Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Hanson was indicted in 2009 for conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine in excess of 500 grams. The prosecution established Hanson’s three prior drug offenses and Kentucky felony third-degree residential burglary conviction. Hanson pleaded guilty with a plea agreement; the government listed only one prior felony drug conviction under 21 U.S.C. 851, instead of three potentially qualifying convictions, and relied in part on Hanson’s burglary conviction for a recommended Guidelines sentencing range. The Probation Officer calculated Hanson’s Guidelines range as 262-327 months, U.S.S.G. 4B1.1(c)(3). The court sentenced Hanson to 262 months in prison. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of his collateral challenge to his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Noting that the challenge was untimely, the court rejected an argument that the district court erred when it included his third-degree burglary as a crime of violence, enhancing Hanson’s status to a career offender, and resulting in a “miscarriage of justice.” The government conceded that the Kentucky third-degree burglary statute does not inherently involve “purposeful, violent, and aggressive conduct” of a “crime of violence” as part of the career offender designation but the court did not rely solely, or even principally, on the Guidelines; it referenced multiple considerations in imposing Hanson’s sentence, including the Guidelines, the lengthy presentencing report, the argument of the parties, and factors set forth in section 3553(a). View "Hanson v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a jury found defendant Henri Lyles guilty of an aggravated battery, committed in 2015. The State filed a habitual offender bill of information alleging two predicate offenses: a 1991 distribution of cocaine conviction, and a 2004 manslaughter conviction. In early 2017, the district court adjudicated defendant a third-felony offender and sentenced him to the life sentence mandated by La.R.S. 15:529.1(A)(3)(b) (effective August 15, 2010). The court of appeal vacated the habitual offender sentence and remanded for resentencing because of the trial court’s failure to vacate the underlying aggravated battery sentence. After remand, the district court resentenced defendant on to the same term of imprisonment under the same provision of law. Defendant appealed, contending the Habitual Offender law, as amended by 2017 La. Acts 282, should have been applied to him. Among other changes, the act reduced from ten to five years the time allowed (known as the cleansing period) between expiration of correctional supervision for one offense and commission of the next offense on the habitual offender ladder. Defendant’s probation for distribution of cocaine expired in 1996 and he did not commit manslaughter until 2003. Therefore, defendant contended he was a second-felony offender subject to a sentencing range of 3 1/3 to 20 years imprisonment under the amended law. Finding Act 282 applied, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the court of appeal, vacated the habitual offender adjudication and sentence, and remanded with instructions to the district court for further proceedings. View "Louisiana vs. Lyles" on Justia Law

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In 2011, four men, including Merlin Smothers and Jeremiah Harris, were engaged in illegal activities in Harris’s vehicle when a blue Monte Carlo pulled up behind them. A person stood up through the Monte Carlo’s sunroof and began shooting at them with an assault rifle. Harris was shot but survived. Smothers escaped injury. Police chased the Monte Carlo and ultimately apprehended the driver of the vehicle, Eugene Brashears, who was the only person in the vehicle by the time police were able to catch it. Smothers and Harris described the shooter as a black male wearing a red hat but they were otherwise unable to identify him. Two red hats were found in the vehicle but no firearm remained. DNA recovered from one red hat matched Brashears and he tested positive for gunshot residue. No one was charged with this shooting at the time and Brashears was deceased by the time of defendant Kenneth Jones' trial. Years later when Smothers and Harris were arrested on federal charges related to heroin distribution they identified defendant as the shooter in the 2011 incident. Defendant was indicted by grand jury and ultimately found guilty of two counts of attempted second degree murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. From the trial court’s lone statement that it was not satisfied with defendant’s proffered race-neutral reasons for challenging jurors of the venire, the Louisiana Supreme Court found it "inappropriate to infer that the district court did not blur the line between Batson’s second and third steps . . . and that the court did not impermissibly shift the burden onto the defense to rebut the State’s prima facie case." Accordingly, it reversed the court of appeal, vacated the convictions and sentences, and remanded the case to the district court for a new trial. The Court urged the district court to proceed "with extreme caution on retrial if the State again tries to rely so heavily on undocumented statements that have been disavowed by the purported informants." View "Louisiana vs. Jones" on Justia Law

