Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Petitioner entered a no contest plea to first-degree murder. He also admitted that he acted intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation in committing the murder. Twelve years later, Petitioner filed a petition for resentencing under Cal. Penal Code Sec. 1170.95 and SB 1437 (allowing inmates to obtain a resentencing hearing if they were convicted of felony murder or murder under the "natural and probable consequences" theory).The trial court denied Petitioner's petition, finding that he acted with premeditation. Petitioner appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court's ruling. The court explained that Petitioner made a binding admission when he admitted to acting intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation and that this admission precluded SB 1437 relief. View "P. v. Romero" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Cuenca pleaded guilty to false imprisonment of his girlfriend and to a related charge of resisting arrest resulting in serious bodily injury to an officer. The court imposed a split sentence: three years of formal probation plus county jail time that amounted to a single day, net of credit for time served. Two years later, while on probation, Cuenca was charged with assault and criminal threats arising out of a physical altercation with a male friend, A jury found Cuenca guilty of a lesser offense of assault. The court revoked probation and sentenced Cuenca to county jail for an aggregate term running a total of five years and two months for the three felony convictions in both cases. Cuenca pursued consolidated appeals.The court of appeal affirmed the convictions and sentence, rejecting an argument that Napa County’s failure to grant county jail inmates the same opportunities that state prison inmates have to earn rehabilitation program credits violated his constitutional right to equal protection. Napa County need not put forward evidence of the actual reasons justifying its policy choice; the challenged classification is presumed to be rational. View "In re Cuenca" on Justia Law

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Alcoa Officers arrested an obviously inebriated Colson following a report that, while driving her SUV, she chased her 10-year-old son in a field and then crashed in a ditch, and transported her to a hospital. Colson then withdrew her consent. to a blood draw. Colson defied repeated orders to get back into the cruiser. During the struggle, an officer's knee touched Colson’s knee, followed by an audible “pop.” Colson started screaming “my fucking knee” but continued to resist. Once Colson was in the cruiser, officers called a supervisor, then took Colson to the jail where a nurse would perform the blood draw. Colson never asked for medical care. At the jail, Colson exited the vehicle and walked inside, with no indication that she was injured. As she was frisked, Colson fell to the ground and said “my fucking knee.” Jail nurse Russell asked Colson to perform various motions with the injured leg and compared Colson’s knees, commented “I don’t see no swelling,” and then left. A week later, Colson was diagnosed with a torn ACL, a strained LCL, and a small avulsion fracture of the fibular head. Colson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and DUI.Colson sued; only a claim for failure to provide medical care for her knee injury survived. The Sixth Circuit held that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity on that claim. View "Colson v. City of Alcoa" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of criminal copyright infringement and one count of mail fraud and his sentence of concurrent prison terms of thirty-six months for the copyright counts and sixty months for the mail fraud count, holding that Defendant's arguments on appeal were unavailing.On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence failed to show that he willfully committed the copyright violations and that his sentence must be adjusted because the district court erred in its guideline loss calculation. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) it was within the bounds of reason for the jury to find Defendant's actions willful; and (2) there was no plain error in the court's loss calculation. View "United States v. Gordon" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the trial judge denying Defendants' motion for a new trial based on improper comments by the prosecutor, holding that the district court's denial of the new trial motions was plain error.Defendants Edward Canty, III and Melquan Jordan were prosecuted on charges that they had conspired to distribute and possess with intent to distribute both heroin and cocaine base. During their criminal trial, the prosecutor made four types of improper comments during the opening and closing statements and at rebuttal, to which Defendants did not object. After they were convicted Defendants moved for a new trial based on the improper comments by the prosecutor. The trial judge denied the motions under plain error review. The First Circuit vacated the decision below, holding that the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the proceedings were seriously affected, requiring remand for a new trial. View "United States v. Canty" on Justia Law

