Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming Defendant's conviction of breach of the peace in the second degree, criminal mischief in the third degree, and threatening in the second degree, holding that there was no error.On appeal, Defendant argued that the Appellate Court erred in determining that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by precluding Defendant from cross-examining the state's key witness about the facts underlying the witness's prior misdemeanor convictions. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the facts underlying the witness's prior misdemeanor conviction were not relevant to veracity, motive, intent, or a common scheme or pattern; and (2) therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by precluding this evidence. View "State v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for panel rehearing, denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc, and filed an Amended Opinion and Concurrence.The panel affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for knowingly engaging in sexual contact with another person without that other person's permission on an international flight, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2244(b). The panel rejected defendant's contention that the district court erred in giving the Ninth Circuit Model Instruction on the elements of section 2244(b), which does not require that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant subjectively knew that his victim did not consent to his conduct. The panel rejected defendant's reading of the statute as contrary to its text, the structure of the statutory scheme and its very purpose in penalizing those who sexually prey upon victims on the seas or in the air within federal jurisdiction. Because unwanted sexual contact of the type defendant engaged in—touching first, and asserting later that he "thought" the victim consented—is precisely what section 2244(b) criminalizes, the panel rejected defendant's claim of instructional error. Furthermore, the Supreme Court's recent decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), does not alter the panel's conclusion. The panel also concluded that the police had probable cause to arrest defendant, that he was properly Mirandized, and that the district court acted within its discretion in refusing to read back to the jury portions of the victim's testimony. View "United States v. Price" on Justia Law

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Smith stole a truck in Iowa, drove it across the Mississippi River into Illinois, crashed into a median, then fled, leaving a stolen handgun inside. He has a felony record and pled guilty to federal charges of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon and possession of stolen goods. The PSR recommended an enhanced offense level under U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(a)(2) based on Smith’s 2009 Iowa conviction for delivery of cocaine and a 2008 Iowa conviction for aggravated assault. Smith conceded the “controlled substance offense” but objected to counting the aggravated-assault conviction as a “crime of violence.” The judge overruled the objection and imposed a sentence of 115 months, the top of the advisory range.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A “crime of violence” is an offense that has “as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.” U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a). Under the Iowa Code, “[a] person who commits an assault ... and uses or displays a dangerous weapon in connection with the assault” is guilty of the crime of aggravated assault. Some variants of the simple assault offense do not require the use or threat of physical force but the section is divisible. Smith was convicted under a subsection that requires a threat of physical force; the judge properly relied on Smith’s 2008 aggravated-assault conviction to elevate his base offense. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Macanthony Canady petitioned the superior court for a writ of habeas corpus seeking early parole consideration under Proposition 57. He asserted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (Department) regulation purporting to implement Proposition 57 was inconsistent with the Proposition. Specifically, the Department’s regulation did not consider conduct credits inmates earned while incarcerated in the calculation of inmates’ nonviolent early parole eligible dates.The trial court agreed with Canady and invalidated the Department’s regulations as contradicting the stated purposes of the Proposition. The Attorney General appealed, contending the order had to be reversed because the Department’s regulation was: consistent with the plain language of the Proposition, authorized by the broad discretion granted to it by the Proposition, and consistent with the voters’ intent in passing the Proposition. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the trial court's order. View "In re Canady" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated its August 11, 2020 opinion and substituted the following opinion.Defendants appealed their convictions, sentences, and various decisions made by the district court throughout the pre-trial and trial process. Defendants operated a drug-trafficking organization in Bradenton, Florida. Defendants were convicted of participating in a racketeering conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and a drug trafficking conspiracy, as well as gun crimes and other crimes.The court held that RICO conspiracy does not qualify as a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) and thus vacated defendants' section 924(c) convictions and sentences, remanding for resentencing. The court also held that Defendant Corey's 120-year sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court failed to clarify the applicable guideline range and relied on a clearly erroneous fact. Accordingly, the court vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court affirmed as to the remaining issues. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

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Budzynski pleaded guilty to five counts related to fraudulently obtaining Social Security benefits totaling $48,306 in overpayments. She was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay restitution and a special assessment. Months later, the probation office discovered Budzynski withdrawing money at a casino. Budzynski acknowledged that she frequently visited casinos. The district court imposed new conditions prohibiting Budzynski from gambling and requiring her to submit to searches when there is a reasonable suspicion that she violated a condition of her probation.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Discretionary conditions of probation must be “reasonably related to the factors set forth in section 3553(a)(1) and (a)(2)” and “involve only such deprivations of liberty or property as are reasonably necessary for the purposes indicated in section 3553(a)(2), 18 U.S.C. 3563(b). The no-gambling condition is reasonably related to the “nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.” The provisions were directed at securing Budzynski’s restitution payments and were not overly broad. Budzynski had yet to make a full payment toward restitution in the three months since her probation began. Preventing her from gambling obviously serves to preserve her ability to meet the restitution obligation resulting from her fraud. View "United States v. Budzynski" on Justia Law

