Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims based on allegations that defendants illegally extradited him from Pennsylvania to Louisiana and impermissibly extended his state sentence by thirty years. Plaintiff's claims arose from a records clerk's reversion of his release date to the 2052 date, rather than the 2023 date, on the grounds that he had stopped serving his state sentence when he escaped from prison and that his state and federal sentences were intended to run consecutively.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's sentence-based claims, but reversed and remanded with respect to the extradition-based claims. The court held that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), does not present a jurisdictional hurdle that would require a remand of this case to state court. The court explained that Heck implicates a plaintiff's ability to state a claim, not whether the court has jurisdiction over that claim. As to plaintiff's claim regarding his sentence enhancement, the court concluded that a claim for speedier release is actionable by writ of habeas corpus, and a section 1983 damages action predicated on the sentence calculation issue is barred by Heck because success on that claim would necessarily invalidate the duration of his incarceration. The court also concluded that the district court never analyzed whether plaintiff's extradition-based claims were barred by Heck, and the district court should have considered whether his extradition-based claims survived Heck in the first instance. Furthermore, the district court should consider the qualified immunity, absolute immunity, and limitations ruling issues on remand. The court vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colvin v. LeBlanc" on Justia Law

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A superior court judge summarily denied petitioner Nancy Michelle Mendoza's petition for writ of habeas corpus, wherein she claimed she received ineffective assistance of counsel at her sentencing hearing. The California Supreme Court later issued an order to show cause (OSC) returnable to the superior court on the same claim. The case was then assigned to the same judge who had previously denied Mendoza’s petition. More than 40 days later, Mendoza filed a peremptory challenge to the judge under Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6. A different judge denied the challenge as untimely. Mendoza sought a writ of mandate from the Court of Appeal to direct the superior court to vacate its order denying her peremptory challenge, and to disqualify the original judge. The Court found her petition presented an issue of first impression as to whether her peremptory challenge was subject to section 170.6(a)(2)’s 60-day deadline following a “reversal on appeal” and assignment to the original judge for “a new trial” (in which case Mendoza’s challenge was timely); or section 170.6(a)(2)’s 10-day deadline for criminal cases assigned to a judge for all purposes (in which case Mendoza’s challenge was untimely). The Court determined the 60-day deadline did not apply. The Court found the proceedings on Mendoza's petition would not constitute a new trial; thus the 10-day all purpose assignment deadline applied. Applying this deadline, the superior court properly denied Mendoza’s challenge as untimely. View "Mendoza v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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In 2007, Crawley and two codefendants invaded a home and attacked and robbed a man they believed to be a drug dealer. A woman and two children were also in the home. Crawley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951 and using, carrying, and brandishing firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence and a drug trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 924(c). Other counts were dismissed, including for attempting to possess with intent to distribute a Schedule II Controlled Substance, 21 U.S.C. 846. The court sentenced Crawley to 150 months on Count One and 84 months on Count Three, to run consecutively. Crawley later unsuccessfully moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255.The Fourth Circuit subsequently permitted Crawley to file a second 2255 motion challenging his 924(c) conviction and sentence in light of the Supreme Court’s 2015 holding that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), is unconstitutionally vague. While Crawley’s motion was pending, the Fourth Circuit concluded that conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence under section 924(c)’s force clause and the crime of violence definition in section 924(c)’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague. The Fourth Circuit affirmed that Crawley’s 924(c) conviction remained valid because it was predicated on the use, carrying, and brandishing of firearms during the charged drug trafficking crime. View "United States v. Crawley" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for armed robbery, robbery and other crimes, holding that accepting a jury as ultimately empaneled does not waive any prior objection to the trial court's refusal to propound voir dire questions.Prior to the commencement of the jury trial in this case, defense counsel submitted several voir dire questions to be posed to the venire. When the trial court declined to pose a proposed question defense counsel objected, but the objection was overruled. At the conclusion of jury selection, the court asked whether either party objected to the jury as empaneled. Defense counsel responded, "no." After Defendant was convicted, he appealed, arguing that the trial court committed reversible error in failing to ask the proposed question. The court of special appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) objections relating to a trial court's determination not to ask a proffered voir dire question are not waived by later acceptance, without qualification, of the jury as empaneled; and (2) Defendant did not waive his objection to the trial court's decision not to ask the proffered voir dire question at issue by accepting the jury as empaneled without repeating his prior objection. View "State v. Ablonczy" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion on April 21, 2021 and substituted the following opinion.After petitioner was convicted of capital murder in Texas and sentenced to death, on federal habeas corpus review, the district court granted him relief. The Fifth Circuit court then affirmed the grant of relief, petitioner was retried, and petitioner was resentenced to death. Petitioner again sought federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254, but the district court denied relief on all claims.The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner a certificate of appealability (COA) on the issue of whether the admission of testimony from a defense expert was fruit of the poisonous tree where petitioner has not identified any clearly established Supreme Court precedent extending Harrison v. United States, 392 U.S. 219 (1968), to his incriminating statements to his own expert; whether the State's peremptory strike of a black juror violated petitioner's right to a fair and impartial trial under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), where the prosecutor gave six reasons for striking the juror and petitioner failed to present clear and convincing evidence to rebut the determination as objectively unreasonable; whether the State suppressed evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), where he failed to establish cause for defaulting his Brady claim; and (4) whether petitioner received ineffective assistance of trial, appellate, and habeas counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), where he failed to prove either the deficiency prong and/or prejudice prong of Strickland and thus could not overcome the procedural bar. View "Guidry v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for importing controlled substances into the United States, and remanded for a new trial. At trial, defendant took the stand and testified he did not know the car he was driving contained drugs—what is sometimes referred to as the "blind mule" defense.During closing argument, the government compared the reasonable doubt standard to the confidence one needs to "hav[e] a meal" or "travel to . . .court"—without worrying about the "possib[ility]" that one will get sick or end up in an accident. The panel agreed with defendant that this improper argument, and the district court's failure to cure it, caused him prejudice. The panel explained that the ultimate issue at trial boiled down to whether the government proved that defendant knew about the drugs in his car beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the prosecutor's comments created an unacceptable risk that an honest, fair-minded juror would succumb to the prosecutor's personal—rather than constitutional—view of the government's burden of proof to obtain a conviction and therefore overlook his or her reasonable doubts. In this case, the evidence demonstrating defendant's knowledge was not overwhelming and the district court failed to neutralize the prejudice. Therefore, the panel concluded that it is more probable than not that the misconduct materially affected the verdict. View "United States v. Velazquez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's decision dismissing petitioner's appeal of the IJ's order of removal and denial of his application for cancellation of removal.The panel held that, in determining whether a conviction satisfies the thirty-gram limit of the personal-use exception to the ground of removability based on drug convictions, the circumstance-specific approach applies to determining the amount of marijuana involved in the conviction. Applying that approach to petitioner's case, the panel concluded that the circumstances specific here clearly establish that petitioner knowingly possessed more than thirty grams of marijuana. In this case, the police report is detailed, is internally consistent, and records observations of fact rather than the officers' conclusions. The report states that the "green leafy material" found in the three bags "tested positive for marijuana," and provides the precise weight of each. Given that petitioner did not specifically contest the measurements of quantity in the report, holding such a report to be insufficient would be essentially the same as holding that no police report is sufficient, standing alone, to demonstrate that a petitioner possessed more than thirty grams of marijuana. The panel declined to adopt such a categorical rule. Therefore, viewing the circumstances together, the evidence clearly establishes that petitioner possessed more than thirty grams of marijuana. View "Bogle v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania State Police received a tip about suspicious eBay activity and discovered several messages, seeking to buy children’s used underwear and posing as a child looking for photos of other children in their undergarments. The username was registered to “Robert Caesar” of Oxford, PA. Other information corroborated Caesar’s connection to the eBay account. While the investigation was ongoing, Officer Gallina received information that Caesar had sexually abused two adolescent brothers. After interviewing the boys, Gallina applied for warrants to search for evidence of aggravated indecent assault of a minor, seeking physical evidence of the alleged sexual abuse, consisting of “[s]emen and bodily fluid,” and images of child pornography stored on personal electronic devices. Although the supporting affidavit included no express allegations that Caesar possessed child pornography, it stated that child abusers “routinely keep” such images. During the ensuing search, officers seized electronic equipment. A third warrant authorized the search of those devices, which contained child pornography.The Third Circuit reversed, in part, the suppression of thousands of images of child pornography and of Caesar’s sexual abuse victims. Whether they were enough to satisfy probable cause, the allegations about Caesar’s prolonged sexual abuse of the brothers and his interest in photos of undressed children supported the reasonableness of the officers’ belief that probable cause existed. Gallina’s reliance on the initial warrant and his conduct securing the warrant did not approach the gross negligence required to trigger the exclusionary rule. View "United States v. Caesar" on Justia Law

