Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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A person arrested in Chicago can take some property into jail but must surrender other property, including cell phones. The detainee has 30 days to reclaim the property in person (if released) or by a designated friend or relative. Property remaining in the city’s hands after 30 days is sold or thrown away. In 2021, the Seventh Circuit (Conyers), rejected several constitutional challenges to that policy. Kelley-Lomax remained in custody for more than 30 days and did not have anyone retrieve his property. The city disposed of a cell phone and a wallet, including a debit card and library card, that the police had seized.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. The disposition of the seized property is governed by the Due Process Clause. Chicago provides detainees with notice and an opportunity to reclaim their property. Rejecting a substantive due process argument, the court reasoned that property is a fundamental right but property can be abandoned. Chicago draws the abandonment line at 30 days. Physical items seized from arrested persons make claims on limited space, and for many detainees, the costs of arranging a sale to free up space would exceed the value of the items in inventory. View "Kelley-Lomax v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court sentencing Appellants to terms of imprisonment and imposing conditions of supervised release on all Appellants, including "Standard Condition of Supervised Release Number 12," holding that Appellants' constitutional challenges to Standard Condition 12 failed on the merits.Appellants - Akeem Cruz, Taylor Lovely, and Jeremiah Mitchell - pleaded guilty to drug-related crimes and were each sentenced to a term of imprisonment followed by supervised release. The district courts imposed conditions of supervised release on all Appellants, including Standard Condition 12. For the first time on appeal, Appellants argued that Standard Condition 12 was unconstitutionally vague and an unconstitutional delegation of judicial authority. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the Standard Condition 12 is neither unconstitutionally vague, nor does it unconstitutionally delegate judicial authority to a probation officer. View "United States v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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Respondents are a group of college students, all of which face criminal charges for marching though San Luis Obispo in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Respondents sought recusal of the San Luis Obisbo District Attorney's Office on the basis that the District Attorney had a well-publicized association with critics of the Black Lives Matter movement. The trial court granted respondents' motion, appointing the Attorney General to the case, and the District Attorney and Attorney General appealed.On appeal, the Second Appellate District affirmed. Based on social media posts, public statements and targeted fundraising appeal to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement, the court concluded that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s determination that the San Luis Obisbo District Attorney's Office was not likely to treat respondents fairly. View "P. v. Lastra" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. This offense typically carries a maximum penalty of ten years incarceration. The presentence report (PSR), however, recommended sentencing Defendant pursuant to the Armed Criminal Career Act (ACCA), which would increase Defendant’s penalty to a minimum of fifteen years’ incarceration. The district court declined to do so—finding that Defendant’s prior convictions fail to satisfy the requirements of the ACCA.   The Fifth Circuit disagreed and vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court reasoned that in applying the court’s holdings in Vickers and Ochoa-Salgado to the present case, Defendant’s prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute also qualifies as a predicate offense under the ACCA. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence because it found that three of Defendant’s prior convictions qualify as predicate offenses under the ACCA/ View "USA v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Michael Frasier was convicted of trafficking cocaine in excess of 100 grams after police discovered cocaine during a traffic stop for an inoperable brake light. The questions this appeal presented for the the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on whether police had reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic encounter and whether Frasier consented to the search. The trial court concluded the officer had reasonable suspicion and Frasier consented, and the court of appeals affirmed. In deciding these two issues, the Supreme Court clarified the scope of its standard of review in the Fourth Amendment context. Ultimately, the Court reversed the court of appeals because law enforcement lacked reasonable suspicion to prolong the traffic stop, and Frasier did not consent to the search. View "South Carolina v. Frasier" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kevin Butler was convicted after a bench trial on two counts of animal cruelty. One of defendant’s neighbors was leaving her apartment to run errands when she noticed a dog inside a parked Honda Civic. After 45 minutes to an hour, the neighbor returned and noticed that the dog remained in the vehicle. The dog appeared to be in distress and was “scratching at the windows and the door.” The temperature was greater than 90 degrees outside and the neighbor believed that the “dog shouldn’t have been in the car because it was that hot with all the windows . . . closed.” She was “afraid for the dog,” so she called the police. Animal Control responded to the call, opened the vehicle, and secured the dog. Defendant testified telling a responding officer that on the day the dog was taken into custody, he had “been out on some errands” and “[h]is arms were full[,] so [he] asked his 8-year-old son . . . to bring the dog in.” When the police asked him where his dog was, the defendant testified that he said “oh, sh*t” and asked his son where the dog was. When his son responded that he did not know, the defendant realized that the dog must still be in the car. On appeal, defendant claimed the evidence was insufficient to establish the requisite mens rea of criminal negligence for both charges. All other elements were uncontested. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed defendant's conviction. View "New Hampshire v. Butler" on Justia Law

