Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs in an action against Judges of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Judges' practices in collecting criminal fines and fees violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court agreed and held that the district court did not err in applying the principles from Tumey v. State of Ohio, which held that officers acting in a judicial or quasi judicial capacity are disqualified by their interest in the controversy to be decided, and Ward v. Vill. of Monroeville, which presented a situation in which an official perforce occupies two inconsistent positions and necessarily involves a lack of due process of law in the trial of defendants charged with crimes before him. In this case, the Judges have exclusive authority over how the Judicial Expense Fund is spent, they must account for the OPCDC budget to the New Orleans City Council and New Orleans Mayor, and the fines and fees make up a significant portion of their annual budget. View "Cain v. White" on Justia Law

by
Where, as here, the record shows that the medically necessary treatment for a prisoner's gender dysphoria is gender confirmation surgery (GCS), and responsible prison officials deny such treatment with full awareness of the prisoner's suffering, those officials violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of a permanent injunction after the district court concluded that gender confirmation surgery is medically necessary for plaintiff, a male-to-female transgender prisoner in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction, and ordered the State to provide the surgery. The panel held that the record, as construed by the district court, established that plaintiff has a serious medical need, that the appropriate medical treatment is GCS, and that prison authorities have not provided that treatment despite full knowledge of plaintiff's ongoing and extreme suffering and medical needs. In so holding, the panel rejected the State's portrait of a reasoned disagreement between qualified medical professionals. The panel noted that its analysis was individual to plaintiff and was based on the record. The panel also noted that it applied the dictates of the Eighth Amendment in an area of increased social awareness: transgender health care, and that the Eighth Amendment inquiry takes into account the medical community's developing understanding of what treatments are safe and medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria. Finally, the panel largely rejected the State's remaining contentions, but vacated the injunction to the extent it applied to the named defendants in their individual capacities. View "Edmo v. Corizon, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Police received a report of a drunk driver, with the vehicle’s license plate number. The database reported the vehicle as stolen. The suspect’s name came back: Powell, who was allegedly “armed and dangerous.” Using the caller’s updates on the vehicle’s location, in minutes three deputies found it stopped on a dirt road with the driver standing outside. The deputies told the driver to get on the ground. He dropped to his knees and put his hands in the air. As the deputies approached, Deputy Stetson instructed the driver to lie down on the ground. The driver yelled back that he would not comply and asked what he had done wrong. Stetson and the driver repeated the conversation nine times, with the driver becoming more belligerent. At one point, the driver reached toward his open truck door but then returned his hands to the air. The driver had three warnings that deputies would tase him if he did not obey. Stetson tased the driver. Deputies then handcuffed him. The driver was not Powell but was the vehicle’s owner, Shanaberg. Powell had allegedly stolen the vehicle months before, but the police later recovered it. The vehicle remained in the stolen-vehicle database. Shanaberg sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Stetson, finding he was entitled to qualified immunity on Shanaberg’s excessive-force claim. Given what Stetson knew, it was objectively reasonable to tase Shanaberg after warning him. View "Shanaberg v. Licking County" on Justia Law

by
Convicted of criminal sexual assault and domestic violence, Clark argued that his convictions should be set aside based on a Sixth (and Fourteenth) Amendment violation that allegedly arose when a scheduling error prohibited his lawyers from being physically present at his competency hearing. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the claim on the ground that the attorneys nonetheless were able to communicate with Clark and the court about the competency report and all agreed that he no longer would challenge his competence. Clark filed an unsuccessful federal habeas petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. No U.S. Supreme Court case requires a different result. The state court reasonably denied Clark’s claim of structural error. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, a defendant can show a Sixth Amendment violation without the need to prove prejudice when there is a “complete denial of counsel” at, or counsel is “totally absent” from, a “critical stage of the proceedings.” The state did not prevent Clark’s attorneys from attending the hearing and the error was mitigated by the attorneys’ earlier communication with Clark and the judge about the competency report and earlier decision not to challenge his competence any longer. View "Clark v. Lindsey" on Justia Law

