Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Proposition 64, “the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act" (2016), added Health and Safety Code section 11362.1. With specified exceptions, section 11362.1(a) declares it “lawful under state and local law" .for persons 21 years of age to possess, process, transport, purchase, obtain, or give away to persons 21 years of age, without compensation, not more than 28.5 grams of cannabis. Section 11361.8 establishes a post-judgment procedure to recall or dismiss a sentence when “[a] person currently serving a sentence for a conviction . . . would not have been guilty of an offense, or . . . would have been guilty of a lesser offense under" the Act.Taylor moved to dismiss a 1999 felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance in prison, Penal Code 4573.6, and a 2000 felony conviction of conspiracy to commit a crime. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motions. Penal Code 4573.6 makes exceptions to the prohibited possession in prison and other custodial settings only where possession is authorized by the rules of the Department of Corrections, rules of the institution, or by specific authorization. Proposition 64 does not address that prohibition. The most logical inference is that the Legislature sought to keep unauthorized substances out of custodial settings to maintain institutional supervision, discipline, and safety. View "People v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendant Martinez and Warren's convictions and sentences for multiple federal charges for their roles in a telemarketing timeshare-exit scam that bilked millions from owners eager to escape timeshares they could no longer afford.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support Martinez's convictions for conspiracy (Count One), mail fraud (Counts Two through Six), and wire fraud (Counts Seven and Eight); the district court did not err or abuse its discretion by permitting the timeshare owners to testify about their conversations with telemarketers; the district court did not err by imposing consecutive six-month sentences under 18 U.S.C. 2326(1); the district court did not clearly err in determining that Warren was a "manager or supervisor" and applying a three-level increase to his offense level under USSG 3B1.1(b); and Martinez's contention that the district court's restitution order violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is foreclosed by circuit precedent. View "United States v. Warren" on Justia Law

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The mobile home park is a one-square-mile residential community of fewer than 100 dwellings, in North Judson, Indiana. In 2004-2013, Thomas was connected to eight fires there. He collected insurance proceeds on properties that he owned or that were owned by relatives: $75,000, $50,000, $60,000, and $426,227. In 2018, he was charged with mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, because he had used the mail to collect the insurance proceeds. The district court ruled that two “distractor” fires were part of the scheme and did not implicate Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) but that the 2004 fire was too far removed in time to be part of the scheme. The 2004 fire was admissible as modus operandi evidence and to prove identity. A jury convicted Thomas on all counts. He was sentenced to 90 months’ imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the fires were not part of a scheme because they were not a chain of continuous and overlapping events, but rather discrete episodes of alleged criminality and that the fires were inadmissible character evidence. Thomas was charged with mail fraud, not arson. The district court properly decided that six of the fires were part of Thomas’s scheme and not “other acts.” View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from the superior court's order denying his petition under Penal Code section 1170.95, which allows certain defendants convicted of murder under a felony murder or natural and probable consequences theory to petition the court to vacate their convictions and for resentencing.The Court of Appeal affirmed the order denying the petition under section 1170.95, concluding that the superior court correctly ruled that Penal Code section 189, subdivision (f), does not require the prosecution to prove the defendant acted with malice. The court also concluded that, contrary to defendant's contentions, the law of the case doctrine did not preclude the superior court from finding he could be convicted of first degree felony murder under current law and that the superior court did not apply the wrong legal standard in determining whether he had the requisite knowledge under section 189, subdivision (f). View "People v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's orders partially granting defendants' motions for sentence reductions pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act. In each case, the district court granted defendants' motions pursuant to a standard "AO 247" form in which the district court checked the box for "granted" and reduced the term of supervised release on each of defendants' sentences by one year. However, the district court did not alter the underlying sentences.Applying de novo review, the court held that the district court failed to provide individualized explanations to each defendant in the face of newly presented, post-sentencing conduct. The court agreed with defendants that their cases are factually similar to the defendants' cases in United States v. Martin, 916 F.3d 389 (4th Cir. 2019), and thus the court should vacate the district court's orders with instructions for the district court to provide individualized explanations consistent with Martin. The court explained that the presentation of post-sentencing mitigation evidence in each of defendants' motions is sufficient to rebut the Legree presumption that the district court, in fact, considered all of the relevant evidence. View "United States v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment followed by a lifetime of supervised release. On appeal, defendant challenges three special conditions of supervised release: the employment restriction, the Internet restriction, and the location restriction.The Fourth Circuit held that the employment restriction, requiring that defendant must not work in any type of employment without the prior approval of the probation officer, is overbroad and lacks a sufficient nexus to the nature and circumstances of the offense. However, the court upheld the Internet restriction and location restriction. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part. On remand, the district court is instructed to craft more precisely an employment restriction that bears a nexus to defendant's particular misconduct without jeopardizing the salient goal of safeguarding children's safety. View "United States v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Kelley Maves was convicted of two sexual assaults in Colorado. He moved to Alaska in 2015, where the Department of Public Safety required him to register for life as a sex offender under the Alaska Sex Offenders Registration Act (ASORA). Maves appealed the Department’s decision to the superior court, arguing that one of the two convictions could not be used as the basis for a lifetime registration requirement because it had been set aside; with one conviction he would be required to register for only 15 years. His argument on appeal included a challenge to a 1995 departmental regulation that defined “conviction” as including those that had been set aside. The superior court affirmed the Department’s decision requiring the Maves to register for life. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the 1994 version of ASORA was not plainly intended to apply to offenders whose convictions have been set aside, and that the 1995 regulation extending the Act’s reach to those convictions was not necessary to carry out the Act’s purposes. The Court therefore reversed the superior court’s decision upholding the requirement that Maves register under ASORA for life. View "Maves v. Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his motion for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act (FSA). On remand from the Fifth Circuit, the district court determined that defendant was not eligible for a sentence reduction and that, even if he were eligible, the district court would not reduce his sentence.The Fifth Circuit agreed with defendant that he is eligible for a sentence reduction because his indictment charged him with possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. The court explained that section 404 of the FSA gives district courts the discretion to apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to reduce a prisoner's sentence for a "covered offense." In this case, section 2 of the FSA amended defendant's statute of conviction under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A), by increasing the 50-gram threshold of cocaine base to 280 grams, and similarly amended section 841(b)(1)(B) by increasing the threshold quantity from five to 28 grams of cocaine base. Because defendant committed his section 841(b)(1)(A) offense in September 2005, and the statutory penalties for that offense were modified by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, the court concluded that defendant's offense is a "covered" one and thus he is eligible for a reduction in sentence under the FSA.However, the court held that defendant has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a sentence reduction where the district court did not disregard the Fifth Circuit's mandate by denying a sentence reduction; the district court articulated its reasons and addressed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors; and the district court was not required to consider defendant's post-sentencing growth. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Whitehead" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Hill pleaded no contest to felony possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (case CR940896). The court suspended imposition of sentence and placed Hill on three years' felony probation. In 2019, a Clearlake police officer noticed Hill outside of a liquor store, approached, obtained Hill’s name, and conducted a records check, which revealed that Hill was on postrelease community supervision. As the officer returned, Hill “produced” a knife and placed it on a pole. Hill said he needed the knife “for protection” and that he had it shoved down his sleeve. Hill pleaded no contest to concealing a dirk or dagger (case CR953084) and admitted a probation violation in case CR940896. The plea was open with a maximum possible sentence of 32t months.The trial court revoked his probation in case CR940896 and sentenced Hill in both cases to an aggregate term of 32 months. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Hill’s argument that his attorney was ineffective for failing to request a hearing on his eligibility for mental health diversion under Penal Code section 1001.36. Because Hill’s appeal did not attack the validity of his plea but challenged the court’s sentencing discretion relating to section 1001.36, no certificate of probable cause was required. Hill's counsel was not deficient in failing to request an eligibility hearing nor was Hill prejudiced by counsel’s failure to do so. View "People v. Hill" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for seventeen financial crimes and affirmed defendant's 240-month sentence. Defendant's conviction stemmed from her efforts to induce individuals to invest in her website and from her spending large sums of money on personal expenses unrelated to the website.The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's August 29, 2018 continuance motion where defendant had made multiple changes to her legal team and trial counsel stated that he would be prepared. The court upheld the criminal forfeiture order where any error regarding the securities fraud counts did not affect defendant's substantial rights; the district court did not plainly err in considering defendant's ability to pay the forfeiture judgment in addition to the restitution judgment; and the criminal forfeiture is not unconstitutionally excessive under the Eighth Amendment. Finally, the court held that defendant's sentence is procedurally and substantively reasonable. In this case, the totality of the sentencing transcript demonstrates that the district court carried out its statutory duty by listening to the positions advanced by both parties and making an individualized finding pursuant to the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors. Furthermore, the district court thoroughly addressed the section 3553 factors, ultimately varying downward from the guidelines' range. View "United States v. Bennett" on Justia Law