Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Seth Lookhart, a dentist, was convicted of numerous crimes related to a fraudulent scheme that endangered his patients' health and safety. The scheme involved unnecessary sedation of patients to fraudulently bill Alaska’s Medicaid program, overcharging it by more than $1.6 million. Lookhart also stole $412,500 from a business partner. His reckless sedation practices nearly resulted in the loss of two patients' lives. He was arrested in April 2017 and convicted on 46 charges in January 2020, leading to a sentence of 20 years in prison with eight years suspended.Following Lookhart's convictions, the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing sought to revoke his dental license. Lookhart agreed to the facts of the accusation but argued that revocation was not an appropriate sanction. The administrative law judge (ALJ) disagreed, stating that Lookhart's misconduct was more severe than any prior case and that revocation was the clear and obvious sanction. The Board of Dental Examiners adopted the ALJ's decision.Lookhart appealed to the superior court, arguing that the Board's decision was inconsistent with its prior decisions. The court disagreed, stating that the Board had wide discretion to determine appropriate sanctions and that no prior case was comparable to Lookhart's. The court affirmed the Board's decision. Lookhart then appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska.The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. It held that the Board of Dental Examiners did not abuse its discretion by revoking Lookhart's license. The court found that none of the Board's prior licensing cases involved misconduct of the scope and severity in this case, so there was no applicable precedent to limit the Board's exercise of its discretion. View "Lookhart v. State of Alaska, Board of Dental Examiners" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Salvatore Groppo pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the transmission of wagering information as a "sub-bookie" in an unlawful international sports gambling enterprise. He was sentenced to five years' probation, 200 hours of community service, a $3,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. In 2022, Groppo moved to expunge his conviction, seeking relief from a potential tax liability of over $100,000 on his sports wagering activity. He argued that the tax liability was disproportionate to his relatively minor role in the criminal enterprise.The district court denied Groppo's motion to expunge his conviction. The court reasoned that expungement of a conviction is only available if the conviction itself was unlawful or otherwise invalid. The court also stated that the IRS's imposition of an excise tax does not provide grounds for relief as 'government misconduct' that would warrant expungement.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that because Groppo alleged neither an unlawful arrest or conviction nor a clerical error, the district court correctly determined that it did not have ancillary jurisdiction to grant the motion to expunge. The court explained that a district court is powerless to expunge a valid arrest and conviction solely for equitable considerations, including alleged misconduct by the IRS. View "USA V. GROPPO" on Justia Law

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Ten plaintiffs filed a civil lawsuit against Daniel Fitzgerald under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), alleging multiple sex trafficking violations. The government intervened and requested a stay of the litigation pending the resolution of a criminal case involving a different defendant, Peter Nygard. The district court granted the stay under a provision of the TVPRA that mandates a stay of any civil action during the pendency of any criminal action arising out of the same occurrence in which the claimant is the victim. Fitzgerald appealed the stay order.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that it had jurisdiction to review the stay order as it was lengthy and indefinite, thus effectively placing the litigants out of court. The court also held that the district court properly granted a mandatory stay under the TVPRA because a criminal action was pending, the criminal action arose out of the same occurrence as the civil action, and the plaintiffs in the civil action were victims of an occurrence that was the same in the civil and criminal proceedings. The court rejected Fitzgerald's argument that the stay should only be issued if the defendant in the civil action is a named defendant in the related criminal action. The court also held that if a stay is required under the TVPRA, then the district court must stay the entire action. View "DOE V. FITZGERALD" on Justia Law

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Robert Maloney was convicted for his role in a Minnesota-based drug distribution ring while serving a sentence in a state prison for a terroristic-threatening conviction. He was sentenced to 262 months’ imprisonment and 5 years of supervised release. Maloney appealed, arguing that the district court had limited cross-examination of the Government’s key witness, denied his request to represent himself during closing argument, denied his request for discovery sanctions based on the Government’s alleged failure to produce audio recordings of phone conversations, and violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.The district court had denied Maloney's request to represent himself during closing arguments, stating that it was too late in the process and it would confuse the jury. The court also denied Maloney's motion for discovery sanctions, concluding that the Government did not violate Rule 16(a) as it had properly disclosed and made available for inspection all the physical evidence, including the audio files, by the deadline. The court also overruled Maloney's objection to the magistrate judge’s order denying his request for sanctions.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions. The court found that any error in limiting the cross-examination of the Government’s key witness was harmless because Maloney had the opportunity to challenge the witness’s credibility in other ways. The court also found that the district court did not err in denying Maloney’s request to represent himself at closing, as the request was untimely and would have disrupted the proceedings. The court further held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for discovery sanctions, as the Government had complied with Rule 16. Lastly, the court found no error in the denial of Maloney’s constitutional speedy trial claim. View "United States v. Maloney" on Justia Law

