Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Olvera’s conviction stems from the 2000, death of Stropes during a gang-related drive-by shooting in East Moline. Olvera’s codefendant, Delgado, fired the shot. Olvera was the driver of the vehicle and did not fire any shots that evening. Delgado pleaded guilty to murder. At Olvera’s trial, his girlfriend and others testified that the shooting arose out of an incident at a party. Olvera unsuccessfully sought state court post-conviction review, claiming that his trial counsel had failed to “contact or call” several witnesses “whose testimony would have been of significant benefit to him.”The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Olvera’s petition for federal habeas relief. The state court’s articulation of the Strickland standard was not contrary to the Supreme Court’s clearly established law. The state court did not unreasonably apply Strickland when it concluded that affidavits submitted by the potential witnesses identified by Olvera failed to demonstrate prejudice or failed to demonstrate deficient performance. The court noted the overwhelming evidence supporting the state’s accountability theory and precluding Olvera’s claim of self-defense that was “left untouched.” View "Olvera v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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In 1984, Kidd stabbed four people to death in a Chicago apartment. The building was then set on fire. Officers arrested Kidd and Kidd’s half-brother, Orange. Kidd made statements that implicated himself and identified Orange as the primary perpetrator and led the police to a knife stained with a victim’s blood. At Orange’s trial, Kidd voluntarily testified that he alone committed the murders. Months later, Kidd pled guilty to the murders. He testified at his sentencing hearing that he stabbed all four victims.On remand in 1992, Kidd moved to suppress his statements from the night of the murders as an unlawfully coerced confession, claiming various acts of torture by the police, that he was under the influence of drugs when he made the statement .and that the police refused to let him contact a lawyer. At a hearing, Kidd did not testify, but the officers denied Kidd’s allegations. The court denied his motion. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. Kidd filed an unsuccessful state postconviction petition alleging that he was abused by the police, including former Chicago Officer Burge, who was found in other cases to have abused many people around the time of Kidd’s arrest.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Kidd’s federal habeas petition. Even if the allegedly coerced confession was improperly admitted at Kidd’s trial, the admission did not have a “substantial and injurious effect or influence” on the jury’s verdict. View "Kidd v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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Chicago police officers responded to a call of shots fired near a residence, canvassed the area, and, minutes after the shots were fired, came upon Lowe running in an alley. In the alley Lowe had just traversed, other officers noticed a partially opened dumpster; they found a pistol on top of the garbage. Ballistics revealed that the handgun had fired the shots near the residence. No physical or biological evidence conclusively linked Lowe to the gun, cartridge casings, or fired bullets found at the scene. Security video footage from the alley showed someone running from the residence and throwing a gun-shaped object into the dumpster, with the same clothes, backpack, and tattoo as Lowe.Lowe was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g). During a jury poll, the court asked each juror whether the verdict “constitute[s] your individual verdict in all respects.” Juror Eleven answered, “Yes. Barely.” The court responded, “You said yes?” The juror replied, “Yes, ma’am.” The court stated: “Juror [Eleven], who was a lawyer, did not indicate disagreement with the verdict; he simply indicated that he found the government’s evidence to be minimally sufficient to carry its burden.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed Lowe’s conviction and 90-month sentence. The district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the testimony that referred to the prior shooting. The juror’s answer was not equivocal. View "United States v. Lowe" on Justia Law

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In prior proceedings, defendant Phong Thanh Huynh's conviction on murder and firearms charges was reversed. Defendant was retried on the same charges in 2019. The jury found him guilty of the same charges, and he was sentenced to a term of 25-years-to life in prison for the murder, and a consecutive term of 25-years-to-life for the enhancement of discharging a firearm. On appeal, defendant contended the trial court erroneously admitted evidence that he was a member and the leader of, or had authority in, a gang called Thien Dang. He claimed the gang evidence was not relevant because Thien Dang was not a criminal street gang. Further, he contended there was no evidence that criminal activity was a primary activity of Thien Dang or any member of Thien Dang had ever committed any crime; and that Thien Dang was merely a group of Vietnamese men who gathered to drink, eat, and socialize. Defendant’s principal position was that identifying Thien Dang as a street gang was highly inflammatory and the error was compounded by a hypothetical question posed to the State's gang expert. To this latter point, the Court of Appeal agreed with defendant. Judgment was reversed: "On remand, instead of an 'all' (i.e., the instant case) or 'nothing' (i.e., Huynh I) approach to the admission of such evidence, the trial court as the gatekeeper of the evidence may appropriately limit the admission of gang evidence as relevant to the issues raised by the parties and in accordance with the dictates of this decision." View "California v. Huynh" on Justia Law

