Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Cesar Meneses appealed after a jury found him guilty of four counts of committing a lewd act upon a child under 14 years of age and found true, as to each count, the multiple victim sentencing enhancement allegation. Meneses argued: (1) the trial court erred by instructing the jury regarding consideration of evidence of charged sex offenses with CALCRIM No. 1191B; and (2) the prosecutor committed error in her closing and rebuttal arguments. Meneses further argued, to the extent his trial counsel’s failure to object on these grounds results in forfeiture of these arguments on appeal, he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed as to all issues. View "California v. Meneses" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada conviction and death sentence for four counts of first degree murder. Given that petitioner's underlying ineffective assistance of counsel claims lack merit, the panel need not resolve whether the relevant Nevada law was adequate or if it is, whether petitioner can overcome his procedural default and obtain federal review of the merits of his ineffective assistance claims. Even if the panel held in petitioner's favor in either of those questions and reached the merits of the claims, the panel would affirm the district court's denial of relief. The panel also held that the Nevada Supreme Court's determination -- that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated when the state's expert made reference during his testimony to test results that he had obtained from petitioner's expert -- was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of controlling Supreme Court case law. Furthermore, the panel rejected petitioner's claim regarding change of venue, the testimony of the mother of the victim, and improper statements by the prosecutor. Finally, the panel declined to expand the certificate of appealability. View "Floyd v. Filson" on Justia Law

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A juvenile from a small village could not afford to travel to the site of his juvenile delinquency proceeding. His attorney with the Public Defender Agency (the Agency) filed a motion asking the superior court to require the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to pay the travel expenses for both the juvenile and one of his parents. The superior court denied the motion and required the Agency to pay the expenses. The court of appeals upheld the superior court’s decision, reasoning that the Agency’s authorizing statute could plausibly be interpreted to cover client travel expenses and that this reading was supported by administrative guidance in the form of two Attorney General opinions and a regulation governing reimbursements by the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA). The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Agency’s petition for hearing, asking the Agency and DJJ to address two questions: (1) whether the Agency has a statutory obligation to pay its clients’ travel expenses; and (2) whether DJJ has a statutory obligation to pay those expenses. The Supreme Court concluded neither entity’s authorizing statutes required the payment and therefore reversed the court of appeals. The Court did not address the question of how these necessary expenses were to be funded; the Court surmised that was an issue for the executive and legislative branches. View "Alaska Public Defender Agency v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The mere proximity between a firearm and drug possessed for personal use could not support a USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) enhancement without a finding that the gun facilitated or had the potential to facilitate the defendant's drug possession. Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence after he conditionally pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's application of a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for possessing a firearm in connection with another felony. In this case, the district court applied the enhancement based solely on the proximity between the firearm and a hydromorphone pill. The court held that the district court erred by applying the enhancement without finding that the firearm facilitated, or had the potential of facilitating defendant's possession of the pill. However, the court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion to suppress and held that, in light of the totality of the circumstances, defendant's known criminal history, non-compliance, argumentativeness, and nervous, agitated behavior following lawful orders to exit the truck would cause a reasonably prudent officer in the circumstances to believe that his safety or that of his fellow officers was in danger. The court also affirmed the denial of defendant's application of an enhanced base offense level under USSG 2K2.1(a)(3), because his prior Florida conviction for drug conspiracy was a predicate controlled substance offense under the Guidelines. View "United States v. Bishop" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed a special search condition of supervised release, holding that the record supported the condition and there was no clear error adversely impacting defendant's substantial rights. In this case, not only did the district court expressly adopt the findings of the presentence report (PSR), which included defendant's extensive criminal history, but the condition was a mechanism for enforcing other conditions prohibiting defendant's possession of drugs or firearms by facilitating the detection of evidence of other supervised release violations. Furthermore, the reasonableness of the conditions was evident from the very background of defendant's appeal, which stemmed from a crime he committed while on parole. View "United States v. Dean" on Justia Law

