Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendants Johnson and Goings' convictions and sentences for the armed robbery of two banks and one credit union and related firearms offenses. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support Johnson's convictions for brandishing a firearm during the armed robbery of the credit union and his two convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm; the evidence was sufficient to support Goings' convictions for armed robbery of the credit union and for brandishing a firearm during that robbery; the district court's response to a jury note did not violate Goings' right to due process where there is no reasonable likelihood that the district court's response influenced the jury; and the district court did not plainly err by applying a six-level sentencing enhancement to Johnson's sentence under USSG 3A1.2(c)(1) for assaulting a law enforcement officer in a manner creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury during the offense or while fleeing. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Illinois law enforcement agents received a tip from a confidential source claiming that Smith had been dealing methamphetamine in Mattoon. The agents conducted controlled buys between Smith and the source and requested that a patrol officer stop Smith’s vehicle. The officer stopped the vehicle for “extremely dark window tinting,” and learned that Smith’s license was suspended. There was a 10-minute wait for batteries for the device to measure the tint. The officer then searched the vehicle and found marijuana, a marijuana grinder, and a firearm.Represented by court-appointed counsel, Smith pleaded guilty to distributing methamphetamine and possessing a firearm as a felon. He then sought to retract his guilty plea, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The court denied Smith’s motion, rejected his request for an evidentiary hearing, and sentenced him to 214 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Smith cannot establish that he would have succeeded on a motion to suppress the firearm evidence and did not demonstrate a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s pressure to accept a plea, he would not have pleaded guilty. There is no evidence that appointed counsel made a misrepresentation or that suggests his unfamiliarity with the case. The court correctly applied the career offender enhancement to Smith’s sentence. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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After entering a plea of no contest to attempted driving with a blood alcohol-level of 0.08 percent or more within 10 years of a felony conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) and admitting two prior DUI convictions, defendant Tanya Cummings was granted five years of formal probation. She appealed, contending that : (1) attempted DUI, even with two prior felony DUI convictions, was a misdemeanor under the plain terms of Penal Code section 23550.5; and (2) the trial court erred by ordering her to pay for the cost of her court appointed counsel without a finding of ability to pay or a showing of the actual costs incurred. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Cummings" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, or possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances or to use a communication facility in committing and causing the facilitation of any felony controlled substance offense.The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions. The court also concluded that defendant has not demonstrated he is entitled to have his conviction vacated for a new trial because he has not shown error or prejudice. In this case, the court discerned no obvious problem with the verdict form despite the use of the "and/or" construction. Furthermore, because the conspiracy conviction can stand based on the first object of the conspiracy (drug distribution), the court need not consider defendant's challenge to the verdict form's wording of the second object of the conspiracy (use of a communication facility). The court further concluded that defendant has not met his initial burden of showing that he was entitled to a Franks hearing. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not commit reversible error in holding defendant responsible for between four and eight pounds of methamphetamine in determining his base offense level, and the district court did not err by imposing a two-level sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice under USSG 3C1.1. View "United States v. Seigler" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g). In this case, the district court instructed the jury that the Government had to prove: (1) defendant knowingly possessed a firearm; (2) he had been convicted previously of a felony; (3) at the time of possession, he knew he had a prior felony conviction; and (4) the firearm possessed traveled in interstate commerce.The court concluded that the jury instructions complied with the rule set forth in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191, 2194 (2019). The court explained that the district court clearly instructed jurors as to the relevant principles of law and thus did not abuse its discretion in rejecting defendant's request for a jury instruction. View "United States v. Trevino" on Justia Law

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Defendants Thompson and Fincher appealed their convictions and forfeiture provisions of their sentences for charges related to their involvement in an "advance pay" scheme with a third coconspirator. The Ninth Circuit concluded that there was no constructive amendment of the indictment where the indictment alleged all of the elements of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343 and 1349. In this case, defendants were tried and convicted of the crime charged, and there was no reason to include in the jury instructions the surplusage relating to the 18 U.S.C. 371 crime that was not charged.The panel also concluded that because the forfeiture judgment against defendants amounted to joint and several liability contrary to Honeycutt v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1626 (2017), the panel must vacate and remand it. In Honeycutt, the Supreme Court held that, in a conspiracy, a defendant may not, for purposes of forfeiture, be held jointly and severally liable for property that his co-conspirator derived from the crime but that the defendant himself did not acquire. On remand, the district court should make findings denoting approximately how much of the proceeds of the crime came to rest with each of the three conspirators. The panel explained that though no forfeiture judgment was issued against the third coconspirator, neither Thompson nor Fincher can be subjected to forfeiture of amounts that came to rest with the third coconspirator, since those amounts were not proceeds that came to rest with them. The panel concluded that the forfeiture judgments must be separate, for the approximate separate amounts that came to rest with each of them after the proceeds were divided among them. View "United States v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Prophet pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4) and 11 counts of receipt of child pornography, section 2252(a)(2). The court applied a two-level enhancement for distribution (U.S.S.G. 2G2.2(b)(3)(F)) based on Prophet’s use of LimeWire, a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. Prophet maintained that he did not know that LimeWire made his files available to other users. The court noted that “distribution” “is not restricted to acts with intent only,” and sentenced Prophet to 168 months’ imprisonment plus 15 years of supervised release. The Third Circuit affirmed. Prophet moved to vacate his sentence in 2015 based on a Third Circuit holding that the offense of distribution of child pornography under section 2252(a)(2) based on the use of a peer-to-peer network requires evidence that another person accessed the material. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the petition.Prophet subsequently challenged the application of a two-point Guidelines enhancement for distribution of child pornography, citing 2016’s U.S.S.G. Amendment 801, limiting the enhancement to those who “knowingly engaged in distribution.” The Third Circuit again denied relief. Amendment 801 is not a clarifying amendment that can be raised and retroactively applied under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The court noted that Prophet was released from prison in 2019 and is now serving supervised release. View "United States v. Prophet" on Justia Law

