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Halbach disappeared on Halloween 2005. Her family contacted police after she did not show up at the photography studio where she worked and her voice mailbox was full. Officers focused on the Avery Auto Salvage yard in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the last place she was known to have gone. Avery, the son of the business owner, lived on the property. That day, Avery called Auto Trader magazine, for whom Halbach worked, to request that she photograph a minivan that he wished to sell. The police suspected that Avery’s 16‐year‐old nephew, Dassey, who also lived on the property, might have information about Halbach’s murder and called Dassey into the police station. After many hours of interrogation over several days, Dassey confessed that he, with Avery, had raped and murdered Halbach and burned her body. Before trial, Dassey recanted his confession. The state failed to find any physical evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After unsuccessful state appeals and post‐conviction proceedings, Dassey sought federal habeas relief, claiming that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel and that his confession was not voluntary. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in granting relief. The state court did not apply the proper standard; juvenile confessions require more care. “If a state court can evade all federal review by merely parroting the correct Supreme Court law, then the writ of habeas corpus is meaningless.” View "Dassey v. Dittmann" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a former CIA agent, appealed his convictions for unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, unlawful retention and disclosure of classified information, attempted unauthorized disclosure of classified information, unauthorized conveyance of government property, and obstruction of justice. The Fourth Circuit held that the government failed to prove proper venue for defendant's offense of unauthorized disclosure to a reporter of a letter relating to a classified program. In regard to the other charged crimes, the court held that there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the jury's findings that defendant more likely than not committed the essential conduct of these offenses; there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant obstructed justice by trying to conceal an email from a grand jury investigation; and the district court did not commit reversible error when instructing the jury on venue, nor did it abuse its discretion when it allowed the government to introduce evidence that defendant kept classified documents in his home. Accordingly, the court vacated the conviction for unauthorized disclosure of the program letter, but otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Sterling" on Justia Law

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The Court of Special Appeals did not err in concluding that Defendant’s sentence was imposed in violation of Maryland Rule 4-243(c) because, pursuant to a plea agreement, the State did not receive what it bargained for when the judge imposed a sentence below the terms of the plea agreement. Defendant pleaded guilty to theft scheme greater than $10,000 but less than $100,000. The plea agreement provided that Defendant would be found guilty of a crime and serve jail time, but, instead, the sentence imposed did not include a finding of guilt or incarceration. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, concluding that the sentence was illegal because it was below the floor of the terms. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Court of Special Appeals did not err in holding that Defendant’s sentence was imposed in violation of Rule 4-243(c). View "Smith v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant carried a handgun as she battered a law enforcement officer and resisted law enforcement. Defendant was not charged with a firearm-related offense, but nonetheless, the State introduced her gun into evidence at trial. Defendant was found guilty of felony battery against a public safety official and resisting law enforcement. Defendant challenged the gun’s admission at trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) res gestate did not survive the adoption of Indiana’s Rules of Evidence in 1994; and (2) under the Rules of Evidence, the trial court did not abuse its discretion admitting Defendant’s gun into evidence because the gun was relevant to Defendant’s aggressiveness, and the danger of unfair prejudice did not substantially outweigh its probative value. View "Snow v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions for battery against a public safety official and resisting law enforcement, holding (1) as the Supreme Court held in Snow v. State, __ N.E. 3d __ (Ind. 2017), the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting into evidence the gun of Defendant’s girlfriend, who was also convicted of the same offenses; and (2) because Defendant failed to seek a separate trial or a limiting instruction he waived any argument that the gun’s admission denied him a fair trial, and there was no fundamental error in the trial court’s decision not to give a limiting instruction sua sponte. View "Harris v. State" on Justia Law

