Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of murder and aggravated assault. Because of petitioner's prior convictions at the time of the shooting, he was a felon in possession of a firearm. Therefore, the jury could consider petitioner's failure to retreat in evaluating the reasonableness of his actions. In this case, petitioner claimed that he fired the weapon in self-defense and that his lawyer did not tell him that the jury could consider his failure to retreat under Texas law.The court held, under the Strickland test, that counsel's performance fell outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance when he was silent on a central component of the self-defense statute and thus petitioner could not appreciate the extraordinary risks of passing up the State's plea offer. However, under the Frye prejudice test, the court held that petitioner failed to carry his burden of proof by showing that the prosecution would not withdraw the plea or that the court would have accepted it. View "Anaya v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress in an action where defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to receipt and distribution of material involving the sexual exploitation of minors. The panel held that, under the warrant and the law established by Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), the agents had no authority to seize defendant or search his car when they arrived to execute the warrant, because neither was at the residence. In this case, the agents manufactured the authority to seize them by falsely claiming to be police officers responding to a burglary to lure defendant home. Furthermore, by luring defendant home, the agents' successful deceit enabled them to obtain incriminating statements from defendant and evidence from his car and person. The panel held that, under the particular facts of this case, the agents' use of deceit to seize and search Ramirez violated the Fourth Amendment. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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Kidis, driving home, after drinking heavily, caused a minor accident, exited his vehicle, and fled. Officer Reid attempted to arrest Kidis; he fled with a handcuff attached to his wrist. He jumped barbed-wire fences before entering a wooded area. Eventually, Kidis surrendered, lying face down, his hands stretched out above his head. Kidis asserts that Officer Moran thrust his knee into Kidis, punching and strangling Kidis, yelling that he was going to “teach [him] to . . . run.” Kidis pleaded guilty to resisting and obstructing a police officer, operating a motor vehicle with high blood-alcohol content, and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.Kidis filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against both officers. Rejecting Kidis’s deliberate indifference claim, the court found that Kidis could not prove that either officer was aware of Kidis’s medical needs. The court rejected an excessive force claim against Reid. A jury found that Moran used excessive force but that Kidis did not prove that this force caused his injuries. The jury awarded Kidis $1 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages. The court rejected the officers’ motions for attorneys’ fees but awarded Kidis $143,787.97 in fees. The Sixth Circuit reversed the punitive damages award but otherwise affirmed. Measured against the harm and compensatory damage findings, the punitive damages award runs afoul of due process principles. On remand, the court is to reduce the award to no more than $50,000. View "Kidis v. Reid" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Respondent, a superior court judge, erred in concluding that Ariz. R. Crim. P. 24.2 did not bar him from vacating the Enmund/Tison verdict in this case.Defendant was found guilty of child abuse and first degree murder. Before a defendant convicted of felony murder can be sentenced to death, the jury must find that the defendant either (1) killed, attempted to kill, or intended that a killing take place or that lethal force be used, Edmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982); or (2) was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life, Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987). The jurors found that Defendant's conduct satisfied Enmund/Tison, but the jury could not unanimously reach a verdict as to Defendant's sentence. Relying on State v. Miles, 243 Ariz. 511 (2018) and Rule 24.2, Defendant moved to vacate the Enmund/Tison verdict while her case was pending retrial of the penalty phase. Respondent vacated the jury's aggravation phase verdict, concluding that the Enmund/Tison verdict was faulty as a result of Miles. The Supreme Court vacated the order, holding that a judgment and a sentence must be entered before a Rule 24.2 motion may be filed and considered by a trial court. View "State ex rel. Adel v. Honorable John Hannah" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall and circuit judges Michael Bradley Almond, Ruth Ann Hall, Brandy Hambright, Jacqueline Hatcher, and Bert Rice, all in their official capacities, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") to grant their motion to dismiss a complaint for a declaratory judgment filed by respondents Michael Belcher, Peter Capote, Derrick Dearman, Lionel Francis, Brett Yeiter, and Benjamin Young, all prisoners on death row. Respondents were all convicted of capital offenses and sentenced to death after August 1, 2017, the effective date of the Fair Justice Act ("FJA"), Act No. 2017-417, Ala. Acts 2017 (codified at Ala. Code 1975, section 13A-5-53.1). Respondents alleged the FJA was unconstitutional because it denied them access to courts to present arguments their convictions and sentences were not imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Alabama law and other established constitutional guarantees. The complaint went on to allege that, because of the FJA's alleged prohibition on seeking discovery in postconviction proceedings for death-penalty petitioners, respondents would be unable to assert in their Rule 32 petitions any "Brady" claims for the alleged withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence or to raise any claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that require access to the prosecution's file to establish or to allege many juror claims that require rigorous investigation. Petitioners moved to dismiss on grounds the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded respondents' claims were not ripe for adjudication in this declaratory-judgment action because their claims are inherently fact-specific and must be raised within the context of their six individual Rule 32 proceedings. Therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the respondents' complaint. Petitioners' petition was granted and the Court issued the writ. View "Ex parte Marshall, as Attorney General of the State of Alabama, et al." on Justia Law

