Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Petitioner was convicted by a Georgia jury of kidnapping, robbery, gang rape, and murder. The jury recommended that Petitioner be sentenced to death for his crimes. Having exhausted his state post-conviction remedies, Petitioner filed a federal habeas corpus petition, arguing, as relevant here, that his trial counsel rendered him constitutionally ineffective assistance in connection with the sentencing phase of his trial. The district court denied relief, but a panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed and vacated Petitioner’s death sentence, holding that the state court’s rejection of his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts and involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.   The Eleventh Circuit granted rehearing en banc to decide whether the state court’s decision that Petitioner is not entitled to relief on his ineffective assistance claim warrants deference under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The court affirmed the district court’s denial of Petitioner’s petition and remanded it to the panel. The court held that the state court reasonably concluded that Petitioner was not prejudiced by any of his counsel’s alleged deficiencies in connection with his sentencing proceeding.   The court explained that while Petitioner argues that the background evidence that Mostiler should have presented parallels the evidence in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), and Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374 (2005), those cases “offer no guidance with respect to whether a state court has unreasonably determined that prejudice is lacking” because the Supreme Court “did not apply AEDPA deference to the question of prejudice in those cases.” View "Willie James Pye v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

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On June 1, 2020, the defendants surrounded an ATM located in a Chicago grocery store parking lot. The ATM included a surveillance video camera that captured video, but not audio. The footage shows Foy (in a neon construction vest) and his co‐defendants surrounding the ATM at approximately 7:10 PM. For eight minutes, the group used various tools, including a hammer, crowbar, and rod, trying to break open the ATM. They damaged its outside cover but ultimately failed to gain access to the cash inside. At 7:18 PM, police arrived on the scene and arrested all three. The vandalized ATM held over $190,000 in cash. Foy was charged under 18 U.S.C. 371, for conspiring to commit an offense against the United States, specifically bank theft (18 U.S.C. 2113(b)), “exceeding $1,000 in value.” The bank that owned the ATM was FDIC-insured.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Foy’s conviction and sentence, rejecting arguments that the government was required to show evidence of intent to steal more than $1,000, rather than just intent to steal; that the government fell short of establishing a conspiracy; and that the district court impermissibly considered the civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death as an aggravating factor in sentencing Foy. The court noted the video evidence of the defendants’ cooperative efforts. View "United States v. Foy" on Justia Law

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Mitchell was doing donuts in a parking lot and tried to hit people with her car. An officer activated his lights and siren to pursue Mitchell. Mitchell sped up and drove through a red light; she made a U-turn and drove directly toward the officer’s vehicle. When Mitchell was finally arrested, her blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.183 percent. Mitchell, charged with multiple counts, had a prior strike conviction for second-degree robbery. Mitchell pleaded no contest to reckless driving while evading a peace officer and to driving with a BAC of .08 percent or more and admitted to the strike allegation. The plea agreement included a sentence of six years imprisonment--the upper term of three years, doubled due to the strike. The court ordered that Mitchell pay restitution and fines. Mitchell’s counsel did not object.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting a challenge based on Senate Bill 567 (effective January 1, 2022), which limits a court’s ability to impose upper-term sentences absent a stipulation by the defendant or a finding of aggravating circumstances at trial. Where there is a stipulated plea, there is no occasion for the court to find aggravating facts to justify the imposition of an upper term. Any concern that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights are violated when aggravating facts are not found by a jury does not exist. The court also rejected Mitchell’s ineffective assistance of counsel challenge to the fines. View "People v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit amended its Opinion filed April 27, 2022, affirming a conviction and sentence on one count of attempted sexual exploitation of a child, and one count of possession of sexually explicit images of children, in a case in which Defendant was arrested returning from the Philippines where he engaged in sex tourism involving minors.   Defendant argued that the evidence seized from his electrical devices upon his arrest should have been suppressed because Yahoo and Facebook were acting as government agents when they searched his online accounts. The panel rejected Defendant’s arguments (1) that two federal statutes—the Stored Communications Act and the Protect Our Children Act—transformed the ESPs’ searches into governmental action, and (2) that the government was sufficiently involved in the ESPs’ searches of Defendant’s accounts to trigger Fourth Amendment protection.   The panel declined to reach the question of whether the preservation requests implicate the Fourth Amendment because even assuming that they do, there is no basis for suppression given that the record establishes that the ESPs’ preservation of the defendant’s digital data had no effect on the government’s ability to obtain the evidence that convicted him.   The panel concluded that the affidavit—which described Yahoo’s internal investigation and the resulting findings, as well as the information Facebook provided to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children after searching the defendant’s accounts—established a fair probability that child pornography would be found on the defendant’s electronic devices. The panel wrote that there was no impermissible double counting here, as the enhancements were premised on separate exploitative acts. View "USA V. CARSTEN ROSENOW" on Justia Law

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On interlocutory appeal, the State challenged the Court of Appeals’ affirmance of the district court’s pretrial ruling that almost all statements made by Declarant Kimbro Talk to sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) nurse Gail Starr were inadmissible as violating Defendant Oliver Tsosie’s confrontation rights under the Sixth Amendment. The district court concluded that Declarant’s statements sought by the State for use at Defendant’s trial were testimonial in nature, and thus inadmissible, pursuant to Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004) and Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006). The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed and, without ruling on other considerations of admissibility, held that almost all of the excluded statements were nontestimonial in nature and thus did not violate Defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause. View "New Mexico v. Tsosie" on Justia Law

