Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
After a federal district court granted a petition for writ of habeas corpus triggering plaintiff's release from prison, he filed a claim with the Board, seeking compensation as a wrongfully convicted person. The Board denied the claim and plaintiff sought mandamus relief in the trial court, which upheld the board's determination.The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court should have granted the mandamus petition because the federal court's Schlup finding and the later grant of habeas relief that resulted in plaintiff's release from prison without retrial by the state amount to a finding of factual innocence that the Legislature intended to be binding, and to preclude holding a Board hearing. In determining otherwise, the court concluded that the Board did not accord the Schlup finding the significance it deserves and the Board construed Penal Code section 1485.55, subdivision (a) in a manner that undermines the Legislature's intent and effectively renders the statutory provision inoperative in practice. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the trial court to enter a new judgment reversing the Board's order denying plaintiff's compensation claim and directing the Board to recommend, pursuant to section 4904, that an appropriation be made and petitioner's claim paid. View "Larsen v. California Victim Compensation Board" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit reversed defendant's conviction and sentence for using "abusive language" in violation of Virginia Code 18.2-416, as assimilated by 18 U.S.C. 13. The court explained that the First Amendment permits criminalization of "abusive language," but only if the Government proves the language had a direct tendency to cause immediate acts of violence by the person to whom, individually, it was addressed.The court concluded that the ugly racial epithet used by defendant undoubtedly constituted extreme "abusive language," but the Government failed to prove (or even to offer evidence) that defendant's use of this highly offensive slur tended to cause immediate acts of violence by anyone. In this case, the record contains no evidence that defendant employed other profanity, repeated the vile slur, or issued any kind of threat, let alone one dripping with racism. Furthermore, the Government failed to offer any contextual evidence that defendant's "mode of speech" was likely to provide violence by the store employee or the African American man or anyone else present. View "United States v. Bartow" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for making false statements and representations regarding firearm records. USSG 2K2.1(a)(4)(B) provides for a base offense level of 20 if, inter alia, the offense involved a semiautomatic firearm that is capable of accepting a large capacity magazine. In United States v. Longoria, 958 F.3d 372, 377 (5th Cir. 2020), the court held that the commentary to the Guidelines, which further defines what it means for a firearm to be capable of accepting a large capacity magazine, is authoritative and must be enforced.In this case, after Longoria was decided, the district court applied section 2K2.1(a)(4)(B), but not the accompanying commentary. Nor did the presentence report indicate that a magazine capable of holding over fifteen rounds of ammunition was either attached to or in close proximity to the firearm in question—let alone bear sufficient indicia of reliability to be considered as evidence during sentencing—as required under the commentary. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing consistent with both the Sentencing Guidelines and the accompanying commentary. View "United States v. Abrego" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) & 924(e). In this case, defendant was approached by police officers after a tip was received that he was illegally selling CDs outside of a store in a high-crime area. After defendant voluntarily opened the trunk of his vehicle, he was arrested for unlawful labeling of CDs. A search of defendant and his vehicle uncovered a loaded pistol, magazine, cash, drugs, and drug paraphernalia.The court concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress defendant's voluntary statements made prior to being in custody after finding the police had reasonable suspicion to detain defendant and probable cause to arrest him and search his vehicle. The court explained that, although the totality of the circumstances suggest that defendant was not free to leave, his restraint had not yet reached the level necessary to necessitate Miranda warnings. In light of Shular v. United States, 140 S. Ct. 779, 782 (2020), persuasive authority in the court's sister circuits, and the court's own precedent, the court concluded that the district court correctly concluded that defendant's convictions could serve as predicates for his Armed Career Criminal Act enhancement. