Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2008, pursuant to a plea agreement, Fowowe pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 50 or more grams of crack cocaine. The district court determined that Fowowe’s sentencing range was a statutory mandatory minimum of life imprisonment and sentenced Fowowe to 262 months’ imprisonment. In 2015, Fowowe sought a reduced sentence pursuant to Amendment 782 to the federal sentencing guidelines, to which the government agreed; the district court reduced Fowowe’s sentence to 235 months.Although the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 had reduced the amount and kind of punishment for crack cocaine convictions like Fowowe’s, the changes only became retroactive with the First Step Act of 2018, 132 Stat. 5194. Fowowe unsuccessfully requested a reduced prison sentence under section 404(b) of the First Step Act.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, rejecting Fowowe’s argument that the district court’s evaluation of his request was deficient because the court failed to apply a 2020 Seventh Circuit decision concerning sentencing enhancements for prior cocaine convictions. Section 404(b) authorizes but does not require district courts to apply an intervening judicial decision in evaluating First Step Act motions. View "United States v. Fowowe" on Justia Law

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Cook County inmate Bowers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after other inmates attacked him in 2012, alleging the defendants failed to protect him, instituted an observation policy that caused the attack, and later discriminated against him because of a resulting disability. Bowers remains in a wheelchair. The jail is short on ADA‐ compliant cells, however, and, save for one month, Bowers has lived in cells without accessible showers or toilets. The district court dismissed most of Bowers’s claims before trial. A jury returned a verdict in the Sheriff’s favor on the remaining claims,The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Bowers, before filing suit, did not exhaust his failure‐ to‐protect claims as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a). Bowers prison grievances did not assert the same claims as his complaint; his “Monell” claim was untimely. A reasonable jury could find that Bowers is not a qualified individual with a disability--someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities,” has “a record of such an impairment,” or is “being regarded as having such an impairment,” 42 U.S.C. 12102(1). The jury had sufficient evidence to find that Bowers lied about needing a wheelchair. View "Bowers v. Dart" on Justia Law

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Defendant Omar Kasrawi was apprehended in an affluent neighborhood in possession of property he had stolen from some nearby cars. Although the officer who stopped and ultimately arrested him acted on no more than a hunch after watching Kasrawi innocuously cross the street to his legally parked car, the officer learned that Kasrawi had an outstanding arrest warrant. California Supreme Court precedent compelled the Court of Appeal to conclude that despite the Fourth Amendment violation, the evidence did not need to be suppressed: “This case falls into a narrow exception to the exclusionary rule that applies where a law enforcement officer discovers the defendant’s outstanding warrant after an illegal stop but before a search yields evidence of a crime. Under these limited circumstances, discovery of the warrant can attenuate the taint of the original detention.” On those grounds, the Court affirmed the denial of Kasrawi’s suppression motion. View "California v. Kasrawi" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of petitions for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.95. Petitioner was sentenced to a term of life without the possibility of parole for murder with the special circumstance that petitioner was engaged in the commission and attempted commission of a robbery at the time the murder was committed. The trial court summarily denied the petitions on the ground that petitioner was a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life, a disqualifying factor pursuant to section 1170.95, subdivision (a)(3).The court concluded that any error in failing to appoint counsel or afford petitioner the other procedures outlined in section 1170.95, subdivision (c) was harmless, because the record establishes petitioner is ineligible for resentencing as a matter of law. The court explained that the principles for determining whether defendant was a major contributor who acted with reckless indifference to human life existed when petitioner was convicted and, absent a determination on direct appeal or in habeas that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's finding, there is no basis to conclude petitioner's jury applied different standards. View "People v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order of restitution where defendant sexually and financially exploited a high school student who he helped enter the United States on a fraudulent visa. The court concluded that defendant waived his first two arguments claiming that he did not commit an offense against property and that A.S.M. is not a victim, because these arguments are the opposite of what defendant argued before the district court.Although defendant did not waive the issue of whether his specific conduct caused A.S.M.'s losses, defendant's claim failed on the merits. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err by finding that A.S.M.'s losses for future wage loss and medical expenses stemming from the sexual abuse, as well as lost wages, were caused by defendant's specific conduct. Therefore, there was no error in awarding restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. View "United States v. Sukhtipyaroge" on Justia Law