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A fifteen-year-old girl was kidnapped. Appellee Ricardo Mata called the girl’s mother and demanded a ransom of $300 for her release. He said this was the amount he had “paid” for her. A sheriff's investigator posed as a friend of the mother to negotiate the trade. While on the phone, the investigator had Appellee's cell phone "pinged," and they were able to trace the phone's location. Appellee left the house in a vehicle, and the phone’s “pinged” location matched his movements. At some point Appellee mentioned that his battery was dying; investigators had a marked police car stop Appellee’s vehicle. Investigators arrived on the scene and questioned Appellee regarding the kidnapped girl. They did not administer Miranda warnings. One investigator immediately accused Appellee of being the kidnapper and said that “they got him.” After further “aggressive interrogation,” Appellee said he would help locate the girl if they let him go. The investigator responded that Appellee would not be free to leave. After continued interrogation, Appellee revealed the child’s location. Once she was found, Appellee was transported to the sheriff’s office. Appellee filed a motion to suppress statements made by him to law enforcement, contending the investigators did not give him Miranda warnings. The trial court agreed, suppressing any “statements alleged to have been made by [Appellee] at the time he was detained on the side of the road and in response to direct questioning from Investigator Porraz, Chavez, and or Deputy Canales.” The trial court found that Appellee was “not free to leave the side of the road” at the time he gave the roadside statements and that Miranda warnings had not been given. On appeal, the State argued that the roadside questioning fell within the public safety exception to the Miranda rule and that the resulting statements were admissible. The court of appeals disagreed, holding that the public safety “exception is a narrow one, and it has only been used in situations involving the use of guns.” The appellate court concluded that “the officers had no indication of a weapon or gun being involved or used to endanger the safety of the public,” and the court declined to construe the public safety exception more broadly because that “may lessen the clarity of the Miranda rule.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed both the trial and appellate courts, finding the "public safety" exception to Miranda extended to attempts to find a kidnapped child. View "Texas v. Mata" on Justia Law

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After hotel management smelled marijuana smoke coming from a guest room, a hotel employee knocked on the door in an attempt to evict the guests. After this attempt was unsuccessful, a manager later requested police assistance with evicting the guests. In assisting with the eviction, police entered the hotel room and witnessed drugs in plain view. Police then arrested the occupants of the room, conducted a search of the room incident to arrest, and seized the drugs. Appellant Michael Tilghman appealed his ultimate conviction, arguing police's entry into his rented room violated his reasonable expectation of privacy in the room. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the court of appeals, which held the trial court erred in failing to grant Appellant's motion to suppress evidence of the drugs. View "Tilghman v. Texas" on Justia Law