Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In 1990, real parties in interest Donald R. Ferraro and Roger Hunter pled guilty to second degree murder based on the same incident. In 2019, they each filed a petition for resentencing under the then-newly enacted Penal Code section 1170.95. Section 1170.95 was enacted as part of Senate Bill No. 1437 (Stats. 2018, ch. 1015), which took effect January 1, 2019. The legislation limited the circumstances under which a defendant could be found guilty of murder under the felony-murder rule or the natural and probable consequences doctrine. The legislation applied retroactively, allowing qualifying petitioners to have their murder convictions vacated and be resentenced. The District Attorney for Butte County filed motions to strike the petitions for resentencing, arguing in part that Senate Bill No. 1437 was an unconstitutional amendment of two prior initiative measures: Proposition 7 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 7, 1978)) and Proposition 115 (as approved by voters, Primary Elec. (June 5, 1990)). The respondent superior court denied the motions. The District Attorney filed separate writ petitions to the Court of Appeals to challenge the superior court’s rulings. The Court of Appeals concluded Senate Bill 1437 was not an invalid amendment of either Proposition 7 or 115 because the legislation did not add to or take away from any provision in either initiative. Therefore, the Court denied the District Attorney's petitions. View "California v. Superior Court (Ferraro)" on Justia Law

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In United States v. Ross, No. 18-11679, 2020 WL 3445818 (11th Cir. June 24, 2020) (en banc), the full court unanimously overruled United States v. Sparks, 806 F.3d 1323 (11th Cir. 2015), and held that a suspect's alleged abandonment of his privacy or possessory interest in the object of a search or seizure implicates only the merits of his Fourth Amendment challenge—not his Article III standing—and, accordingly, that if the government fails to argue abandonment, it waives the issue. The Eleventh Circuit applied the en banc court's holding here and held that the government waived its abandonment argument by failing to raise it in the district court. Therefore, the court assumed for purposes of its decision that defendant has Fourth Amendment standing to challenge the entry and sweep, which resulted in the seizure of the gun. The court also held that defendant's challenge to the initial entry and sweep failed on the merits. In this case, the officers had reason to believe that defendant was in the motel room, and they had authority to execute their arrests warrants, to conduct a protective sweep, and to seize the gun found in plain view. Finally, the court held that defendant has no Fourth Amendment standing to challenge the ensuing search of the room, during which officers discovered the drug-related evidence. Accordingly, the court reaffirmed the balance of its earlier decision. View "United States v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit denied petitioner's application to file a second or successive motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his federal sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255(h) and 2244(b)(3). The court held that petitioner failed to make, and cannot make, a prima facie showing that his Davis claim would succeed. In this case, the court must presume that when the jury found petitioner guilty of the 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(ii) convictions, it followed the district court's instructions and predicated those findings on the two bank robbery charges and the jury necessarily found that petitioner committed the two robberies. Furthermore, bank robbery is a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)'s elements clause. The court also held that petitioner's Rehaif claim failed to meet the statutory criteria for a second or successive application, because Rehaif did not announce a new rule of constitutional law and, even if it did, it has not been made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court. View "In re: Michael Price" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court denying Appellant's expungement petition, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petition. Appellant was charged with one count of unlawful sexual conduct with a sixteen or seventeen year old. Before trial, because the complaining witness was unavailable for trial, the district court granted the State's motion to dismiss the case without prejudice. Seven months later, Appellant filed his expungement petition. The district court denied the petition on the basis that Appellant had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that his expungement was not be contrary to the public interests. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in the way it handled the matter or in its decision to deny Appellant's expungement petition. View "State v. Malo" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted by a jury of six counts of assault on a federal officer with a deadly or dangerous weapon, six counts of discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Defendant argued that the five assault counts based on four shots he fired toward the door of his motel room are multiplicitous in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Ninth Circuit held that defendant failed to show that the district court erred, let alone plainly erred, in entering judgment on the four assault convictions based on the four shots he fired toward the door. However, the panel reversed one assault conviction. Furthermore, because each assault conviction served as a predicate offense for each firearm conviction, the panel also reversed one firearm conviction. The panel rejected defendant's remaining arguments and remanded with instructions. View "United States v. Voris" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence found during a search that followed a 911 call and the stop of defendant's car. Defendant was subsequently convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The panel held that the totality of the circumstances in this case demonstrates that the 911 call was sufficiently reliable to support reasonable suspicion. Furthermore, the 911 call gave the police reason to suspect defendant was carrying a concealed firearm, which is presumptively a crime in California. Therefore, the 911 call generated reasonable suspicion justifying the stop and the district court was correct to deny defendant's motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop. View "United States v. Vandergroen" on Justia Law