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Julius Williams, convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, appealed the denial of his motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). This law allows a court to reduce a defendant’s sentence if the original sentence was based on a Sentencing Guidelines range that the United States Sentencing Commission has subsequently lowered. Williams argued that the district court wrongly concluded that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines because he participated in a narcotics-related murder that subjected him to a higher Guidelines range under the “murder cross-reference” provision of U.S.S.G § 2D1.1(d)(1).The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York had denied Williams's motion for a sentence reduction, concluding that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines. The court also found that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court did not reach the issue of Williams’s eligibility for a sentence reduction under section 3582(c)(2), but instead affirmed the lower court's decision based on the independent ground that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Williams’s motion for a sentence reduction. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The case involves Amy Lois Rasmussen, who was charged with two counts of assault causing bodily injury and one count of simple assault following a confrontation with three women outside Boone City Hall. The confrontation turned physical, resulting in injuries to all three women. Rasmussen entered an Alford guilty plea to the two counts of assault causing bodily injury, and in exchange, the State dismissed a related simple misdemeanor charge involving the third victim. The district court rejected both parties’ sentencing recommendations and sentenced Rasmussen to consecutive one-year sentences for each count. It also issued no-contact orders prohibiting Rasmussen's contact with the two victims of assault causing bodily injury and the victim in the dismissed simple misdemeanor case.The case was initially reviewed by the Iowa Court of Appeals, which affirmed Rasmussen's sentence and the no-contact orders. Rasmussen appealed, arguing that the district court considered improper factors in determining her sentence and lacked jurisdiction to issue a no-contact order regarding the victim in the dismissed simple misdemeanor case.The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed Rasmussen's conviction and sentence concerning the consecutive one-year sentences and the no-contact orders involving the two victims of assault causing bodily injury. However, it found that the no-contact order in the dismissed case was void. The court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter a no-contact order after it dismissed the charge related to the third victim. The court remanded the issue to the district court for a hearing solely on whether a no-contact order involving the third victim should be entered in the serious misdemeanor case. View "State of Iowa v. Rasmussen" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Abel Gomez Medina, who was convicted of sexual abuse and indecent contact with a minor. The minor, identified as Dorothy, was his stepdaughter. She reported the abuse to her school counselor, stating that it had been ongoing since she was eleven years old. Dorothy's stepbrother, Frank, also testified that he had witnessed inappropriate behavior between Medina and Dorothy. The defense presented witnesses who claimed they had never seen anything inappropriate between Medina and Dorothy.Prior to the trial, the State moved to permit Dorothy and Frank to testify via closed-circuit television, citing the potential trauma caused by in-person testimony. The district court granted this for Dorothy but denied it for Frank. During the trial, Dorothy turned eighteen and Medina objected to her continuing to testify via closed-circuit television, arguing that the statute permitting such testimony only applied to minors. The district court overruled this objection, citing a different paragraph of the statute that allowed for closed-circuit testimony for victims or witnesses with mental illnesses, regardless of age.Medina appealed his conviction, arguing that allowing Dorothy to testify via closed-circuit television violated both the Iowa Code and the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. The court of appeals affirmed Medina's convictions, holding that permitting Dorothy’s closed-circuit testimony satisfied constitutional requirements while she was a minor, and that by meeting the requirements under Iowa Code after she turned eighteen, Medina’s claim of a Confrontation Clause violation similarly failed. Medina then filed an application for further review of the court of appeals ruling, which was granted by the Supreme Court of Iowa.The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the decisions of the lower courts. It concluded that Medina had failed to preserve error on his Confrontation Clause argument concerning Dorothy’s testimony after she turned eighteen. The court also found that the district court had properly applied the statute to permit Dorothy’s closed-circuit testimony, based on the evidence presented at the pretrial hearing. The court let the court of appeals decision stand on Medina's arguments that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the prosecutor to comment during closing argument and by excluding 911 call logs. View "State v. Medina" on Justia Law