by
Aaron Lantis was charged with the misdemeanor offense of disturbing the peace in violation of Idaho Code section 18-6409. The State alleged he committed the crime by sending sexually suggestive photographs of H.H. (Lantis’ ex-girlfriend) to her employer in an unsuccessful attempt to have her fired During trial, Lantis moved for a judgment of acquittal asserting that the statute did not apply to his actions. The magistrate court denied Lantis’ motion. Lantis was found guilty by a jury and he made the same motion post-verdict, which was likewise denied. He appealed to the district court, asserting the same grounds. The district court agreed with Lantis and vacated Lantis’ conviction, holding that Lantis’ conduct was outside the scope of the statute. The State appealed; the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Idaho v. Lantis" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. Even assuming that it was error to allow an officer to testify regarding defendant's pre-Miranda statements and actions, the admission of the testimony did not violate defendant's substantial rights. In this case, the officer testified that defendant gave a false explanation for his presence and hung his head in an apparent show of defeat at having been caught. The court rejected defendant's alleged Confrontation Clause violations, because any violation would not have posed a reasonable probability of altering the outcome of the trial and were not plain error. View "United States v. Valquier" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit denied petitioner's application seeking an order authorizing the district court to consider a second or successive petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner claimed that he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty. The court held that petitioner failed to make a prima facie showing that his claim satisfied the requirements of 28 U.S.C. 2244(b)(2), because petitioner failed to rely on a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable, because all the cases he relies on were either previously available to him or were not made retroactive to cases on collateral review. The court also denied petitioner's emergency motion to stay his execution. View "In re: Gary Ray Bowles" on Justia Law

by
Melanie Vagts appealed after the district court denied her motion to suppress evidence and she conditionally pled guilty to a charge of actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. After review of her case, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded law enforcement officers’ encounter with Vagts was not an illegal search and seizure, but an officer’s implied consent advisory did not substantively comply with the statutory requirements of N.D.C.C. 39-20-01(3)(a) and the results of her breath test were not admissible under N.D.C.C. 39-20-01(3)(b). Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to allow Vagts to withdraw her conditional guilty plea. View "City of Bismarck v. Vagts" on Justia Law

by
Kelerchian was a licensed firearms dealer. His co-conspirators were Kumstar, the Deputy Chief of the Lake County, Indiana, Sheriff’s Department, and Slusser, a patrolman who was the armorer for the department’s SWAT team. The trio defrauded firearms manufacturer H&K and the laser sight producer Insight into selling them machine-guns and laser sights restricted to law enforcement and military use. After many fraudulent transactions, the three were indicted. Kumstar and Slusser pleaded guilty. Kelerchian was convicted on four counts of conspiracy and four counts of making false writings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A machine-gun counts as a firearm for purposes of 18 U.S.C. 924, so Kelerchian was properly charged with conspiracy to violate the Act by submitting documents falsely telling H&K that the buyer of all the machineguns would be the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. Kelerchian was properly charged with a violation of 18 U.S.C. 371. There was sufficient evidence to prove the charges involving the “demonstration letters” that enabled Kelerchian to buy machine-guns for his personal collection and the money-laundering conspiracy charge. The court rejected challenges to jury instructions and a claim of “constructive amendment” of the indictment. View "United States v. Kelerchian" on Justia Law

by
Janusiak called 911 to report that Payten, a friend’s baby in her care, was not breathing. Paramedics took Payten to the hospital while officers talked to Janusiak. The police returned about eight hours later, and Janusiak, then eight months pregnant, agreed to go to the police station for an interview. Police questioned her about Payten’s death for about seven hours. Toward the end of the interrogation, Janusiak made statements about what happened to Payten that were used to impeach her testimony at trial. After Peyten died Janusiak was convicted of first‐degree intentional homicide. On direct appeal, Wisconsin courts rejected her argument that statements she made during the interrogation were involuntary and should have been suppressed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of her petition for habeas corpus relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court rejected Janusiak’s arguments that her statements were coerced by comments that law enforcement made to her about keeping access to her children, the length and other features of the interrogation, and her vulnerability as a pregnant woman and mother. The state appellate court reasonably applied the correct standard to determine that Janusiak’s statements were voluntary. View "Janusiak v. Cooper" on Justia Law