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Defendant Melissa Robitille appealed her conviction for involuntary manslaughter for the death of her son. She argued that the trial court violated the Confrontation Clause when it restricted cross-examination of the State’s key witness; that the State produced insufficient evidence to support a conviction; and that the court erred in failing to provide a specific unanimity instruction to the jury. Defendant's thirteen-year-old son was born with severe birth defects; to ease his pain, defendant often placed alcohol in the son's feeding/water bag. The child died as a result of his medical condition and acute ethanol toxicity; his blood alcohol level was 0.146. Defendant alleged multiple errors at trial warranted reversal of her conviction. The Vermont found no such errors and affirmed her conviction. View "Vermont v. Robitille" on Justia Law

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Defendant Erika Schapp appealed her conviction for refusing to submit to an evidentiary breath test to determine blood-alcohol concentration. Defendant argued: (1) the court erroneously admitted evidence of her refusal to take a preliminary breath test (PBT); (2) the State failed to meet its burden of proving the “reasonableness” requirement for criminal refusal beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) the State failed to prove that she refused the test. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Schapp" on Justia Law

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This case involved a crime that started as an attempted robbery, and ended in the death of three individuals: the victim of the attempted robbery and two of the defendants' cohorts involved in that crime. A jury convicted defendant Steven Carter of one count of first degree murder and one count of attempted robbery. Defendant Michael Hall pled no contest to voluntary manslaughter, robbery, and an enhancement. Defendants raised separate sentencing challenges on appeal: Carter argued the court violated Penal Code section 654 when it sentenced him to consecutive terms for attempted robbery and first degree murder of the robbery victim; Hall argued the court abused its discretion in imposing a 12-year sentence under the terms of his plea agreement, and that errors were made in calculating his sentence. The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred in Hall's subsequent resentencing, but disagreed with Carter's and Hall's remaining sentencing challenges. California Senate Bill No. 1437 amended the murder statutes, sections 188 and 189, and enacted a new statute, section 1170.95 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015, sections 2-4), establishing procedures for eligible defendants to seek resentencing. The Court concluded Carter and Hall could not raise their claims in this appeal; they had to first petition the superior court for relief under section 1170.95. Judgment as to Carter was affirmed; judgment as to Hall was affirmed as modified. View "California v. Carter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding that Petitioner was not denied due process or effective assistance of trial counsel when he did not receive a sex offender evaluation pursuant to W.Va. Code 62-12-2(e). Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse by a parent. Petitioner later filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging due process violations and ineffective assistance of counsel based on his allegation that neither his attorney nor the circuit court informed him that the State would have provided a sex offender evaluation at no cost to him. The circuit court denied habeas relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief because he failed to prove that he was deprived of due process by his failure to undergo a sex offender evaluation or that the outcome of his sentencing hearing would have been different so as to establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Christopher H. v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the postconviction court's grant of Defendant's petition for postconviction relief and remanded with instructions to remand the case to the postconviction court for further fact finding, holding that the record lacked the factual determinations necessary to rule on the state's motion to correct the record. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. In his motion for postconviction relief, Defendant raised several claims of ineffectiveness of trial counsel. The postconviction court granted Defendant's petition, finding that trial counsel provided deficient assistance by not objecting to an improper jury instruction. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The State appealed and, prior to oral argument, filed a motion to correct the record pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-414. The State's motion, if granted, would resolve the merits of the State's appeal by eliminating the sole ground for Defendant's postconviction relief. The Supreme Court held that a remand to the postconviction court was required because, given the nature of the parties' dispute and the facts available, the Court was not in the position to rule upon the State's motion to correct the record. View "State v. Christian" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the district court's denial of his petition for habeas relief relating to his alleged incompetence to stand trial on capital sentencing. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erroneously granted a hearing on the merits of petitioner's claims and denied relief. The court denied a certificate of appealability (COA) because petitioner's claims were procedurally barred. In the alternative, petitioner's claims lacked merit because all of the evidence brought to bear in the district court on the issue of petitioner's competency in 1995 supported the conclusion that reasonable jurists cannot debate the denial of the Pate claim; reasonable jurists could not debate the district court's decision to reject the claim that counsel provided ineffective assistance; and the claim involving the district court's retrospective competency hearing was waived. View "Gonzales v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the postconviction court's order denying Appellant's third successive motion for postconviction relief filed under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851, holding that the postconviction court did not err in denying relief. Appellant pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping, and sexual battery and was sentenced to death. Appellant filed his current challenge to his death sentence - his third successive under Rule 3.851 - after the governor signed his death warrant. The postconviction court denied his motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the postconviction court did not err in (1) summarily denying Appellant's newly discovered evidence claim; (2) denying Appellant's challenges to Florida's lethal injection protocol; (3) summarily denying Appellant's claim that adding his execution to the more than thirty years he has spent on death row constitutes cruel and unusual punishment; and (4) denying the remainder of Appellant's claims. View "Long v. State" on Justia Law

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At trial, petitioner Kenneth Wahl offered an acquaintance’s testimony given during grand jury proceedings, invoking the former-testimony exception to the hearsay rule. The superior court excluded the evidence, reasoning that the State did not have the same motive to develop the acquaintance’s testimony at grand jury. The court of appeals agreed. The Alaska Supreme Court, however, concluded the former-testimony exception did not require the opposing party to have had an identical motive to develop the testimony during the previous proceeding. Here, the prosecutor’s motives at grand jury and at trial were sufficiently similar to fit this exception. "But we affirm based on the superior court’s alternate rationale: The defendant did not establish that he had used reasonable means to secure the witness’s attendance, and thus the witness was not 'unavailable' — a requirement for the former-testimony exception to apply." View "Wahl v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate. Petitioner, a Bahamian boat captain, pointed a firearm at passengers on the boat whom he had agreed to smuggle into the United States. When the passengers said they could not swim, he forced them to jump, or pushed them, from his boat into deep water off the coast of Florida where three of them drowned. The court held that petitioner's two federal second degree murder convictions qualify as crimes of violence under both 18 U.S.C. 924(c)'s residual clause because it involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another and elements clause because a federal second degree murder offense is not materially different from Florida’s second-degree murder offense. View "Thompson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant Armando Mendez appealed his sentence after he pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He argued his sentence was improperly inflated because the district court held that a prior conviction for attempted robbery in Colorado qualified as a "crime of violence" under the Sentencing Guidelines. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's classification of defendant's Colorado crime, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Mendez" on Justia Law