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Police organized a “controlled buy” of drugs wherein a confidential informant purchased crack cocaine from Appellant April Williams. Based on her sale of drugs to the informant, Appellant was indicted for delivery of a controlled substance, Penalty Group 1, in an amount of four grams or more but less than 200 grams. At Appellant’s jury trial, the State first called Detective Jaime Diaz as a witness. Following Diaz’s testimony, the State planned to call the informant as a witness. But before the informant, the State requested that a spectator, Appellant’s brother Jerry Williams, be temporarily excluded from the courtroom during the testimony. The State contended that it had “credible and reliable information” that Williams’s presence would intimidate the informant, which would affect his testimony. The State also provided caselaw to the court “supporting closing the courtroom because of the intimidation factor.” To minimize the effects of the closure, the State offered to set up a live video feed in another room of the courthouse so that Williams could watch the informant's testimony in real time. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the temporary physical exclusion from a courtroom of a defendant’s family member for the testimony of one witness at trial violate the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial when the excluded individual was virtually included by permitting him to observe the witness’s testimony via a live video feed from a neighboring courtroom. Under the specific facts of this case, the Court held it did not, but cautioned that trial courts should rarely exclude any member of the public from a courtroom during criminal case proceedings: "under the narrow circumstances presented here...even assuming that the trial court’s actions resulted in a partial closure of the courtroom, any such closure was so trivial or de minimis that it did not infringe on the values served by the Sixth Amendment." View "Williams v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant Floyd Woods was charged by two indictments with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. Each indictment alleged possession of a different firearm. The indictments alleged the same date for the offenses and the same underlying conviction that made Applicant a felon. The indictments also included two enhancement paragraphs, with the second enhancement paragraph alleging sequence to confer habitual status. This resulted in a punishment range of 25 to 99 years or life for each offense. In exchange for Applicant’s open pleas of guilty, the State abandoned one enhancement paragraph in each indictment, dropping the punishment range for each offense to 2 to 20 years. The trial court sentenced Applicant to 18 years on each offense, to run concurrently. In the plea papers, Applicant waived his right to appeal. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was the proper unit of prosecution: for the offense of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, if a person possesses two firearms, has he committed one offense or two? To this, the Court responded "one" and found Appellant was entitled to relief. The conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Ex parte Woods" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of sexual abuse of children, holding that the trial court erred by denying Defendant's motion to suppress, and the error was not harmless.On appeal, Defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence discovered by his parole officer when the officer conducted a warrantless search of Defendant's phone. Defendant argued that the search was unreasonable because it exceeded the scope of his consent and because his parole officer lacked a valid exception to the warrant requirement. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed Defendant's conviction, holding that the probation officer's warrantless search of Defendant's digital photo gallery was not a valid probation search under the Montana Constitution, and the contraband discovered as a consequence of the unlawful search should have been suppressed under the exclusionary rule. View "State v. Mefford" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for drug-trafficking and firearms charges, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress or in finding Defendant eligible for a mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924 (e).Reports of a parking-lot confrontation following a road-rage incident led law enforcement to stop Defendant in his vehicle the next day. The ensuing searches of Defendant's car and motor home led to the discovery of evidence supporting drug-trafficking and firearms charges. Defendant pleaded guilty. The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence, holding (1) there was no error in the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress; and (2) Defendant's sentence under the ACCA was lawfully imposed. View "United States v. Mulkern" on Justia Law