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After defendant Desmond Parker was found guilty of simple robbery and intimidating a witness, the State filed a habitual offender bill of information alleging that defendant was a fourth-felony offender. The district court adjudicated defendant as a third-felony offender after finding that the State failed to prove an out-of-state guilty plea was entered in compliance with Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine if the lower courts correctly found that the State failed to carry its burden of proving a prior out-of-state guilty plea was knowing, voluntary, and made with an express waiver of defendant’s rights in accordance with Boykin. Finding the State indeed failed to carry its burden, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal, which found the district court correctly rejected this predicate guilty plea and adjudicated defendant as a third, rather than as a fourth, felony offender. View "Louisiana vs. Parker" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a grand jury indicted defendant Fred Reimonenq on charges of first degree rape, attempted first degree rape, and sexual battery of a victim under the age of 13. Trial was scheduled to begin on September 25, 2018. On the Sunday before this trial date, the state presented defense counsel with a curriculum vitae, but apparently nothing more, of Anne Troy, Ph.D., a sexual assault nurse examiner, who it intended to call as an expert witness at trial. On the morning of trial, the state provided defense counsel with formal notice of its intent to use Dr. Troy’s testimony. Defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude any expert testimony that had not been properly noticed under La.C.Cr.P. art. 719, including Dr. Troy’s testimony. The trial court granted the defense’s motion in limine and excluded Dr. Troy’s testimony. The court disallowed any attempt at supplementation based upon its finding there was “a timing issue” that still made the late notice “prejudicial to the [d]efense and [did] not afford the [d]efense the opportunity to conduct whatever defensive positions it might otherwise be able to take had it had more time . . . .” The state noted its intent to apply for supervisory writs, but did not do so, and, instead, opted to enter a nolle prosequi. Two days later, on September 27, 2018, the state filed a new indictment on the same charges. On October 18, defendant appeared for arraignment and orally moved to adopt all previous filings and motions from the original case. Trial was then set for December 3, 2018. On November 27, 2018, the state filed its supplemental notice pursuant to La.C.Cr.P. art. 719 with respect to Dr. Troy’s testimony. On the morning of trial, defense counsel filed a supplemental motion in limine regarding Dr. Troy’s testimony and a related motion to quash. The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on the authority of the district attorney to dismiss and reinstitute criminal prosecutions. Because the actions of the state in this matter "so undermine the authority of the trial court that it offends bedrock principles of fundamental fairness and due process," the Court reversed. View "Louisiana vs. Reimonenq" on Justia Law

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A.N. was adjudicated delinquent for aggravated incest involving his sister, J.N. The petition charging A.N. alleged that J.N. was between ages seven and eleven, and that A.N. was between twelve and sixteen when the offending acts occurred. The investigation began in 2011 when J.N. submitted a poem she wrote for school expressing her anger at her older brother for molesting her. J.N.’s teacher passed the poem to a social worker who later confirmed with J.N. that she had been sexually abused by her brother. A.N. admitted that he and J.N. engaged in sexual acts but stated it was consensual. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted a writ in this matter primarily to address the constitutionality of mandatory lifetime sex offender registration as applied to a juvenile. Finding that A.N. did not have a right to file for post-conviction relief because he was not in custody at the time of his application, the Supreme Court affirmed the denial of A.N.’s post-conviction relief application by the juvenile court. Since A.N. was denied relief on the basis of custody, all remaining issues presented by his writ application, including whether R.S. 15:542 is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, were moot. View "Louisiana in the Interest of A.N." on Justia Law

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In February 2017, five-year-old N.H. reported to her grandfather that E.S. “has me put his missy in my mouth.” N.H.’s grandfather asked her to repeat herself, with which she complied, but otherwise he did not inquire further. According to N.H.’s grandfather, “missy” was the term N.H. used at the time to describe a person's genitalia. He repeated N.H.’s disclosure to N.H.’s mother who then reported the allegations to law enforcement. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the writ in this matter primarily to address the constitutionality of mandatory lifetime sex offender registration under R.S. 15:5421 as applied to a juvenile. E.S. was ultimately adjudicated delinquent for the first degree rape of a child under the age of thirteen years old. Finding that there was insufficient evidence to determine E.S. was fourteen years old at the time of the offense, and therefore mandatory disposition pursuant to Ch. C. art. 897.13 and R.S. 15:542 was inapplicable to the case at hand, the Supreme Court affirmed the adjudication of first degree rape, reversed the court of appeal’s determination that there was sufficient evidence to establish E.S.’s age, vacated the disposition of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Louisiana in the Interest of E.S." on Justia Law

