Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Louisiana offense of armed robbery qualifies as a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Defendant was sentenced as an armed career criminal after pleading guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. In Louisiana, armed robbery is "the taking of anything of value belonging to another from the person of another or that is in the immediate control of another, by use of force or intimidation, while armed with a dangerous weapon." The court stated that elements of simple robbery are the same, except that they lack the dangerous-weapon element. In United States v. Brown, 437 F.3d 450, 452 (5th Cir. 2006), the court held that the Louisiana crime of simple robbery qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA. The court rejected defendant's contention, under the rule of orderliness, that the Brown panel must have relied on the residual clause when it concluded that the use of force needed for robbery was the same as the use of force contemplated in the ACCA. Furthermore, subsequent precedent has supported, rather than overruled, Brown. View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, plus two counts of unlawful use of communications facilities. The court held that the BOP did not abuse its discretion by refusing to construe defendant's request for custody credit as a request for nunc pro tunc designation. In any event, defendant failed to establish that the BOP has made a final decision on a nunc pro tunc request, and thus his claim has not been administratively exhausted; the BOP did not err by declining to award custody credit under Willis v. United States, 438 F.2d 923 (5th Cir. 1971); and neither 18 U.S.C. 3553(e) nor 3553(f) applied to defendant's situation and thus granting his request would place his sentence below the statutory minimum. View "Smith v. McConnell" on Justia Law

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Senate Bill 1393, which amended Penal Code sections 667 and 1385 to give trial courts discretion to strike prior serious felony enhancements, does not apply to final convictions. The Court of Appeal dismissed defendant's appeal from the trial court's postjudgment order denying his motion for resentencing pursuant to S.B. 1393. In this case, when the trial court sentenced defendant, Penal Code section 667, subdivision (a), required it to add four five-year enhancements to his sentence for his prior serious felony convictions. Under S.B. 1393, the trial court now has discretion to strike the enhancements. The parties agreed that S.B. 1393 applies retroactively on appeal from judgment, but defendant argued that his case should be remanded for resentencing under the new law. The court agreed with the Attorney General and held that remand was not required because defendant's conviction was final prior to the law's effective date. The court also rejected defendant's alternative equal protection claim. View "People v. Alexander" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed her conviction for knowingly procuring or offering a forged quitclaim deed for recordation in a public office and knowingly possessing a false completed notary public's acknowledgment (notary acknowledgment) with intent to defraud. The Court of Appeal held that the evidence was insufficient to prove that defendant possessed a completed notary acknowledgement and thus reversed her conviction for possession of a false completed notary acknowledgment with intent to defraud. The court also reversed the true finding on the aggravated white collar crime enhancement allegation. The court struck the $500,000 fine imposed pursuant to Penal Code section 186.11, subdivision (c), and remanded for resentencing. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Abrahamian" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal consolidated two appeals of two jury trials for defendant Adolfo Rodriguez Bermudez. The first trial involved the possession of a concealed dirk. The second involved an assault with a deadly weapon with a vehicle done to benefit a gang. Defendant was sentenced to a 21-year four-month aggregate term. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) the statute defining a dirk (Pen. Code sec. 16470) was unconstitutionally vague; (2) the trial court erred in allowing two officers to testify to the legal definition of a dirk; (3) a gang expert provided improper opinion testimony that defendant committed a crime to benefit a gang; and (4) insufficient evidence established the existence of a criminal street gang under Penal Code section 186.22 because testimony concerning the predicate felonies was admitted in violation of California v. Sanchez, 63 Cal.4th 665 (2016). In supplemental briefing, defendant contended: (5) remand was required so the trial court could consider exercising its discretion under Senate Bill No. 1393; and (6) the imposition of fines and fees violated his right to due process and freedom from excessive fines under California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019). Finally, in a petition for rehearing, defendant contended: (7) his one-year prior prison term enhancement should have been struck in light of Senate Bill No. 136. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the dirk statute was not unconstitutionally vague. Second, the Court concluded the knowledge element rendered the statute definite enough to provide a standard for police enforcement and ascertainment of guilt. Furthermore, the Court held that a gang expert’s testimony about gang enhancement predicate offenses did not violate Sanchez so long as the predicate offenses did not involve defendant or individuals involved in the defendant’s case. "Such predicate offenses are chapters in a gang’s biography and constitute historical background information, not case-specific information." The Court struck the one-year prior prison term enhancement and remanded to allow the trial court to consider exercising its discretion under SB 1393. During that remand, as the State conceded, defendant could request a hearing on his ability to pay. In all other respects, the Court affirmed. View "California v. Bermudez" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a trial court's order: (1) granting Raheen Johnson's motion to dismiss the petition to revoke parole filed by the Division of Adult Parole Operations of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DAPO); and (2) transferring Johnson from parole supervision to postrelease community supervision (PRCS). The State, through the San Diego County District Attorney, contended, among other things, the trial court did not have the authority, in the context of a parole revocation proceeding, to transfer Johnson's supervision to PRCS. According to the State, a parolee could challenge his classification as an offender subject to parole supervision only by exhausting his administrative remedies with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and then, if necessary, filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The State also contended that even if the trial court had authority to transfer Johnson to PRCS, the transfer was barred by Penal Code section 3000.08(l), which permitted a transfer to PRCS only if the parolee had not yet served 60 days on parole supervision. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court had the authority to transfer Johnson's supervision to PRCS, and concluded the trial court properly concluded that the transfer was not barred by the 60-day time limit in section 3000.08(l). View "California v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Cates was transporting drugs when he was pulled over for driving without rear license plate lights. The deputy saw a revolver on the passenger seat. Cates admitted that he did not have a license for the firearm. Retail quantities of cocaine and heroin were later found in his possession. Cates pled guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm; the government agreed not to bring additional charges. Cates waived his right to contest his conviction on any ground other than ineffective assistance of counsel. A district judge accepted the plea. Before sentencing, Cates’s attorney moved to withdraw. A new lawyer was appointed and moved to withdraw the guilty plea, claiming that Cates had entered the guilty plea under duress because he was threatened with new charges and was given only one hour to decide. Cates testified that before he received the letter accepting his plea, he had told his attorney that he “changed [his] mind” but that his lawyer told him that it was too late. The district court denied Cates’s motion, noting the five days between the submission of the plea and the Rule 11 hearing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court questioned the wisdom of deciding Cates’s ineffective‐assistance claim on this record rather than on collateral review and directed his appellate counsel to review the question with him. He insisted on proceeding. The court held that the record contains insufficient evidence to support Cates’s ineffective‐assistance claim, View "United States v. Cates" on Justia Law

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Law enforcement learned that Lee was distributing large quantities of ice methamphetamine and arranged a controlled buy. The source purchased over 83 grams of ice methamphetamine. Days later, officers conducted a planned traffic stop. Lee consented to a K-9 walkaround. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs. Troopers searched the car and found over seven pounds of ice methamphetamine and $19,170 in cash, including $900 of marked money used in the controlled buy. Lee stated that he had been dealing ice methamphetamine in the area for three years. In the seven months before his arrest, Lee distributed approximately 100 pounds. Agents executed a search warrant at Lee’s residence and discovered ice methamphetamine, 12 firearms in close proximity to the drugs, scales, drug paraphernalia, and ammunition. Lee pled guilty to possessing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime and was sentenced to 210 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting Lee’s argument that he should not have received two extra criminal history points under U.S.S.G. 4A1.1(d) for dealing methamphetamine while on supervision for a drunk driving offense. The court vacated a term of supervised release that would have prohibited him from interacting with known felons unless he receives the probation officer’s permission; that term violates the rule against delegating Article III power. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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In 2014, William Berry, who was at the time a deputy of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, obtained several firearms from the office evidence locker, gave one away, attempted to sell another, and kept two for himself. For this, Berry was convicted of embezzlement of public property in violation of section 18-8-407, C.R.S. (2019), and first-degree official misconduct in violation of section 18-8-404, C.R.S. (2019). The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was one of first impression for each of these statutory provisions: (1) does “public property” include property that is in the government’s possession but not owned by the government?; and (2) what is an act “relating to [an official’s] office” for purposes of the crime of official misconduct? The Supreme Court held the statute prohibiting embezzlement of public property criminalized only the embezzlement of property that was owned by the government. Furthermore, the Court concluded the prohibition on official misconduct should be broadly construed to include circumstances, like those in this case, in which an official used the opportunities presented by his or her office to engage in improper conduct. View "Colorado v. Berry" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Marsalis appealed a district court’s decision summarily dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2009 rape conviction. Marsalis alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to: (1) challenge the testimony of the State’s expert witness regarding his and the victim’s blood alcohol levels; (2) present favorable eyewitness testimony at trial; and (3) properly advise him of his speedy trial rights under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD). After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed in part, and affirmed in part the district court's decision. The Court affirmed the district court’s summary dismissal of Marsalis’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call an allegedly favorable eyewitness at trial. However, it reversed and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on Marsalis’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the underlying methodologies supporting the State’s expert witness’s testimony and for failing to present an expert witness to discuss the scientific basis behind Marsalis’s blackout defense. The Court also remanded the case back to the district court so it could provide Marsalis with twenty days’ notice to respond to the court’s grounds for dismissing Marsalis’s claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him of his speedy trial rights under the IAD. View "Marsalis v. Idaho" on Justia Law