Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In 1998, Haden pleaded no contest to infliction of corporal injury on a spouse and admitted a special allegation of personal use of a deadly weapon The trial court found true special allegations under the Three Strikes Law and sentenced him to 25 years to life. Haden had two robbery convictions in North Dakota The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the convictions could constitute strikes although the elements of robbery under North Dakota law differed from those under California law. Haden unsuccessfully sought habeas relief several times. In 2015, Haden filed another habeas petition, arguing that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 “Descamps” decision, the court made improper factual findings when treating the North Dakota convictions as strikes. In 2016, the California Supreme Court denied his petition “without prejudice to any relief … after this court decides” Gallardo. The 2017 Gallardo decision rejected the court's own 2006 “McGee” decision and held that a trial court considering whether to impose a sentence enhancement based on a defendant’s prior conviction may not make factual findings concerning the defendant’s conduct to impose the enhancement. In 2018, Haden filed another habeas petition, arguing the imposition of the North Dakota robberies as strikes contravened Gallardo because the court examined the record to determine the factual nature of those convictions. The court of appeal denied relief. Gallardo does not apply retroactively to Haden’s conviction. View "In re Haden," on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. The court held that the officer who pulled defendant over had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop for a canine sniff where the government offered several specific facts in support of reasonable suspicion. In this case, among other things, defendant was pulled over in a well known drug-trafficking corridor, she drove a truck registered in someone else's name, she took unusual measures to protect the truck, she offered inconsistent and implausible stories about the purpose of her travel, and she had a conviction for possession of meth. The court also held that defendant was not entitled to Miranda safeguards during the routine traffic stop. View "United States v. Reyes" on Justia Law

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Michael Bettasso was convicted by jury of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol causing injury, hit and run driving causing death, driving with a suspended license, and second degree implied malice murder. The jury also found true a great bodily injury enhancement associated with the DUI count. Bettasso was sentenced to a total term of 19 years to life. On appeal, Bettasso challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the second degree murder conviction and also contended the trial court prejudicially erred by failing to instruct the injury on vehicular manslaughter as a lesser included offense of murder. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that vehicular manslaughter was not a lesser included offense of murder. In the unpublished portion, the Court rejected Bettasso’s substantial evidence challenge, and accordingly affirmed the judgment. View "California v. Bettasso" on Justia Law

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Steven Chambers appealed his conviction entered upon his "Alford" plea to battery with intent to commit a serious felony. Chambers was initially charged with forcible rape against a young woman. Pursuant to I.R.E. 412, Chambers moved to introduce evidence of a purportedly false allegation "N.S." made against a different individual approximately six months after her alleged rape by Chambers. The State objected to the admission of such evidence. After a Rule 412 hearing, the district court excluded evidence of the purportedly false allegation. The Idaho Court of Appeals heard Chambers’ appeal and held that false allegations made after the charged conduct could be admissible. However, the appellate court concluded that Chambers had failed to prove falsity at the Rule 412 hearing. After its review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded the district court erred when it determined that Rule 412 contained a temporal requirement that the false allegation must precede the events giving rise to the charge. Further, the district court abused its discretion by applying the wrong balancing test. The Supreme Court announced guidelines and procedure for the district court to use on remand to determine whether evidence of the purportedly false allegation was admissible. Judgment of conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Idaho v. Chambers" on Justia Law

