Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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After the denial of a motion to suppress evidence Cowan pleaded guilty to second-degree auto burglary, and, pending preparation of the probation report, agreed to a 16-month "hammer" term in county jail if he failed to appear for his sentencing hearing or to his probation interview. He failed to appear at both. At a continued sentencing hearing, the court rejected Cowan’s excuses and sentenced Cowan to three years’ formal probation, subject to the "hammer." The court imposed a restitution fine and court operations and facilities assessments. The court of appeal affirmed in part, rejecting Cowan’s argument that his detention in a traffic stop before his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment for lack of reasonable suspicion. The court reversed the 16-month jail sentence; imposing a jail term that exceeds 12 months as a condition of probation is an unauthorized sentence under Penal Code section 19.2. The trial court erred in overruling Cowan’s inability-to-pay objection; upon proper objection, a sentencing court must allow a defendant facing the imposition of a minimum restitution fine or court operations and court facilities assessments to present evidence and argument why these financial exactions exceed his ability to pay. Should the court, on remand, find the restitution fine to be excessive, the appropriate disposition is to decline to impose it, not to stay it. View "People v. Cowan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff petitioned the district court for the grand jury transcripts related to the Ford Lynching—a horrific event involving the murders of two African American couples for which no one has ever been charged—to be used in his book about the lynching. The district court granted the petition, finding that the historical significance of the grand jury's investigation, and the critical role the records of that investigation would play in enhancing the historical record on this tragic event, amounted to "exceptional circumstances" that justified the use of the court's inherent power to order disclosure. A panel of the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. After rehearing en banc, the en banc court held that Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure is exhaustive, and that district courts do not possess inherent, supervisory power to authorize the disclosure of grand jury records outside of Rule 6(e)(3)'s enumerated exceptions. Therefore, the en banc court overruled In re Petition to Inspect & Copy Grand Jury Materials (Hastings), 735 F.2d 1261 (11th Cir. 1984), which held to the contrary. The en banc court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Pitch v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law, Rule 59(a) motion for a new trial, and Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment, as provided for by the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, holding that the circuit court did not err. Respondent filed a complaint alleging that Petitioners, two correctional officers, used excessive force against him. The jury found that Petitioners used excessive force on Respondent and committed the civil tort of battery on Respondent. The jury award compensatory damages of $0 and punitive damages of $4,500. Petitioners filed a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law and motions pursuant to Rules 59(a) and (e) for a new trial and/or to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that there was no reasonable relationship between the compensatory damages and punitive damages award. The circuit court denied the motions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in (1) allowing punitive damages to be recovered by Respondent without an accompanying award of compensatory or nominal damages; and (2) failing to apply the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e, to Petitioners. View "Lunsford v. Shy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that the Baltimore Police Department conducted a warrantless search when it used a cell site simulator to locate him. In 2014, the police department used a Hailstorm cell site simulator to locate plaintiff's cell phone and thus defendant. Absent a more detailed understanding of the Hailstorm simulator's configuration and surveillance capabilities, the Fourth Circuit could not address the issues necessary for resolution of this case. Therefore, the court remanded for further factfinding into the characteristics of the Hailstorm cell site simulator. View "Andrews v. Baltimore City Police Department" on Justia Law

