Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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After a spree of San Pablo parking lot robberies and purse snatchings, officers found the victims' property in a vehicle occupied by 17-year-old Alonzo and two others. Alonzo admitted to grand theft of a person, taking property valued at more than $950, The court dismissed the other charges, ordered that Alonzo be placed on GPS monitoring and released to his mother's custody, and transferred the case to Contra Costa County. That court ordered that Alonzo was to have no contact with his “co-responsibles.” A supplemental petition alleged that Alonzo committed three additional felonies during the crime spree. Alonzo expressed remorse, blamed peer pressure, denied using alcohol and reported that he had been smoking marijuana once a day for chronic migraines. This was Alonzo’s first referral. The disposition order placed him on probation. Alonzo challenged a probation condition: In light of ... concern about your association in Oakland, … you must submit your cell phone or any other electronic device under your control to a search of any medium of communication reasonably likely to reveal whether you’re complying with the terms of your probation with or without a search warrant at any time ... text messages, voicemail messages, photographs, e-mail accounts, and other social media accounts and applications. You shall provide access codes ... upon request .” The court of appeal upheld the decision to impose an electronic search condition but concluded the condition sweeps too broadly and remanded. View "In re Alonzo M." on Justia Law

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A deputy noticed an SUV parked illegally near a popular overlook with three people in it. Bay, whom the deputy knew from prior contacts, stated that he did not have identification and provided a false name. Knowing that Bay was on postrelease community supervision, subject to search terms, the deputy asked him whether he had any guns, knives, drugs, or any other weapons. Bay said, “Not that I know of.” The deputy conducted a pat search and felt a wallet in Bay's pocket. Bay admitted that the wallet contained identification in his real name. Before searching the SUV, the deputy asked Bay again whether there was any contraband. Bay admitted there was marijuana in a backpack. The backpack was directly behind the center console, accessible by all occupants of the car. The deputy found marijuana, a loaded gun in a case, ammunition, a lock pick set, a bong, and a hypodermic needle. A knife was in the driver's door console. An evidence technician found no usable fingerprints. The SUV belonged to a passenger's recently-deceased boyfriend. Bay was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition and of possessing burglary tools and giving false information to a peace officer. The court of appeal reversed Bay’s conviction for possession of burglary tools because the special jury instruction on that offense prejudicially omitted the element of felonious intent. The court otherwise affirmed; the contraband was in Bay’s constructive possession. View "People v. Bay" on Justia Law

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S.L. was 15 years old at the time of the murder. The prosecution charged S.L. with murder and attempted murder and filed a juvenile wardship petition, alleging that S.L. personally and intentionally discharged a firearm in the commission of the offense and that S.L. was a principal in the offense. Proposition 57 requires prosecutors charging a minor aged 14 or older at the time of the offense to seek juvenile court approval to transfer the minor to adult criminal court. In 2018, SB 1391 prohibited the transfer of 14- and 15-year-old minors to criminal court in most cases. After the court refused to hold a transfer hearing concerning S.L., the prosecution challenged SB 1391 as impermissibly eliminating a court’s ability to transfer jurisdiction over a 15-year-old charged with murder to adult criminal court. The court ruled that SB 1391 is constitutional and did impact S.L.’s case. The court of appeal denied the District Attorney’s petition for mandamus relief. SB 1391 is constitutional; it is consistent with and furthers the intent of Proposition 57. “[T]he intent of the electorate in approving Proposition 57 was to broaden the number of minors who could potentially stay within the juvenile justice system, with its primary emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment.” View "People v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of RICO conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 1962(d) and sentencing him to 228 months' imprisonment and three years of supervised release, holding that the district court correctly instructed the jury. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred by not following a statement of the law contained in United States v. Ramirez-Rivera, 800 F.3d 1, 18 (1st Cir. 2015) and, more generally, challenged the jury instructions for failing to require the jury to make an affirmative finding as to which predicate acts he in fact committed. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's arguments regarding the jury instructions were inconsistent with Salinas v. United States, 522 U.S. 52 (1997); (2) the district court did not err when it instructed the jury on the requirements of a withdrawal defense; and (3) Defendant's remaining claims were without merit. View "United States v. Leoner-Aguirre" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the order of the district court dismissing the indictment against Defendants after a first trial ended in a mistrial, holding that the district court erred in concluding that Defendants were protected from a retrial by double jeopardy principles. Four defendant were charged with multiple counts of wire fraud, honest-services wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit both species of wire fraud. After trial began, one juror was diagnosed with a brain tumor requiring immediately surgery. The government was unwilling to consent to a reduced jury, and the court subsequently declared a mistrial. Defendants moved to preclude retail and to dismiss the indictment under the Double Jeopardy Clause on the ground that the government could not establish manifest necessity for its decision to force the mistrial. The court granted the motion to dismiss the indictment. The First Circuit reversed as to three of the four defendants, holding that the district court's decision to declare a mistrial rested on manifest necessity, and because the mistrial was not the produce of any purposeful instigation or other government misconduct, double jeopardy principles did not prohibit the government from retrying the defendants. View "United States v. Garske" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of two counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to conduct a hearing regarding the possible bias of a juror who, after being selected to serve on the jury but before being sworn, submitted a note informing the trial court that one of her family members had been killed by a drunk driver. Defense counsel requested an opportunity to explore the juror's potential bias, but the trial court did not allow further questioning. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's convictions and remanded the proceedings for a new trial, holding that the information conveyed by the juror to the trial court before the jury was sworn should have resulted in a hearing to determine whether Defendant could properly have challenged the juror's service for cause. View "Easler v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and related crimes but vacated in part the restitution order, holding that the district court made a legal error when it included $3,642.05 for witness and exhibit expenses in the restitution order. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court erred when it did not offer certain lesser included offense instructions on the first-degree murder charge, but the error was harmless; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's motion for a continuance; and (3) the district court erred when it ordered Defendant to pay $3,642.05 in restitution to the Saline County Attorney's office for expenses related to witnesses and the preparation of photographic trial exhibits. View "State v. Gentry" on Justia Law