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Beverlee Gardner petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of a Court of Criminal Appeals' decision in Gardner v. Alabama, [Ms. CR-18-0368, Sept. 20, 2019] which affirmed the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress certain evidence Gardner contended was seized during an illegal search. Gardner was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Gardner filed in the trial court a motion to suppress evidence of the 0.2 grams of methamphetamine that formed the basis of the charge against her. Using a confidential informant ('CI'), officers had completed "[c]ontrolled drug buys for heroin" at the residence at which Gardner was staying with two others. The CI had indicated that, during one of the controlled buys of heroin from the two other women in the residence, there was a third person at the back, and the CI did not know who it was. Because Gardner's name was unknown to police before the search, she was not named in the search warrant. Officers found drugs on Gardner following a pat-down search. Before the Court of Criminal Appeals, Gardner argued that the search exceeded the scope authorized for officer safety because, she argued, the detective "grabbed" the item in Gardner's pocket. Gardner argued the methamphetamine found in her pocket was not detected during a reasonable "Terry" search because, she says, the incriminating nature of the methamphetamine was not immediately apparent to the detective. This was so, according to Gardner, because the detective had to "grab a hold of" the "bulge" in Gardner's pocket before she realized that the bulge was consistent with the feeling of methamphetamine. Gardner argues that a "grab" was an "impermissible manipulation" and not a permissible patdown search. The Supreme Court concurred with this argument after a review of the trial court record: officers are not permitted to squeeze or otherwise to manipulate a suspect's clothing to find contraband that the officer knows is not a weapon. Based on testimony, "that appears to be exactly what Detective Dailey did, and Detective Dailey did not testify at the suppression hearing to explain or to provide additional context. Accordingly, based on the facts in the record, the methamphetamine was illegally seized and evidence of it should have been suppressed." View "Ex parte Beverlee Gardner." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for first-degree murder and battery, holding that there was no reversible error on the part of the district court.After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder and battery. The district court imposed a hard fifty sentence for the murder conviction and a concurrent six-month sentence for the battery conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's challenges to certain jury instructions were unavailing; (2) several statements made by the prosecutor challenged by Defendant on appeal fell within the broad discretion afforded prosecutors; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting certain evidence; and (4) there was no sentencing error. View "State v. Willis" on Justia Law

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Absent updated guidance from the Sentencing Commission, the First Step Act freed district courts to consider any potentially extraordinary and compelling reasons that a defendant might raise for compassionate release.The Second Circuit vacated the district court's denial of compassionate release to defendant and remanded for further proceedings. In this case, the district court erroneously concluded that, despite the First Step Act's changes to compassionate release, the previously enacted USSG 1B1.13, Application Note 1(D) remained good law and limited the applicable circumstances the court could consider, without input from the Bureau of Prisons, to matters of poor health, old age, and family care needs. Rather, the court held that Application Note 1(D) does not apply to compassionate release motions brought directly to the district court by a defendant under the First Step Act. View "United States v. Zullo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court overruled the State's exceptions to the district court's dismissal of charges filed against Deborah Archer and Cory Russell, holding that there was no error in the district court's dismissal of the informations against Archer and Russell.Archer and Russell were charged with crimes involving their sale of products continuing cannabidiol, also known as CBD. After a hearing during which evidence was presented that the pharmacological effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and CBD were not similar, the district court dismissed without prejudice the charges for failure of sufficient probable cause. The State filed an application taking exception to the district court's dismissals. The Supreme Court overruled the exceptions, holding that the district court did not err in dismissing the charges. View "State v. Archer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the orders of the district court granting Defendant a new trial and absolute discharge, holding that the orders were void because the district court did not comply with the Supreme Court's mandate in an earlier appeal.In 2000, Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. Several unsuccessful motions and appeals followed, in which Defendant collaterally attacked his convictions and sentences. In 2017, the Supreme Court remanded for further proceedings in an appeal involving collateral attacks. On remand, the district court granted Defendant's motion for new trial and, later, his motion for absolute discharge on speedy trial grounds. The Supreme Court vacated those orders, holding that the district court did not comply with this Court's mandate in an earlier appeal. View "State v. Harris" on Justia Law