Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court's dismissal of a 2018 indictment charging defendant with illegal reentry in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326. The court agreed with the government's contention that the district court erred in sustaining defendant's collateral attack on his underlying 2013 deportation order and dismissing the 2018 illegal-reentry indictment. In this case, the district court found that the IJ and the BIA erroneously classified bail jumping as an aggravated felony and the error led the IJ not to consider defendant's claims for asylum and withholding of removal. The court disagreed with the district court for two reasons: first, the district court diluted the actual prejudice standard; and second, applying the correct actual-prejudice standard, the record foreclosed any notion that defendant likely would have escaped deportation either through asylum or withholding of removal. The court saw nothing in the record indicating that defendant was likely eligible for asylum or withholding of removal. Therefore, even assuming the IJ and BIA erred in classifying defendant's bail jumping conviction as an aggravated felony, defendant still could not show actual prejudice under section 1326(d). View "United States v. Ramirez-Cortinas" on Justia Law

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Stephen Taylor was convicted by jury of numerous sex offenses against his adopted daughters, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. In total, the jury convicted him on 12 counts. The trial court sentenced him to prison for a one-year determinate term and an aggregate indeterminate term of 165 years to life. On appeal, Taylor argued the trial court erred by admitting expert testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, and instructing the jurors that they could use that evidence to evaluate the victims’ credibility. He also claimed the court made several sentencing errors: (1) by imposing two indeterminate terms under the former “One Strike” law for two offenses that occurred during a single occasion; (2) by imposing multiple punishments for four counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of lewd acts arising from the same facts; and (3) by imposing a restitution fine and court operations and facilities fees without an ability to pay hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by imposing multiple punishments on four counts of aggravated sexual assault (counts 1 through 4) and four counts of forcible lewd acts (counts 5 through 8) that arose from the same conduct. Accordingly, Taylor’s sentence was stayed on counts 5 through 8. The Court also agreed the court should hold an ability to pay hearing, at least as to the court operations and facilities fees. Therefore, the Court reversed the order imposing those fees and remanded for a hearing on Taylor’s ability to pay them. As to the restitution fine, Taylor forfeited his contention. The Court otherwise rejected Taylor’s arguments and affirmed. View "California v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Commercial crab traps must have a destruction device so that trapped wildlife can escape if the trap is lost or abandoned. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was patrolling Monterey Bay and saw crab trap buoys in the Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area, where crab trapping is prohibited. Each of 29 traps was attached to a buoy bearing Wetle’s license number and had a tag bearing the Dungeness crab permit number belonging to Wetles. In some pulled traps, the bait jar was placed to prevent the destruction device from operating. The crew put a note to call the warden in a trap and returned it to the water. Bond, the skipper of the fishing vessel owned by Wetle’s father and Wetle’s wife, responded. Bond had previously been convicted of three felonies and five misdemeanors. Wetle was convicted under California Code of Regulations 14 section 632(a)(1)(C) and section 180.2 (Fish and Game Code 12000(a)). The appellate division of the Monterey County Superior Court affirmed. The court of appeal reversed, noting Wetle’s evidence that he was out of the country at the time the traps were placed. The trial court committed prejudicial instructional error. It did not instruct jurors that they must find that the defendant himself used the defective trap, which is an element of the offense View "People v. Wetle" on Justia Law

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The victim and the defendant got into a physical fight. The victim had been using methamphetamine and had not slept in days. The defendant punched the victim in the face five times and slammed his head against the ground before leaving. Emergency personnel arrived in response to a 911 call and handcuffed the victim because he was uncooperative. The victim became unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. The coroner identified the cause of death as “[m]ethamphetamine toxicity complicating hypertensive cardiovascular disease following and during physical encounters.” The report classified the manner of death as “undetermined.” The coroner was unable to determine the relative contributions of the reported fight, physical restraint by emergency personnel, and the presence of methamphetamine to the victim’s death. The defendant was charged with murder, with a prior strike conviction, and assault by force likely to produce great bodily injury. The defendant pleaded no contest to the assault count and was sentenced to a four-year term and ordered to pay $4,169.11 (the victim’s funeral expenses) in restitution. The court of appeal affirmed. Substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding that the defendant’s conduct was a but-for cause of the victim’s death. View "People v. Trout-Lacy" on Justia Law

