Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In 1989, Middlebrooks of felony murder and aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to death. His conviction and death sentence were upheld on direct and collateral review. When Middlebrooks was sentenced to death, electrocution was Tennessee’s only method of execution. In 2000, Tennessee adopted lethal injection as the default method of execution. Under current law, electrocution is an option for execution only if an inmate sentenced to death before 1999 chooses execution by electrocution; lethal injection is declared unconstitutional; or the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) certifies that a necessary lethal-injection ingredient is unavailable. Middlebrooks will not choose execution by electrocution. In 2018, TDOC adopted a three-drug protocol of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride as an alternative to pentobarbital.Middlebrooks and other death row challenged the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol. Tennessee then eliminated the pentobarbital protocol The state court dismissed their complaint. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proving that pentobarbital was available as an alternative means of execution, although other states used pentobarbital in executions.The district court dismissed Middlebrooks’ 42 U.S.C. suit, citing res judicata. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Middlebrooks' facial challenge plausibly alleged new facts that allow a reasonable inference that pentobarbital is available to Tennessee for use in executions. Middlebrooks’s as-applied claim does not rest on any newly developed individual condition that would render impermissible the application of res judicata principles. View "Middlebrooks v. Parker" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the South Dakota State Penitentiary's pornography policy under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff named as defendants four South Dakota corrections officials in their official capacities. The district court granted in part and denied in part the parties' motions for summary judgment.In regard to plaintiff's as-applied challenges, the Eighth Circuit applied the Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), factors and concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for plaintiff on his claim that the policy is unconstitutional as applied to two erotic novels because defendants were within their discretion to censor these books. However, the district court properly granted summary judgment for plaintiff on his claim that the policy is unconstitutional as applied to the art book and nine pictures of Renaissance artwork.In regard to plaintiff's facial challenges, the court dismissed as moot plaintiff's claim that the prohibition on nudity is overbroad, but plaintiff's claim that the prohibition on sexually explicit content is overbroad remains a live case or controversy based on the court's reversal of the district court's ruling on his as-applied challenges regarding the erotic novels. The court read the policy in light of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance and concluded that plaintiff failed to show that the policy's prohibition on sexually explicit content is "substantially overbroad." The court concluded that although plaintiff's resolution of plaintiff's as-applied challenges does not moot his claim that the policy's prohibition on sexually explicit content is overbroad, this claim fails on the merits. Finally, the court dismissed as moot plaintiff's request for coercive sanctions, denied his request for compensatory sanctions, and denied plaintiff's request for sanctions for defendants' alleged violations of the district court's orders. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sisney v. Kaemingk" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit denied petitions for review of the BIA's decisions affirming the IJ's order of removal and denial of Petitioner Graham's motion to reopen. The court concluded that petitioners' narcotics convictions under Connecticut General Statute 21a-277(a) are controlled substance or aggravated felony drug trafficking offenses under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The court also concluded that its jurisdictional holding in Banegas Gomez v. Barr, 922 F.3d 101 (2d Cir. 2019), that a notice to appear that omits the hearing date and time is nonetheless sufficient to vest jurisdiction in the immigration courts, survives the Supreme Court's ruling in Niz-Chavez v. Garland, 141 S. Ct. 1474 (2021). View "Chery v. Garland" on Justia Law

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During the guilt phase of a bifurcated trial, a jury found Linde Smith guilty of second-degree murder, and found true a deadly weapon enhancement allegation. Smith’s mother, Anne Smith (Anne), was the victim. During the sanity phase of the trial, the jury found that Smith was legally sane at the time she committed the offense. The trial court sentenced Smith to a term of 16 years to life in prison, consisting of a 15 years to life term for the murder and a one-year consecutive term for the deadly weapon enhancement. On appeal, with respect to the guilt phase, Smith claimed the trial court erred in excluding certain evidence pertaining to the severity of her depression at the time of the incident giving rise to the charged offense. In addition, Smith contended the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury sua sponte on involuntary manslaughter as an uncharged lesser included offense to murder. With respect to the sanity phase, Smith claimed the trial court violated her constitutional right to due process under Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976) and its progeny by admitting evidence that she claims amounted to a comment on her exercise of her right to remain silent pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). She also contended the trial court erred in refusing to preclude an expert retained by the prosecution from testifying due to the State’s alleged failure to timely provide the defense with the expert’s report and related data. Finally, Smith argued cumulative error required reversal of the sanity verdict. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of involuntary manslaughter because there was no substantial evidence in the record to support the giving of the instruction. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court did not commit Doyle error. The Court rejected the remainder of Smith’s claims in unpublished portions of its opinion. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's second pro se petition to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court to consider a petition for writ of error coram nobis and seeking the appointment of postconviction counsel, holding that Petitioner failed to raise a cognizable claim for issuance of the writ.Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment plus a term of 180 months. The Supreme Court affirmed. In the instant coram nobis petition, Petitioner argued that he was entitled to relief due to a coerced guilty plea, the failure of the prosecutor or his counsel to advise him of the spousal privilege in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and ineffective assistance of both trial counsel and postconviction counsel. The Supreme Court denied the writ and denied Petitioner's motion for appoint of counsel as moot, holding that Petitioner's claims were not cognizable in a coram nobis proceeding. View "Gordon v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's second pro se petition to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court to allow him to file a petition for writ of error coram nobis in his criminal case, holding that Petitioner failed to state a ground on which the writ could issue.Petitioner was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sentenced as a habitual offender to 600 months' imprisonment. The court of appeals affirmed. In his second petition for coram nobis relief, Petitioner argued that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel both at trial and on direct appeal and that the trial court erred in sentencing him as a habitual offender. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that Petitioner failed to demonstrate a ground on which the writ could issue. View "Sims v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's pro se petition to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court to allow him to file a petition for writ of error coram nobis in his criminal case, holding that Petitioner failed to state a ground on which the writ could issue.Petitioner was convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court reversed the sentence and remanded for resentencing. On remand, Petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. In the instant petition, Petitioner asked the Supreme Court to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court so that he could raise the claim that he was denied effective assistance of counsel at trial and on direct appeal. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding that this Court declines to broaden the grounds for the writ to include claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Daniels v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant's pro se petition to correct an illegal sentence, holding that the circuit court erred in denying the petition.Appellant pled guilty to one count each of aggravated residential burglary, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and theft of property. Appellant was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of fifty-four years' imprisonment. Appellant filed a petition to correct an illegal sentence, alleging that his sentence exceeded the penalty for a Class D felony. In response, the circuit court entered an amended sentencing order nunc pro tunc. Appellant then filed a second petition challenging his sentence. The circuit court denied the petition on the basis that an amended order had been entered in the case. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to correct the sentencing order, holding that the circuit court's nunc pro tunc failed to correct certain sentencing errors. View "Willingham v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition to correct an illegal sentence filed pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 16-90-111, holding that Appellant failed to allege facts to support his claim of an illegal sentence.Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Appellant later filed a second pro se petition to correct illegal sentence, arguing that he did not qualify for a life sentence pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 5-4-501(d). The circuit court denied the petition, determining that Appellant's life sentence was proper. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant's sentence was clearly within the prescribed statutory range and was legal on its face. View "Coakley v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's pro se petition to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court to consider a petition for writ of error coram nobis, holding that Petitioner failed to present a cognizable claim for coram nobis relief.After a jury trial, Petitioner was found guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated residential burglary, attempted kidnapping, first-degree battery, and aggravated assault. In his coram nobis petition, Petitioner set forth five claims for relief, asserting that the claims constituted violations of his fundamental due process rights. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that the allegations raised by Petitioner did not set out facts that were extrinsic to the record and otherwise did not fall within the four categories recognized as grounds for issuance of the writ. View "Her v. State" on Justia Law