Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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On February 22, a criminal complaint was filed against the defendant for unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle. On February 26, the defendant was in custody and present in court for a pretrial hearing. The court continued the matter to March 20. The Surety posted a bond of $25,000 for the defendant’s release from custody. At the March 20 pretrial hearing, the defendant was not present. The court told defense counsel “I’ll give you a week to bring him back in. … Bench warrant of 35,000 held … it’s not likely to waste your family and friends money and then FTA on a 10851.” On March 28, the defendant again failed to appear. The court ordered bail forfeited. A notice of forfeiture was mailed to the parties on March 29.On October 2, the Surety moved to vacate, forfeit, and exonerate bail or to extend time, arguing that the court lost jurisdiction over the bond because it failed to declare a forfeiture (Penal Code 13051) when the defendant did not appear on March 20. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. The trial court had a rational basis for believing there may have been an excuse for the defendant’s failure to appear sufficient to warrant continuing the case without declaring a forfeiture and retained jurisdiction to later declare the bail forfeited. View "People v. Bankers Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Harring is serving life without the possibility of parole for a murder he committed in 1997 before he turned 18 years old. The superior court denied his petition to recall his sentence under Penal Code section 1170(d)(2).The court of appeal reversed. Under section 1170(d)(2) petitioners must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that at least one of four mitigating circumstances is true. Harring attested he does “not have juvenile felony adjudications for assault or other felony crimes with a significant potential for personal harm to victims.” Harring had a prior juvenile felony adjudication for second-degree burglary; the court of appeal concluded that courts must consider the felony crime subject to juvenile adjudication and its elements to determine whether it is a crime with “significant potential for personal harm to victims.” The conduct comprising the crime of second-degree commercial burglary is unlike assault in that it does not involve an act that by its nature creates a risk of physical harm to another.The court declined to consider whether Harring is entitled to a "Franklin" proceeding to make a record of youth-related factors relevant to an eventual parole hearing. If Harring wishes to request a Franklin hearing, he may do so with the trial court. View "People v. Harring" on Justia Law

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Melnik, a Nevada prisoner, was charged with unauthorized or inappropriate use of the prison mail system after prison officials intercepted two envelopes addressed to him that contained methamphetamine in secret compartments in the enclosed letters. Melnik asked several times to examine the envelopes or copies of the envelopes, but those requests were denied or ignored. At the prison disciplinary hearing, images of the envelopes and information about their contents were the only evidence presented. Melnik testified that he was innocent and had been framed by other inmates but was found guilty.Melnik filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against six former or current employees of the Nevada Department of Corrections, alleging they denied him the ability to examine the evidence before the prison disciplinary proceeding. The defendants sought summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of their motion. Melnik had a constitutional right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to be permitted to examine documentary evidence for use in the prison disciplinary hearing; that right was clearly established at the time when Melnik was denied access to the material. View "Melnik v. Dzurenda" on Justia Law

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Talley, a Pennsylvania state prison inmate, signed a settlement agreement resolving two prior lawsuits. He alleges that the Settlement Agreement was fraudulent because attorneys had not entered a “‘proper’ appearance” on behalf of a defendant and that another attorney breached the Agreement when he filed it as an exhibit to a motion in one of the suits. Talley asserted violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961, violations of the First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and numerous state law claims.The district court dismissed, finding that the attorney had entered a permissible appearance by signing and filing an answer on behalf of the defendants, and Talley’s RICO and constitutional claims were meritless because the Agreement was never actually filed on the docket. The court denied Talley leave to amend his federal claims as futile. Talley moved to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) on appeal. The Third Circuit granted the IFP motion and affirmed the dismissal. The IFP statute, 28 U.S.C. 1915 providing that prisoners may proceed in federal court without prepayment of filing fees, contains a “three-strikes rule.” Courts may call a strike when a prisoner’s “action or appeal . . . was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted[.]” Talley’s prior “mixed dismissals” are not strikes. View "Talley v. Wetzel" on Justia Law

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A division of the Colorado Court of Appeals, purporting to apply Colorado v. Morehead, 442 P.3d 413 (2019) announced a new two-step, multifactor test that trial courts would be required to apply when exercising discretion to entertain new arguments and evidence from either party in resolving any remaining suppression-related issues not foreclosed by appeal. In 2007, respondent Tallent spontaneously ran when he saw nearby police officers, eluded the officers in a chase through several backyards, and hid on a covered porch. After the arrest, police discovered an outstanding felony warrant for Tallent. Before trial, Tallent moved to suppress all evidence and statements obtained as a result of his arrest, his interactions with police, and the various searches they had conducted. The trial court issued an oral ruling that the police lacked probable cause for the arrest. At that hearing, the court acknowledged that “perhaps [the State] would want to make additional comments in light of the actual ruling as to the arrest.” The State indicated that it might want to take an interlocutory appeal of the ruling. On July 20, 2007, however, the court, “upon further analysis,” issued a written order concluding that Tallent’s arrest was in fact constitutional. The court thus admitted the evidence at trial. Tallent was convicted as charged. On direct appeal, a division of the court of appeals reversed Tallent’s conviction and remanded for a new trial, concluding that “[b]ecause Tallent was arrested without probable cause, evidence obtained as a result of that arrest should not have been admitted at trial.” Because the trial court relied on new arguments without explicitly applying that novel test, the division reversed Tallent’s conviction and remanded for the trial court to apply the test retroactively. The Colorado Supreme Court rejected the appellate division’s approach, which the Court found strayed from its decision in Morehead and imposed unnecessary constraints on trial courts. "Further, based on the existing record in Tallent’s case, we conclude that the trial court did not err in considering the State's new arguments on remand. We therefore reverse the division’s judgment and remand for consideration of Tallent’s remaining arguments on appeal." View "Colorado v. Tallent" on Justia Law