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Firefighters, including Sparks, responded to a fire at the Pritchard residence. Sparks lost consciousness and died days later. Sparks suffered from coronary disease, hypertension, and diabetes and had not been taking his prescribed medications. Pritchard had arranged for his wife, children, and dog to be out of the house that morning. Pritchard indicated to several people that he was responsible for the fire and gave investigators a false alibi. In persuading his wife, Brandi, to cooperate with his plan to burn the house to collect insurance proceeds, Pritchard recounted previous fires that he started to collect insurance money. Pritchard used threats of violence to coerce Brandi not to confess. Pritchard and Brandi were charged with malicious destruction of property by fire, 18 U.S.C. 844(i), which permits punishment for arson causing death, and mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341. Brandi pleaded guilty. At Pritchard’s trial, a physician for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health testified that firefighting “triggered” Sparks’s fatal heart attack; he could not conclude that Sparks would not have had a heart attack independent of the fire. Pritchard’s counsel unsuccessfully objected to evidence about Pritchard’s previous arsons, emergency protective orders obtained by Brandi, and cell phone information obtained without a warrant. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Pritchard's conviction and 360-month sentence. The jury had sufficient evidence that Sparks' death was “a direct or proximate result of [Pritchard’s] conduct." View "United States v. Pritchard" on Justia Law

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Koger, an inmate of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), is a practicing Rastafarian. Between 2006 and 2018, Koger made several religious-practice accommodation requests, including requests to grow his dreadlocks, keep a religious diet, observe fasts, and commune with other Rastafarians. Alleging that ODRC’s responses were inadequate, Koger brought these claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and 42 U.S.C. 1983 against several ODRC officials. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Koger has not shown that the prison’s grooming policy, which provides for an individualized determination of whether an inmate’s hair is “searchable,” prevents him from growing his locks naturally and, therefore, cannot “demonstrate that [the] prison policy substantially burdens [his] religious practice.” It is not clear that ODRC denied Koger the ability to commune with fellow Rastafarians. The court reversed in part. The defendants did not present any government interest to justify the denial of Koger’s religious diet requests. Koger sufficiently alleged equal protection violations. View "Koger v. Mohr" on Justia Law

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In two related cases under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), Plaintiffs Gorbey and Pinson, both incarcerated three-strikers, seek to bring their appeals in forma pauperis (IFP) on the ground that they face imminent danger. Pinson argued, in the alternative, that the three-strikes rule is unconstitutional. The DC Circuit rejected plaintiffs' requests and explained that, to proceed under the exception, three-strike prisoners must show an imminent danger at the time of their appeal and a nexus between that danger and their underlying claims. The court held that Gorbey has failed to demonstrate a nexus between the danger he faced and the claims he brought, and Pinson has failed to show that she faced imminent danger at the time she noticed her appeal. In regard to Pinson's alternative argument, the court held that even assuming that some prisoners can make out viable as-applied constitutional challenges to the three-strikes rule, she has failed to do so here. View "Pinson v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Robinson pled guilty to a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine after he was caught in a controlled buy. Robinson claimed on appeal that although the government indicted him for participating in a conspiracy involving 500 grams or more of methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A), he only pled guilty to a conspiracy involving a lesser or unspecified amount, section 841(b)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit affirmed Robinson’s 200-month sentence, a downward departure from a guidelines range of 262-327 months. Robinson admitted to the facts implicating him in the greater crime (section 841(b)(1)(A)) in documents filed before the plea hearing, at the plea hearing itself, by admitting to the facts in the presentence investigation report, and at sentencing. He agreed that he had been advised that the minimum sentence provided by the statute was 10 years and the maximum was life and stated that he made no claim of innocence. In exchange for the plea, the government agreed not to seek an increased sentence based on his prior felony convictions. Before either party entered the courtroom, both sides had agreed that Robinson would plead guilty to section 841(b)(1)(A)—a conspiracy involving 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. View "United States v. Robinson" on Justia Law