Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeal held that the constitutional underpinnings of People v. Wende (1979) 25 Cal.3d 436, do not apply to appeals from the denial of postconviction relief. Therefore, the procedure the court and other courts have described is grounded solely in the courts' supervisory powers to control the proceedings before the court. The court also held that, in the exercise of these powers, counsel appointed in such appeals is required to independently review the entire record and, if counsel so finds, file a brief advising the appellate court that there are "no arguable issues to raise on appeal;" the defendant has a right to file a supplemental brief; and this court has the duty to address any issues raised by the defendant but otherwise may dismiss the appeal without conducting an independent review of the record. Here, the court dismissed the appeal as abandoned because the defendant who has appealed the denial of postconviction relief in this case has not filed a supplemental brief. View "People v. Cole" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d). Petitioner alleged claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel (IAAC) based on state appellate counsel's failure to raise a Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), claim on direct appeal. The court held that the district court did not commit reversible error in failing to explicitly review the merits of the IAAC claim. The court also held that the magistrate judge's conclusion that no Batson violation occurred establishes that appellate counsel's failure to raise the Batson challenge on direct appeal did not prejudice petitioner. Therefore, petitioner failed to satisfy the elements of his IAAC claim. View "Moore v. Vannoy" on Justia Law

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Howard was charged with seven crimes relating to possession, receipt, distribution, and production of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), (a)(4). He pleaded guilty to five; the remaining counts, under section 2251(a), proceeded to trial. The statute mandates a minimum 15-year prison term for “[a]ny person who employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any minor to engage in … any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct.” Howard’s videos do not depict a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct; they show Howard masturbating next to a fully clothed and sleeping child. The government’s theory was that Howard violated the statute by “using” the clothed, sleeping child as an object of sexual interest to produce a visual depiction of himself engaged in solo sexually explicit conduct. The jury found him guilty. The Seventh Circuit vacated the convictions on the two counts. The government’s interpretation of section 2251(a) “stretches the statute beyond the natural reading of its terms considered in context.” The government’s “implausible” interpretation, taken to its logical conclusion, would not require the presence of a child on camera; the crime could be committed even if the child who is the object of the offender’s sexual interest were across the street. View "United States v. Howard" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that Paez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 947 F.3d 649, 652–53 (11th Cir. 2020), is not controlling in this case and vacated the district court's dismissal of the petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. In Paez, the court held that the district court acted within its discretion when it sua sponte dismissed a habeas petition as untimely. In this case, the district court, unlike in Paez, dismissed the petition based on a date that was neither in the record, nor provided by petitioner, nor expressly judicially noticed—a date that, even if properly judicially noticed, was the wrong one for purposes of calculating the timeliness of the petition. Therefore, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in sua sponte dismissing the habeas petition as untimely. The court remanded for the district court to determine the correct remittitur date and proceed accordingly. View "Bryant v. Ford" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated Defendant's sentence of forty-two months' imprisonment, a year above the top of the guideline sentencing range, for illegal possession of a machine gun, holding that the sentencing court erred by varying upward from the range without adequately distinguishing Defendant's case from the mine-run machine gun possession case. Defendant entered a guilty plea to a single count charging him with illegal possession of a machine gun. The trial court sentenced Defendant to an upwardly variant term of forty-two months' imprisonment. The First Circuit vacated the sentence, holding that the sentencing court abused its discretion in varying upward from a property calculated guideline sentencing range without identifying some special characteristic attributable either to Defendant or to the offense of conviction serving to remove this case from the garden-variety machine gun possession case. View "United States v. Rivera-Berrios" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for three counts of transmitting threatening interstate communications by telephone and sentence of twenty-seven months' imprisonment, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing to order a competency evaluation sua sponte. On appeal, Defendant's sole claim of error was that the district court erred by failing to order a competency evaluation under 18 U.S.C. 4241(a) sua sponte. The First Circuit disagreed, holding that where the record revealed no reasonable cause to believe that a substantial question existed concerning Defendant's competency to stand trial, the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing to order a competency evaluation sua sponte. View "United States v. Malmstrom" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the decision of the district court denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained through a search and seizure of his vehicle, holding that the warrantless seizure of Defendant's vehicle was unlawful. Defendant was convicted of possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. On appeal, Defendant argued that law enforcement officers had no right to seize and tow his car, thereby setting it up for the inventory search that produced the evidence leading to his conviction. The First Circuit agreed, holding (1) the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement did not apply in this case; (2) the government did not have probable cause to seize the vehicle pursuant to the Puerto Rico Uniform Forfeiture Act; and (3) the doctrine of inevitable discovery did not apply to justify the warrantless seizure of Defendant's vehicle. View "United States v. Del Rosario-Acosta" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his convictions for possession of a machinegun in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(o) and possession of an unregistered machinegun in violation of 26 U.S.C. 5861(d). The Ninth Circuit held that a weapon is "designed to shoot" automatically if it has a specific configuration of objective structural features that, in the absence of any minor defect, would give the weapon the capacity to shoot automatically. The panel also held that the challenged phrase is not unconstitutionally vague on its face where it relies on the objective features of the device even when it is combined with the statutory phrase "framer or receiver." The panel further held that defendant's remaining challenges concerning the application of section 5845(b) lacked merit. In this case, there was no plain error in the jury instruction's objective focus on "specific machinegun design features which facilitate automatic fire;" there is no reasonable possibility that the jury here relied on an impermissibly expansive reading of the instruction in convicting defendant; and defendant had fair notice that Exhibit 12 qualified as such a device based on its configuration of objective features. Therefore, the panel rejected defendant's vagueness challenge. Finally, the panel rejected defendant's challenges to his section 5861(d) conviction, but agreed with defendant that his two convictions are improperly multiplicitous. The panel remanded with instructions to vacate one of the two convictions. View "United States v. Kuzma" on Justia Law

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Prisoners moved to enforce a civil rights class action settlement agreement stemming from California's housing of the plaintiff prisoners in solitary confinement based only upon their gang affiliation. The prisoners contend that California breached the agreement when it transferred some prisoners from Security Housing to General Population but did not give those prisoners increased out-of-cell time. Furthermore, prisoners contend that California broke the settlement agreement when it limited another inmate group's direct physical contact during yard time. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's ruling that California violated the settlement agreement. The panel held that California has complied with Paragraph 25's requirements and agreed with California's contention that Paragraph 25 of the agreement requires inmate transfer from Security Housing to General Population but does not control General Population conditions. The panel also held that California has substantially complied with Paragraph 28's requirements for restricted custody inmates and, given the institution's safety concerns, the limitations are only minor deviations from Paragraph 28's requirements. The panel vacated the district court's remedial orders and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ashker v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit dismissed an appeal and cross-appeal arising from the magistrate judge's order extending the supervision of the case based on alleged due process violations. This action arose from a class action settlement agreement stemming from California's housing of the plaintiff prisoners in solitary confinement based only upon their gang affiliation. Before the settlement agreement was set to expire, the prisoners moved to extend its duration. A magistrate judge granted the motion on two claims, but denied a third claim, extending the settlement agreement for one year. The panel agreed with the prisoners that it cannot reach the merits of the appeal because the magistrate judge lacked authority to enter a final extension order under 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(1). Because Article III supervision was lacking here, the panel explained that the parties cannot appeal from the extension order under section 636(c)(3). Therefore, the panel cannot reach the merits of the appeal. The panel remanded to the district court to consider construing the magistrate judge's extension order as a report and recommendation. View "Ashker v. Newsom" on Justia Law