Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendants Burden and Scott's convictions and sentences for unlawfully possessing firearms as felons. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Scott's motion for severance where Scott failed to overcome the presumption that the jury would follow the district court's limiting instruction; defendants cannot meet their burden to show that Rehaif error affected their substantial rights; regardless of the standard of review, the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction; the district court did not err, much less plainly so, in ordering the attorneys to seek approval before mentioning or eliciting testimony concerning defendants' statements that they had just been robbed of their clothing; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying a cross-reference to attempted first degree murder at sentencing. View "United States v. Burden" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Long, age 16, got into Purkey’s truck. Purkey, 46, threatened her with a knife and drove her across the state line to his home, where he raped her and ultimately killed her. Purkey dismembered Long’s body and burned the pieces. He dumped the remains into a septic lagoon. Later in 1998, he killed 80-year-old Bales. He was caught. While awaiting trial, Purkey contacted Detective Howard about Long and insisted that an FBI agent come along because he thought that if he were convicted on federal charges, he could serve a life sentence in a federal facility. Purkey confessed to killing Long, took them to the crime scene, and gave handwritten confessions. Howard and Tarpley denied that any deal was on the table. After Purkey pleaded guilty to the Bales murder, he was indicted for Long's kidnapping, rape, and murder. Purkey had repeatedly confessed to kidnapping Long; his defense was that he thought she was a prostitute who willingly accompanied him and that he had fabricated the kidnapping claim to be prosecuted in federal court. Defense counsel did not object to the use of his confessions to refute that story. A jury voted for a death sentence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief, rejecting claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and several alleged violations of his due process rights--government misconduct during the trial, insufficient evidence to find kidnapping beyond a reasonable doubt, and error in the jury’s failure to address the question of mitigating evidence. View "Purkey v. United States" on Justia Law

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Igboba was convicted on 18 counts under 18 U.S.C. 286, 18 U.S.C. 1343, 18 U.S.C. 287, and 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1), (b), and (c)(5), based on his participation in a conspiracy to defraud the government by preparing and filing false federal income tax returns using others’ identities. He was sentenced to 162 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, and required to pay restitution, special assessment, and forfeiture sums. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that when the district court increased his base offense level based on the total amount of loss his offense caused, U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1), it failed to distinguish between the loss caused by his individual conduct and that caused by the entire conspiracy and that the district court erred in applying a two-level sophisticated-means enhancement, section 2B1.1(b)(10). the district court could rightly attribute $4.1 million in losses to “acts and omissions committed, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, procured, or willfully caused by” Igboba. The court noted his “sophisticated” use of technology and multiple aliases. View "United States v. Igboba" on Justia Law

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Falealo Pulusila was charged with fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance (methamphetamine), misconduct involving weapons in the fifth degree, failure to carry proof of auto insurance, and failure to carry vehicle liability insurance. He entered into a plea agreement in July 2013, pursuant to which he pleaded guilty to the fourth-degree misconduct charge and the State dismissed the other charges; the court sentenced him to 48 months’ imprisonment with 42 months suspended and three years’ probation. In July 2014 Pulusila’s probation officer petitioned to revoke his probation for five alleged violations. The court found that he violated his probation and ordered him to serve 25 days of his suspended jail time. Over the next two years the probation officer petitioned the court four more times to revoke Pulusila’s probation, and the court ordered him to serve various amounts of his suspended jail time in connection with each. This appeal involved the probation officer’s fifth petition to revoke probation. The probation officer alleged that Pulusila was in possession of certain prohibited items after he was found in a truck with those items. Pulusila argued that the State had to show that he knew the items were in the borrowed truck for there to be a violation. The superior court disagreed and imposed all of the remaining time in the probationer’s suspended sentence. The court of appeals reversed, holding that there was a mens rea requirement for possession as a condition of probation. The State petitioned for hearing, arguing that the court of appeals significantly modified the Alaska Supreme Court's decision in Trumbly v. State, which outlined the proper analytical framework for probation revocation hearings; the State also argued that the court of appeals erred in holding that the probation condition included a mens rea requirement. After review, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its Trumbly holding and Trumbly's two-stage probation revocation hearing process. Further, the Court held that the appropriate mens rea requirement for possession of items prohibited by a condition of probation was a negligence standard, not an actual knowledge standard: the State must prove the probationer knew or should have known he was in possession of items prohibited by a condition of probation. The Court thus reversed the court of appeals’ decision and remanded to the superior court to determine whether Pulusila knew or should have known that he was in possession of the prohibited items. View "Alaska v. Pulusila" on Justia Law