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Feuu Fagatele appealed his 46-month prison sentence, arguing the district court erred in classifying Utah third-degree aggravated assault as a crime of violence under section 4B1.2 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.). Fagatele pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Based in part on Fagatele’s 2013 Utah conviction for third-degree aggravated assault, an offense the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) classified as a crime of violence, the PSR calculated a base offense level of 20. Fagatele objected, arguing in relevant part that third-degree aggravated assault did not constitute a crime of violence under the federal guideline 4B1.2(a)’s elements clause. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded third-degree aggravated assault “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” Accordingly, it affirmed Fagatele’s sentence. View "United States v. Fagatele" on Justia Law

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East Palo Alto Police Sergeant Simmont received an alert of shots fired in a high-crime neighborhood where Simmont had responded to murders. Simmont and other officers spoke with witnesses at the address, who reported seeing flashes from behind a boat in the driveway. Officers found spent shell casings near the garage. Simmont testified that he began “investigating whether or not we had a victim or a shooter [who] was hiding out.” He pounded on a garage door and announced police presence. No one responded. Officers spoke with people at the residence's front door. Simmont claims Rubio’s father granted permission to search the house and the garage. Rubio emerged from the garage, locking the door behind him, then approached, yelling for the officers to shoot him. After detaining Rubio, Simmont and another officer kicked the door open and entered the garage, which was a converted apartment. The officers observed an explosive device and a pistol on the shelf, then obtained a warrant, reentered, and found another handgun, bullets, body armor, spent shell casings, and methamphetamine. Surveillance video showed Rubio walking down the driveway, pulling out a revolver, and firing into the air. The court of appeal first affirmed Rubio’s convictions, relying on the community caretaking exception to uphold the search. Based on a subsequent California Supreme Court decision, the court granted rehearing and reversed. The need to render emergency aid justifies warrantless entry only where officers have “specific and articulable facts” showing that an intrusion into the home was necessary. It is not enough that officers seek to rule out “the possibility that someone . . . might require aid.” View "People v. Rubio" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendants Jordan and Wise's convictions and sentences for aiding and abetting aggravated credit union robbery. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to sustain Jordan's conviction; if the district court erred in admitting testimony that Jordan and Wise were brothers, the error was harmless; and the district court did not plainly err by admitting evidence that two co-defendants pleaded guilty. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support Wise's conviction; the district court did not plainly err in failing to give a Rosemond instruction; the district court did not clearly err in applying a six-level guidelines enhancement for the use of firearms; and the district court did not clearly err in denying Wise's request for a guidelines reduction for his role in the robbery. View "United States v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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Prison Legal News (“PLN”) published a monthly magazine to help inmates navigate the criminal justice system. Between January 2010 and April 2014, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) rejected the distribution of 11 publications PLN sent to inmate subscribers at the BOP’s United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (“ADX”). PLN sued the BOP, claiming the rejections violated PLN’s First Amendment rights, its Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). ADX responded by distributing the 11 publications, revising its institutional policies, and issuing a declaration from its current Warden. Based on these actions, the BOP moved for summary judgment, arguing that PLN’s claims were moot or not ripe. PLN filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on its First and Fifth Amendment claims. The district court granted the BOP’s motion and dismissed the case as moot. The Tenth Circuit determined factual developments during the litigation indeed mooted PLN’s claims. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for the BOP and dismissing this case for lack of jurisdiction. View "Prison Legal News v. Federal Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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The victim and his friend “Craig” had previously purchased oxycodone from a supplier, “John.” On this occasion, John had no supplies, but referred the victim to defendant Earnest Williams. When Craig and the victim arrived at the appointed location, the victim took $900 in cash and followed defendant into the building. Craig heard gun shots and called the police, who found the victim dead from gunshots to his abdomen and to the back of his head, with $500 on his body. On the night of the shooting, defendant made a series of admissions to several of his cohorts: he never had any drugs to sell because his intent was to rob the victim; he carried the gun to the transaction; a scuffle ensued when he attempted to rob the victim; and he shot the victim in the leg, then in the head, took some of his money, and then ran. At issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly excluded evidence proffered by Williams at trial: he sought to buttress his defense with evidence of the victim’s prior, unrelated drug deal with another individual to establish the victim brought a handgun to the July 2012 transaction. The trial court precluded defendant from presenting such evidence. The jury ultimately convicted defendant of aggravated manslaughter and felony murder. The Appellate Division reversed, finding the trial court erred by not permitting defendant to present evidence of the victim’s prior drug purchase in a public place. Having remanded the case for a new trial, the Appellate Division did not address defendant’s sentencing issues. The Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division, finding defendant’s proffered evidence failed to meet the threshold requirement of admissibility: relevancy. View "New Jersey v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction after he pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. The court held that the district court did not err by determining that defendant's prior Mississippi conviction for burglary was a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Therefore, the district court correctly classified defendant as a career offender. View "United States v. Silva" on Justia Law