Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Robert Michael Gangl was convicted of multiple offenses after he stole a car and then stole the arresting officer’s patrol vehicle, led officers on a high-speed chase, and eventually robbed a man in his own home as he tried to elude capture. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of 18 years in state prison. Defendant raised several alleged sentencing errors on appeal. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal had to decide what an amendment to Proposition 36 meant, and whether it changed the long-standing rule that trial courts could use discretion to sentence a prior serious or violent felony offender concurrently to multiple current convictions or whether the trial court was mandated to sentence that offender consecutively to all of his current convictions. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court had the discretion to sentence a serious or violent felony offender concurrently to his or her current serious or violent felony convictions when those felonies were committed on the same occasion and arise out of the same set of operative facts. Those serious or violent felonies must then be sentenced consecutively to the sentences for nonserious and nonviolent convictions. View "California v. Gangl" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Derrick Williams pled guilty to transportation of child pornography, and possession of child pornography, reserving his right to appeal the denial of a motion to suppress. Williams, an American citizen, boarded an international flight bound for Denver International Airport (DIA). Once on the ground, he proceeded to customs where his passport triggered multiple “lookout” alerts in the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) enforcement system. The alerts instructed CBP officers to escort Williams to DIA’s secondary screening area where he was met by a Homeland Security Special Agent. Authorities had not linked Williams to any terrorist activity, he was known to them for previous felony convictions involving weapons possession charges, trespass and fraud. At the close of the interview, the Agent Allen explained to Williams that his electronic devices, a laptop and a smartphone, would be searched. He asked for the devices’ passwords, which Williams refused to give. His electronics were taken to be returned to Williams later. In bypassing the device passwords, investigators discovered a folder containing child pornography. A search warrant was issued authorizing a full forensic search. The search ultimately yielded thousands of images and videos of child pornography. Williams was indicted and moved to suppress the evidence obtained from his laptop on grounds that it was tainted by the search conducted prior to the issuance of the search warrant. He argued that the agents needed reasonable suspicion for this kind of search and that, because they did not have it, his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The government countered that the Fourth Amendment allowed for suspicionless searches at the border and that, even if reasonable suspicion were required, they had ample reason to suspect that Williams was involved in criminal activity. The district court held a hearing on the matter and subsequently denied the suppression motion. Williams raised multiple issues on appeal to the Tenth Circuit, but finding no reversible errors, the Tenth Circuit affirmed denial of the motion. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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An officer with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks saw Sylvester Williams, a convicted felon, throw a pistol from the passenger seat of a fleeing vehicle the officer had been pursuing. A jury found Williams guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On appeal, his appellate counsel has filed a Lindsey brief; Williams thereafter opted to file a pro se brief. He argued the State’s evidence was insufficient and the jury’s guilty verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. He also claimed a judge and attorney should have recused, a defense witness was wrongly prevented from testifying, a jury instruction was incorrectly refused, and he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no merit to any of Williams’s claims, and affirmed. View "Williams v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to suppress cell-site location information (CSLI), declaring the court order and warrant void. The Supreme Court held in Carpenter v. United States that if the government wants CSLI it needs a valid search warrant. On the same day Carpenter was decided, federal prosecutors in this case applied for the search warrant for the CSLI they already had. The court held that the Krull strand of the good-faith exception properly applies to the 2015 CSLI, since it was obtained pursuant to a pre-Carpenter warrantless order authorized by statute. The court stated that the government pursued the statutory order in good faith, and thus the CSLI should not have been suppressed. In regard to the 2014 CSLI, the court held that the Leon strand of the good-faith exception applied because those records were first sought and obtained under a post-Carpenter search warrant. The court stated that the government acted in good faith when applying for the search warrant and, even if the government did not act in good faith, the warrant was supported by probable cause. Finally, the court held that any suppression of toll records and subscriber information under Carpenter was erroneous because Carpenter only applies to evidence that can be used to track a person's physical movements over time. View "United States v. Beverly" on Justia Law

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In this appeal from the denial of a postconviction habeas petition, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that Appellant was not allowed to raise direct appeal issues related to his 1995 capital trial in this appeal from an amended judgment of conviction entered in 2017. In 1995, Appellant was sentenced to death for first-degree murder. Amended judgments required Appellant to pay an indeterminate portion of restitution. Appellant litigated the judgment of conviction for more than two decades with a direct appeal and various state and federal court proceedings. In the instant proceeding, Appellant filed in 2017 a petition for a writ of habeas corpus asserting that his conviction was not final because the judgment of conviction contained an indeterminate restitution provision. The district court denied the petition but amended the judgment of conviction to delete the indeterminate part of the restitution provision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) where for a dozen years Appellant treated the judgment of conviction as a final judgment, Appellant was estopped from now arguing that the judgment was not final; and (2) although the amended judgment of conviction is appealable, the appeal is limited in scope to issues stemming from the amendment. View "Witter v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court convicting Appellant of first-degree felony murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, and a firearm enhancement and sentencing Appellant as a habitual offender to life imprisonment, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's motions for directed verdict or his motion to suppress and did not sentence him illegally. Specifically, the Court held (1) contrary to Appellant's argument on appeal, substantial evidence supported the first-degree murder conviction and one of the aggravated robbery convictions; (2) the circuit court did not err by sentencing Appellant as a habitual offender to a term of life imprisonment because he had two prior convictions for crimes that he had committed as a minor and for which he was tried as an adult; and (3) the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress his taped statement to police during which he requested an attorney. View "Price v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Appellant's convictions for capital murder and aggravated robbery, holding that none of Appellant's allegations of error warranted reversal. Specifically, the Court held (1) the State presented sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the convictions, and therefore, the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's motion for directed verdict; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by denying Appellant's motion to exclude as hearsay testimony about the businesses Appellant called after the shooting; and (3) the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's posttrial motion for mistrial because the jury's verdicts were consistent. View "Finley v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court dismissing for lack of jurisdiction Appellant's appeal from a district court judgment convicting him of driving while intoxicated and a speeding violation, holding that the circuit court erred in granting the State's motion to dismiss based not he circuit court's lack of jurisdiction. The circuit court dismissed Appellant's appeal of his conviction in district court as untimely pursuant to Ark. R. Crim. P. 36(c). On appeal, Appellant argued that the circuit court erred because the appeal was timely filed pursuant to Rule 36(d). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the filing of Appellant's affidavit triggered jurisdiction of his appeal and strictly complied with Rule 36(d) to commence an appeal from the district court to the circuit court. View "Treat v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of rape and second-degree sexual assault, holding that the circuit court did not commit prejudicial error in allowing testimony from Defendant's daughter under the pedophile exception and allowing the State to inquire on cross-examination about a disputed police report. Specifically, the Court held (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted the testimony of Defendant's daughter that Defendant sexually abused her when she was five or six years old; and (2) the circuit court erred by allowing the State to inquire on cross-examination about a disputed police report, but the error was harmless. View "Lowery v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's four convictions of negligent homicide, holding that the circuit court did not err by denying Defendant's motions for directed verdict. During trial, Defendant moved, unsuccessfully, for a directed verdict both at the close of the State's evidence and at the close of all the evidence. The Supreme Court reversed Defendants convictions and dismissed the case, holding that the circuit court erred in denying Defendant's motions for directed verdict. Specifically, the Court held that the State failed sufficiently to prove that Defendant should have been aware of a substantial risk that deaths would occur as a result of his conduct and that his conduct grossly deviated from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the circumstances. View "Ledwell v. State" on Justia Law