Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Alfred Lopez-Vinck appealed after a jury convicted him of three counts of robbery and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Lopez-Vinck and his girlfriend and co-defendant Misty Lynn Probert were both convicted of charges arising from an incident in which Probert shoplifted various items from a Kohl’s store. After Probert exited the store and was approached by three loss prevention officers, Lopez-Vinck, got out of his vehicle, took out a knife, pointed it in the direction of the loss prevention officers, and moved toward them while aggressively yelling at them to back up. Probert walked past the loss prevention officers while still in possession of the stolen merchandise, got into Lopez-Vinck’s car, and the two drove off together. On appeal, Lopez-Vinck contended insufficient evidence supported his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon, arguing that he did not engage in any act that was likely to cause injury and he did not have the present ability to injure anyone. He also argued his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon had to be modified to convictions for the lesser offense of brandishing because, he claimed, brandishing was a more specific statute that applied to his conduct and preempted the assault statute. In addition, Lopez-Vinck contended the trial court erred, and violated his right to due process, by imposing various fines and fees without first finding that he had the ability to pay them. Finally, he asserts that the minute order and abstract of judgment must be corrected to reflect the court’s oral pronouncement with respect to striking his prison prior. The Court of Appeal concluded only that Lopez-Vinck’s final contention had merit; the case was therefore remanded for the trial court to correct the minute order and abstract of judgment to reflect that the court struck Lopez-Vinck’s prison prior. The Court also found a recent recent ameliorative amendment to the law entitled Lopez-Vinck to have vacated any portion of the fee imposed pursuant to Government Code section 29550.1. View "California v. Lopez-Vinck" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a habeas corpus petition challenging petitioner's jury conviction for two counts of first-degree murder and his capital sentence. The panel applied the deferential standard of review in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and held that the district court properly denied petitioner's claims that his trial counsel was ineffective in not renewing a motion to change venue based on pretrial publicity and in failing to develop additional mitigating evidence. Furthermore, petitioner did not show that the California Supreme Court's denial of his claim that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to renew the change of venue motion after jury selection was an unreasonable application of Strickland v. Washington.The panel granted petitioner's request to expand the certificate of appealability to include his claim that counsel acted ineffectively in not seeking a further continuance to develop additional mitigating evidence for the penalty phase. However, the panel concluded that petitioner has not shown he is entitled to relief under Strickland for counsel's investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence at the penalty phase or for counsel's related determination not to seek a further continuance. Furthermore, even assuming that counsel's performance was constitutionally defective, petitioner cannot show prejudice under AEDPA's deferential standard of review. View "Bolin v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment following a jury trial in an action brought by plaintiff, a California state prisoner, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a prison doctor and nurse, alleging claims of deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from defendants' termination of his prescription for morphine pills without tapering, despite the risk of withdrawal.The panel concluded that the district court's deference instruction, which instructed the jury to defer to defendants' asserted security justification, violated established law under the facts presented and was not harmless. In this case, plaintiff introduced substantial evidence that the prison did not act pursuant to a security-based policy and that the prison had several less drastic alternatives available, including Direct Observation Therapy. Accordingly, the panel remanded for a new trial. View "Coston v. Nangalama" on Justia Law

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Stinson and Jarmon each ran drug trafficking conspiracies out of a North Philadelphia public housing complex/ at various times, 2010-2015. The complex included about 500 apartment units and two playgrounds. During a joint investigation among local police, the FBI, and the DEA, government agents put up pole cameras, established wiretaps, used confidential informants to make controlled drug purchases, pulled trash, analyzed pen registers, and—after Stinson’s arrest and incarceration in 2012— listened to recordings of Stinson’s phone conversations while he was in prison. After the investigation ended in 2017, Stinson and 12 others were charged with conspiracy to distribute 280 grams or more of crack cocaine and related crimes. Separately, Jarmon and 12 others were charged with similar crimes. Most of their co-defendants pleaded guilty and some cooperated.Stinson and Jarmon proceeded to separate trials and were convicted of the conspiracy charges and most of the related charges. Each was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings, the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to drug quantities, and the sentences. Stinson and Jarmon had no reasonable expectation of privacy in their phone calls. View "United States v. Jarmon" on Justia Law