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While on supervised release for possessing a firearm as a felon, Shockey tested positive for methamphetamine, which he later admitted using. A probation officer petitioned to revoke his supervision, charging Shockey with a Grade B violation for conduct constituting an offense punishable by a prison term exceeding one year, U.S.S.G. 7B1.1(a)(2). Shockey asked the court to find that he had merely used methamphetamine, rather than possessed it. Use is a Grade C violation that does not mandate revocation. He argued that he violated the requirement of his supervised-release condition to refrain from using drugs—a violation that is not a felony. The district court rejected Shockey’s argument, implying that use supports an inference of possession. With a sentencing range of 21-24 months in prison, the court sentenced him to 15 months, recognizing that Shockey had stayed sober for seven months before using methamphetamine and committed no other crimes. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Shockey was notified before the hearing by the probation officer in writing that he was alleged to have violated the Indiana “Possession of methamphetamine” statute and that this constituted a Grade B violation because the offense is punishable by more than one year in prison. The district court reasonably could infer possession from use. View "United States v. Shockey" on Justia Law

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Defendant Leola Allen plead guilty to committing felony welfare fraud in 1993, 1997, and 2000 (and to committing felony perjury in 2000). At sentencing in each case, the trial court ordered Allen to pay direct victim restitution and various fines and fees. In 2018, Allen petitioned pursuant to Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.42 seeking discretionary "expungement" of her convictions on the basis she had been rehabilitated. She also sought to stay, dismiss, or delete her court-ordered fines and fees because she asserted she was unable to pay them. The prosecution opposed the expungement requests because Allen still owed about $9,000 in direct victim restitution; the prosecution did not oppose the request for relief from the fines and fees. The trial court denied Allen's petitions based on her outstanding victim restitution obligations, but did not directly address her request for relief from the fines and fees. On appeal, Allen argued that under the recent decision in California v. Duenas, 30 Cal.App.5th 1157 (2019), the trial court's denial of her expungement petitions violated her due process or equal protection rights because she was financially unable to pay the victim restitution. Alternatively, Allen contended the trial court erred in its conclusion her outstanding restitution obligations deprived the court of the authority to grant discretionary expungement. The Court of Appeal found Duenas was materially distinguishable: it involved revenue-generating assessments and a punitive restitution fine, whereas this case involves voter-mandated direct victim restitution intended to make the victim whole. Furthermore, the Court agreed with the analysis of numerous courts that rejected Duenas's due process framework. On remand, however, the Court directed the trial court to conduct further proceedings: (1) because the trial court did not directly address Allen's request for relief from the court-ordered fines and fees (other than victim restitution); and (2) because the record was unclear regarding whether Allen paid all the victim restitution owed in connection with her convictions in 2000. In all other respects, judgment was affirmed. View "California v. Allen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the superior court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss one count of first-degree sexual assault on the grounds of double jeopardy and prosecutorial misconduct, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims. Defendant was found guilty of assault and battery and acquitted as to several offenses, but as to the charge for first-degree sexual assault based upon anal penetration, the jury deadlocked and did not reach a verdict. When it became evident that the State would retry Defendant on the deadlocked count, Defendant filed several pretrial motions. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the sole remaining count, arguing that double jeopardy barred a retrial of acquitted conduct that arose from the same set of facts previously decided by the jury and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct. Defendant further sought to exclude any reference to acquitted conduct from the first trial. The trial justice denied Defendant's motions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's first argument conflated a double jeopardy contention with one that was evidentiary, and whether Defendant's acquitted conduct was admissible under R.I. R. Evid. 404(b) at his retrial was an issue not properly before the court; and (2) Defendant's prosecutorial misconduct argument was not preserved for appeal. View "State v. Forlasto" on Justia Law