Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant was convicted of two counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, street terrorism, and possession of a firearm by a felon. In the initial opinion, the court affirmed defendant's convictions but reversed the trial court's imposition of a $200 parole revocation fine and order denying defendant custody credit. On remand from the Supreme Court and in light of People v. Canizales (2019) 7 Cal.5th 591, the Court of Appeal held that the kill zone instruction should not have been given, but that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt in light of the overwhelming evidence that defendant intended to kill all five of the men at whom he shot. The court restated its original opinion without change in all other respects. View "People v. Mariscal" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted and sentenced to 121 months in prison, as well as a lifetime of supervised release, for transporting and possessing child pornography. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment with respect to the special assessments under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. However, the court held that the district court plainly erred under circuit precedent by failing to explain the computer-related special conditions of supervised release. Accordingly, the court vacated the conditions as procedurally unreasonable and remanded in part for resentencing. View "United States v. McMiller" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied an application under 28 U.S.C. 2244(b) for leave to file a second or successive habeas corpus petition challenging the applicant's 2005 Washington state sentencing judgment. The panel held that the habeas petition applicant seeks to file is a second or successive petition under Magwood v. Patterson, 561 U.S. 320 (2010), because removal of the victim-restitution condition from applicant's sentencing judgment did not create a new, intervening judgment under Washington law. Therefore, in order to proceed with his habeas petition, applicant must satisfy the requirements for filing a second or successive petition under section 2244(b)(2), which he cannot do. In this case, none of the arguments raise in the petition related to a new constitutional rule. Likewise, each of applicant's arguments raises a procedural error that, even if proven true, has no bearing on his guilt. View "Colbert v. Haynes" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence after he pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. The court held that the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary ruled applied where law enforcement officers had no indication that the state court judge had failed to understand the affidavit or otherwise acted as a rubber stamp. Therefore, because the officers had no evidence that the judge abandoned his judicial role, they acted in good-faith reliance on the warrant's validity. View "United States v. Dickerman" on Justia Law

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Petitioner petitioned the Eleventh Circuit a second time to review the BIA's final order of removal. The court had granted in part petitioner's first petition challenging the classification of his prior conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm as an aggravated felony under the residual clause definition of a crime of violence. The court held that the residual clause was void for vagueness under Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1210 (2018), and granted the petition. On remand, the BIA classified petitioner's prior conviction as an aggravated felony under the elements clause of the definition of a crime of violence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 16(a). The court denied in part and dismissed in part the second petition, holding that petitioner's arguments -- that the Florida statute defining aggravated battery is indivisible and that the offense does not constitute a crime of violence -- are foreclosed by precedent. The court also held that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner's argument that the BIA should review his application for deferral of removal, because petitioner failed to challenge the denial of his application in his appeal to the BIA. View "Lukaj v. U.S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion as untimely. The district court held that petitioner could not show that his motion was timely under section 2255(f)(3) because the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551 (2015), did not recognize a retroactive right not to be sentenced based upon the residual clause in the Career Offender Guideline of the pre-Booker Sentencing Guidelines. The court held that Johnson did not itself render the residual clause of the pre-Booker Career Offender Guideline unconstitutionally vague and thus did not recognize the right petitioner asserted. Therefore, the district court properly denied the petition. View "Nunez v. United States" on Justia Law

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After the denial of a motion to suppress evidence Cowan pleaded guilty to second-degree auto burglary, and, pending preparation of the probation report, agreed to a 16-month "hammer" term in county jail if he failed to appear for his sentencing hearing or to his probation interview. He failed to appear at both. At a continued sentencing hearing, the court rejected Cowan’s excuses and sentenced Cowan to three years’ formal probation, subject to the "hammer." The court imposed a restitution fine and court operations and facilities assessments. The court of appeal affirmed in part, rejecting Cowan’s argument that his detention in a traffic stop before his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment for lack of reasonable suspicion. The court reversed the 16-month jail sentence; imposing a jail term that exceeds 12 months as a condition of probation is an unauthorized sentence under Penal Code section 19.2. The trial court erred in overruling Cowan’s inability-to-pay objection; upon proper objection, a sentencing court must allow a defendant facing the imposition of a minimum restitution fine or court operations and court facilities assessments to present evidence and argument why these financial exactions exceed his ability to pay. Should the court, on remand, find the restitution fine to be excessive, the appropriate disposition is to decline to impose it, not to stay it. View "People v. Cowan" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions for one count of conspiracy and one count of structuring the export of monetary transactions, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Defendant's convictions arose from his role in assisting the leader of conspiracy in smuggling cash through the Logan International Airport in Boston and onto a plane headed to Portuguese islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The First Circuit affirmed the convictions, holding (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence against him; (2) the district court did not err by admitting into evidence certain statements that the leader made to undercover agents and to admit records of Defendant's phone contacts with the leader; (3) there was no merit to Defendant's argument that the district court erred by refusing to issue certain jury instructions that Defendant argued he requested; and (4) Defendant's remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "United States v. Melo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff petitioned the district court for the grand jury transcripts related to the Ford Lynching—a horrific event involving the murders of two African American couples for which no one has ever been charged—to be used in his book about the lynching. The district court granted the petition, finding that the historical significance of the grand jury's investigation, and the critical role the records of that investigation would play in enhancing the historical record on this tragic event, amounted to "exceptional circumstances" that justified the use of the court's inherent power to order disclosure. A panel of the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. After rehearing en banc, the en banc court held that Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure is exhaustive, and that district courts do not possess inherent, supervisory power to authorize the disclosure of grand jury records outside of Rule 6(e)(3)'s enumerated exceptions. Therefore, the en banc court overruled In re Petition to Inspect & Copy Grand Jury Materials (Hastings), 735 F.2d 1261 (11th Cir. 1984), which held to the contrary. The en banc court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Pitch v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law, Rule 59(a) motion for a new trial, and Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment, as provided for by the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, holding that the circuit court did not err. Respondent filed a complaint alleging that Petitioners, two correctional officers, used excessive force against him. The jury found that Petitioners used excessive force on Respondent and committed the civil tort of battery on Respondent. The jury award compensatory damages of $0 and punitive damages of $4,500. Petitioners filed a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law and motions pursuant to Rules 59(a) and (e) for a new trial and/or to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that there was no reasonable relationship between the compensatory damages and punitive damages award. The circuit court denied the motions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in (1) allowing punitive damages to be recovered by Respondent without an accompanying award of compensatory or nominal damages; and (2) failing to apply the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. 1997e, to Petitioners. View "Lunsford v. Shy" on Justia Law