Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Wood served time in Indiana state prison for methamphetamine‐related offenses. He was released on parole, subject to conditions, including that he was subject to "reasonable" searches, Wood violated his parole by failing to report to his supervising officer. The Parole Board issued an arrest warrant. Agents arrested Wood at his home. Agent Gentry secured Wood with wrist restraints, conducted a frisk search, and noticed Wood repeatedly turning toward his cellphone, which was lying nearby. Gentry picked up the cellphone and handed it to Agent Rains. Wood demanded that his cellphone be turned off and began to physically resist Gentry. Rains felt something “lumpy” on the back of Wood’s cellphone, removed the back cover, and found a packet of a substance which Rains believed to be methamphetamine. Wood admitted the substance was methamphetamine. A later search of the home revealed syringes and other drug paraphernalia.Seven days after Wood’s arrest, an Indiana Department of Correction investigator performed a warrantless search of Wood’s cellphone, which revealed child pornography. The investigator forwarded the information to the FBI, which obtained a search‐and‐seizure warrant for Wood’s cellphone and its contents. Charged under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), (a)(4)(B), Wood unsuccessfully moved to suppress the data extracted from his cellphone. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Given Wood’s diminished expectation of privacy and Indiana’s strong governmental interests, the search of Wood’s cellphone was reasonable. View "United States v. Wood" on Justia Law

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Five co-defendants were charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy for their involvement in a telemarketing scheme to defraud stock investors. After an eight-week trial, during which the defendants made several motions for mistrial, the jury found each defendant guilty on all counts. At a post-trial hearing, the district court found that the prosecution had acted improperly in closing arguments but denied the defendants’ motions for mistrial. The court then granted judgments of acquittal based on insufficient evidence as to two defendants.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the judgments of acquittal granted to Wheeler and Long because there is a reasonable construction of the evidence that supports the jury’s verdicts. Sufficient evidence also supported the convictions of Sgarro, Smigrod, and Topping. The prosecution’s behavior did not rise to the level of misconduct. The theory-of-defense instruction explained that there is a “difference between deceiving and defrauding.” It is "cause for concern: that the prosecutor told the jury that this instruction was “not the law.” When considered in context, however, the prosecutor’s remarks were not -improper. The district judge repeatedly emphasized to the lawyers that the theory-of-defense instruction was not an instruction about the law and did not affect the legal elements for mail and wire fraud. Nor did any of the evidentiary rulings or the jury instructions warrant reversal. View "United States v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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Lovies, wielding a gun, stole Butler’s car as she was filling it with gasoline. Along with three other individuals, including a minor, Lovies kidnapped Butler and took her from Indianapolis to Cincinnati while threatening to kill her. The others accepted plea agreements. Lovies was convicted of kidnapping, carjacking, 18 U.S.C. 1201(a), 2119, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c( and was sentenced to an imprisonment term of 388 months within the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In rejecting Lovies’s Batson challenge, the district court found the prosecutors credible and their explanation for exercising the challenged peremptory strike to be plausible--that the prospective juror kept falling asleep. The court’s factual findings were not clearly erroneous. The district court’s factual findings were also adequate to support the application of the sentencing enhancements for use of a minor to commit the offense, and for his role in the offense. Any error with respect to the calculation of Lovies’s Guidelines range would be harmless. View "United States v. Lovies" on Justia Law

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Tat aided a money-laundering scheme involving cashier’s checks while she managed a bank in San Gabriel, California. She was convicted of conspiring to launder money, 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), and two counts of making false entries in the bank’s records, 18 U.S.C. 1005.The Ninth Circuit reversed her conviction on one count of making a false entry, affirmed her conviction on a second count of the same offense, and remanded for resentencing. The reversed conviction was premised on a bank log record stating that Tat’s customer purchased and then returned three cashier’s checks for a sum of $25,000. The record did not contain a literal falsehood and did not contain an omission such that the bank’s records would not indicate the true nature of the transaction; it could not be said that the bank would not have a picture of the bank’s true condition. Accurate records reflecting a customer’s purchase of a cashier’s check from her bank account are not false entries under section 1005 solely because that check has a nexus to money laundering. As to the second count, a reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Tat knew the log record on which it was based contained a false entry because it listed a fictitious payee. The panel affirmed Tat’s convictions for conspiring to launder money. View "United States v. Tat" on Justia Law

