Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
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

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, two counts of aggravated assault causing temporary but substantial disfigurement, and one count of attempted second degree murder, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error.At issue on appeal was whether the trial court committed fundamental error by instructing the jury that a conviction for attempted second degree murder may be based not only on intent to kill but on recklessness or the defendant's knowledge that serious injury would result. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions, holding (1) the trial court's instruction on second degree murder was erroneous, and a new instruction is necessary, which the Court adopts in this opinion; and (2) based on the evidence, the nature of the charged offense, and other factors, Defendant fell short of meeting his burden of persuading the Court that he suffered prejudice. View "State v. Fierro" on Justia Law

by
De Castro, a citizen of the Dominican Republic came to the U.S. around 2002-2003. In 2012, he married a U.S. citizen. In 2014, his spouse’s Petition for Alien Relative was approved. The State Department notified De Castro that his immigrant visa petition was eligible for further processing. Months later, he was arrested as an alien in possession of a weapon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(5)(A). De Castro eventually pleaded guilty and was allowed to depart voluntarily in 2017. Thirteen months after the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Rehaif” decision, De Castro sought a writ of error coram nobis challenging his conviction. In Rehaif, the Supreme Court held that section 922(g)'s “knowingly” provision applies to both the possession and immigration status elements. De Castro argued that the government never proved he knew he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States; the court never informed him at his plea colloquy that the government was required to prove that element.The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the petition, finding that De Castro did not have a sound reason for his delay in seeking relief; his knowledge-of-immigration-status argument was not futile in 2017 when he entered his plea agreement; and De Castro cannot establish actual innocence under the Rehaif standard because he cannot demonstrate it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would conclude that he knew of his status as an illegal alien at the time he possessed a firearm. View "United States v. De Castro" on Justia Law

by
Michael Winrow pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, which at the time of his plea. carried a maximum sentence of ten years. However, the Armed Career Criminal Act provided for a minimum term of 15 years when a defendant had three prior convictions for a “violent felony or a serious drug offense,” The district court sentenced Winrow to 188 months, concluding that he was subject to the ACCA’s enhancement because he had three qualifying predicates. Winrow argued on appeal the district court erred sentencing him: two of those convictions were for aggravated assault and battery under Okla. Stat. tit 21, § 646 (2011), and aggravated assault and battery, as Oklahoma defined it, was not categorically a violent felony, so his convictions under § 646 should not have counted as predicates. To this the Tenth Circuit agreed, remanded the case for the sentence to be vacated, and that he be resentenced without eh ACCA enhancement. View "United States v. Winrow" on Justia Law

by
Defendant was charged with and pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. The presentence investigation report recommended an advisory guidelines sentencing range of 57 to 71 months imprisonment, based on Defendant’s prior conviction for a crime of violence (second-degree robbery) plus enhancements for possessing a stolen firearm and possession in connection with another felony offense. The district court adopted the PSR’s recommended guidelines range, and sentenced Defendant to 71 months imprisonment, the top of that range. Defendant appealed, arguing the sentence is substantively unreasonable.   Reviewing the sentence under the governing deferential abuse-of-discretion standard the Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that a sentence within the advisory guidelines range is presumptively reasonable. The court wrote that after careful review, the court concludes this is not the “unusual case” where it should reverse a sentencing decision as substantively unreasonable. Properly applying the Section 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) enhancement did not result in a “disproportionately” unreasonable advisory guidelines range. Moreover, as the district court noted, there were other aggravating factors warranting a sentence at the top of the advisory range. District courts have “wide latitude” in weighing the relevant Section 3553 factors. This is not the rare case where a presumptively reasonable guidelines range sentence is substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. James Jones" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant on two charges of aggravated furnishing of cocaine, which were merged for sentencing, holding that the trial court erred when it denied Defendant's motion to suppress, and the error was not harmless.At issue was the denial of Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained when police officers stopped him after receiving an anonymous tip and searched his belongings outside a bus station. The trial court concluded that the officers had an objectively reasonable, articulable suspicion that Defendant had been engaged in criminal activity when they stopped they stopped him. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that the evidence regarding the anonymous tip and the police's efforts to confirm its reliable failed to establish an objectively reasonable, articulable suspicion sufficient to justify the stop. View "State v. Barclift" on Justia Law

