Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, affirmed the decision of the lower court, which had denied Jesse James Hollywood's petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1172.6. Hollywood had been previously convicted of first-degree murder with a special circumstance that the murder occurred during a kidnapping. He contended that the court erred in denying his petition because the record did not conclusively establish that he had aided the actual killer in the commission of the murder. However, the court held that Hollywood was ineligible for relief as a matter of law because aiding and abetting an enumerated felony under section 189 with the intent to kill suffices to constitute felony murder under section 189, subdivision (e)(2), which precludes a petitioner from section 1172.6 relief. This decision was based on the jury finding that Hollywood had the intent to kill during the commission of a kidnapping and the fact that Hollywood had provided the murder weapon and ordered his subordinates to carry out the killing. The court rejected Hollywood's argument that the absence of an explicit reference to section 190.2, subdivision (c) in the amended section 189, subdivision (e)(2) meant the Legislature intended to alter this specific ground for liability under the felony murder rule. The court noted that the Legislature used the same phrase interpreted by the Supreme Court in a previous case when amending section 189 to state the new felony-murder rule, and therefore, they assumed it was intended to have the same meaning. View "People v. Hollywood" on Justia Law

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The case involved Rhonda Persiani, a defendant charged with multiple counts of driving under the influence (DUI) in California. Due to doubts about Persiani's mental competence, the criminal proceedings were suspended, and she was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. Persiani was evaluated and found suitable for outpatient treatment through mental health diversion. However, the court and parties believed Persiani was ineligible for such treatment due to a California Vehicle Code section that prohibits diversion in cases where a defendant is charged with DUI. Persiani sought dismissal of her cases, asserting that dismissal was required under the Penal Code because she was ineligible for any of the treatment options. The court denied Persiani’s motion to dismiss and imposed mental health treatment provisions as conditions of her release. In an appeal, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District held that a trial court has the authority under the Penal Code to order treatment through mental health diversion for a mentally incompetent misdemeanor defendant charged with DUI. The court concluded that the Vehicle Code section that prohibits diversion for DUI does not prevent a court from ordering a mentally incompetent misdemeanor defendant to receive treatment through mental health diversion after criminal proceedings have been suspended. The matter was remanded back to the lower court to determine whether to order Persiani to receive mental health diversion treatment. View "Persiani v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In this case, Kenneth Kelley pled guilty to twenty-eight counts arising from a fatal car accident that resulted in the death of five people. The charges ranged from manslaughter by auto to driving with an expired license. Kelley later argued that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because he wasn't informed of the nature and elements of the offenses to which he was pleading guilty. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected this argument. The Court held that Kelley was informed of the offenses' elements as he testified at his plea hearing that he had read the indictment, his attorney had discussed the matter thoroughly with him, and he had signed a waiver acknowledging that he understood the charges and their elements. The Court also noted that the judge at the plea hearing had explained the charges to Kelley and that the prosecution had read its factual basis into the record at the plea hearing. The Court therefore concluded that Kelley's plea was knowing and voluntary. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded with instructions to deny Kelley's habeas corpus petition. View "Kelley v. Bohrer" on Justia Law

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This case concerned an appeal by Matthew Ware, a former correctional officer, against the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Ware was convicted by a jury of two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 46 months of imprisonment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed this sentence.Ware was a correctional officer at the Kay County Detention Center in Oklahoma. The charges against him arose from two incidents where he was found to have abused his power and caused harm to inmates. In one incident, Ware ordered the transfer of two inmates to a different level of the detention center, despite knowing that this would likely result in a fight, which it did. In another incident, Ware ordered a detainee to be handcuffed in a painful position for an extended period of time.Ware appealed his sentence, arguing that the court did not give adequate weight to his personal history and lack of criminal record. However, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had thoroughly weighed each of the sentencing factors and detailed its reasoning. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Ware to 46 months of imprisonment, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Ware" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Ahmed Alahmedalabdaloklah, a Syrian national, was convicted after a jury trial for participating in a conspiracy that targeted US military personnel and property in Iraq. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed some convictions and reversed others. The court agreed with both parties that Alahmedalabdaloklah's convictions for conspiring to possess a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence and aiding and abetting the same could not stand after the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Davis. The court reversed these convictions and remanded to the district court to vacate them. However, the court affirmed Alahmedalabdaloklah's convictions for conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiring to damage US government property by means of an explosive. The court held that the statutes under which Alahmedalabdaloklah was convicted applied extraterritorially, meaning they applied to acts committed outside the United States. The court also held that the district court properly used procedures set forth in the Classified Information Procedures Act to withhold or substitute classified information from discovery. Despite several errors by the government in invoking the state-secrets privilege, the court excused these errors because remanding for proper invocation would be of little or no benefit. Finally, the court held that the use of overseas deposition testimony did not violate Alahmedalabdaloklah's rights under the Confrontation Clause or other constitutional and evidentiary rules. The court remanded the case to the district court for resentencing. View "USA V. ALAHMEDALABDALOKLAH" on Justia Law