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Defendant Yamin Amahli Bongani El was convicted by jury of misdemeanor driving on a suspended license. On appeal, he argued the trial court: (1) failed to exercise its discretion in sentencing him to the maximum term in jail, as it believed such a term was mandatory when he declined probation; and (2) failed to articulate the fines and fees imposed. The State conceded these points. The Court thus vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. Defendant's convictions were affirmed. View "California v. El" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendants Moody and Carter's convictions for several drug and firearm counts arising out of an early morning traffic stop in Newport News, Virginia. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support defendants' convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute where the government established constructive possession of cocaine for both defendants. The court also concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support defendants' convictions for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), (c)(2).The court further concluded that there was sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find both knowledge of and an agreement to enter the conspiracy. And a jury could find knowing and voluntary participation in this conspiracy based on evidence that Carter drove the car containing the drugs and firearms as well as Moody’s possession of drug-related cash. The court noted its reluctance in reaching this conclusion where there is little to distinguish joint possession of the drugs and guns from some independent agreement or scheme on the part of the defendants. In this case, there is ultimately a sufficient quantum of circumstantial evidence of an agreement to justify the conspiracy conviction. Finally, the court rejected Moody's challenges to two jury instructions given by the district court regarding Rehaif-related errors and aiding-and-abetting liability. View "United States v. Moody" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's Arizona state court conviction for attempted second-degree murder. In this case, the trial court misstated Arizona law in its instructions to the jury by implying that a defendant could be guilty of attempted second-degree murder if he merely intended to cause serious physical injury, not death. Furthermore, trial counsel failed to object to the erroneous instruction. Petitioner petitioned for state post-conviction relief, with the assistance of different counsel, but his counsel did not raise any claims related to the instructional error, and the state trial and appellate courts denied relief. The district court ultimately denied his federal habeas corpus petition, declining to excuse petitioner's procedural default of these claims.The panel declined to excuse petitioner's procedural default under under Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), so that he could seek habeas relief on the basis of constitutionally ineffective assistance of trial counsel (IATC). The panel concluded that petitioner cannot satisfy Strickland's prejudice requirement for an IATC claim for failure to object to a jury instruction based on the consequent loss of a more favorable standard of appellate review. The panel also concluded that petitioner failed to demonstrate a substantial IATC claim, and accordingly, his procedural default of that claim is not excused under Martinez. View "Dickinson v. Shinn" on Justia Law

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For much of his life, Wallace has suffered from severe mental illness, including bipolar disorder with psychotic features, chronic depression, ADHD, and major affective disorder. On February 28, 2000, Wallace, during a severe psychotic episode, got into bed with his wife, Eileen, and used the knife to stab Eileen to death. Wallace then dressed, stowed the knife in a drawer, and locked the house, leaving Eileen’s body behind. Wallace took a train to Philadelphia where he planned to commit suicide. Police were waiting for him; his mother had disclosed his whereabouts. Wallace admitted to stabbing Eileen, acting on a belief that death would set her spirit free. Wallace pleaded guilty but mentally ill to third-degree murder and related crimes. He missed the January 2002 deadline for a federal habeas corpus petition and filed in September 2015, arguing that his mental illness so hampered his ability to think clearly that he could not reasonably have been expected to file earlier.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition, concluding that Wallace was not entitled to equitable tolling to extend the filing deadline. Although Wallace claimed that his prescribed use of the drug Ritalin may have exacerbated his psychosis, rendering him involuntarily intoxicated or legally insane at the time of his crime such that he could not form the mens rea necessary for murder, the court declined to employ the “actual innocence gateway,” to excuse him from the deadline. View "Wallace v. Superintendent Mahanoy SCI" on Justia Law

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Prior to the First Step Act, defendants convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine faced much higher penalties than defendants convicted of powder cocaine offenses. Section 404 of the First Step Act "opened the courtroom doors" to these defendants to move for discretionary sentence reductions based on the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that although the remedial purpose of section 404 was clear, its language had not been interpreted uniformly. Because application of section 404(b) "should not vary from defendant to defendant," the Court concluded that before a district court exercises its discretion, "it should look to the drug quantity and Sentencing Guidelines associated with an eligible defendant’s offense of conviction, rather than his underlying conduct, to 'impose a reduced sentence as if . . . the Fair Sentencing Act . . . were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed.'” The district court did not do so here, so denial of defendant-appellant Jason Broadway's petition for sentence reduction was reversed. View "United States v. Broadway" on Justia Law

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William Hale, II, appealed after he was convicted on two counts of felony possession of a controlled substance and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. After a drug-detecting dog alerted on the car Hale had been driving, law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of the vehicle, discovering various controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. Hale moved to suppress the evidence resulting from the search, arguing that the responding officer had impermissibly prolonged the stop while waiting for the drug-detecting dog by inquiring about Hale’s permission to operate the vehicle. The district court denied Hale’s motion, reasoning that the officer’s questions were within the permissible scope of the traffic stop. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the questions regarding Hale’s permission to operate the vehicle comported with the Fourth Amendment. Finding no reversible error in the district court decision, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Idaho v. Hale" on Justia Law