Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
Roberts beat his girlfriend with a belt, was apprehended several weeks later, and gave a false name. The District Attorney was unable to locate the complaining witness before trial; the court denied a motion to exclude statements she made on the day of the event. A potential juror’s sister was a paralegal in the public defender’s office. Defense counsel knew her. The prosecutor exercised a peremptory challenge to that juror, the only African American potential juror. Defendant unsuccessfully objected on the ground that the peremptory challenge was racially motivated. There was testimony about a previous domestic violence incident. Convicted of inflicting corporal injury on an intimate partner and giving a false name to a police officer, Roberts was acquitted of assault likely to cause great bodily injury. The judge applied an enhancement for committing the crimes while released on bail. Roberts was granted probation, with a condition that he serve one year in county jail.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that a missing portion of the reporter’s transcript prevented a meaningful review of Roberts's claim that the prosecutor exercised a race-based peremptory challenge; concerning the alleged admission of hearsay and a response Roberts gave to an officer’s question while in custody; concerning alleged misconduct by the prosecutor in closing argument; and concerning the imposition of fines and fees without a hearing to determine his ability to pay. View "People v. Roberts" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Buzzard and Martin's motions to suppress evidence found when police searched a car they occupied. Given the totality of the circumstances, the court concluded that the officers' question asking whether there was anything illegal in the vehicle related to officer safety and was therefore related to the traffic stop's mission. In any event, the court concluded that the officer's question did not extend the stop by even a second.The court also affirmed the district court's denial of Martin's motion for acquittal at trial and the revocation of his term of supervised release at sentencing. The court concluded that the evidence was more than sufficient for the jury to conclude that Martin possessed the guns. Furthermore, because Martin's challenge to the revocation of his prior term of supervised release is based entirely on his assertion that there was no substantial evidence for his conviction, the court likewise affirmed that decision. View "United States v. Buzzard" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction on one count of making false statements to a government official, vacated her convictions on two counts of assault within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and remanded for a new trial on the assault counts and for resentencing on the false-statements count. Defendant's convictions stemmed from a physical altercation with her boyfriend. Defendant claimed self-defense at trial, testifying that she feared for her life when she swung the rebar and knocked her boyfriend unconscious. In its rebuttal case, the Government presented evidence that, roughly two years before the charged assault, defendant assaulted her stepmother and sister on separate occasions.The panel concluded that sufficient evidence supported defendant's conviction for making false statements to a government official (Count 3) where a rational juror could infer from the circumstantial evidence presented that defendant knew it was unlawful to lie to the FBI at the time she lied. The panel also concluded that evidence of defendant's prior incidents was inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404, thus entitling her to a new trial on Counts 1 and 2. The panel explained that, although defendant's testimony may have opened the door to general reputation or opinion testimony about her propensity for violence under Rule 405(a), she did not open the door to detailed descriptions of specific instances of conduct that were completely unrelated to her boyfriend to show that she has a propensity for violence under Rule 405(b). The panel also explained that evidence of a prior incident is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with character. Furthermore, the prior incidents do not establish either defendant's motive or intent to commit the charged assault. Finally, the admission of this erroneous "other acts" evidence was not harmless. View "United States v. Charley" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress after he conditionally pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm offense. Under the totality of the circumstances, the court concluded that an officer with forty years experience must be allowed to draw on this experience and training to make inferences from and deductions about whether there was reasonable suspicion that one or both of these suspects may be armed and dangerous. In this case, police suspected that defendant's companion was a suspect in the theft of two firearms stolen three days earlier; a Terry stop of both men was reasonable; and the officer had a reasonable suspicion to conduct a pat down search of defendant based on information related to the companion. Furthermore, the officer asked the men if they were armed and defendant stated that the he was. Therefore, the officer retrieved the firearm from defendant's pocket. View "United States v. Harvey" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for various child pornography charges. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's request to photograph and show photos of his penis where the proffered evidence had little probative value and the evidence prejudiced the government based on undue delay. Alternatively, the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the photos as a discovery sanction for late disclosure. Even if the district court abused its discretion or otherwise erred, any error was harmless.The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's request to allow his former cellmate to testify about his penis based on lack of probative value and as a discovery sanction for late disclosure. Furthermore, any error was harmless. View "United States v. Copp" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Joseph Bruyette appealed an order compelling him to provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the Vermont DNA database. Defendant was convicted of one count of burglary and three counts of sexual assault in 1990. He has been continuously incarcerated in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC) since 1987. For most of this time, defendant has been held in facilities out of state. In 1998, the Vermont Legislature passed a law creating a state DNA database. Defendant’s convictions qualified as designated crimes under the law, so the statute required him to submit a DNA sample. He argued 20 V.S.A. 1933(b) excused him from providing a DNA sample because he has previously provided a sample. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s rejection of defendant’s position that the statute exempted him from providing a subsequent sample. View "Vermont v. Bruyette" on Justia Law

by
Thomas, a resident of Jamaica, pleaded guilty to interstate communication with intent to extort, 18 U.S.C. 875(b), after botching a lottery scam. Thomas waived most of his rights to appeal, retaining only the rights to claim he received ineffective assistance of counsel and to appeal an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines range. The district court applied an offense level enhancement not mentioned in the plea agreement because it found Thomas “demonstrated the ability to carry out” his threats, then applied upward departures for extortion that “involved organized criminal activity” and for “a threat to a family member of the victim,” and sentenced Thomas to 71 months’ imprisonment, 30 months more than the maximum estimated in the agreement.The D.C. Circuit remanded some of Thomas’s ineffective assistance claims based on counsel’s failure to argue for a Smith variance based on his status as a deportable alien; raise mitigating facts contained in the sentencing exhibits; review the sentencing exhibits with Thomas; and submit character letters Thomas’s family and friends had written. The government did not plainly breach the plea agreement; it never sought the challenged sentencing enhancement. Assuming, without deciding, that the waiver was ineffective, the court rejected an argument that the district court abused its discretion by departing upward from the guidelines range. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
Esposito sexually assaulted and abused his adopted son from Guatemala for years, beginning when his son was about seven years old. Esposito documented his repetitive, shocking, and horrific abuse in videos and photographic images which he shared online. He also downloaded other child pornography in hundreds of thousands of images and videos.Without a plea agreement, Esposito pleaded guilty to 20 counts of sexually exploiting a minor, each reflecting a different instance of abuse documented in videos and images, and to one count of possessing child pornography. His PSR calculated an offense level of 51, which defaulted to a maximum of 43 under the Sentencing Guidelines. Esposito had no criminal history. The resulting Guidelines range was life in prison, but none of the crimes of which Esposito was convicted had a statutory maximum of life imprisonment. The defense suggested 420 months because Esposito was already in his mid-fifties.The district court concluded that a de facto life sentence was appropriate and imposed sentences totaling 200 years. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Esposito’s argument that the court should have considered his criminal conduct, history, and characteristics as a whole, determined an appropriate overall punishment, and then set the sentences for each count to equal that overall punishment, rather than imposing sentences for each count, then adding them together. View "United States v. Esposito" on Justia Law

by
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a petition for habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted by a jury in state court of first degree manslaughter. The court concluded that the admission of the autopsy report at petitioner's trial through a surrogate witness was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 40 (2004); Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009); and Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 564 U.S. 647 (2011). Furthermore, the unreasonably erroneous admission of the autopsy report was not harmless where the report was the strongest evidence in the State's case and was not cumulative of other inculpatory evidence connecting petitioner to the victim's death. View "Garlick v. Lee" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's 62-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. The court upheld the district court's application of a firearms enhancement under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1). In this case, the government has met its burden by producing evidence that the rifle was present at the site of the drug possession charge. Furthermore, defendant failed to meet his burden to negate the nexus presented by the government. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court's factual findings related to the firearms enhancement were not clearly erroneous, and the district court did not err in applying the enhancement. View "United States v. Montenegro" on Justia Law