by
Appellant appealed the denial of his motion to withdraw his plea and vacate his conviction pursuant to Penal Code section 1473.7, subdivision (a). The Legislature has declared that section 1473.7, as amended by Assembly Bill No. 2867, “shall be interpreted in the interests of justice and consistent with the findings and declarations made in Section 1016.2 of the Penal Code.” (Stats 2018, ch. 825, Section 1, subd. (c).)   As a result, the Second Appellate District reversed the trial court’s order denying Appellant’s motion to withdraw his plea and vacate his conviction under Penal Code section 1473.7. The court remanded to the superior court with directions to grant the motion and vacate the conviction. The court concluded that Appellant has demonstrated a reasonable probability that if he had been properly advised of the immigration consequences of his plea, he would not have pleaded no contest to an offense that would subject him to mandatory deportation from the United States. Accordingly, the court wrote, that Appellant has carried his burden of establishing prejudicial error and is entitled to relief. View "P. v. Lopez" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner was sentenced to death by a Florida court for the murder of a five-month-old baby. After an unsuccessful direct appeal and two rounds of state collateral proceedings, he sought habeas corpus relief in federal court. In this appeal from the denial of his federal petition, the Eleventh Circuit considered Petitioner’s claims that the state trial court violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment when it admitted his confessions and other statements he made to the police into evidence at his trial, and that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance at the penalty phase in violation of the Sixth Amendment.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial. The court explained that the state court’s admission of his statements at trial did not violate Petitioner’s constitutional rights because he made those statements either spontaneously or after reinitiating discussions with police and knowingly and voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights. Further, a strategic decision not to call a witness whose testimony is not entirely problem-free and to focus instead on other available mitigating evidence does not amount to a deprivation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and the state court’s decision to that effect was not objectively unreasonable. View "Andrew Richard Lukehart v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et al" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-Appellant Abasi Baker appealed a district court’s denial of his second or successive motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging his convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). In March 2011, Baker was charged with numerous federal crimes in a multi-count indictment, including seven counts of Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951; seven counts of using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (i.e., the Hobbs Act robberies), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and seven counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). After the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals authorized this motion based on the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), and the district court denied it, the Tenth Circuit granted Baker a certificate of appealability (“COA”) on whether United States v. Melgar-Cabrera, 892 F.3d 1053 (10th Cir. 2018) was wrongly decided because Hobbs Act robbery would not qualify as a crime of violence either categorically under § 924(c)(3)(A) or under § 924(c)(3)(B) after Davis. Rather than directly address this issue, however, Baker, in his supplemental opening brief, requests that the Tenth Circuit exercise discretion to “expand” the COA to cover whether Baker was entitled to § 2255 relief because: (1) Hobbs Act robbery, when accomplished through threats to injure any property—tangible or intangible—was not a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3)(A); and (2) the Tenth Circuit's decision in United States v. Melgar-Cabrera, where the Court held Hobbs Act robbery categorically qualified as a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3)(A), did not bar his argument because it was inapposite. Moreover, during the pendency of this appeal, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Taylor, 142 S. Ct. 2015 (2022), holding that attempted Hobbs Act Robbery was not a crime of violence. After review, the Tenth Circuit denied Baker’s request to expand the COA and dismissed that portion of this matter, and remanded the case to allow the district court to determine in the first instance whether it was lawful and otherwise appropriate to permit Baker to amend his § 2255 motion to make a Taylor-like argument as to Count 11. View "United States v. Baker" on Justia Law

by
Following a preliminary hearing, a magistrate determined that probable cause existed to believe that A.S.M. had committed the delinquent acts alleged. A.S.M. timely sought review of the magistrate’s probable cause determination. But the juvenile court declined to review the matter on the merits, ruling that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the magistrate’s preliminary hearing finding did not constitute a final order. A.S.M. then invoked the Colorado Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court issued a rule to show cause. After review, the Supreme Court held that while only a district court magistrate’s final orders or judgments namely, those fully resolving an issue or claim were reviewable under C.R.M. 7(a)(3), the preliminary hearing statute in the Children’s Code, section 19-2.5-609(3), C.R.S. (2022), specifically permitted review of a magistrate’s preliminary hearing finding. "Therefore, we need not get in the middle of the parties’ tug-of-war over whether the magistrate’s preliminary hearing finding in this case constituted a final order. Instead, we hold that section 19-2.5-609(3) entitles prosecutors and juveniles alike to ask a juvenile court to review a magistrate’s preliminary hearing finding in a delinquency proceeding." View "In re Interest of A.S.M." on Justia Law