Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Manuel De Jesus Prado filed a Penal Code section 1170.95 petition, stating that he was convicted of murder and was entitled to a dismissal because of the Legislature’s amendments to Penal Code sections 188 and 189. The court denied defendant’s petition, finding the Legislature violated the constitutional limitation on amending or repealing initiative statutes when it passed Senate Bill 1437. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding "Sections 188 and 189 were enacted by the Legislature; ergo, sections 188 and 189 are legislative statutes. The Legislature did not violate the constitutional limitation on amending initiative statutes when it passed Senate Bill 1437 and amended sections 188 and 189 because they are not initiative statutes." Section 1170.95 was a new statute that established a procedure for eligible defendants convicted of murder to petition for relief. The Court determined the Legislature did not violate the constitutional limitation on amending or repealing an initiative statute when it passed Senate Bill 1437 and enacted section 1170.95 because it was itself a legislative statute that neither amended nor repealed any other statute. View "California v. Prado" on Justia Law

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Smith pled no contest to assault with intent to commit rape and admitted prior conviction and prison term allegations. Before his release on parole in 2010, he was declared a sexually violent predator (SVP) under Welfare and Institutions Code 6600 and was committed to Coalinga State Hospital. He was released in November 2015 and placed in the Conditional Release Program. In March 2016, Smith sought unconditional discharge. The court found Smith had established probable cause that he was no longer a public safety risk. The matter was continued to allow the state to prepare an expert evaluation. In May 2017, the government filed a petition to revoke conditional release. The court granted the petition and recommitted Smith, then determined that the unconditional discharge petition was superseded by the hearing. Smith filed a Marsden motion based on his counsel’s failure to pursue an unconditional discharge. The court determined its previous ruling that Smith's petition was superseded was erroneous and set a jury trial. The government successfully sought reconsideration, arguing the court had inherent authority to reconsider its probable cause finding and that an SVP must be on conditional release for at least one year before seeking unconditional discharge. The court of appeal affirmed, in favor of the government. The statute requires a committed person to have been on conditional release for at least one year when the unconditional discharge petition is filed and to remain on that status throughout the duration of the unconditional discharge proceedings. View "People v. Smith" on Justia Law

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A jury found petitioner Tom Smith guilty of first degree murder, assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury, dependent adult abuse, conspiracy to commit murder, custodial possession of a weapon, custodial manufacture of a weapon, and misdemeanor damage to prison property, along with various enhancements, arising from an attack on a fellow inmate at Patton State Hospital. Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate term of 168 years to life. He appealed, raising, among other issues, the ineffectiveness of his trial counsel based on defense counsel’s closing argument, in which he conceded petitioner’s guilt of the crime but asked the jury to find him guilty of second degree murder, rather than first degree. The judgment was affirmed on direct appeal. Petitioner did not seek review by the California Supreme Court. However, he did file multiple petitions seeking to collaterally attack the judgment. One such attack, filing a habeas petition in light of the federal Supreme Court's decision in McCoy v. Louisiana, 584 U.S. ___ (2018). When that petition was denied, he raised the same issue to the Court of Appeal, which denied the petition. Petitioner then pursued the issue with the California Supreme Court, which issued an order to show cause to the Court of Appeal as to why petitioner was not entitled to relief based on McCoy, and why McCoy should not have applied retroactively to final judgments on habeas corpus. The Court of Appeal disagreed McCoy applied to this case; according to petitioner, his trial testimony demonstrated his intent to assert his innocence of the murder, as did his statements made in open court after counsel’s closing argument. The Court found the record did not show petitioner made an express and unambiguous intent to maintain factual innocence at that time. Thereafter, defense counsel made his closing argument, conceding petitioner’s involvement in the murder, at which point petitioner objected. "While petitioner did object during closing argument, it was after the concession had been made, so it cannot be said that at the time counsel made the concession, it was over petitioner’s intransigent and unambiguous objection." View "In re Smith" on Justia Law

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A violation of Vehicle Code section 23153 is not a lesser included offense of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated when, as here, the offenses involve separate victims. Defendant contends that his convictions for driving under the influence causing bodily injury (count 3) and driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more and causing bodily injury (count 4) must be reversed because they are lesser included offenses of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The Court of Appeal held that defendant's convictions were proper because counts 3 and 4 arose from injuries to a different victim than the conviction on count 2. View "People v. Machuca" on Justia Law

