Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court dismissing this complaint brought by patients (collectively, Patients) in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), holding that the district court erred.Patients were ordered by the Minnesota Commitment Appeals Panel (CAP) to be transferred to Community Preparation Services (CPS), which would have been a reduction in custody. CAP issued Patients' transfers orders, but the orders did not provide a specific date by which the transfers to CPS should occur. State officials did not transfer Patients, and about two years after the transfer orders were issued Patients filed petitions for a writ of mandamus demanding that the transfers be effectuated. The state officials filed motions to dismiss, arguing that qualified immunity shielded them from liability. The district court granted the motions to dismiss, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the state officials had a clear obligation to execute the CAP transfer orders within a reasonable period of time; and (2) remand was required. View "McDeid v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court summarily denying Defendant's second petition for postconviction relief, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petition without holding an evidentiary hearing.After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of first-degree felony murder and attempted first-degree premeditated murder, among other crimes. Defendant later filed the postconviction petition at issue, asserting that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a trial before an impartial jury and that his trial counsel and appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance. The district court summarily denied the petition as time barred and procedurally barred. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it summarily denied Defendant's second postconviction petition as untimely. View "White v. State" on Justia Law

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Officer Hazlewood applied to a Kentucky state judge for a warrant. In his supporting affidavit, Hazlewood stated that a confidential informant (CI) advised Hazlewood that Sanders was selling heroin/fentanyl from a specific apartment. Hazlewood set up two controlled purchases; officers observed Sanders leaving and returning to that apartment. The affidavit contained no information pertaining to the reliability of the CI. With a warrant, officers recovered controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and firearms from the apartment. Sanders was charged with drug and firearm offenses but was not charged with distributing the drugs sold during the controlled purchases.The court denied Sanders's motion for supplemental discovery relating to the controlled buys because disclosure would reveal the CI’s identity and the evidence was not material to the defense. Sanders also moved to suppress all evidence and statements that were obtained when executing the warrant and for a “Franks” hearing to challenge the accuracy of surveillance referenced in the affidavit. The court denied the motions determining that probable cause supported the search warrant or, in the alternative, that the “good faith” exception applied.The Sixth Circuit vacated Sanders’s conviction and 72-month sentence. Few facts supported a nexus between the drug evidence being sought and the apartment that was searched; entering and exiting an apartment, alone, provides no indication of criminal activity at the apartment. The affidavit did not establish probable cause to believe that Sander resided at the apartment. No reasonable officer would believe that the affidavit established probable cause to search the apartment. View "United States v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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In 1981, while serving two life sentences for multiple convictions for first-degree murder, Defendant beat a fellow inmate to death. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to death in Idaho state court. Defendant obtained federal habeas relief with respect to his sentence and was resentenced to death in 1995. In a second petition, Defendant thereafter unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief in the district court. The district court granted certificates of appealability (COAs) to two issues.   The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order (a) amending and replacing an opinion filed July 20, 2022, (b) denying a petition for panel rehearing, and (c) denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion affirming the district court’s denial of Defendant’s second amended habeas corpus petition challenging his death sentence. The panel agreed with the district court that the Idaho Supreme Court reasonably found a lack of prejudice under the second prong of Strickland. The panel held further that under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254(e)(2), the district court was correct in declining to hold an evidentiary hearing on the new evidence that Defendant sought to introduce to bolster his IAC resentencing claim.   The panel wrote that even in the absence of Ramirez, it would have agreed with the district court because the new evidence introduced on federal habeas review in support of Defendant’s argument that he suffers from brain damage and an organic brain disorder was largely duplicative of evidence that had been introduced during his 1982 sentencing and his 1995 resentencing. View "THOMAS CREECH V. TIM RICHARDSON" on Justia Law

