Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In the early morning hours of February 7, 2013, Vicksburg Police Officers Russell Dorsey and Diawardrick Grover were dispatched to Herbert Williams’s residence as a result of a 911. Williams called 911 because he discharged his firearm at his neighbor’s dog. After Officer Dorsey arrived at Williams’s house, Williams explained his reasons for discharging his firearm. Williams stated that he shot at the ground near the dog in an attempt to prevent an attack by the dog. Officer Grover arrived a few minutes after Officer Dorsey, and he interviewed Jacqueline Knight Holt, the owner of the dog. Officer Grover observed the dog, and he described the dog as "small and scared." After Officers Dorsey and Grover conducted an investigation, Officer Dorsey arrested Williams for unnecessarily discharging a firearm in the city in violation of Vicksburg’s city ordinance. In July 2014, Williams filed a complaint against the City under the MTCA in the Circuit Court of Warren County. Williams alleged that “said Police Officers grossly and negligently arrested Plaintiff for no good cause, causing Plaintiff damages physically and psychologically.” Williams sued the City of Vicksburg (City) for injuries he allegedly sustained after his arrest. The Circuit Court, sitting without a jury under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA), entered a judgment in favor of Williams. However, because the City was entitled to immunity, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed. View "City of Vicksburg v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Michael Willis (Willis) appealed his conviction for aggravated assault. Counsel for his codefendant and nephew Kedarious Willis filed a Lindsey brief averring there were no meritorious arguments for appeal. Charges arose over a fight in 2027 Kedarious got into with Travell Moore: Kedarious alleged Travell stole a radio from Willis' car. After the fight broke up, Kedarious and Willis drove to a relative's house on Jordan Street. Travell was playing dominoes outside surrounded by a large crowd of people by the time Kedarious and Willis drove by the house. Travell removed his shirt and went out in the street to confront Kedarious and Willis. Witness testimony was divided over whether Willis then got out of the car and argued with Travell before they reached Kedarious’s grandmother’s home or if Travell followed them down to Kedarious’s grandmother’s home. Regardless, the confrontation between Travell and Willis was renewed in front of Kedarious’s grandmother’s home. Travell claimed that at some point he turned his back to Willis and then heard Willis say, “shoot, shoot.” Travell tried to run but was struck by several bullets, falling at the next-door neighbor’s driveway. Travell was taken to University of Mississippi Medical Center where he was treated for a collapsed lung and a lacerated liver. His spinal cord was severed, resulting in paralysis. Willis was sentenced to twenty years in prison as a habitual offender. After reviewing Willis' contentions of error at trial, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed his conviction. View "Willis v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury found Willie Nash guilty of possession of a cell phone in a correctional facility. Nash did not appeal the jury’s verdict. He only challenged the sentence: twelve years in prison. He claimed the twelve-year sentence is grossly disproportionate to the crime and thus violated the Eighth Amendment. Though harsh, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined Nash’s sentence fell within the statutory range of three to fifteen years. And the judge based his sentencing decision on the seriousness of Nash’s crime and evidence of Nash’s criminal history. Because Nash has not shown that a threshold comparison of the crime committed to the sentence imposed leads to an inference of gross disproportionality, the Court performed no further analysis, and affirmed the conviction and sentence. View "Nash v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Defendants were charged under 18 U.S.C. 1959, which imposes criminal penalties for committing "violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity" (the VICAR statute), in three counts with the enumerated federal offense of committing assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of the Virginia prohibition against brandishing a firearm set forth in Virginia Code 18.2-282. The Fourth Circuit held that the portion of the VICAR statute under which defendants were charged is not subject to analysis under the categorical approach. The court explained that, unlike the numerous other statutory provisions, nothing in the statutory language at issue suggests that Congress intended an element-by-element comparison of the enumerated federal offense with the specified state offense. The court held that the statutory language at issue requires only that a defendant's conduct, presently before the court, constitute one of the enumerated federal offenses as well as the charged state crime. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to reinstate the dismissed VICAR charges alleging Virginia brandishing. View "United States v. Keene" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for writ of mandamus relief seeking to direct Judge Robert J. Conrad to recuse himself from presiding over petitioner's criminal trial. Judge Conrad had prosecuted petitioner successfully for bank robbery in 1989. Although the court shared petitioner's concern that there could come a point at which recusal might be required, and certainly would be appropriate, the court held that the extraordinary relief of mandamus is not warranted now. In this case, petitioner failed to show a clear and indisputable right to immediate recusal based on grounds that involve a future sentencing and may never materialize. View "In re: John Moore" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence of 100 months of imprisonment imposed for his convictions of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and illegal possession of a machine gun, holding that the sentence was neither procedurally nor substantively unreasonable. A probation officer recommended a sentence of forty-one to fifty-one months for Defendant's offenses under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. At sentencing, the Government requested a sentence of at least sixty-three months' imprisonment or, in the alternative, an upward variance. The district court adopted the Guidelines' calculation and then imposed an upward variance of forty-nine months' imprisonment for a total of 100 months' imprisonment. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the sentence was procedurally sound and substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Garcia-Mojica" on Justia Law

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Defendant Arnell Williams appealed after a trial court denied his motion to dismiss a petition for revocation filed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Defendant contended the court erred when it confirmed the prerelease determination of CDCR that he was a "high-risk sex offender" requiring him to be supervised by parole under Penal Code section 3000.08(a)(4), and not be placed in postrelease community supervision (PRCS) under section 3450 et seq. After review, the Court of Appeal independently concluded defendant was subject to parole supervision as a result of his 1984 convictions for forcible rape, rape in concert, and robbery, which qualified as serious and/or violent felonies within the meaning of subdivision (a)(1) and (2) of section 3000.08, respectively. As such, the Court deemed it unnecessary to determine whether defendant was also subject to such supervision as a result of his high-risk sex offender classification. Therefore, it affirmed the trial court's denial. View "California v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Arce and Burk were charged with the first-degree murder of Hamilton (Penal Code 187(a)), with a special circumstance allegation that Arce committed the murder while actively participating in a criminal street gang (section 190.2(a)(22)). Arce was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm (29800(a)(1)). The indictment further alleged the crimes were committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang (186.22(b)(1)) and that Arce personally discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury (12022.53). Arce’s prior convictions included a 2011 conviction for carrying a concealed firearm and a 2012 conviction for discharging a firearm with gross negligence. The indictment also included prior strike and prison term allegations. Convicted, Arce was sentenced to a term of life without the possibility of parole. The court of appeal affirmed. The court rejected arguments that the criminal street gang special circumstance statute is unconstitutionally vague; that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter under a theory of imperfect self-defense; that the court improperly instructed the jury on the consideration of accomplice testimony; and of cumulative error. The government conceded that the abstract of judgment must be corrected to reflect the imposition of a concurrent term for the firearm conviction. View "People v. Arce" on Justia Law

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After defendant obtained a bail bond but did not appear as ordered, the trial court forfeited the bond and entered summary judgment on the bond against the bond's surety. Almost two years later, the surety moved to set aside the summary judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 473, subdivision (d), based on the ground that the trial court's failure to inquire into defendant's ability to pay when setting bail rendered the bond (and hence the summary judgment) "void." The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the surety's motion, holding that the trial court acted within its discretion in denying relief. The court reasoned that the trial court would have abused its discretion had it awarded the relief the surety sought. The court published to explain the many reasons why the surety's argument must be rejected as a matter of law. View "People v. The North River Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the trial court denying Appellant's request for expungement of his misdemeanor conviction under Cal. Penal Code 1203.4a, subd. (a), holding that a person may live "an honest and upright life" even if that person has been in custody since completing the sentence imposed for the misdemeanor. Defendant completed his term of imprisonment for his misdemeanor conviction in 2012 and had been in federal immigration custody up until he brought his action. While in immigration custody, Defendant sought expungement of the conviction under section 1203.4a(a), alleging that he had obeyed all laws since being convicted and had participated in fire camp and Alcoholics Anonymous. The trial court denied the request, concluding that custodial time did not qualify as honest and upright living for expungement purposes. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that conduct while in custody is relevant to determining whether a defendant has satisfied the honest and upright life requirement of section 1203.4a. View "People v. Maya" on Justia Law