Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
Defendant was convicted of thirteen crimes in connection to his driving a stolen semitruck and trailer to a wholesale tire business, breaking into the fence yard, stealing tires, leading police officers on a high-speed chase, and then fleeing on foot after crashing the semi into a wall.The Court of Appeal concluded that while the trial court erred when it instructed the jury on Vehicle Code section 10851, subdivision (a), and section 496d, subdivision (a), the error was harmless because defendant's conviction on count 12 may be construed as based on post-theft driving. The court rejected defendant's challenge to the sentence on count 10 for vandalism under section 654. However, with respect to defendant's Dueñas claim, the court concluded that defendant did not forfeit review of his claim and on this undeveloped record, it is appropriate to remand the matter for the limited purpose of allowing the parties to address the issues and make a record. Finally, in the event that there is no change to the judgment following proceedings on defendant's ability-to-pay claim, the court ordered the trial court, on its own motion, to correct the abstract of judgment to reflect imposition of a total court operations assessment of $520 under section 1465.8 and a total court facilities assessment of $390 under Government Code section 70373. (The opinion is certified for publication with the exception of parts I. and II. of the Discussion.) View "People v. Montes" on Justia Law

by
Delavega was charged with murder with three firearm enhancements under Penal Code section 12022.53(b), (c), and (d). The subdivision (d) enhancement applies when a defendant is found to have personally and intentionally discharged a firearm causing death; subdivision (b) applies when a defendant is found to have personally used a firearm; subdivision (c) applies when a defendant is found to have intentionally discharged a firearm. The (b) and (c) enhancements are lesser included enhancements of the (d) enhancement. A defendant who violates subdivision (d) necessarily violates (b) and (c). The verdict forms did not reference the subdivisions (b) and (c). The jury made no finding as to either. The jury convicted Delavega of second-degree murder and found true the subdivision (d) enhancement.Delavega asked the court to exercise its discretion under Senate Bill 620 to strike the subdivision (d) enhancement, which carries a term of 25 years to life. The court declined and sentenced Delavega to 40 years to life in prison, stating that it had only “two choices, the 15 to life . . . or the 40 to life .... There’s no splitting the difference” and that it was not “justifiable” to strike the enhancement. The court of appeal affirmed. When a lesser enhancement was separately charged under section 12022.53 but was not determined to be true, the trial court lacks discretion to impose it upon striking a greater enhancement under the statute. View "People v. Delavega" on Justia Law

by
McGee, Frazier, and Glaspie, were transporting heroin from Chicago to Minneapolis. Police stopped their vehicle for speeding. None of the men had valid driver’s licenses. The vehicle was registered to McGee’s girlfriend. McGee consented to a canine “free air sniff.” The canine alerted to the presence of drugs. Officers found more than 100 grams of heroin and fentanyl inside the vehicle. McGee was charged with possession with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). Glaspie told police that McGee asked him to accompany McGee on the trip and that McGee had hidden the drugs. An inmate housed with McGee told investigators that McGee said that the heroin belonged to McGee and that McGee paid Frazier to drive. While in jail, McGee called McMillan, a drug dealer with whom he worked. McMillan scolded McGee for hiding the drugs badly and blamed McGee for failing to instruct Frazier to slow downMcGee pleaded guilty. The district court applied a two-level enhancement for being an “organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in the criminal activity” under USSG 3B1.1(c), calculated McGee’s Guidelines range as 92-115 months (without the leadership enhancement, 77-96 months), and sentenced McGee to 84 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court erred in imposing the leadership enhancement. The evidence suggests McGee was a “middleman.” The court miscalculated McGee’s criminal history points by erroneously considering a DUI conviction from 2007 View "United States v. McGee" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's 360-month sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child. The court held that defendant's sentence is both procedurally and substantively reasonable. In this case, the district court did not err by failing to explain why it had rejected all of his non-frivolous arguments for a downward variance from the Guidelines range; the district court did not plainly err by applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 2G2.1(b)(5) for violation 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) as "a parent, relative, or legal guardian of the minor involved in the offense;" and defendant's within-Guidelines sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court considered defendant's criminal history and his acceptance of responsibility, and did not impose an unreasonable sentence. View "United States v. Lester" on Justia Law