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In 2016, complainant Veronica Lopez and her husband, Jorge, drove their truck to a tire store called Truck Zone. Jorge went into the store while Veronica waited in the passenger seat of the truck. The truck was unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, and the motor running. A short time later, Veronica saw Appellant Jamaile Johnson riding his bicycle toward the truck. Appellant opened the driver’s side door of the truck and got inside. Veronica noticed that Appellant had a screwdriver, and although he did not point it directly at her, she testified that he threatened her with it and that she was very scared. Veronica asked if Appellant worked for the store and he told her that he did not, and then was asked by Appellant if she wanted to go for a ride. Veronica testified that she was scared and she yelled and attempted to get out of the truck by opening her door and hanging onto it while Appellant accelerated backwards and forward. She landed on her feet, uninjured, and Appellant drove off. Jorge called the police, who located the truck a short time later. As the officers approached the truck, Appellant drove off. Law enforcement followed Appellant for about forty-five minutes until he pulled over and was arrested. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ review was whether the court of appeals failed to apply the standard of review correctly in its analysis of Appellant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim. To this, the Court responded in the affirmative: the medical records that the court of appeals relied upon were not included in the record; it was unclear that counsel’s performance was actually deficient; and it was equally unclear as to whether there was prejudice in the failure to secure admission of those medical records. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and affirmed that of the trial court. View "Johnson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of murder. Petitioner asserts that the State used race-based peremptory strikes during jury selection in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The court concluded that the state appellate court did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law in deciding petitioner's Batson claim by considering the jury panelists' voir dire answers among all the circumstances in deciding whether a prima facie case under Batson was shown. In this case, petitioner identifies no Supreme Court precedent clearly establishing that holistic consideration may not include the remarks of panelists on whom a peremptory strike was exercised. Nor does petitioner identify any evidence in the state court proceedings showing an unreasonable determination of fact by the state courts.Moreover, circuit precedent holds that a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination under the Batson framework is a factual finding entitled to the section 2254(e)(1) presumption of correctness. The court concluded that the district court correctly stated the law in that regard. However, that presumption is not dispositive here because petitioner's habeas claim independently fails both under section 2254(d) and on de novo review. Finally, regardless of section 2254(d) and (e), petitioner must establish entitlement to habeas relief on the merits by showing, as relevant here, a violation of the constitutional right defined in Batson. In this case, petitioner failed to establish a prima facie case, and thus his claim for federal relief is foreclosed. View "Seals v. Vannoy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of mandate and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging statewide delays in the transfer of incompetent to stand trial (IST) defendants from county jails to DSH and DDS to begin substantive services. The trial court granted the petition in part, first finding that defendants systematically violate the due process rights of IST defendants in California who are committed to DSH pursuant to Penal Code section 1370 or to DDS pursuant to section 1370.1, subdivision (a)(1)(B)(i). The trial court found that due process requires defendants to commence substantive services for these IST defendants within 28 days of the date on which the order transferring responsibility for those defendants to DSH or DDS is served. The trial court denied the petition as to certain IST defendants charged with felony sex offenses who are committed to DDS pursuant to section 1370.1, subdivision (a)(1)(B)(ii) and (iii).The Court of Appeal concluded that defendants have systematically violated the due process rights of all IST defendants in California by failing to commence substantive services designed to return those defendants to competency within 28 days of service of the transfer of responsibility document, which is the date of service of the commitment packet for all defendants committed to DSH and the date of service of the order of commitment for all defendants committed to DDS. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment as to the issues raised in defendants' appeal, but reversed as to the issue raised in plaintiffs' cross-appeal. The court remanded to the trial court with directions to modify its order granting in part plaintiffs' petition for writ of mandate to reflect a uniform transfer of responsibility date for all IST defendants committed to DDS. View "Stiavetti v. Clendenin" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of four counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice and his 156-month incarcerate sentence, holding that Defendant was fairly tried before a competent judge and an impartial jury, was justly convicted, and was lawfully sentenced.On appeal, Defendant raised two assertions of trial error and several claims of sentencing error. The First Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentence, holding (1) an implication of judicial bias was unwarranted; (2) any impropriety on the part of the prosecutor did not affect or influence the jury in any way; and (3) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his multiple claims of sentencing error. View "United States v. Kuljko" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court failed to provide a meaningful evidentiary hearing and that the circuit court's order was insufficient.Petitioner pled guilty to second-degree murder and entered an Alford/Kennedy plea to malicious wounding. Following revelations related to new DNA test results, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus raising three grounds for relief. The circuit court denied habeas relief. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment below, holding (1) the circuit court erred by failing to hold a meaningful evidentiary hearing on the grounds raised in Petitioner's petition; and (2) the circuit court's order did not sufficiently set forth factual findings and conclusions of law as to each contention raised in the habeas petition. The Court remanded the case with instructions for the circuit court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the habeas petition and to issue an order that included sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law as to each contention advanced by Petitioner. View "Dement v. Pszczolkowski" on Justia Law