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Sylvia Johnson was convicted by jury of unlawfully purchasing a firearm “for transfer to” a man she identified as her common law husband, Jaron Trujillo, who was legally prohibited from possessing a firearm. While deliberating, the jurors posed two questions to the court about the meaning of “transfer.” This became the issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court: what the term “transfer” meant under section 18-12-111(1) C.R.S. (2022), the so-called “straw-purchaser” statute. The Supreme Court held that it included temporary transfers and the shared use of a firearm. The Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, albeit on slightly different grounds. View "Johnson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ahmad Salti appealed a district court’s determination of how to calculate his restitution obligation when his co-conspirator also paid some of it. Defendant was sentenced to pay the victim $35,000 in restitution, which was a “Joint and Several Amount” also owed by co-conspirator Pattrick Towner. Towner’s sentence required him to pay restitution to the victim of $72,000, owed jointly and severally with Defendant. After Defendant deposited $35,000 with the court clerk as restitution, the clerk informed the government that Defendant should receive a refund for overpayment. The clerk explained that Towner had paid $5,117.92 in restitution and the clerk had apportioned that amount pro rata between the obligation owed by both Defendant and Towner ($35,000) and the amount owed solely by Mr. Towner ($37,000). Because 35/72 of Towner’s payments ($2,487.87) had been credited to the $35,000 in restitution owed jointly and severally by both defendants, Defendant had overpaid by that amount. The government moved the district court to order the clerk not to pay Defendant a refund of $2,487.87. The district court agreed with the government, declaring that Defendant had to continue to make payments toward his $35,000 obligation unless (because of payments by Towner) the victim had already been fully compensated for its $72,000 loss. Defendant appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the decision of the district court maximized compensation to the victim and treated both Defendant and Towner fairly. View "United States v. Salti" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of committing aggravated child abuse against his son, KH, and child abuse against his stepson, LT, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting LT's out of court statement as a prior consistent statement under Wyo. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(B).On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred by admitting LT's prior recorded interview statement because it constituted inadmissible hearsay and that three of the four requirements for admission of such a statement under Rule 801(d)(1)(B) were not satisfied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court could reasonably conclude that all four requirements were satisfied and thus did not abuse its discretion in admitting LT's out of court statement. View "Hilyard v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of one count of first-degree sexual assault, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of sexual assault in the first degree and sentenced to imprisonment for less than ten nor more than fifteen years. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial by partially closing the courtroom in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not violate Defendant's right to a public trial, and Defendant waived his right to a public trial; (2) Defendant waived any appellate argument regarding the admissibility of certain evidence; and (3) Defendant failed to prove that he was prejudiced by his trial counsel's alleged errors. View "Tarpey v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant Alvin Hines was indicted by grand jury on: (1) Possession of a Weapon with a Removed, Obliterated or Altered Serial Number (the “Serial Number Charge”), (2) Possession of a Firearm While Under the Influence (the “Drug Charge”), and (3) Discharging a Firearm on a Street. Following a two-day jury trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts on the first two counts. Hines was sentenced to three years at Level 5, suspended for one year at Level 2 for the Serial Number Charge and to one year at Level 5, suspended for one year at Level 2 for the Drug Charge. During his trial, Hines moved for judgment of acquittal on the Serial Number Charge following the State’s case-in-chief. The trial court denied Hines’ motion. Hines argued the superior court erred in denying his motion because the evidence was insufficient to show that he knew that the firearm at issue had an obliterated serial number. To this, the Delaware Supreme Court found the argument lacked merit: at least two police officers testified that someone holding that firearm would know its serial number had been removed. Therefore, the Court found sufficient evidence existed for the jury to infer that Hines knew about the obliterated serial number, and affirmed the superior court denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal. View "Hines v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Officers found Smallwood unresponsive in his prison cell. When he awoke, Smallwood assured a nurse that he had not taken any drugs, and reminded her that he is diabetic. Smallwood consented to a urinalysis and the results were negative. Dr. Talbot nonetheless ordered blood tests. Smallwood asked for a form to refuse the blood draw. Prison guards stated that he could not refuse, twisted his hands and wrists, placed him in a headlock, and held a taser to his chest while placing him in restraints. They held him down while a lab technician drew his blood. The blood test results revealed no illegal drugs. Smallwood alleges that the officers took him to an observation cell where they subjected him to physical and sexual abuse, then placed him in segregation. Smallwood filed a grievance but did not properly follow IDOC grievance procedures, which require that a prisoner first attempt to informally resolve the problem: a grievant need not seek informal resolution for allegations of sexual abuse. Smallwood filed a timely formal grievance, alleging sexual abuse. Smallwood’s grievance was rejected for failing to show that he had tried to informally resolve his complaint. Smallwood expressed an inability to understand the grievance process. A year later, Smallwood's attempt at informal resolution was rejected as untimely.Smallwood sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding unresolved, material factual questions regarding Smallwood’s ability to make use of the grievance procedure. View "Smallwood v. Williams" on Justia Law