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In December 2018, a Jack-in-the-Box employee suspected a “drunk driver” was in the restaurant’s drive-through line and reported this suspicion to law enforcement. An officer arrived on the scene and reported an odor of alcohol emanating from the passenger side of the vehicle, as well as empty alcohol containers on the floor near the vehicle’s passenger. The officer directed the driver, later identified as Andrew Wilson, to park the car. Wilson exited the vehicle. After noticing the odor of alcohol coming from Wilson, the officer began conducting field sobriety tests. The officer interpreted Wilson’s results as presenting signs of impairment. The officer then arrested Wilson for driving under the influence (DUI). A warrant for a blood draw was ultimately obtained after Wilson refused to submit to a breath test. The result of the blood draw conducted at the Pocatello Police Department reported a blood alcohol content of 0.192 percent. Wilson was charged with felony DUI based on two prior DUI convictions within the previous ten years. Wilson moved to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of his initial detention, arguing that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to detain him in the restaurant parking lot. The district court granted Wilson’s motion and dismissed the charge against him with prejudice. The State appealed this decision to the Idaho Court of Appeals, which reversed the district court. The Idaho Supreme Court granted Wilson’s petition for review, and affirmed the district court’s decision to suppress because the State failed to preserve its argument for appeal. The Supreme Court found the State did not submit a responsive motion to Wilson's motion at the suppression hearing. "Allowing the State to argue on appeal that Officer Malone developed reasonable suspicion to detain Wilson prior to Wilson’s exit from the vehicle, when it implicitly conceded this point below, 'would sharply cut against our longstanding and recently re-affirmed policy of requiring parties to present their arguments to the court below[.]'" View "Idaho v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions connected with the murder of Steven DiSarro, holding that Defendants were not entitled to relief on their allegations of error.Defendants, Francis Salemme and Paul Weadick, were convicted of the 1993 murder of DiSarro. At the time of the murder, Salemme was the boss of a criminal organization known as the New England La Cosa Nostra. Defendants murdered DiSarro to prevent him from talking with federal agents about his activities with Salemme, Weadick and Salemme's son. On appeal, Defendants challenged the trial court's admission of a significant amount of evidence concerning the prior criminal activities of Salemme and several witnesses. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in admitting the evidence. View "United States v. Weadick" on Justia Law

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Julius was convicted of arson for setting fire to a building where his ex-girlfriend, Noack, was living, twice in the same night. Julius was seen hanging around the building and threw rocks at the apartment window. On the night of the fires, Julius texted Noack repeatedly, asking if she was “coming outside.” He called her five times in a row. After midnight, a building resident woke up to the smell of smoke and found burning coals inside the building’s front door. Shortly after the second fire, an officer found Julius hiding under a car, patted Julius down, and found a lighter in his pocket. Julius was “clearly intoxicated.” Testing revealed gasoline on Julius’s shoes and socks.The government called a state police computer forensic examiner and an ATF agent to testify about extracting text messages from Julius’s phone. . The government did not seek to qualify these witnesses as experts. The ATF agent testified that she could not reach any conclusions as to the phone’s location. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Neither the district court’s failure to qualify the forensic examiner and ATF agent as expert witnesses before allowing them to testify nor the denial of an opportunity to cross-examine the ATF agent about the location data affected the verdict. View "United States v. Julius" on Justia Law

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The issue this interlocutory appeal presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether evidence seized by federal Border Patrol agents during a roving patrol (pursuant to their authority to conduct warrantless searches under 8 U.S.C. 1357) was admissible in a state criminal proceeding when that search did not comply with Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution. Defendants Phillip Walker-Brazie and Brandi-Lena Butterfield argued that because the overwhelming purpose of Vermont’s exclusionary rule was to protect individual liberty, the Supreme Court should apply the exclusionary rule and suppress the evidence pursuant to Article 11. To this the Supreme Court agreed, holding that such evidence is inadmissible in Vermont criminal proceedings. View "Vermont v. Walker-Brazie" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Mendez was convicted of 12 counts of second-degree robbery and one count of attempted second-degree robbery, with personal weapon use enhancement findings as to 12 of the counts (Penal Code 12022.53(b)). He was sentenced to 164 months for the robbery counts plus 560 months on the weapon enhancements, a total term of 724 months. By letter to the Los Angeles County Superior Court dated 2019, the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recommended a recall of Mendez’s sentence, noting an amendment to section 12022.53(h), effective January 2018, giving courts discretion to strike or dismiss a personal use firearm enhancement at sentencing or resentencing. The trial court declined.Mendez argued the trial court failed to adequately weigh his postconviction record and afforded him no opportunity to be heard regarding the CDCR recommendation. The court of appeal reversed. In view of the substantial liberty interest at stake, the court remanded to the trial court to give notice to the parties, to allow the parties the opportunity to supplement the CDCR’s recommendation with additional relevant information, and to enable the trial court to exercise its discretion whether to recall Mendez’s sentence in light of such information as well as any briefing the parties might choose to submit. View "People v. Mendez" on Justia Law