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Appellant Marvin Rodriquez was charged with murder. At trial he requested jury instructions on the defenses of necessity, self-defense, and defense of a third person. The trial court denied his request, and he was convicted. The court of appeals affirmed on grounds that Appellant failed to satisfy the confession-and-avoidance doctrine. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellant’s petition for discretionary review to consider whether his actions and admissions satisfied the doctrine of confession and avoidance, whether Martinez v. Texas, 775 S.W.2d 645 (Tex. Crim. App. 1989), was still good law, and whether the facts leading to the charged conduct were relevant. The Court concluded he did satisfy the requirements of confession and avoidance in that his testimony equivocated about his commission of the charged conduct, Martinez still stands, and all the facts surrounding the charged conduct may be relevant in deciding whether a defensive issue has been raised. Consequently, the judgment of the court of appeals was reversed and the case remanded for a harm analysis. View "Rodriguez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Christopher Simms was convicted of aggravated assault for causing a fatal head-on car accident. At trial, Appellant acknowledged that he was speeding immediately before the accident, but testified that he dozed off or passed out, which then caused him to veer into oncoming traffic and resulted in the collision. Despite this testimony, the trial court refused Appellant’s request for a lesser-included-offense instruction on deadly conduct. Appellant contended such refusal violated his right to have a valid lesser-included offense submitted to the jury for consideration. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, because there was some evidence that would have allowed the jury to rationally conclude that the cause of the accident and the injury to the victim was Appellant’s involuntary loss of consciousness, rather than Appellant’s reckless speeding. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals which upheld the trial court’s ruling denying Appellant’s requested instruction, and remanded the case for a harm analysis. View "Simms v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jesse Villafranco, Jr. was charged with aggravated sexual assault, attempted indecency with a child, and indecency with a child by exposure. At trial, Appellant sought to ask the victim about a previous incident of sexual abuse by someone else to rebut medical evidence offered by the State. The trial court questioned the victim outside the presence of the parties and ruled the evidence of prior sexual abuse inadmissible. The State and defense agreed the trial court failed to follow the proper procedure for a hearing under Rule of Evidence 412 (the “rape shield” rule), and erred in excluding the State, defense counsel, and Appellant from the hearing. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court, concluding that Appellant did not show harm. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to consider whether the court of appeals erred in failing to remand this case to the trial court to remedy its error as required by LaPointe v. Texas, 225 S.W.3d 513 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007), and whether the trial court’s error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. To this, the Court held the court of appeals erred in failing to follow LaPointe. The appeal was abated and the case remanded to the trial court for an adversarial hearing on the admissibility of the evidence of prior sexual abuse. This resolution rendered moot Appellant’s second ground for review, and the Court did not consider the issue of harm. View "Villafranco v. Texas" on Justia Law

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At the punishment stage of AppellantJuan Macedo’s trial, a police report regarding an extraneous offense was admitted into evidence over a hearsay objection. Although the judgment convicting Appellant of that extraneous offense was also admitted into evidence, the police report was the only item of evidence that included details of the offense. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that in light of the evidence of the offense and the severity of the other punishment evidence, any error in admitting the police report was harmless. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Macedo v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The trial court suppressed two of Appellee Erlinda Lujan's three recorded, custodial statements, and the State appealed those rulings. The court of appeals upheld the suppression of one of the statements. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State’s petition for discretionary review to decide whether the court of appeals erred in upholding the suppression of that one statement. The Court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment because the statement at issue was not "warned and waived." View "Texas v. Lujan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of one count of drug trafficking, a first-degree felony with a forfeiture specification, and one count of drug possession and trafficking, holding the trial court did not have an affirmative duty to inquiry about a possible conflict of interest.At issue on appeal was whether a trial court has an affirmative duty to inquire into the possible conflict of interest created by an attorney's dual or multiple representation of codefendants in a criminal case. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding (1) when a trial court does not know, and should not reasonably have known, of a possible conflict of interest in an attorney's representation of two or more codefendants charged with a crime, the trial court has no affirmative duty to inquire whether a conflict of interest exists; and (2) there was nothing in the record here giving rise to an affirmative duty on the part of the trial court to inquire about a potential conflict of interest resulting from the dual representation of Defendant and his codefendant. View "State v. Williams" on Justia Law