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Hernandez pled guilty to a RICO conspiracy charge, 18 U.S.C. 1962(d) stemming from his more than three decades of involvement with a violent gang, the Almighty Latin Kings Nation. Like many defendants during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hernandez underwent sentencing by video. He received 175 months’ imprisonment, slightly more than the 138-165 months recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not commit a nonwaivable error when it conducted Hernandez's sentencing by video without first making a statutorily-required finding that Hernandez’s sentencing could not be delayed without serious harm to the interests of justice under the CARES Act, Pub. L. 116-136, 15002(b)(2) (2020). The court noted that, given the judge's apparent sympathy for Hernandez, it is unlikely that he could have obtained a more favorable result by making the same sentencing arguments in person rather than remotely. The evidence supported the court's finding that Hernandez should be held accountable for conspiracy to commit murder. View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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Eaden defrauded his employer, SIT, of more than $200,000 by falsely inflating the profits at his store (to obtain unearned performance‐based bonuses) by billing SIT’s largest customer (Gibson) for products it did not purchase and by submitting false claims to a rewards program sponsored by a tire manufacturer. After receiving a tip, police investigated, and SIT hired a forensic accounting firm, which concluded that Eaden received more than $47,000 in unearned bonuses. At sentencing, the district court imposed 46 months’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and ordered restitution of $244,673.00, and the forfeiture of Eaden’s bonuses from 2014-2016, $88,106.78.The Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions, rejecting arguments that the court deprived him of a fair trial by informing prospective jurors that a grand jury had issued Eaden’s indictment based on probable cause, meaning “it’s probably true that [Eaden] had some connection with criminal activity” and wrongly admitted a lay witness’s opinion testimony regarding a subset of his fraud charges. The witness used the word "fraudulent" in discussing Eaden's submissions to the rewards program. Based on miscalculation, the court reduced Eaden’s restitution and forfeiture obligations by $189,709 and $40,817.81, respectively. View "United States v. Eaden" on Justia Law

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A prisoner who challenges a state’s proposed method of execution under the Eighth Amendment must identify a readily available alternative method that would significantly reduce the risk of severe pain. Nance brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 to enjoin Georgia from executing him by lethal injection, the only method of execution that Georgia now authorizes. Nance proposes death by firing squad—a method currently approved by four other states. The Eleventh Circuit held that Nance could advance his method-of-execution claim only by a habeas petition. The Supreme Court reversed. Section 1983 remains an appropriate vehicle for a prisoner’s method-of-execution claim where the prisoner proposes an alternative method not authorized by the state’s death-penalty statute. Both section 1983 and the federal habeas statute enable a prisoner to complain of “unconstitutional treatment at the hands of state officials.” When a prisoner seeks relief that would “necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence,” he must proceed in habeas. Here, Georgia would have to change its statute to carry out Nance’s execution by firing squad, so an order granting relief would not “necessarily prevent” the state from implementing the execution. The state has a pathway forward even if the proposed alternative is unauthorized by present state law. Section 1983 can compel changes to state laws when necessary to vindicate federal constitutional rights. It would be strange to read state-by-state discrepancies into how section 1983 and the habeas statute apply to federal constitutional claims. View "Nance v. Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court declining to allow Defendant, who was charged with several counts of child molesting, from deposing the child victim under the recently-enacted Ind. Code 35-40-5-11.5, which restricts the statutory right of criminal defendants accused of sexual offenses against children to depose prosecution witnesses, holding that there was no error.In 2020, the State charged Defendant with several counts of child molesting. Before Defendant sought to depose the child victim section 35-40-5-11.5 took effect. The trial court denied Defendant's ensuing motion to depose the child under the statute. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the statute impermissibly conflicted with the Indiana Trial Rules governing the conduct of depositions. The Supreme Court granted transfer and affirmed, holding (1) the statute was not being retroactively applied to Defendant; (2) the statute was not a procedural statute that could conflict with the Trial Rules and it did not violate constitutional separation of powers provisions; and (3) the statute did not violate any of Defendant's state or federal constitutional rights. View "Church v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court against the State on the State's delinquency petition that it filed against Anthony Neukam, holding that neither the juvenile court nor the circuit court had jurisdiction in this case.Neukam allegedly molested his young cousin both before and after he was eighteen. When Nuekam was twenty, the State brought charges against him in criminal court. When Neukam was twenty-two, the State filed a delinquency petition in juvenile court for acts Neukam allegedly committed before turning eighteen. Thereafter, the Supreme Court decided that juvenile courts lack jurisdiction over delinquency petitions once the accused is age twenty-one. The State then dismissed the juvenile case and moved to amend the criminal case to add counts of child molesting Neukam allegedly committed before he was eighteen. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that courts lack jurisdiction when an individual is alleged to have committed a delinquent act before turning eighteen but is over twenty-one when the State files charges. The Supreme Court granted transfer and affirmed, holding that no court had jurisdiction over the charges arising from arising from Neukam's alleged misconduct before his eighteenth birthday. View "State v. Neukam" on Justia Law