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Rodney Friesz appealed a district court order denying his application for post-conviction relief. In 2016, Friesz was convicted by jury of manslaughter and arson, both class B felony offenses. Friesz appealed the case, asserting insufficient evidence to support the conviction, and the court erred denying his motion to suppress. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and remanded with instructions for the district court to correct a clerical error in the criminal judgment. In 2018, Friesz filed his first application for post-conviction relief, arguing: (1) his conviction was based on a coerced confession; (2) the evidence admitted was obtained by an unlawful search and seizure; his arrest was unlawful; (3) he was denied the right to call witnesses to testify on his behalf; (4) the State failed to disclose certain evidence; (5) he was denied effective assistance of counsel; and (6) he was denied his right to appeal. The district court denied his application and the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the denial of the application. In 2020, Friesz filed a second application for post-conviction relief, alleging: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel; (2) denial of effective assistance of counsel on his post-conviction appeal with appellate counsel; (3) insufficiency of evidence to sustain a conviction; (4) denial of his fourth amendment rights regarding the warrantless search of the residence, the seizure of a firearm, and the failure of the court to grant his motion to suppress; and (5) failure to disclose evidence by the prosecution. The district court dismissed Friesz’s application after finding the two-year statute of limitations in N.D.C.C. 29-32.1-01(2) barred the relief requested, and the application did not state any exceptions to the limitations period listed in N.D.C.C. 29-32.1-01(3). The court found all grounds for relief asserted by Friesz had been or could have been raised in his direct appeal from his conviction or in his previous application for post-conviction relief. Here, Friesz argued in part that the district court acted prematurely in dismissing his application two days after the State requested dismissal, and prior to receiving a response from him. To this, the Supreme Court concurred--the district court erred in its premature ruling. The ruling was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Friesz v. North Dakota" on Justia Law

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Senate Bill No. 1421 amended Penal Code section 832.7 to allow disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) of records relating to officer-involved shootings, serious use of force and sustained findings of sexual assault or serious dishonesty. VCDSA filed suit against defendants to enjoin section 832.7’s application to records involving peace officer conduct and incidents occurring before January 1, 2019, the statute's effective date. The trial court issued a preliminary injunction.In the meantime, the First District issued Walnut Creek Police Officers' Ass'n v. City of Walnut Creek (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 940, which rejected the assertion "that applying the 2019 amendments to compel disclosure of records created prior to 2019 constitutes an improper retroactive application of the new law." In the absence of a reason to depart from Walnut Creek, and for reasons stated in Becerra v. Superior Court (2020) 44 Cal.App.5th 897, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and dissolved the permanent injunction. The court agreed with Walnut Creek that section 832.7 does not attach new legal consequences to or increase a peace officer's liability for conduct that occurred before the statute's effective date. The court explained that because the statute merely broadens the public's right to access records regarding that conduct, it applies retroactively. View "Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n. v. County of Ventura" on Justia Law

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Perry suffers from serious mental illness defined by two suicide attempts, severe depression, paranoid schizophrenia, and auditory hallucinations. He is serving a 70-year sentence for murdering his former wife during a fit of paranoia in 2013. In 2016, while housed in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in southern Indiana, Perry’s condition worsened. He refused all medication, stopped eating because he feared someone had poisoned his food, renewed his conspiracy claims against the Wabash medical staff, and threatened to kill himself if left in his cell any longer. A medical review and administrative hearing culminated in a decision to forcibly administer the antipsychotic medication Haldol. Injections continued for about six months.Perry later sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the forcible medication violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the Due Process Clause. The district court denied Perry’s request to appoint counsel, finding that Perry understood his case and quite ably prosecuted it. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The defendants attended carefully to Perry’s health and safety. The Facility’s Review Committee had enough evidence to demonstrate that Perry was a danger to himself or others so as to justify the involuntary administration of Haldol. View "Perry v. Sims" on Justia Law