Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated defendant's sentence and remanded for the district court to adjust his sentence pursuant to USSG 5G1.3(b)(1). The court held that court precedent establishes that an adjustment under section 5G1.3(b)(1) is mandatory when its requirements are satisfied, and the court's precedent is consistent with United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 245 (2005). In this case, the court held that the district court erred by refusing to adjust defendant's federal sentence for time served on a related state sentence. The court explained that the maximum adjusted sentence the district court could have imposed consistent with section 5G1.3(b)(1) was 96 months of imprisonment—12 months less than the 108-month sentence defendant received. Consequently, the district court's error was not harmless. On remand, the court instructed the district court to determine whether the requirements of section 5G1.3(b)(1) are satisfied and, if so, adjust defendant's sentence accordingly. View "United States v. Henry" on Justia Law

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Defendant Leon Tacardon was charged with possession of a controlled substance for sale, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana for sale. Evidence of these crimes was seized following an interaction with San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Deputy Joel Grubb. After an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence made during the preliminary hearing under Penal Code section 1538.5, defendant renewed his motion under Penal Code section 995, and prevailed. The State appealed. Based on the magistrate’s factual findings expressed on the record and supported by substantial evidence, the Court of Appeal concluded defendant was detained by Deputy Grubb not when the deputy detained defendant's passenger, M.K., but when the deputy, after smelling marijuana coming from the BMW and seeing three large bags of the substance on the rear floorboard, told defendant to remain in the car while he conducted a records check. "At that point, there can be no doubt the deputy possessed reasonable suspicion defendant was engaged in criminal activity." The Court concluded the superior court erred by setting aside the magistrate’s ruling denying defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. View "California v. Tacardon" on Justia Law

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A brief encounter between two groups of strangers in a restaurant parking lot at closing time ended in one man shot and killed. Three others were injured. Pedro Cardenas was one of the shooters, and convicted by jury trial on one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of assault with a firearm, and he pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The trial court instructed the jury on the "kill zone" theory as to the attempted murder counts. On the felon in possession count, Cardenas argued that his rights under California v. Arbuckle, 22 Cal.3d 749 (1978) were violated because he was sentenced by a different judge from the one who took his guilty plea. Cardenas did not object on that basis at sentencing, but he cited California v. Bueno, 32 Cal.App.5th 342 (2019) for the proposition that he did not thereby forfeit the issue. A split Court of Appeal concluded that the evidence was insufficient to justify instructing on the kill zone theory under California v. Canizales, 7 Cal.5th 591 (2019), and the error was prejudicial. The Court therefore vacated the attempted murder convictions. The Court disagreed with Bueno and held that Cardenas forfeited the Arbuckle issue by failing to raise it at sentencing. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "California v. Cardenas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) based on a Confrontation Clause violation. Petitioner was convicted by a jury of armed robbery and aggravated battery. The court first held that the state intentionally waived its defense of procedural default. The court also held that the state district court's decision that no Confrontation Clause violation occurred through the handling of a detective's testimony constitutes an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, and the state waived harmlessness. In this case, the detective testified that a nontestifying witness implicated petitioner and the prosecution likewise referenced that testimony in its closing argument. Therefore, such testimony violates the Confrontation Clause. The court remanded for the district court to grant habeas relief. View "Atkins v. Hooper" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiracy to distribute a kilogram or more of heroin. The court held that the statements in the factual basis form an adequate evidentiary foundation for defendant's guilty plea and thus defendant failed to show any error; the district court did not reversibly err by explaining the government's burden of proof for proving a conspiracy and attributing a quantity of drugs to defendant; and the court declined to evaluate defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal. The court dismissed the ineffective assistance of counsel claims without prejudice. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The court held that the undisputed facts taken together establish a nexus between defendant and his wife sufficient to support the district court's finding of constructive possession. In this case, the couple's joint occupancy of the home and joint possession of the three firearms support an inference that defendant had knowledge of, and access to the pistol found in his wife's vehicle. The court also held that there was no plain Rehaif error that warrants giving defendant another opportunity to withdraw the guilty plea that he did not seek to withdraw at sentencing. The court explained that defendant has not shown a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty had he known of Rehaif. View "United States v. Caudle" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. The court rejected defendant's claim that the district court abused its discretion by not addressing defendant's request that the sentence be made concurrent with an anticipated state sentence; the district court did not abuse its discretion or plainly err by deciding not to explain why it did not vary downward when defendant did not request further explanation; the district court did not clearly err in finding that this was jointly undertaken criminal activity and therefore the total quantity of unsold drugs found in the car should be attributed to each participant; and any error in determining drug quantity for sentencing purposes was harmless. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus based on lack of jurisdiction as an unauthorized second or successive petition. In this case, the state trial court granted in part petitioner's motion to correct sentence, pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.800(a), and issued an amended sentence nunc pro tunc, which removed a 10-year mandatory minimum term on one of his counts of conviction. The court held that the district court properly determined that petitioner's latest section 2254 petition was an unauthorized second or successive petition over which it lacked jurisdiction. The court explained that, because the amended sentence was entered nunc pro tunc under Florida law, it related back to the date of the original judgment and it was not a "new judgment" for purposes of section 2244(b). View "Osbourne v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Liggins violated the terms of his probation multiple times; each time it was reinstated with modified terms. Police responded to an alleged altercation between Liggins and his girlfriend, Roy, at 4:00 o’clock in the morning. Roy was found outside a San Francisco convenience store crying and yelling. She told officers Liggins had punched, kicked, and choked her. After the fight, Liggins apparently rode away on his bicycle. Roy’s behavior was unruly, characterized by screaming and cursing. Officers arrested Liggins. By the time of Liggins’s preliminary hearing, his former attorney stated that Roy had recanted her accusations against Liggins; her erratic behavior at the scene of Liggins’s arrest, Roy told his attorney, resulted from her being under the influence of a controlled substance and her failure to take prescribed medication for manic-depression. At the probation revocation hearing, Liggins’s attorney asserted hearsay objections to the admission of an officer’s body camera footage, which captured Roy making statements about Liggins’s conduct, and an officer’s testimony to Roy’s statement identifying Liggins. The objections were overruled. The court revoked Liggins’s probation and sentenced him to three years in prison. The court of appeal reversed. While the trial court was within its discretion to admit the challenged statements under the spontaneous statement exception, their admission in the absence of a showing of Roy’s unavailability or other good cause to present hearsay in lieu of live testimony from her violated Liggins’s due process right of confrontation. View "People v. Liggins" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a jury found Wilson guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree robbery. Wilson had prior strike convictions and was sentenced to an aggregate term of 50 years to life. The court stayed consecutive sentences for the second-degree robbery conviction and the sentence enhancement. Changes to Penal Code sections governing accomplice liability for felony murder and murder under the natural and probable consequences theory allow defendants who could not be convicted of first or second-degree murder under the new law to file a petition to seek to vacate their murder conviction and be resentenced on any remaining counts in the same manner “as if the petitioner had not been previously . . . sentenced, provided the new sentence, if any, is not greater than the initial sentence.” The trial court vacated Wilson’s murder conviction, resentenced him to time served on his robbery conviction and related sentence enhancement, and placed him on parole supervision for two years. Wilson sought immediate release from parole supervision. The court explained that, because Wilson had a significant criminal history, a two year period of parole was appropriate despite his having spent 16 years in custody. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Wilson’s argument that the trial court was mandated, but failed, to apply his excess custody credits to eliminate the two-year parole period. Notwithstanding excess custody credits, the court may exercise its discretion when deciding whether to order a period of parole. View "People v. Wilson" on Justia Law