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Thompson sold heroin to a confidential informant. After the second controlled buy, police obtained a warrant to search the apartment where the transactions occurred. On their way to execute the warrant, police encountered Thompson and a passenger driving away from the apartment, stopped the vehicle, and arrested Thompson. During their search of the vehicle, officers found multiple bags of heroin and cocaine. Officers later discovered a loaded handgun under the back seat’s folding mechanism. Thompson’s fingerprints were not found on the gun. A Michigan jury convicted him of three drug crimes and four gun crimes. The Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that a rational jury could infer Thompson constructively possessed the gun. Citing the “well-known relationship between drug dealing and the use of firearms as protection,” the court found that the gun’s proximity to both Thompson and the drugs sufficed to create a jury question.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Thompson’s federal habeas petition, rejecting his insufficient-evidence claim and claims of ineffective assistance and the denial of an impartial jury. Thompson, as the SUV’s driver “is held to a higher level of accountability" for its contents. Considering Thompson’s proximity to the gun and the evidence of his drug dealing, the Michigan Court of Appeals provided more than enough support for a fair-minded jurist to conclude that a rational jury could convict him of constructively possessing the gun. View "Thompson v. Skipper" on Justia Law

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While burglarizing a garage, Pollini was confronted by Zeigler and fled. Zeigler alerted Pruitt that a burglar was in the area. Pollini had left his tools in Zeigler’s garage. Plank drove him back to the garage. Pruitt approached their car with a flashlight. Pollini fired a gun into the dark, killing Pruitt. Plank’s attorney prepared a transcript of Plank’s statement to the police. The court admitted an audiotape of the statement but denied admission of the transcript. The jury, with access to only the audiotape, had difficulty understanding some of Plank’s statement and asked the judge for a transcript, Without communicating with the parties, the judge responded: “There’s none available.” This ex parte jury communication violated Kentucky Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.74. The jury found Pollini guilty. During the sentencing phase, the jury responded in the affirmative to: Was Pollini in the process of committing burglary when he killed Pruitt?Pollini argued that there was insufficient evidence to justify his life sentence because he was not committing a burglary when he killed Pruitt. The Kentucky Supreme Court remanded for resentencing without the inclusion of the aggravating circumstance. Pollini did not raise Rule 9.74.On collateral review, Pollini asserted ineffective assistance of counsel, citing the Rule 9.74 violation. The Sixth Circuit remanded the denial of relief. While Pollini’s claim fails the prejudice prong of Strickland, he did not procedurally default the claim. By the time of his collateral attack, Rule 9.74 violations were reviewed under a fundamental fairness standard, more favorable to the Commonwealth. The Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision to apply that standard was not “contrary to clearly established Federal law.” The court’s Implicit finding that the jury had the correct tape and that the tape was working was not an unreasonable determination of the facts View "Pollini v. Robey" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the sentencing court sentencing Defendant to a 235-month term of imprisonment for one count of abusive sexual contact with a child under the age of twelve, holding that the sentencing judge erred in applying the cross-reference provision in U.S.S.G. 2A3.4(c)(1).Defendant was indicted on two counts for abusing his two granddaughters. Defendant guilty to one count of sexual contact with a child under the age of twelve and the government dismissed the other count of the indictment, the charge of aggravated sexual abuse of a child under twelve. In sentencing proceedings, the government invoked the cross-reference provision at issue, the application of which resulted in a guideline range fourteen to eighteen years greater than the ordinary range for that offense. The sentencing court applied the cross-reference provision in sentencing Defendant. The First Circuit vacated the sentence, holding (1) only one of Defendant's acts considered by the sentencing court was suitable for consideration in assessing the appropriate sentence to be imposed; and (2) therefore, the sentencing judge erred when he relied on both acts to justify the application of the cross-reference provision. View "United States v. Castillo" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for accessing, possessing, and distributing child pornography. The panel held that defendant arguably waived his Franks claim and that any error was not plain. The panel rejected defendant's claim under Wardius v. Oregon, 412 U.S. 470 (1973), where defendant, not the Government, benefited more from the district court's enforcement of the parties' agreement to disclose the identity of testifying witnesses. The panel rejected defendant's remaining evidentiary challenges and held that the district court did not err in denying his motion for a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.The panel also held that the district court did not err, let alone plainly err, in imposing a lifetime term of supervised release. As to the substance of the Special Conditions, the Government concedes that remand is required to conform the written judgment to the oral pronouncement of Special Conditions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. So conformed, the Government also concedes Special Conditions 5 and 8 must be vacated and remanded for the district court to reconsider. Finally, the district court's imposition of Special Condition 7, requiring defendant to submit to searches of his property and person by his probation officer, was not an abuse of discretion. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Rusnak" on Justia Law