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err by applying a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for being a felon in possession of a firearm. View "United States v. Bass" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to suppress evidence of medicine vials, concluding that the plain view exception does not apply where the incriminating character of the vials was not immediately apparent. Furthermore, there is nothing in the record suggesting that the officer had specialized expertise or training with regard to narcotics such that his specific knowledge could be a basis for finding probable cause.In this case, officers arrived at the residence after a neighbor's report of a woman screaming and crying, they entered the home without consent to check on the woman, found her extremely intoxicated but unharmed, and discovered the small glass vials. The court explained that, when one of the officers picked up the vials, held them higher to get a better view, and turned them to read the labels, he had no idea of the contents. At that moment, the vials had been searched and seized, before he had probable cause to believe they were an illegally possessed controlled substance. View "United States v. Arredondo" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) and 922(a)(6), concluding that the indictment was sufficient to give defendant notice where he could have easily read the definition on the order form and known that S.O. was an intimate partner and that he was restricted from firearm and ammunition possession. The court explained that section 922(g)(8) simply does not require that the court-order form identify the protected party as an intimate partner. Rather, section 922(g)(8) requires only that the order protect an intimate party in fact. The court rejected defendant's contention that he was denied due process. The court also concluded that the district court's error under Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), was harmless where a rational fact finder could infer that defendant had knowledge of his status under section 922(g)(8) beyond a reasonable doubt because he was aware of the facts that met the statutory requirements for the court order.However, the court remanded for resentencing. The court concluded that, because USSG 2K2.1(b)(2) does not contemplate attempted firearm purchases, the district court erred by including defendant's attempted purchase in its analysis. Because there is a reasonable probability that the sporting-use reduction would have applied to defendant's offense-level calculation, he has shown plain error. View "United States v. Sholley-Gonzalez" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for malicious injury of property located on "Indian country" in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1152 and 1363. On Columbus Day in 2017, defendant poured red paint on a statue of Nestora Piarote, an Indigenous woman, and placed a wooden cross in front of it. The statue was located in El Paso County, Texas, on land reserved to the Yselta Del Sur Indian Tribe (also known as the Tigua Indian Tribe).The court concluded that, with respect to crimes prosecuted via section 1152, settled and reconcilable Supreme Court doctrine, as well as principles of statutory construction, demonstrate that, when the victim is Indian, the defendant's status as Indian is an affirmative defense for which the defendant bears the burden of pleading and production, with the ultimate burden of proof remaining with the Government. In this case, defendant did not raise the issue of Indian status at trial as an affirmative defense, and thus the Government met its burden to prove the jurisdictional element of section 1363 (as extended by section 1152) by introducing evidence sufficient to establish that the offense occurred in Indian country. Finally, the court rejected defendant's contention that the district court erred at sentencing by incorrectly applying USSG 2B1.5, because it should have used the repair cost of $1,800 as the "value" of the statue for purposes of applying the enhancement, rather than its $92,000 purchase price. Rather, the text of section 2B1.5 foreclosed defendant's argument and the Sentencing Commission's explanation of why it promulgated section 2B1.5 further cuts against defendant's view. View "United States v. Haggerty" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction of violating Minn. Stat. 260C.425, subd. 1(a), holding that section 260C.425, subd. 1 does not require the State to prove that a child is actually in need of protection or services.Under section 260C.425, subd. 1, it is a gross misdemeanor for a person to encourage, cause, or contribute to the need for protection or services. Defendant was convicted under the statute after he sent a note to a ten-year-old girl telling her to meet him at the railroad tracks. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the girl was actually in need of protection or services. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred in concluding that the State must prove that actual services were needed. View "State v. Boss" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for exposing her child, T.D., to methamphetamine, holding that the State's evidence was sufficient to prove that T.D. was subjected to a risk of harm from methamphetamine.While conducting a search of a home, police found a small purse containing methamphetamine beyond a mattress upon which Defendant's child slept. The State charged Defendant with a violation of Minn. Stat. 152.137 subd. 2(d) for "exposing" her child to methamphetamine. The jury found Defendant guilty. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the jury could reasonably have concluded that Defendant subjected her child to risk of harm from the methamphetamine in the purse. View "State v. Friese" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the requirement that Defendant register as a predatory offender based on her conviction for aiding an offender to avoid arrest, holding that Defendant was not subject to the predatory offender registration requirement.Defendant helped her husband flee to Ohio after he committed a crime. Defendant was charged with, among other crimes, aiding an offender to avoid arrest. Defendant pled guilty to aiding an offender to avoid arrest and, at the plea hearing, was ordered to register as a predatory offender. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's conviction and charged offenses did not arise from the same set of circumstances; and (2) therefore, the predatory registration statute did not apply to Defendant's conviction. View "State v. Berry" on Justia Law