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Defendant Karen McClaflin pled guilty to two counts stemming from the operation of a “fix and flip” real estate Ponzi scheme which defrauded investors of more than $14.5 million dollars. At sentencing, the district court calculated the advisory sentencing guidelines at 135 to 168 months’ imprisonment, applied a 6-level enhancement for substantial financial hardship to more than twenty-five victims, and then determined a downward variant sentence of 96 months was appropriate. On appeal, McClaflin argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by denying her motion for an additional continuance of the sentencing hearing; (2) procedurally erred by imposing the 6-level enhancement based upon victim impact statements; and (3) failed to consider all of the requisite 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not plainly err when it sentenced McClaflin, therefore it affirmed the judgment and sentence. View "United States v. McClaflin" on Justia Law

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Rudolph’s son texted Rudolph's ex-husband, Kyle: “[S]he has the .22 out”. Kyle went Rudolph’s home, the two spoke and Rudolph allowed Kyle to take Rudolph’s gun. After Kyle left, Rudolph went to sleep. Around 3:00 A.M., Officer Hodges stopped Kyle for speeding. Kyle admitted he was carrying a gun, explaining that he took it from his ex-wife. Kyle showed Hodges the text from his son and a text from Rudolph saying “goodbye.” The officers let Kyle go but felt obligated to do a wellness check. Two officers went to Rudolph’s home and banged on her doors. Asleep, she did not answer. Officer Hodges told Kyle to call Rudolph. Rudolph answered. Hodges stated that his officers were at the door. Rudolph opened the door. The officers entered without her permission. Rudolph stated that she was not suicidal and generally cooperated. The officers gave her the option of going voluntarily to the hospital or being taken into custody involuntary for a mental-health check. Rudolph says that they grabbed her, slammed her into the wall, and handcuffed her “really tight.” The officers “manhandled” her outside, without shoes, dragging her so that she hurt her ankle. She later needed surgeries to treat that injury. She complained repeatedly about the handcuffs. The hospital had to wait for Rudolph’s blood-alcohol level to go down to perform psychiatric evaluation, then determined that “[Rudolph] is at extremely low risk of self-harm.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity summary judgment on three claims but reversed the denial on Rudolph’s state-law false arrest and imprisonment claims. Although the officers had a reason to show up at Rudolph’s door, a jury could reasonably find that they lacked probable cause to execute this mental-health seizure. The officers violated Rudolph’s clearly established right to be free from excessive force. View "Rudolph v. Babinec" on Justia Law

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Shortly after defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud, the Second Circuit decided United States v. Litvak, 889 2 F.3d 56 (2d Cir. 2018) (Litvak II), which held in the context of a similar prosecution that the erroneous and idiosyncratic viewpoint of a defendant's counterparty could not be relevant to the objective, "reasonable investor" standard for materiality in a securities fraud prosecution. The district court relied on Litvak II to grant defendant's motion for a new trial on the basis that counterparty testimony had been improperly admitted against defendant at trial. The court held, however, that the counterparty testimony at defendant's trial was not improperly admitted and did not implicate the court's holding in Litvak II. In this case, the testimony did not reflect the counterparty's idiosyncratic and erroneous belief, and the testimony was relevant to the jury's assessment of materiality under FRE 401. Furthermore, the testimony did not advance the government's theory of materiality in an impermissible manner. The court held that, even if the admission of the testimony did constitute error, the error was harmless. Finally, the district court's cumulative prejudice analysis did not provide a valid alternative ground for affirmance. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "United States v. Gramins" on Justia Law