Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Convicted of murder, Phillips has been incarcerated in Kentucky prisons since 1999. In 2014, Phillips and his cellmate got into a fight. Phillips later thought he had sprained his ankle. The pain and discoloration went away in a few weeks. Weeks later, Phillips noticed a growing lump on his calf. Dr. Tangilag measured the “mass” and ordered an ultrasound then scheduled a CT scan to rule out cancer. Phillips underwent the scan at a local hospital. Doctors concluded that a “plantaris rupture” was “related to an old injury/trauma” and assured Phillips that it was “not cancer or any bone lesion.” Phillips saw an outside orthopedic surgeon who agreed and concluded that Phillips did not need surgery. Dr. Tangilag met with Phillips a final time in August 2015. Phillips noted that he still experienced pain when walking. According to Phillips, the lump did not go away, and he continued to suffer pain.In 2016, Phillips sued, alleging that his doctors violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” by refusing to surgically remove the lump. Medical staff ordered another ultrasound, which found nothing remarkable. Phillips was given pain medication and referred to physical therapy. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Surgery is not the standard of care for a rupture, and a hematoma typically goes away on its own. Phillips lacks expert evidence suggesting that his doctors were grossly incompetent. View "Phillips v. Tangilag" on Justia Law

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The Woods brothers were members of a Detroit-based group, HNIC. The government claims that HNIC was a street gang “engaged in drug dealing, intimidation, and violence” and that the brothers participated in multiple drive-by shootings in an attempt to murder a rival gang member. Antoine Woods was indicted under the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Act (VICAR) for conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder in aid of racketeering, assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, using, carrying, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (18 U.S.C. 924(c); and obstruction of justice. Austin Woods was indicted for conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering and using, carrying, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. A fellow HNIC member testified against them.The Sixth Circuit vacated Antoine’s conviction for attempted murder in aid of racketeering as violating the Double Jeopardy Clause but affirmed the brothers’ convictions on all other counts. The court rejected arguments that their 18 U.S.C. 924(c) convictions were predicated on a conspiracy charge. The indictment and jury instructions clearly stated that VICAR attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon were the predicate offenses for the section 924(c) charges. The court also rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Woods" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of depraved-mind murder and remanded this case to the district court for Defendant to be sentenced on a second-degree manslaughter conviction, holding that Defendant could not be convicted of depraved-mind murder.Justine Ruszczyk called the police out of concern for a woman she heard screaming, but when Ruszczyk approached the police vehicle that came in response to her call, Defendant fired his service weapon at her from the passenger seat. A jury acquitted Defendant of second-degree intentional murder but found him guilty of third-degree depraved-mind murder and second-degree manslaughter. At issue was whether, in addition to second-degree manslaughter, Defendant could also be convicted of depraved-mind murder. The Supreme Court held that he could not and reversed his conviction. View "State v. Noor" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, holding that the modified plain error doctrine was not satisfied in this case.On appeal, Defendant argued that a statement made by the prosecutor during his jury trial required reversal of his conviction and a new trial. At issue was the prosecutor's statement to the jury during closing argument that a unanimous verdict on one element of the offense - specifically, whether Defendant acted with force or with coercion to accomplish the act of sexual penetration - was not required. The court of appeals affirmed, holding (1) the phrase "force or coercion in Minn. Stat. 609.342(a)(e)(i) sets forth alternative means for completing the sexual penetration element of the offense; and (2) therefore, a unanimous jury verdict on whether Defendant used force or coercion was not necessary. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no relief was warranted in this case. View "State v. Epps" on Justia Law

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Silas and Whitley, brothers and members of a San Francisco street gang, suspected Zinn, a fellow gang member, had stolen guns from them. The brothers attacked Zinn outside his and Dow’s (Zinn’s girlfriend) apartment building, where Whitley and Chaney—Whitley’s girlfriend—also lived. Zinn and Dow ran. Silas and Whitley pursued them in separate cars. One car was driven by Michaels, the brothers’ cousin. Minutes later, both victims were shot to death on the side of the road, in an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County.Silas, Whitley, Michaels, and Chaney, all of whom are Black, were tried for the murders. Zinn and Dow were also Black. During jury selection, defendants brought unsuccessful Batson-Wheeler motions to challenge the prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory strikes against three Black prospective jurors, including one who expressed support for Black Lives Matter. The jury, which had two Black members, returned convictions.The court of appeal remanded for a new trial. The Batson-Wheeler motion involving the prospective juror who expressed support for BLM was improperly denied. Defendants established a prima facie case of discrimination at the first stage of the analysis, and the prosecutor’s proffered reasons for the strike—that the juror was hostile when asked about supporting BLM and had “anti-prosecution issues”—should not have been credited. Insufficient evidence supported the conclusion that the peremptory strike was not “ ‘motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.’ ” The error was structural, requiring reversal. View "People v. Silas" on Justia Law