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Craig was involved in a high-speed shootout in the streets of Akron, Ohio and was apprehended wearing a shoulder holster and with gunshot residue on his hands. His DNA was identified on a firearm discovered in the backseat of one of the vehicles. Craig was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Craig admitted that he possessed a firearm while being a felon but testified that he possessed the gun only long enough to defend himself and his friends during the firefight. On cross-examination, the prosecution played for the jury a video depicting a masked individual (allegedly Craig) rapping and wielding a firearm that was similar to the gun for which he was charged. Craig denied that he was the individual in the video. The prosecution did not attempt to introduce the video into evidence. The district court never issued a limiting instruction about whether or how to consider the video. The prosecution referenced the video in closing arguments. The Sixth Circuit vacated Craig’s conviction. The prosecution had no legal basis to publish the unadmitted and unauthenticated exhibit to the jury, and the error was not harmless. The prosecution did not have a “‘good faith basis’ for cross-examination under Rule 608(b).” View "United States v. Craig" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for federal habeas relief brought by petitioner, challenging his California state murder conviction and death sentence. Petitioner alleges that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the penalty phase because his lawyers failed to present additional evidence of his family history and social background. The panel held that reasonable jurists could conclude that admission of this evidence would not have led to a reasonable probability of a different sentence and thus petitioner was not prejudiced by any deficiency in counsel's performance. The panel granted petitioner's motion to expand the certificate of appealability as to four additional claims. The panel held that the state court reasonably concluded that a mens rea defense theory would not have been reasonably probable to persuade the jury to acquit. Even assuming that counsel rendered deficient performance in failing to conduct further investigation, it was eminently reasonable for the court to conclude that petitioner failed to show that the omission of this argument adversely affected the outcome. Finally, the panel held that petitioner was not prejudiced by his counsel's failure to obtain a transport order and funding authorization for EEG tests and a PET scan during the guilt or penalty phase. View "Berryman v. Wong" on Justia Law

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Appellant sought habeas corpus relief, arguing that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because the defense lawyer who represented him in his child molestation trial in Arizona state court was ineffective. After the jury reported that it was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial, the jury requested permission to resume deliberations. Appellant's counsel did not object and the jury convicted appellant on all grounds. The Ninth Circuit held that appellant's counsel was not ineffective because, on the facts of this case, it was a reasonable prediction that appellant had a better chance of a more favorable verdict from the existing jury on the existing trial record than he would from a retrial. View "May v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the various challenged rulings, but remanded the ineffective assistance of counsel claims to the district court. In this case, appellant was convicted for kidnapping and unlawful possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The court held that the district court did not plainly err by failing to sua sponte sever the kidnapping charges from the drug charges and order separate trials; the district court did not plainly err in admitting drug offense evidence; and appellant failed to demonstrate that the district court committed plain error when it refused to exercise its discretion to grant a new trial based on the exclusion of jury instruction 2.219 regarding impeachment by proof of a pending case, probation, or parole witness. The court also held that the district court did not err when it considered acquitted and uncharged conduct in imposing appellant's sentence, and the district court did not clearly or obviously err when it relied on the inference that kidnapping was in furtherance of appellant's drug trafficking at sentencing. Finally, the court held that appellant has raised a colorable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "United States v. Browne" on Justia Law

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On remand, appellant asserted various ineffective assistance of counsel claims during the suppression stage, based on counsel's failure to move for STA dismissal, based on counsel's failure to call a witness, and based on counsel's failure to argue for a sentencing reduction. The DC Circuit held that appellant has established ineffective assistance with respect to his claim that trial counsel should have informed the district court that he had lost one year of Maryland state jail credits while awaiting his federal trial. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it rejected appellant's sentencing-based ineffective assistance of counsel claim, remanding for resentencing. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied petitions for review challenging the BIA's interpretation of the Supreme Court's decision in Esquivel–Quintana v. Sessions, 137 S. Ct. 1562 (2017). Petitioner asked the BIA to reopen his proceedings under 8 C.F.R. 1003.2 and 8 U.S.C. 1229a(c)(7), contending that Esquivel–Quintana narrowed what crimes qualify as "sexual abuse of a minor." The court held that the time for filing a motion to reopen was not equitably tolled and thus petitioner's motion was untimely. In this case, petitioner did not raise a colorable constitutional claim, so under currently existing law, the court could not review the BIA's decision not to reopen his case on its own motion. The court declined to recognize a second exception permitting appellate review when the Board relies "on an incorrect legal premise." View "Chong Toua Vue v. Barr" on Justia Law