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The Zamudio drug organization distributed pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine throughout the Indianapolis area. Zamudio imported the drugs from his suppliers in Mexico and oversaw his distributors, including De La Torre, Chapman, Rush, and Bennett. Gonzalez was Zamudio’s girlfriend; she allowed Zamudio to store and traffic drugs out of her home and helped launder Zamudio’s drug money and wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mexico and California. All five eventually pleaded guilty and were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In consolidated appeals, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the sentences of Gonzalez, De La Torre, and Bennett. The court upheld the application of the aggravating role enhancement to Gonzalez’s sentence and found that De La Torre waived any challenge to his conditions of supervised release. Bennett's below-Guidelines sentence was reasonable. The court vacated the guilty pleas of Chapman and Rush. For those defendants, the government filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 851(a) alleging that prior state law convictions were each a “felony drug offense” under 21 U.S.C. 841, so that each faced mandatory minimums of life in prison. Their plea agreements were based on errors regarding the mandatory minimum sentences they would have otherwise faced and were not entered into knowingly and intelligently. View "United States v. Bennett" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court held that, although petitioner exhausted his due process claims based on lost or destroyed evidence, the Georgia Supreme Court's denial of the claims on direct appeal was entitled to deference under section 2254(d). In this case, there was no evidence that officers knew or should have known that the lost or destroyed evidence was exculpatory and the record contained no allegation of official animus towards petitioner or of a conscious effort to suppress exculpatory evidence. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying petitioner's request for a stay. View "Davis v. Sellers" on Justia Law

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Officer Patterson stopped a vehicle with four passengers, including a seven-year-old. Another passenger, Owen, exited the vehicle holding a bag and attempted to flee. Patterson gave chase. Owen returned to the vehicle, retrieved a shotgun, and fired at Patterson. Patterson, who was not hit, tased Owen. Owen dropped the shotgun and attempted to flee, dropping the bag. Patterson arrested Owen and recovered the bag. An officer, trained in methamphetamine investigations, recognizing the dangers presented by the collection of items, took measures to reduce the risk of explosion. A methamphetamine task force neutralized the remaining items. Owen pleaded guilty to attempting to manufacture methamphetamine and discharging a firearm during and in furtherance of the drug trafficking offense. Owen’s base offense level was increased to 30 under USSG 2D1.1(b)(14)(D) because his methamphetamine offense created a “substantial risk of harm to the life of a minor,” then adjusted downward for accepting responsibility. His Guidelines range was 250 -282 months of imprisonment. The court determined that the quantity of chemicals was low but highly dangerous, with the potential for explosion, and that loosely storing those chemicals together and transporting them was an inherently dangerous endeavor. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Owen’s 250-month sentence, noting that any combustion would have been devastating to the minor, if not fatal. On balance, the likelihood of substantial injury to the child should the equipment combust constitutes a “substantial risk of harm to the life of a minor.” View "United States v. Owen" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for honest-services fraud through bribery for undertaking an "official act" in his capacity as a police officer. The court remanded for a new trial and held that it could not be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury convicted defendant of the offenses that Congress criminalized when it enacted the honest-services fraud and bribery statutes. In this case, the jury was not instructed with the crucial analogy limiting the definition of "question" or "matter" in this context as comparable in scope to a lawsuit, hearing, or administrative determination, and the government itself did not otherwise do so. The court also affirmed defendant's conviction of computer fraud. View "United States v. Van Buren" on Justia Law

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Wisconsin prisoner Brown cut himself severely while in restrictive housing. Brown sued the prison nurses, asserting that they had exhibited deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The Wisconsin Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin have a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that covers 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuits by an incarcerated person, when those cases must undergo initial screening by the district court under 28 U.S.C. 1915A. In the MOU, the state DOJ gives “limited consent to the exercise of jurisdiction” by Magistrate Judges over several things, including, without qualification, the initial screening. Following its routine procedures and the MOU, the district court sent the case to Magistrate Duffin for initial screening. Brown consented (28 U.S.C. 636(c)) to the authority of the magistrate to resolve the entire case. Duffin found that Brown failed to state a claim, stating that “[t]his order and the judgment to follow are final” and appealable to the Seventh Circuit. Under Circuit precedent, a magistrate judge does not have the authority to enter a final judgment in a case when only one party has consented to the magistrate’s jurisdiction. Two defendants had not been served. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the state defendant may consent in advance to the magistrate’s jurisdiction to conduct the initial case screening and, if the plaintiff has also filed consent, the magistrate may enter final judgment dismissing the case with prejudice. View "Brown v. Doe" on Justia Law