Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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A confidential source, “Bonz” told Champaign Police that he knew a crack cocaine dealer named Moe. Over a few months, the department conducted five controlled buys from Moe, consistent with information from Bonz. After reviewing the video of the transactions, officers identified Moe as Orr, who was on parole after being convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Bonz identified a picture of Orr. Officers tied the involved vehicle and apartment to Orr. Pursuant to a warrant, officers searched Orr’s apartment. They found a semi-automatic pistol with ammunition, approximately 22 grams of crack cocaine, approximately 15 grams of powdered cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Orr voluntarily admitted that the gun and cocaine were his. Indicted for possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), Orr unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence, asserting Bonz was an unreliable source.Orr testified that he had no reason to possess a firearm. The prosecutor presented evidence of Orr’s drug involvement. The jury found Orr guilty. Before sentencing, the Judicial Council of the Seventh Circuit determined that Judge Bruce had breached the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges by engaging in improper ex parte communications in other cases with members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Although the Council found no evidence that those communications affected the outcome of any case, it suspended Bruce from all criminal matters involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for one year. Orr’s case was transferred to another judge. The Seventh Circuit vacated Orr’s conviction. Judge Bruce’s conduct “cast a pall over certain decisions" that "required the exercise of substantial discretion.” This was not harmless error. View "United States v. Orr" on Justia Law

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Fairfield Officer Anderson testified that, while patrolling a residential neighborhood, he noticed a BMW parked on the street without license plates. He approached the car and saw that Harrell was asleep in the driver’s seat. Anderson identified himself as police and asked Harrell to roll the window down or open the door to talk. Harrell did not comply nor would he show identification but gave his name and date of birth. A record check revealed that Harrell was on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS). Anderson removed Harrell from the car to conduct a PRCS compliance check. Anderson found notebooks and paperwork that contained personal identifying information for approximately 20 people. After arresting Harrell, Anderson contacted several of those people, who reported that Harrell did not have permission to have their personal information. The prosecution submitted documentary evidence regarding Harrell’s prior conviction for identity theft.Harrell was convicted of three felony counts of acquiring or keeping the personal identifying information of three individuals. after having previously suffered a conviction for this same crime. He was sentenced to 12 years and 8 months in prison. The court of appeal rejected Harrell’s contention that his convictions for felony fraudulent possession of personal identifying information must be reclassified under Penal Code 490.2 as misdemeanors and affirmed the denial of Harrell’s suppression motion, but concluded his section 667.5(b) enhancements must be stricken. View "People v. Harrell" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Ignacio Ogaz appealed a judgment sentencing him to prison for illegal drug activity. He contended his Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses was violated by the admission of certain drug testing evidence, and to this, the Court of Appeal agreed. Because appellant did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the analyst who conducted the drug testing, judgment was reversed. View "California v. Ogaz" on Justia Law

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In April 2010, a trial court sentenced defendant-appellant Richard Mirmon to 12 years in prison for attempted first degree burglary in Los Angeles County. On June 27, 2011, an information charged defendant with conspiracy to bring a controlled substance into prison, bringing a controlled substance into prison, possession of heroin, and possession of methamphetamine in Riverside. The Riverside information also alleged defendant had a prison prior and two strike priors. As charged in the information, defendant faced: (1) 101 years to life in prison with two strikes; or (2) 14 years four months with one strike. Pursuant to a plea agreement, on September 6, 2011, defendant pled guilty to all four counts in exchange for a sentence of eight years four months. On December 2, 2011, the trial court dismissed one of defendant’s two strikes and imposed the agreed-upon sentence of eight years four months. The court made no reference to defendant's Los Angeles case, but stated the sentence was to be served concurrent with any other sentences defendant was serving. On June 11, 2018, defendant filed a petition under Proposition 47 to reduce counts 3 and 4 in the Riverside Case to misdemeanor convictions. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) filed a letter with the Riverside County Superior Court on June 22, 2018. In the letter, CDCR stated that Penal Code section 667 (c)(8), mandated consecutive, not concurrent, sentences for defendant in the Los Angeles and Riverside cases. On June 22, 2018, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charges. On September 7, 2018, the trial court held a hearing. The court denied defendant’s petition to reduce counts 3 and 4 to misdemeanor convictions. The court then clarified its order on defendant’s sentence in the Riverside Case and ordered that the sentences in the two cases be served consecutively. Defendant appealed. The Court of Appeal found the Riverside trial judge had no discretion to sentence defendant to a concurrent term for his in-prison possession convictions in the original sentencing on the Riverside case, so the trial court properly sentenced defendant to a term to be fully served consecutively to the sentence defendant was already serving. View "California v. Mirmon" on Justia Law

