Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Proposition 64, “the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act" (2016), added Health and Safety Code section 11362.1. With specified exceptions, section 11362.1(a) declares it “lawful under state and local law" .for persons 21 years of age to possess, process, transport, purchase, obtain, or give away to persons 21 years of age, without compensation, not more than 28.5 grams of cannabis. Section 11361.8 establishes a post-judgment procedure to recall or dismiss a sentence when “[a] person currently serving a sentence for a conviction . . . would not have been guilty of an offense, or . . . would have been guilty of a lesser offense under" the Act.Taylor moved to dismiss a 1999 felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance in prison, Penal Code 4573.6, and a 2000 felony conviction of conspiracy to commit a crime. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motions. Penal Code 4573.6 makes exceptions to the prohibited possession in prison and other custodial settings only where possession is authorized by the rules of the Department of Corrections, rules of the institution, or by specific authorization. Proposition 64 does not address that prohibition. The most logical inference is that the Legislature sought to keep unauthorized substances out of custodial settings to maintain institutional supervision, discipline, and safety. View "People v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendant Martinez and Warren's convictions and sentences for multiple federal charges for their roles in a telemarketing timeshare-exit scam that bilked millions from owners eager to escape timeshares they could no longer afford.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support Martinez's convictions for conspiracy (Count One), mail fraud (Counts Two through Six), and wire fraud (Counts Seven and Eight); the district court did not err or abuse its discretion by permitting the timeshare owners to testify about their conversations with telemarketers; the district court did not err by imposing consecutive six-month sentences under 18 U.S.C. 2326(1); the district court did not clearly err in determining that Warren was a "manager or supervisor" and applying a three-level increase to his offense level under USSG 3B1.1(b); and Martinez's contention that the district court's restitution order violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is foreclosed by circuit precedent. View "United States v. Warren" on Justia Law

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The mobile home park is a one-square-mile residential community of fewer than 100 dwellings, in North Judson, Indiana. In 2004-2013, Thomas was connected to eight fires there. He collected insurance proceeds on properties that he owned or that were owned by relatives: $75,000, $50,000, $60,000, and $426,227. In 2018, he was charged with mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, because he had used the mail to collect the insurance proceeds. The district court ruled that two “distractor” fires were part of the scheme and did not implicate Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) but that the 2004 fire was too far removed in time to be part of the scheme. The 2004 fire was admissible as modus operandi evidence and to prove identity. A jury convicted Thomas on all counts. He was sentenced to 90 months’ imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the fires were not part of a scheme because they were not a chain of continuous and overlapping events, but rather discrete episodes of alleged criminality and that the fires were inadmissible character evidence. Thomas was charged with mail fraud, not arson. The district court properly decided that six of the fires were part of Thomas’s scheme and not “other acts.” View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from the superior court's order denying his petition under Penal Code section 1170.95, which allows certain defendants convicted of murder under a felony murder or natural and probable consequences theory to petition the court to vacate their convictions and for resentencing.The Court of Appeal affirmed the order denying the petition under section 1170.95, concluding that the superior court correctly ruled that Penal Code section 189, subdivision (f), does not require the prosecution to prove the defendant acted with malice. The court also concluded that, contrary to defendant's contentions, the law of the case doctrine did not preclude the superior court from finding he could be convicted of first degree felony murder under current law and that the superior court did not apply the wrong legal standard in determining whether he had the requisite knowledge under section 189, subdivision (f). View "People v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's orders partially granting defendants' motions for sentence reductions pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act. In each case, the district court granted defendants' motions pursuant to a standard "AO 247" form in which the district court checked the box for "granted" and reduced the term of supervised release on each of defendants' sentences by one year. However, the district court did not alter the underlying sentences.Applying de novo review, the court held that the district court failed to provide individualized explanations to each defendant in the face of newly presented, post-sentencing conduct. The court agreed with defendants that their cases are factually similar to the defendants' cases in United States v. Martin, 916 F.3d 389 (4th Cir. 2019), and thus the court should vacate the district court's orders with instructions for the district court to provide individualized explanations consistent with Martin. The court explained that the presentation of post-sentencing mitigation evidence in each of defendants' motions is sufficient to rebut the Legree presumption that the district court, in fact, considered all of the relevant evidence. View "United States v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment followed by a lifetime of supervised release. On appeal, defendant challenges three special conditions of supervised release: the employment restriction, the Internet restriction, and the location restriction.The Fourth Circuit held that the employment restriction, requiring that defendant must not work in any type of employment without the prior approval of the probation officer, is overbroad and lacks a sufficient nexus to the nature and circumstances of the offense. However, the court upheld the Internet restriction and location restriction. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part. On remand, the district court is instructed to craft more precisely an employment restriction that bears a nexus to defendant's particular misconduct without jeopardizing the salient goal of safeguarding children's safety. View "United States v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Kelley Maves was convicted of two sexual assaults in Colorado. He moved to Alaska in 2015, where the Department of Public Safety required him to register for life as a sex offender under the Alaska Sex Offenders Registration Act (ASORA). Maves appealed the Department’s decision to the superior court, arguing that one of the two convictions could not be used as the basis for a lifetime registration requirement because it had been set aside; with one conviction he would be required to register for only 15 years. His argument on appeal included a challenge to a 1995 departmental regulation that defined “conviction” as including those that had been set aside. The superior court affirmed the Department’s decision requiring the Maves to register for life. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the 1994 version of ASORA was not plainly intended to apply to offenders whose convictions have been set aside, and that the 1995 regulation extending the Act’s reach to those convictions was not necessary to carry out the Act’s purposes. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision upholding the requirement that Maves register under ASORA for life. View "Maves v. Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's pro se complaint filed under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act alleging that the Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC) inmate classification policies are invalid rules, holding that the WDOC's inmate classification policy is not a rule required to be filed with the Wyoming Secretary of State.Plaintiff pled guilty to kidnapping and first-degree sexual assault and was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences. In his complaint for declaratory judgment Plaintiff alleged that the failure to file WDOC policies and procedures with the Secretary of State rendered them, and any actions taken pursuant to them, void. Therefore, Plaintiff claimed that his recent inmate classification was void. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the WDOC was not required to file the inmate classification policy at issue with the Secretary of State's office, and therefore, Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. View "Bird v. Lampert" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's sentence for domestic abuse assault while displaying a dangerous weapon, holding that the district court exceeded its statutory sentencing authority in this case.The district court sentenced Defendant to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed two years, suspended all but six days of the sentence, and placed Defendant on probation for two years. On appeal, the court of appeals noted that the imposed sentence appeared to be an illegal split sentence but declined to resolve the issue. The Supreme Court exercised its discretion to correct the illegality in this case, holding that the district court imposed a statutorily unauthorized sentence by suspending a portion of Defendant's indeterminate sentence. View "State v. Wieneke" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the restitution order of the district court, holding that the State failed to prove the full amount of restitution was caused by the crime of conviction.Defendant pled guilty to ongoing criminal conduct and admitted that the victim bank's losses totaled $288,000. The bank obtained a civil deficiency judgment of $988,636. The district court ordered Defendant to pay restitution in the full amount of the bank's loss rather than the amount Defendant admitted converting. The Supreme Court vacated the restitution amount in excess of $288,000 and remanded the case for entry of an amended restitution award in that amount, holding that the district court's order was not supported by substantial evidence. View "State v. Waigand" on Justia Law