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McGill was sentenced to death in 2004 for the murder of his former housemate, Perez. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed McGill’s conviction and sentence and the state trial court denied post-conviction relief.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief, rejecting McGill’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase. The post-conviction review court correctly identified and reasonably applied clearly established law in assessing professional norms and evaluating new mitigation evidence, did not apply an unconstitutional causal-nexus test, and did not need to consider the cumulative effect of nonexistent errors. Counsel’s preparation, investigation, and presentation of mitigation evidence was thorough and reasoned. The defense team uncovered a “not insignificant” amount of mitigation evidence that spanned decades of McGill’s life and presented a comprehensive picture to the jury. There is no evidence that counsel failed to uncover any reasonably available mitigation records. The court also rejected McGill’s uncertified claims that counsel was ineffective at the guilt phase by failing to retain an expert arson investigator and that his death sentence violated the Ex Post Facto Clause in light of Ring v. Arizona, in which the Supreme Court invalidated an Arizona statute that required the sentencing judge—not the jury—“to find an aggravating circumstance necessary for imposition of the death penalty.” View "McGill v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court reversing the determination of an Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) administrative law judge (ALJ) that allegations of child maltreatment made against Steven Mitchell were true and that Mitchell should be listed on the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Central Registry, holding that the circuit court erred.In reversing the DHS's determination, the circuit court concluded that the agency decision was based on unlawful procedures and a violation of Mitchell's due process rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the DHS's failure to follow its own statutory notice procedures violated Mithcell's statutory rights when DHS placed his name on the maltreatment registry in 2004, but the DHS's earlier failures did not vitiate the 2018 agency decision at issue on review; and (2) substantial evidence supported the DHS's decision, and before the decision was made Mitchell received the required notice, he had an opportunity for a meaningful hearing, and his substantial rights were not prejudiced. View "Arkansas Department of Human Services Crimes Against Children Division v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The estate of a mentally ill and intellectually disabled prisoner who committed suicide while in Utah Department of Corrections (“UDC”) custody appealed the dismissal of its lawsuit against the UDC. Brock Tucker was seventeen when he was imprisoned at the Central Utah Correctional Facility (“CUCF”). At CUCF, Tucker endured long periods of punitive isolation. CUCF officials rarely let him out of his cell, and he was often denied recreation, exercise equipment, media, commissary, visitation, and library privileges. Tucker hanged himself approximately two years after his arrival at CUCF. Plaintiff-appellant Janet Crane was Tucker’s grandmother and the administrator of his estate. She sued on his estate’s behalf: (1) making Eighth Amendment claims against four prison officials (the “CUCF Defendants”); (2) making statutory claims for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act against UDC; and (3) making a claim under the Unnecessary Rigor Clause of the Utah Constitution against both the CUCF Defendants and UDC. The defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted the motion, holding the CUCF Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the federal constitutional claims and the federal statutory claims did not survive Tucker’s death. As a result, the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state constitutional claim. Finding no reversible error in the district court's dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Crane v. Utah Department of Corrections, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2015, Yost was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder in connection with the fatal stabbing of his former girlfriend, Randall. After Yost was convicted, he notified the court that he had just learned that his appointed counsel, Rau, had represented Randall in a past case; he requested a new trial. Rau also filed a motion for a new trial but did not reference Yost’s allegations of a conflict of interest. The court denied the motion and sentenced Yost to 75 years’ imprisonment. After conducting a preliminary inquiry on remand, the trial court concluded that the allegations had merit and appointed new counsel, Lookofsky, to investigate. Yost’s amended motion for a new trial alleged that Rau had represented Randall, on two prior occasions in an unrelated case. Yost waived any conflict of interest based on Lookofsky’s prior hiring of Rau on an unrelated civil matter and any conflict-of-interest claims based on the judge’s prior representation of Yost’s family members.The court concluded that there was no per se conflict of interest, which would have required automatic reversal of the conviction, absent a waiver. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. Illinois now recognizes three per se conflicts of interest: when defense counsel has a contemporaneous association with the victim, the prosecution, or an entity assisting the prosecution; when defense counsel contemporaneously represents a prosecution witness; and when defense counsel was a former prosecutor who was personally involved in the defendant's prosecution. Yost did not claim an actual conflict of interest. View "People v. Yost" on Justia Law

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On November 25, 2015, a police officer, investigating an accident, found Rogers in physical control of the vehicle and suspected him to be under the influence. The officer charged Rogers under 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(4). At a hospital, Rogers underwent a blood test, which revealed the presence of THC. The officer filed the uniform citation on December 1, 2015. On December 14, Rogers’s counsel filed a speedy trial demand. On April 6, 2016, Rogers was charged by superseding information with two counts of misdemeanor DUI. The parties continued the trial to May 20. The circuit court granted the state two continuances after Rogers initially objected but then agreed to the continuance. On September 20, the court granted the state a continuance over Rogers’s objection. On October 28, 2016, the state filed a superseding three-count information. On December 1, the trial was continued by agreement. The trial occurred on January 17, 2018. Rogers, convicted on one count, was sentenced to 12 months of court supervision.The appellate court reversed, reasoning that, because of the similarity of the offenses and the officer having sufficient knowledge to ticket both offenses at the time of the first citation, compulsory joinder applied and the clock for speedy-trial purposes began to run on December 14, 2015. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. Counsel’s performance could not have been deficient for failing to make an objection where binding precedent would have made such an objection meritless; any motion to dismiss on speedy-trial grounds premised on the compulsory-joinder rule would have been otherwise futile. View "People v. Rogers" on Justia Law

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The Kankakee County State’s Attorney authorized the secret recording of a controlled drug purchase between a confidential informant and another individual. Davis was not the person to be recorded. When the informant went to the target’s home, he could not locate him. The informant walked to the porch of a different home and conducted a drug transaction with Davis, which was recorded by a hidden device. At the hearing on Davis’s motion to suppress, the parties agreed that the audio portion of the recording violated the eavesdropping statute. The circuit court granted the motion, finding that there was an illegal overhear conversation between Davis and the informant that took place before the drugs were seen in the video so that the video recording was the fruit of the poisonous tree that must be suppressed and the informant could not testify concerning the drug transaction.The Appellate Court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The informant was a participant in the conversation, so his knowledge of that conversation was not derived from the illegal audio recording; the video recording was made simultaneously with the audio recording and could not have been derived from the audio recording. Because neither the informant’s testimony nor the video recording was obtained as a result of the illegal audio recording, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine does not apply. The evidence was admissible. View "People v. Davis" on Justia Law