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Defendant argued that the district court improperly considered as an Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) predicate offense his prior conviction for drug trafficking under Florida Statutes Section 893.135(1)(b)1. Defendant contended that the particular Florida statute did not constitute a serious drug offense under the ACCA because the elements of that statute did not satisfy the requirements of the ACCA.The Eleventh Circuit certified the question raised by Defendant’s challenge to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court answered the court’s certified question, holding that, for purposes of Florida’s drug trafficking statute, “a completed purchase requires proof that the defendant both (1) gave consideration for and (2) obtained control of a trafficking quantity of illegal drugs,” and further that “the requisite control [consists] of the same range of conduct that qualifies as constructive possession under federal law.” In light of this response, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction and sentence. View "USA v. Michael Anthony Conage" on Justia Law

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The People of the State of California (People), appealed the denial of the motion for victim restitution, i.e., attorney fees and costs after Respondent was convicted by plea of felony driving with a .08 blood alcohol level or higher causing bodily injury. the denial of the motion for victim restitution, i.e., attorney fees and costs, after Respondent was convicted by plea of felony driving with a .08 blood alcohol level or higher causing bodily injury release of liability signed by the victim in the civil case discharged respondent’s obligation to pay restitution in the criminal case.The Second Appellate District agreed with the People and reversed. Here, the People presented evidence that the injured driver received a civil settlement of $235,000. Of the settlement, $61,574.44 was paid to the driver’s attorney as a contingency fee of 25 percent plus costs. Respondent did not present any witnesses or evidence in opposition. Instead, he argued the signed releases by the victims meant they “ha[d] received full and complete compensation,” and the contingency fee was “not a true amount of attorney’s fees.” However, “[a] crime victim who seeks redress for his injuries in a civil suit can expect to pay counsel with a contingency fee.” Because the People established that the driver paid her attorney a contingency fee of 25 percent, the burden shifted to Respondent to refute this showing. Respondent contends the trial court’s denial of fees was an “implied finding”. But an implied finding of fact must be supported by substantial evidence. View "P. v. Nonaka" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained by federal agents after a hotel manager opened the door to a room containing Defendant. Defendant moved to suppress the fruits of the hotel-room search, arguing that the hotel manager was acting as a Government agent and that the Government lacked a warrant that authorized the search. The district court held a suppression hearing and denied the motion. Defendant thereafter pleaded guilty to illegal reentry under 8 U.S.C. Section 1326, reserving his right to challenge the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court properly found that this search was a private search. As private searches do not implicate the Fourth Amendment, the district court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search in question.   The court explained that the district court correctly found that the Government did not affirmatively encourage the hotel manager to open the door and thus did not acquiesce to the manager’s search. These findings are supported by the record and, given that the district court was in the best position to evaluate the credibility and context of witness statements, are not clearly erroneous. View "USA v. Cordova-Espinoza" on Justia Law

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Guaranteed was a “reverse distributor,” paid by healthcare providers to return unused or expired pharmaceutical drugs to the drug manufacturers, for refunds for the healthcare-provider clients. Refunds were wired directly to Guaranteed’s general operating account; the company then issued refund checks to the relevant clients, less a service fee. In 2001, the Department of Defense contracted with Guaranteed. The government began investigating Guaranteed after the District of Columbia noticed that it did not receive the full refund on a return of some of its pharmaceuticals. The investigation uncovered a series of schemes that Guaranteed used to defraud its clients.Guaranteed, its CEO, and its CFO, were convicted of multiple counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and theft of government property. In addition to prison sentences, the court imposed more than $100 million in restitution and forfeitures. The Third Circuit reversed the money laundering convictions and remanded for resentencing. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged complex financial transactions—after the initial receipt of “commingled” fraudulent and lawfully obtained funds—were designed for "concealment money laundering." The court otherwise affirmed, rejecting challenges to a search warrant, the sufficiency of the evidence, the jury instructions, and the court’s refusal to permit proposed expert testimony. View "United States v. Fallon" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a family division’s order granting juvenile E.S.’s motion to suppress a statement given to law enforcement in this delinquency proceeding. In July 2021, the state’s attorney filed a delinquency petition alleging E.S. engaged in behavior designated as the crime of lewd or lascivious conduct with a child. E.S. subsequently moved to suppress statements he made during an interview with law enforcement, arguing that he was in custody during the interview and therefore should have been provided with Miranda warnings and the ability to consult with an independent interested adult. The State opposed the motion. The family division granted E.S.’s motion, concluding that he was in custody during the interview because a reasonable juvenile in his circumstances would not have felt free to terminate the interview and leave. The State argued on appeal of the suppression motion that the family court used the wrong standard to determine whether E.S. was in custody during the interview. E.S. argued 13 V.S.A. § 7403(c) did not provide a right for the State to appeal an order granting a motion to suppress in a juvenile delinquency proceeding. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with E.S. and dismissed this appeal. View "In re E.S., Juvenile" on Justia Law