by
In light of the Supreme Court's decision in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000), which held that Miranda is a rule of constitutional law that could not be overruled by congressional action, the Ninth Circuit concluded that where the unMirandized statement has been used against the defendant in the prosecution's case in chief in a prior criminal proceeding, the defendant has been deprived of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and he may assert a claim against the state official who deprived him of that right under 42 U.S.C. 1983.In this case, plaintiff alleged that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated when his un-Mirandized statement was used against him at his criminal trial. The panel concluded that plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated a Fifth Amendment violation caused by the officer under section 1983, such that the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury on this claim. The panel explained that there is no question that plaintiff's statement was introduced into evidence in the failed state criminal prosecution of him. Furthermore, there is no question that the officer "caused" the introduction of the statements at plaintiff's criminal trial even though the officer himself was not the prosecutor. The panel also concluded that the error was not harmless. Accordingly, the panel vacated the district court's judgment on the jury's verdict; reversed the district court's judgment as to plaintiff's requested jury instruction; and remanded for a new trial. View "Tekoh v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

by
Officer Wimmersberg detected an IP address requesting child pornography using a peer‐to‐peer file‐sharing network, Freenet. As a member of an FBI Task Force, she was certified to investigate on Freenet and had previously conducted more than 40 similar investigations. Wimmersberg determined that the IP address belonged to Wehrle. Wimmersberg and others executed a search warrant on his residence and found a photo album in Wehrle’s bedroom, The album contained a photograph depicting A.E. lying on a blanket with his penis exposed. The background matched Wehrle’s living room. Officers seized electronic devices and discovered over one million images and videos of child pornography, including additional pornographic images of A.E. Wehrle acknowledged he had downloaded child pornography using Freenet. Wehrle attempted to disqualify Wimmersberg as an expert witness, but the court found her to be "credible" and that her credentials and qualifications did not suggest that the evidence was not properly obtained or any problem with the investigation.The district court found Wehrle guilty and sentenced him to a below‐guidelines term of 40 years’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to qualify Wimmersberg as an expert witness. The admission of trade inscriptions found on the seized devices did not violate the rule against hearsay and the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause; 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), which criminalizes the production of child pornography, does not violate the Commerce Clause. Wehrle’s sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Wehrle" on Justia Law

by
The Alaska Department of Corrections investigated its employee David Wilson for potentially criminal misconduct. It ordered him to answer questions from investigators but assured him that his answers and any evidence derived from those answers could not be used against him criminally. Wilson was terminated for refusing to answer and claimed the State violated his constitutional privilege against self­ incrimination by failing to tell his lawyer that his answers to the investigator could not be used against him in a criminal proceeding. After review of his appeal, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that by terminating Wilson for refusing to answer those questions, the State of Alaska did not violate his privilege against self-incrimination, under either the U.S. Constitution or the Alaska Constitution. The State did notify Wilson that his answers could not be used against him criminally, and Wilson not only confirmed at the time that he understood this notification, but also in the subsequent court proceedings introduced no evidence to the contrary. View "Wilson v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
In September 2016, 10 co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and theft of government property; nine were also charged with aggravated identity theft. They had filed false tax returns using stolen identities to obtain illegal refunds. One of the grand jurors was an alleged victim of defendant Liverpool. The juror’s full name was listed in the original indictment and in an exhibit presented to the grand jury. An IRS agent had interviewed the alleged victim eight months earlier. When the government identified Liverpool and the other defendants during the proceedings and asked whether the jurors knew any of the defendants, there were no positive responses. The alleged victim voted to return a true bill.The government learned of this in 2017. In September 2018, the government filed a superseding indictment, which was returned by a new grand jury weeks before trial, with only minor changes to the original indictment. The government disclosed the grand jury defect to three defendants who had pleaded guilty. Two defendants unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictments, arguing that the defect in the original grand jury violated the Fifth Amendment and that the superseding indictment was issued after the limitations period expired. The Third Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The order is not a “final decision” of the district court, 28 U.S.C. 1291, and is not a “collateral” order subject to immediate review. View "United States v. Alexander" on Justia Law

by
The Second Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. Defendants' conviction stemmed from their involvement in a scheme to defraud universities of athletic-based financial aid when they made secret cash payments to the families of college basketball recruits, thereby rendering the recruits ineligible to play for the universities.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the wire fraud convictions where defendants have not shown that the government failed to present evidence for any rational trier of fact to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was a scheme to defraud. Furthermore, the jury was also presented with enough evidence for a rational trier of fact to find that the Universities' athletic-based aid was "an object" of their scheme. In this case, the jury could have reasonably found that defendants deprived the Universities of property -- athletic-based aid that they could have awarded to students who were eligible to play -- by breaking NCAA rules and depriving the Universities of relevant information through fundamentally dishonest means. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings and did not commit reversible error in its instructions to the jury. View "United States v. Gatto" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to dealing methamphetamine, holding that the district court did not clearly err in calculating the drug quantity attributable to defendant. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in attributing to defendant twenty-four kilograms of meth from a text transaction. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err in its conversion of cash seized from defendant's residence and from a coconspirator's into a corresponding amount of meth. View "United States v. Lucio" on Justia Law