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The case involves a juvenile, Jeovani H., who was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution as a term and condition of his probation. Jeovani was charged with an act that would constitute the felony of first-degree assault, which was later amended to a misdemeanor of attempted third-degree assault. The incident involved Jeovani shoving another youth, causing the youth to fall and fracture his arm. As part of a plea agreement, Jeovani admitted to the amended petition and agreed that the amount of restitution owed to his victim for medical expenses was $2,553.05. However, he disputed his ability to pay that amount.The Hall County Court, sitting as a juvenile court, accepted Jeovani’s admission to the amended petition and ordered a predisposition investigation. At the disposition and restitution hearing, Jeovani’s mother testified about the family's financial situation and work schedules, arguing that Jeovani did not have the ability to pay the restitution amount. The State called Jeovani and a juvenile probation officer as witnesses, who testified about Jeovani's ability to work and earn money to pay the restitution.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the juvenile court's decision. The court found that Jeovani had the ability to pay the restitution within the 12-month period of his probationary term. The court also rejected Jeovani’s claim that he was not allowed an opportunity to present or cross-examine witnesses on the issue of restitution. The court concluded that the restitution order was consistent with Jeovani’s reformation and rehabilitation and was supported by the record. View "In re Interest of Jeovani H." on Justia Law

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Jerry Pittman and Brianna Pierce were indicted for burglary of a dwelling after they broke into a trailer owned by David Parker and stole several items. Pierce took a plea deal and testified against Pittman, who was subsequently convicted. Pittman appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial was constitutionally infirm because evidence of a prior bad act, specifically the theft of power tools in a separate incident, was improperly admitted.Prior to Pittman's trial, the Neshoba County Circuit Court heard a proffer from the State arguing that the evidence of the separate theft was admissible to show absence of mistake under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 404(b). The trial court agreed, noting that it could also show intent to steal, and decided to admit the evidence with a limiting jury instruction.In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, Pittman argued that the admission of evidence of the prior bad act was error and made his trial constitutionally unfair. The court, however, determined that even if the admission of the evidence was an error, it would be harmless. The court noted that the evidence against Pittman was overwhelming, including his own admission of breaking into the trailer and taking items, Pierce's testimony, his written confession, and the stolen items being located in his vehicle. The court concluded that any alleged error did not contribute to the verdict and affirmed Pittman's conviction. View "Pittman v. State of Mississippi" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Takeya Lashay Koontzy, pleaded no contest to fleeing the scene of an injury accident and was placed on probation with the condition that she pay victim restitution in an amount to be determined. Due to the victim’s delay in providing documentation of her damages and failure to appear on multiple dates set for restitution hearings, the trial court did not determine the amount of restitution before the termination of Koontzy’s probation. More than two years post-termination, the court ordered Koontzy to pay $86,306.12 in victim restitution.Koontzy argued that the trial court was without authority to modify the amount of restitution owed to the victim following the termination of probation. She relied on People v. Martinez to argue that the court’s jurisdiction to do so was not extended by Penal Code section 1202.461 because the restitution was not for losses incurred “as a result of the commission of a crime.”The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District agreed with Koontzy, distinguishing the present case from their decision in People v. McCune, in which there was no dispute that the restitution was properly imposed under section 1202.4. The court concluded that the trial court erred in modifying the restitution order after termination of Koontzy’s probation. The court reasoned that the restitution order in this case was for losses due to the accident rather than losses due to Koontzy’s criminal conduct in leaving the scene. Thus, the trial court was not authorized to impose the restitution obligation under section 1202.4. Because the order was not imposed under section 1202.4, section 1202.46 did not provide a basis to extend jurisdiction to modify restitution following termination of probation. Instead, the restitution order was a condition imposed under section 1203.1, and it was subject to the limitations in section 1203.3 permitting modification of probation conditions only during the term of probation. The trial court’s April 2023 restitution order was reversed. View "P. v. Koontzy" on Justia Law