of another race.” View "United States v. Radford" on Justia Law

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A nolle prosequi constitutes a "favorable termination" for the purpose of determining when a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim accrues. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against defendant, a police officer, under section 1983, alleging malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court held that plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim accrued when the nolle prosequi was entered, and that as a result his suit was time‐ barred. The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiff's claim accrued when the charges against him were nolled. View "Spak v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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In this disability discrimination case, the Second Circuit certified the following question to the New York Court of Appeals: Do sections 8‐102(16)(c) and 8‐107(1)(a) of the New York City Administrative Code preclude a plaintiff from bringing a disability discrimination claim based solely on a perception of untreated alcoholism? View "Makinen v. City of New York" on Justia Law