Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In 1998, Defendant pleaded guilty of attempted sexual assault of a minor in Colorado. In 2013, Defendant moved to Texas. In 2019, law enforcement discovered that Defendant was not registered as a sex offender in Texas and arrested him. Defendant pleaded guilty of failing to register as required by the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”), a crime under 18 U.S.C. Section 2250(a). He completed his term of imprisonment but violated the terms of his supervised release twice and is serving an 11-month revocation sentence. Defendant claims that his guilty plea for failing to register as a sex offender was insufficient as a matter of law because in 2019 he did not have an obligation to register as a sex offender.   The Fifth Circuit agreed with Defendant and vacated the conviction. The court explained that it is hard to deny that Defendant would not have pleaded guilty if he had correctly understood the tier of his predicate sex offense. Similarly, the district court would likely not have accepted the guilty plea if it had known Defendant had failed to satisfy the first element of the crime Further, affirming Defendant’s conviction would undermine the integrity of judicial proceedings by permitting the continued punishment of a man who is not guilty of the crime charged. View "USA v. Navarro" on Justia Law

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Kengi Moses appealed an amended order deferring imposition of sentence entered upon a conditional plea of guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that Moses’ prior juvenile adjudication qualified as a predicate conviction under the statute prohibiting possession of a firearm following a criminal conviction and that he received due process under the law. View "North Dakota v. Moses" on Justia Law

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The FBI was alerted to a predatory scheme involving various Facebook accounts and (apparently) many victims, including minors. The perpetrator used a Facebook account under a false name, telling the victims that he had nude photos of them, taken from a Facebook account he had “hacked.” He said he would leak the photos if the victims did not meet his demands—chiefly, sending more explicit material. The FBI tracked the internet address associated with some of the messages to Burns Construction, where Cox worked. Agents went to Burns Construction without a search warrant. An owner agreed to allow the agents to search and image the computer in Cox’s office. Cox was not present. The agents then went to Cox’s home. They assured Cox that he could end the conversation at any time and that he would not be arrested that night. When Cox proposed helping the FBI investigate the broader sextortion network in exchange for leniency, the agents responded that such an arrangement was beyond their control. Cox nonetheless made numerous incriminating statements and let the agents take his personal laptop.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Cox’s convictions, rejecting Cox’s claims of Fourth Amendment violations based on the warrantless search, Fifth Amendment violations based on the failure to give Miranda warning, and Sixth Amendment violations based on the court’s evidentiary and procedural decisions. There was sufficient evidence to support his convictions. View "United States v. Cox" on Justia Law

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Dalton Peltier appealed after a jury found him guilty of attempted murder, aggravated assault, criminal mischief, and three counts of terrorizing. Peltier argued he did not voluntarily waive his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), or voluntarily make statements to law enforcement, and that there was insufficient evidence supporting his convictions. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in finding Peltier voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily made statements to law enforcement. Further, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we conclude substantial evidence exists that could allow a jury to draw a reasonable inference in favor of conviction on all counts. The Supreme Court therefore summarily affirmed these issues under N.D.R.App.P. 35.1(a)(2) and (3). View "North Dakota v. Peltier" on Justia Law

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Moran was convicted of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm for a 2006 Calumet City, Illinois shooting. After the trial, the prosecution learned that exculpatory evidence, including a ballistics report linking the gun used in the Calumet City shooting to a different shooting, had not been turned over to the defense as required by Brady v. Maryland. Moran sought postconviction relief. A state court vacated his conviction. Moran was retried and acquitted in 2017.Moran then filed a federal suit (42 U.S.C. 1983) against the city, two detectives who investigated the shooting, and a crime scene technician who mishandled the ballistics report, seeking redress for the decade he spent incarcerated. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, noting that Moran’s allegation that an Assistant States Attorney knew about the report was a judicial admission that negated an essential element of the claim; prosecutorial knowledge of exculpatory evidence blocks civil liability for police officers. The court stated that even without that judicial admission, the record could not allow a reasonable jury to find that the evidence had been suppressed. Moran moved for leave to amend his complaint. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of that motion. Moran unduly delayed seeking to amend his complaint; he should have known that his complaint contained factual errors at the outset. View "Moran v. Calumet City, Illinois" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the order of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the counts against him, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.Defendant was indicted for leaving the scene of an accident involving death or serious bodily injury (count one) and negligent homicide in the second degree (count two). After a trial, the jury found Defendant guilty on both counts. Before sentencing, Defendant moved to dismiss count one and count two, arguing that both counts were defective. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss, and the ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not show that the State's indictment violated his right to know the nature and cause of the accusations against him. View "State v. Blyenburg" on Justia Law

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The issue presented was one of first impression for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: whether trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a jury instruction in which the judge analogized jurors’ application of the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to jurors’ hypothetical decision-making regarding surgery involving a “precious one.” Appellant Gerald Drummond was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the shooting deaths of Timothy Clark and Damien Holloway. Holloway had an on-again, off-again relationship with Drummond’s sister, Annie. It was alleged Drummond did not approve of the relationship. Gunshot evidence suggested Clark was killed execution-style by an assailant standing behind him while Clark knelt with his hands interlocked behind his head. Holloway was shot in the cheek; he died later from brain hemorrhaging. After review of the jury instructions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the instructions were reasonably likely to cause a jury to apply a diminished standard of proof in criminal cases, thus posing significant risks to a defendant’s due process rights. Accordingly, the Court found arguable merit to Drummond’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim. However, because counsel could not be deemed ineffective for failing to anticipate a change in the law, it affirmed the Superior Court’s order affirming the denial of Drummond’s PCRA petition. View "Pennsylvania v. Drummond" on Justia Law

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Gan lived in Mexico and worked with U.S. associates to launder money for drug trafficking organizations. One of Gan’s couriers began cooperating with the government and participated undercover in three cash pickups coordinated by Gan. Recordings from those undercover operations and testimony from the courier were central to the government’s case. Gan was convicted on three counts of money laundering and one count of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business but was acquitted on one count of participating in a money laundering conspiracy. He was sentenced to 168 months in prison.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that a law enforcement expert improperly provided testimony interpreting communications the jury could have understood itself. Gan waived an argument that jury instruction misstated the mens rea required for the money-laundering convictions. The prosecution’s closing remarks were not improper. Binding Supreme Court precedent allows consideration of acquitted conduct at sentencing when, as in this case, the judge finds the conduct proved by a preponderance of the evidence. View "United States v. Gan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming both Defendant's judgment of conviction and the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence, holding that police officers' warrantless entry in Defendant's fenced-in back yard was not a valid "knock and talk" investigation and that the entry was not permissible under the exigency of hot pursuit.On appeal, Defendant argued that the police officers lacked an implicit license to enter his backyard, and therefore, the entry violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the decision of the court of appeals, holding (1) the "knock and talk" investigation was not valid because the officers did not have an implicit license to enter Defendant's backyard; and (2) because the officers did not immediately or continuously pursue Defendant from the scene of the crime, the officers' entry into Defendant's backyard was not permissible under the exigency of hot pursuit and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of operating while intoxicated (OWI) sixth offense, in violation of Wis. Stat. 346.63(1)(a), holding that Defendant's constitutional right to be free from abusive governmental searches was satisfied in this case, and therefore, the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress.On appeal, Defendant argued that the warrant compelling him to submit to a blood draw was constitutionally defective because, when the affiant signed the affidavit that accompanied the warrant petition, the affiant was not placed under oath or affirmation. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the affidavit fulfilled the oath or affirmation requirement under the state and federal Constitutions; and (2) therefore the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. View "State v. Moeser" on Justia Law