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In 2009-2015, Bradley ran a Tennessee drug trafficking conspiracy that distributed opioid pills. He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges, the court sentenced him to 17 years in prison and ordered him to forfeit a million dollars, two cash payments, and five properties. On remand in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision, Honeycutt v. United States, that forfeiture must be based on the defendant’s own receipts, not the conspiracy’s, the court found additional facts and ordered Bradley to forfeit a million dollars, the two cash payments, and four (instead of five) properties.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. When a defendant is convicted of certain crimes, district courts must order forfeiture of “any property constituting, or derived from, any proceeds the [defendant] obtained as the result of” the crimes, and “any of the [defendant’s] property used, or intended to be used . . . to commit, or to facilitate the commission of,” the crime, 21 U.S.C. 853(a)(1)–(2). If the defendant no longer has the property, the court “shall order the forfeiture of any other property of the defendant” as a substitute. The court rejected an argument that section 853 does not authorize money judgments. It is irrelevant whether the money was kept as profits or went toward the costs of running the conspiracy. Bradley offers no authority for his argument that the statute prohibits “financially ruinous” forfeitures. View "United States v. Bradley" on Justia Law

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Beck claims he was assaulted by other inmates while detained at the Hamblen County, Tennessee jail. He sued Sheriff Jarnagin under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Jarnagin had no direct involvement in Beck’s detention; section 1983 does not impose vicarious liability on supervisors for their subordinates’ actions. Beck argued that the overcrowded jail has repeatedly failed minimum standards; that Jarnagin has long known of its failures; and that Jarnagin has been deliberately indifferent to inmate safety. The Tennessee Corrections Institute has identified the jail’s failures in inspection reports that are sent to Jarnagin each year. The court denied Jarnagin qualified immunity on Beck’s Fourteenth Amendment claim, reasoning that pretrial detainees have a clearly established right to be free from a government official’s deliberate indifference to inmate assaults.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Existing precedent would not have clearly signaled to Jarnagin that his responses to the overcrowding problem were so unreasonable as to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Beck has no evidence suggesting that Jarnagin had any personal knowledge of Beck’s specific situation Jarnagin did make efforts “to abate” th3 general risk of inmate-on-inmate violence but did not have the power to allocate more taxpayer dollars to the safety problems. The court noted that Beck’s suit against Hamblen County remains viable. View "Beck v. Hamblen County" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's conviction for illegal reentry into the United States. Defendant argued that the district court committed plain error by failing to comply with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(2)'s requirements of establishing that the plea was voluntary. In light of the magistrate judge's egregious failure to comply with Rule 11(b)(2), which the panel has previously noted is part of a disturbing "pattern," the panel agreed.In this case, the magistrate judge did not engage in direct inquiries regarding force, threats, or promises, nor did he address competence to enter the plea. Furthermore, the government's bare bones justifications are not enough to establish voluntariness in light of defendant's significant mental challenges and the magistrate judge's complete lack of inquiry into whether the plea was coerced by any threats or promises. The panel explained that defendant showed that there was a reasonable probability that the error may have affected his decision to plead, and that the district court's plain error was sufficiently serious to impinge on the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings. View "United States v. Fuentes-Galvez" on Justia Law

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After defendant was indicted on healthcare fraud and money laundering charges, he challenged a pre-trial repatriation order entered by the district court as a violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The order requires defendant to repatriate any proceeds of the fraudulent scheme that he may have transferred to any African bank during a three-year period, up to $7,287,000, despite the indictment alleging that he transferred only $760,000 to two specific banks in Uganda and Kenya.The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order, holding that the challenged order compels defendant to incriminate himself by personally identifying, and demonstrating his control over, untold amounts of money located in places the government may not presently know about. The panel also held that the district court failed to apply the proper "foregone conclusion" exception test, relieving the government of its obligation to prove its prior knowledge of the incriminating information that may be implicitly communicated by repatriation. The panel explained that the order allows the government to shirk its responsibility to discover its own evidence, and the government's narrow promise of limited use immunity is insufficient to counterbalance these harms. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to conduct an evidentiary hearing. View "United States v. Oriho" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of three counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder with a multiple murder special circumstance and various gun use enhancements, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a venue change; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress items discovered during a warrantless search of his vehicle; (3) Defendant's decision not to testify was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary; (4) the trial court did not improperly exclude a defense expert; (5) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's pretrial motion to exclude evidence of his gang membership; (6) there was no instructional error; (7) the prosecutor did not commit misconduct during penalty phase argument; and (8) Defendant's challenges to the victim impact testimony were unavailing. View "People v. Duong" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of four counts of first degree murder and other crimes, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion during the guilt phase or penalty phase of trial.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to show that Defendant committed the murders with premeditation and deliberation; (2) the trial court did not err in admitting testimony of the People's crime scene reconstruction expert; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting certain crime scene and autopsy photographs of the victims; and (4) during the penalty phase, the trial court did not err by admitting victim impact testimony or in instructing the jury. View "People v. Morales" on Justia Law