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During defendant Isaiah Payne's trial for third-degree sexual abuse, the complainant denied including a racial description of defendant in her statement to police and accused defense counsel of trying to make her look racist. The author of the police report testified that he had included that racial description in quotation marks because it was a direct quote from the complainant. Based on the difference between the officer’s testimony and the complainant’s testimony, defendant requested the uniform witness-false-in-part jury instruction. The trial court denied that request, and the jury found defendant guilty. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that, even if the trial court had erred in failing to deliver the requested witness-false-in-part instruction, any error was harmless. The Oregon Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address whether a trial court had to give a requested witness-false-in-part jury instruction if there was evidence to support a conclusion that a witness consciously testified falsely. Based on the Supreme Court's statutory construction of the phrase “all proper occasions” in ORS 10.095, the Court concluded the trial court should have given the instruction. The Court concluded it was not a harmless error by the trial court. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeal and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Payne" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's sua sponte dismissal of plaintiff's in forma pauperis complaint as failing to state a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff is currently serving a prison sentence and has a diagnosis of diverticulitis, a chronic colon condition that causes diarrhea and constipation. The court held that plaintiff has stated a Title II claim by sufficiently alleging that he is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA and that he was denied the benefit of the prison's privilege system by reason of his disability. The court also held that plaintiff has stated a claim under Title VI and that defendants retaliated against him for his filing of ADA grievances by taking the adverse action of rescinding his medical classification without providing a medical reevaluation or rationale. Finally, because plaintiff's complaint sufficiently states a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court necessarily reversed the district court's assignment of a strike under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. View "Rinehart v. Weitzell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the postconviction court summarily denying Appellant's successive motion for postconviction relief filed under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851, holding that the postconviction court properly denied relief. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Appellant was not entitled to postconviction relief based on his intellectual disability claim because Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. 701 (2014), does not apply retroactively; and (2) Appellant was not entitled to relief under Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), and Hurst v. State, 202 So. 3d 40 (Fla. 2016) because, during Appellant's trial, the requirement that a jury unanimously find a statutory aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt was satisfied. View "Poole v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of child abuse and felony murder with the underlying felony of child abuse but vacated the imposition of lifetime postrelease supervision, holding that the trial court did not err in convicting Defendant but erred in imposing lifetime postrelease supervision. Specifically, the Court held (1) the evidence provided sufficient proof to show that Defendant's action was knowingly done and cruel as required by Kan. Stat. Ann. 21-5602(a)(3); (2) the court did not err in instructing the jury "If you have no reasonable doubt as to the truth of each of the claims required to be proved by the State, you should find the defendant guilty"; and (3) the court improperly ordered lifetime postrelease supervision. View "State v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's grid-sentence, holding that, under two of this Court's recent opinions, Defendant failed to establish that the district court imposed an illegal sentence for purposes of Kan. Stat. Ann. 22-3504. In 1999, Defendant was convicted of capital murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and two counts of felony theft. The district court imposed a hard forty sentence for Defendant's capital murder conviction, an off-grid crime, and to upward departure sentences on the grid crimes. The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's upward durational departure sentences for his grid crimes under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) and resentenced Defendant. Defendant later filed a motion to correct na illegal sentence challenging his hard forty sentence. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that State v. Murdock, 439 P.3d 307 (Kan. 2019), and State v. Weber, 442 P.3d 1044 (Kan. 2019), foreclosed Defendant's challenge. View "State v. Bradford" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for driving under the influence and illegal transportation of liquor, holding that "manifest necessity" is the correct measure for declaring a jury deadlocked under the United States Supreme Court's double jeopardy caselaw when the defendant does not object or consent to the mistrial. Defendant's first trial ended in a mistrial without Defendant's consent because of a jury deadlock. After a second jury trial, Defendant was convicted. Defendant appealed, arguing (1) his second trial violated his constitutional right against double jeopardy, and (2) the jury instruction on the State's burden of proof improperly discouraged the jury from exercising its nullification power. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) when a trial sua sponte declares a jury deadlocked and orders a mistrial when the defendant does not object or consent to the mistrial, retrial should be permitted only when there was a manifest necessity for the court's action, and the holding in State v. Graham, 83 P.3d 143 (Kan. 2004), to the contrary is overruled; (2) the district court properly declared a mistrial under the circumstances of this case based on the manifest necessity standard; and (3) Defendant's jury instruction challenge is rejected. View "State v. Kornelson" on Justia Law