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In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the court considered an appeal by Whitehorse Ducharme, who had pleaded guilty to abusive sexual contact with a child and was sentenced to life in prison. Ducharme challenged his sentence on two grounds. First, he asserted that the district court failed to consider the offense level used to calculate his recommended sentencing range. Second, he argued that the court imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence.The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments. Regarding the first, the court noted that the district court had indeed meticulously calculated Ducharme's offense level, and the assertion that it failed to consider the applicable offense level was untenable. Ducharme's actual issue appeared to be with the court's reliance on the § 3553(a) considerations to impose a sentence above what the Guidelines recommended. The appellate court pointed out that once courts have correctly calculated the Guidelines range, they may find a sentence outside that range "appropriate irrespective of the Guidelines range."On the second point, Ducharme argued that a life sentence was substantively unreasonable because the court did not weigh the § 3553(a) sentencing considerations properly. He highlighted his limited criminal history and the fact that a life sentence far exceeded his Guidelines range. However, the court noted that its review of the substantive reasonableness of a sentence is narrow and deferential. The district court had considered the relevant sentencing criteria and given several convincing reasons for the sentence it chose, leading the Court of Appeals to conclude that it did not commit "a clear error of judgment" in varying upward to a life sentence.Thus, the court affirmed the life sentence given to Ducharme. View "United States v. Ducharme" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Jesse and Dustin Sierra, convicted of various charges including kidnapping, interstate domestic violence, and aiding and abetting both offenses, respectively, appealed their convictions. Jesse Sierra challenged the district court’s decision to exclude evidence of the victim’s other traumatic experiences, arguing that it violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. He also argued that the government suppressed exculpatory or impeachment material, violating the Brady v. Maryland precedent. Dustin Sierra challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for his convictions and argued that his trial should have been severed from Jesse's trial due to the prejudicial nature of the testimony and evidence presented. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decisions, holding that the exclusion of the victim's other traumatic experiences did not violate Jesse's constitutional rights, and that no Brady violations had occurred. The court also found that the evidence against Dustin was sufficient for the convictions and that there was no severe prejudice warranting a separate trial. View "United States v. Jesse Sierra" on Justia Law

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In this breach-of-contract dispute, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the decision of the District Court of Minnesota, which rejected Reach Companies, LLC's appeal for a new trial after a jury awarded $1,196,364 in damages to Newsert, LLC and David Serata. Reach Companies, a distributor of hand sanitizers, alleged that Newsert, a wholesaler of the same products, continued accepting late shipments despite delays and price fluctuations. Newsert countered that Reach failed to fulfill all but one of its purchase orders, causing Newsert to lose two customers. The court found that the purchase orders were unambiguous with respect to their terms, rejecting Reach’s argument that the "must ship by" dates were simply aspirational. The court also held that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to prove Newsert's lost profits with reasonable certainty, dismissing Reach's argument that the losses were speculative and didn't account for overhead. Lastly, the court allowed the admission of evidence of prior criminal convictions of Reach’s Vice President for impeachment purposes, as the crimes involved fraud and deceit and were thus relevant to the issues in the case. View "Reach Companies, LLC v. Newsert, LLC" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Ivan Cantu, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2001, sought to authorize the district court to consider a successive petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244. He claimed a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and suppression of evidence by the state in violation of Brady v. Maryland. The Fifth Circuit denied his motion for authorization, holding that Cantu had failed to meet the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(2)(B).The court found that Cantu failed to exercise due diligence to discover the evidence he was now relying on and that he failed to provide clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty. The court also noted that Cantu's last-minute filing was an attempt at manipulation and did not serve the public interest or the interest of the victims in the timely enforcement of the sentence. Consequently, the court denied Cantu's motion for a stay of execution. View "In Re: Ivan Cantu" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Montana overturned the conviction of Daniel Christopher Rowe for sexual assault, a felony. Rowe was initially charged with the offense for multiple instances of abuse that allegedly took place over several years against H.B., who was under sixteen years of age at the time of the offenses. The case was remanded for a new trial due to two significant issues.First, the court found the lower court erred in admitting a subsequent uncharged act of sexual assault as proof of motive or plan to commit the earlier sexual assaults charged under a "common scheme." The court reasoned that the State had charged Rowe with a non-existent offense not recognized under Montana law, which led to the improper admission of other bad acts evidence.Second, the court found that the lower court erred in giving the jury both conduct-based and result-based definitions of "knowingly" for the sexual assault charge without specifying to the jury which definition applied to which elements of the offense. The court determined that this lowered the State's burden of proof, which violated Rowe's right to due process. The Supreme Court of Montana reversed Rowe's sexual assault conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "State v. Rowe" on Justia Law