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Under the circumstances of this case, where a sworn juror repeatedly and unambiguously stated that she was unable to render an impartial verdict based solely on the evidence and the law, the trial court erred in failing to discharge the juror as “grossly unqualified to serve” pursuant to N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 270.35(1). After a jury trial, Defendant was acquitted of murder in the second degree and convicted of manslaughter in the first degree. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed and ordered that Defendant receive a new trial, holding that the sworn juror at issue in this case, a juror who purportedly stated that she could not “do what the law require[d] [her] to do,” was incapable of rendering an impartial verdict as required by her oath as a sworn juror. Therefore, section 270.35(1) mandated her discharge. View "People v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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The sentencing court violated N.Y. Crim. Proc. Laws 390.50 and Defendant’s due process rights by failing adequately to set forth on the record the basis for its refusal to disclose to the defense certain statements that were considered by the court for sentencing purposes. Defendant pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first degree, and assault in the second degree. At sentencing, county court denied counsel’s request to turn over to counsel the victim impact letters that accompanied the presentence investigation report (PSI). The Appellate Division concluded that the sentencing court had not erred by denying disclosure of “confidential information.” The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the sentencing court failed to comply with its statutory obligation under section 390.50, thus implicating Defendant’s due process rights. View "People v. Minemier" on Justia Law

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When petitioner was tried, the Massachusetts courtroom could not accommodate all potential jurors. During jury selection, a court officer excluded any member of the public who was not a potential juror, including petitioner’s mother and her minister. Defense counsel neither objected at trial nor raised the issue on direct review. Petitioner was convicted of murder. Five years later, he sought a new trial, arguing that his attorney had provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the closure. The Supreme Court affirmed the state courts in rejecting the argument. In the context of a public trial violation during jury selection, where the error is neither preserved nor raised on direct review but is raised later via an ineffective-assistance claim, the defendant must demonstrate prejudice to secure a new trial. A public trial violation is a structural error, which “affect[s] the framework within which the trial proceeds,” but does not always lead to fundamental unfairness. If an objection is made and the issue is raised on direct appeal, the defendant generally is entitled to automatic reversal. If the defendant does not preserve a structural error on direct review but raises it later in an ineffective-assistance claim, the defendant generally bears the burden to show “a reasonable probability that . . . the result of the proceeding would have been different” but for attorney error or that the violation was so serious as to render the trial fundamentally unfair. Petitioner has not shown a reasonable probability of a different outcome or that the trial was fundamentally unfair and is not entitled to a new trial. His trial was not conducted in secret or in a remote place; closure was limited to voir dire; venire members who did not become jurors observed the proceedings; and the record indicates no basis for concern. View "Weaver v. Massachusetts" on Justia Law

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Defendants were indicted for the kidnapping, robbery, and murder of Catherine Fuller. The prosecution argued that Fuller was attacked by a large group, producing the testimony of two men who confessed to participating in a group attack and cooperated in return for leniency. Other witnesses corroborated aspects of their testimony. The prosecution played a videotape of defendant Yarborough’s statement to detectives, describing how he was part of a large group that carried out the attack. None of the defendants rebutted the witnesses’ claims that Fuller was killed in a group attack. Long after their convictions became final, seven defendants discovered that the government had withheld evidence: the identity of a man seen running into the alley after the murder and stopping near the garage where Fuller’s body had already been found; statements of a passerby who claimed to hear groans coming from a closed garage; and evidence tending to impeach three witnesses. The Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. courts in rejecting their Brady claims, finding the withheld evidence not material. Evidence is material when there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed, the result of the proceeding would have been different, given the context of the entire record. An argument that, had defendants known about the withheld evidence, they could have raised an alternative theory, that a single perpetrator (or two) had attacked Fuller “is too little, too weak, or too distant from the main evidentiary points to meet Brady’s standards.” The undisclosed impeachment evidence was largely cumulative of impeachment evidence already in use at trial. View "Turner v. United States" on Justia Law

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When the U.S. Attorney has refused to make a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b) motion for reasons that are not invidious or unrelated to a legitimate government concern, it is not the office of the court to weigh the equities or reassess the facts underlying the government's exercise of its discretion. In this case, the United States appealed an order and second amended judgment reducing defendant's amended judgment in 1999 following his conviction. The Second Circuit held that the district court exceeded the scope and nature of its inquiry and the findings the district court relied on were not sufficiently supported by the record. Here, defendant had committed perjury at his trial; in two other criminal cases he had submitted affidavits that the respective presiding judges found could not be credited; and, most relevantly, he had purported to cooperate with the government with regard to terrorism plans while instead actively misleading the government and affirmatively compromising the investigative efforts he caused it to undertake. View "United States v. Scarpa" on Justia Law