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In an action arising from a constitutional challenge to Missouri's remedial parole review process for individuals sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole for homicide offenses committed as juveniles, a class of Missouri inmates who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole for such juvenile homicide offenses filed suit claiming that Missouri's parole review policies and practices violate their rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and their rights to due process of law under the U.S. Constitution and the Missouri Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs.The Eighth Circuit agreed with the district court that Missouri's policies and practices, when implemented and considered in combination, worked to deprive plaintiffs of their Eighth Amendment right to a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based upon demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. The court explained that, because the parole review process in place under Senate Bill 590 failed to adequately ensure that juveniles whose crimes reflect only transient immaturity—and who have since matured—will not be forced to serve a disproportionate sentence, it violated the Eighth Amendment.The court affirmed the order of the district court determining that the parole review process of SB 590 violated plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment rights, and affirmed the order determining that Missouri cannot use a risk assessment tool in its revised parole proceedings unless it has been developed to address the unique circumstances of the JLWOP Class. The court vacated the order regarding appointment of counsel and remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the court denied plaintiffs' motion to strike. View "Brown v. Precythe" on Justia Law

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After the Eighth Circuit ordered a limited remand for further consideration of defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from his car, the district court entered an order denying the motion. Defendant's appeal has been resubmitted for decision, and the court now affirms the judgment.The court concluded that the district court was authorized to supplement its factual findings on remand, and there was no error in finding additional facts. The court also concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, the district court did not err in concluding that there was reasonable suspicion of drug-related activity and the brief extension of the traffic stop to facilitate a dog sniff of the vehicle was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Traylor" on Justia Law

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Hillie was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2251(e), possession of images of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B), and various counts relating to sexual abuse of children and minors, under D.C. law. A search of his electronic devices had revealed videos, recorded by cameras hidden in the bedroom and bathroom, of minors in the nude. Hillie had also touched the girls in a sexual manner. He was sentenced to 354 months’ imprisonment.The D.C. Circuit vacated in part, agreeing that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions of sexual exploitation of a minor, attempted sexual exploitation of a minor, and possession of images of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. No rational trier of fact could find the girl’s conduct depicted in the videos to be a “lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person,” under section 2256(2)(A) nor that Hillie intended to use the girl to display her anus, genitalia, or pubic area in a lustful manner that connotes the commission of sexual intercourse, bestiality, masturbation, or sadistic or masochistic abuse, and took a substantial step toward doing so. The court rejected arguments that the court erroneously instructed the jury, erroneously admitted certain testimony, and erroneously denied a motion to sever the federal counts from the remaining counts. View "United States v. Hillie" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, sitting as an appellate court, affirming the county court's denial of Defendant's motion for absolute discharge based on her statutory right to a speedy trial, holding that the county court did not clearly err in finding good cause for the judicial delays.Defendant was charged with two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence assault in the third degree. Defendant requested a jury trial. Defendant later filed a motion for absolute discharge, claiming violations of her statutory and constitutional rights to a speedy trial. The county court denied the motion. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly affirmed the county court's order denying Defendant's motion for absolute discharge under Neb. Rev. Stat. 29-1207 because the State failed to meet its burden to show that good cause existed sufficient to toll Defendant's speedy trial rights. View "State v. Chase" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the appellate court affirming Defendant's conviction of strangulation in the second degree and assault in the third degree, holding that there was no error in the trial court's evidentiary rulings and that there was no reason to mandate Defendant's requested jury instruction.Defendant was convicted of strangulation in the second degree and assault in the third degree. The appellate court affirmed the convictions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the appellate court did not err in upholding the trial court's decision to admit into evidence a written statement that Defendant made during a custodial interrogation; and (2) this Court declines Defendant's request to exercise its supervisory authority to require trial court, in cases in which the police fail to record an interrogation in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 54-lo(h), to instruct the jury that the police violated the law. View "State v. Christopher S." on Justia Law