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Smith was indicted for knowingly and intentionally distributing a mixture of heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). The government filed a notice that Smith was subject to an increased statutory maximum sentence under section 841(b)(1)(C) due to a prior state felony drug-trafficking offense. Pleading guilty, Smith waived his right to appeal the conviction and sentence save for five enumerated circumstances, including the right to appeal the determination that he was a career offender. The PSR indicated that Smith was a career offender based upon one prior state felony drug trafficking conviction and a state felony conviction for five counts of aggravated robbery. Smith argued that the First Step Act rendered his section 841(b)(1)(C) statutory enhancement invalid and that his state convictions were no longer predicate offenses for determining career-offender status. Smith asked to withdraw his guilty plea, citing the First Step Act and his contention that his state aggravated-robbery conviction was not a crime of violence. The district court rejected Smith’s request to withdraw his plea and imposed a within-Guidelines 150-month sentence. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Arguments regarding the First Step Act’s application to section 841(b)(1)(C) were not among the five issues Smith preserved for appeal. Employing the categorical approach, Smith’s violation of Ohio Revised Code 2925.03(A)(2) is a controlled substance offense under the Sentencing Guidelines. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that sufficient evidence supported defendant's convictions for two counts of carjacking where a reasonable jury could infer that defendant had the intent to kill if necessary at the moment that he took the vehicle. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions. Furthermore, because there was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict defendant on both underlying carjacking counts, defendant's convictions under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) stand. The court also affirmed the district court's imposition of special conditions of supervised release, because the district court's oral adoption of the conditions in the presentencing report satisfied the district court's pronouncement obligations to the extent it was required to do so. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

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In Penal Code section 1473.7, the Legislature broadened the standards to challenge guilty pleas involving advisements concerning immigration consequences. Defendant appealed an order denying her recent motion to vacate her 1991 conviction for possession for sale of cocaine base following her no contest plea pursuant to Penal Code 1473.7. Defendant claimed that her counsel did not advise her that a mandatory consequence of her plea would make her "permanently ineligible to ever become a legal resident of the United States." The Court of Appeal held that defendant may pursue her current motion to vacate the conviction. The court held that, although defendant had filed an earlier unsuccessful motion to vacate the conviction in 2017, the prior motion did not bar the current motion because it was based on a different ground and on an earlier version of section 1473.7. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded with instructions. The court noted that the changes the Legislature made in 2019 were intended to retroactively target convictions based on the type of inadequate immigration advisements that occurred in this case. View "People v. Ruiz" on Justia Law

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New York City Officer Pickel was patrolling an area known for violent crime, when a man flagged him down, pointing to the only pedestrian on a bridge (later identified as Torres). The man stated that Torres fired a gun into an old factory across the street. Pickel radioed for backup and followed Torres in his car, believing that Torres posed a potential danger to others and that any delay would make it difficult to locate Torres. As other officers arrived, Pickel activated his emergency lights, exited his patrol car, drew his service pistol, and ordered Torres to “get to the ground.” Torres complied. Officer Hatterer knelt and asked Torres if he had a firearm. According to Hatterer, Torres indicated that it was in his right pocket. Hatterer handcuffed Torres; another officer retrieved the firearm. The district court denied a motion to suppress, reasoning that the gun was found during a constitutional “Terry” investigatory stop rather than during an arrest and that Pickel had reasonable suspicion. Convicted under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, Terry received the mandatory-minimum sentence, 180 months’ imprisonment, based on enhanced sentencing under 18 U.S.C. 924(e), the Armed Career Criminal Act. Although Torres' prior state drug possession offenses were part of a federal drug distribution conspiracy conviction, the conspiracy conviction counted as a separate predicate offense. The Third Circuit affirmed. A drug conspiracy conviction counts as an ACCA predicate offense, if it was distinct in time from the underlying substantive offenses. View "United States v. Torres" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted in 2003 of producing, transporting, and reproducing child pornography and sentenced to 235 months in prison, followed by 5 years of supervised release. After defendant violated three conditions of supervised release, the district court imposed a new condition requiring polygraph testing. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's imposition of the new condition, holding that defendant's unwillingness to obey rules restricting his access to child pornography shows that polygraph testing is necessary to protect the public from further crimes. The court also held that defendant waived any challenges to the district court's denial of his motions for relief in Appeal No. 19-3362. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to modify defendant's two conditions of supervised release imposed after he was convicted in 2003 of producing, transporting, and reproducing child pornography. The court held that, although the district court erred by denying defendant a hearing before modifying Conditions 6 and 7, the error was harmless. In this case, Condition 6 concerned defendant's contact with minors and Condition 7 concerned possession and access to pornography. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law