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Falls began serving supervised release after he was released from prison. Two years later, probation officer Hoepker filed a petition to revoke Falls’s supervised release, alleging that Falls committed the offense of attempted possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. At Falls’s revocation hearing, the government presented Hoepker's testimony that she learned of the alleged criminal conduct from DEA Agent Neff and learned that Falls was in DEA custody. Hoepker had listened to an audio recording of a DEA interview and identified the voice of the person interviewed as Falls. Falls objected, unsuccessfully arguing that because the recording contained hearsay, FRCP 32.1(b)(2)(C) and Seventh Circuit precedent (Jordan) required the court to balance the government’s proffered reason for not calling the interviewing officer with Falls’s interest in confronting and cross-examining him. The government introduced the first 10 minutes of the recording. The court concluded that it was reliable and that it was more likely than not that Falls committed the attempted-possession-with-intent-to-distribute violation, resulting in a sentencing range of 46-57 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 57-month sentence. Jordan does not apply because the probative statements in the audio recording were Falls’s own non-hearsay statements. Falls has not shown that his interviewing officer was an “adverse witness” that Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) entitled him to question subject to an interest-of-justice determination. View "United States v. Falls" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court granting the State's motion to dismiss the indictment against Defendant without prejudice and denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment with prejudice, holding that the circuit court properly dismissed the indictment without prejudice. Defendant was charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and two counts of conspiracy to commit said offense. One day before trial, the State filed a motion to dismiss the indictment without prejudice on the ground that the State was unable to prosecute Defendant without testimony from his codefendant, who would not be released from her incarceration in Ohio until the next year. The circuit court granted the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) while the State did not act with great dispatch in securing the codefendant's presence or her testimony at Defendant's trial, the State did not act in bad faith; and (2) the circuit court's decision granting the State's motion to dismiss without prejudice was based upon facts and circumstances known to the court and with due consideration for the rights of all parties. View "State v. Holden" on Justia Law

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In 2006 Smithers pleaded guilty to two aiding-and-abetting counts involving cocaine. The government had notified him that it would seek life imprisonment because he had four prior “felony drug offenses,” 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A), 851. In the plea deal, the government withdrew its reliance on three of the convictions. Smithers’s remaining “felony drug offense” triggered a mandatory-minimum sentence of 240 months. Smithers also qualified as a “career offender” under the Sentencing Guidelines; his guidelines range was 262-327 months. The court imposed a 262-month sentence. T he 2010 Fair Sentencing Act increased the quantity of crack cocaine necessary to trigger Smithers’s 20-year mandatory minimum from 50 grams to 280 grams. Because Smithers had pleaded guilty to possessing 50 grams, his mandatory-minimum sentence would have dropped 10 years. The 2018 First Step Act made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive and gives district courts discretion over whether to reduce this type of sentence. The probation office found that Smithers did not qualify for relief under the Act. His status as a career offender kept his guidelines range the same even after the reduction in his mandatory-minimum sentence. The district court found that Smithers was “eligible for consideration of a reduced sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(B)” but held that Smithers did not warrant that discretionary relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The court declined to address whether the Sentencing Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3742(a), limited Smithers’s appeal; the government waived that argument. The court did not abuse its discretion when denying Smithers a reduced sentence. View "United States v. Smithers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of five counts of unlawful sexual touching and one count of visual sexual aggression against a child, holding that Defendant received a fair trial with properly admitted expert testimony and a clear guilty verdict. After a third trial, Defendant was convicted and sentenced. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in accepting the jury's verdict, that prosecutorial misconduct deprived him of a fair trial, and that the court erred in admitting the State's expert witness's testimony. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the court did not clearly err in finding the State's witness to be a qualified expert witness. View "State v. Westgate" on Justia Law

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Barr was charged with a fraudulent real-estate-selling scheme in Chicago. FBI officers discovered Barr was living in Saudi Arabia. Before they could get to Barr, Saudi Arabian officials detained him for unrelated conduct. Barr spent months in a Saudi Arabian prison. When he was released and returned to the U.S., he pled guilty to making false statements to a financial institution. He then unsuccessfully asked the court to allow more time for counsel to obtain government clearance and review classified materials, to dismiss the indictment, and to withdraw his plea. At his sentencing, Barr tried to argue that his time in Saudi Arabia should be a mitigating factor. The court disagreed and prevented Barr from advancing that argument. Barr unsuccessfully sought the judge’s recusal. The judge sentenced Barr to 87 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Even if Barr’s U.S. crimes somehow led to his detention in Saudi Arabia, that detention time was not punishment for Barr’s U.S. crime; it was a consequence of Barr’s not paying his debts in Saudi Arabia and did not relate to any of the legitimate aims of sentencing. There was no reasonable probability that allegedly suppressed evidence about Barr’s detention in Saudi Arabia would have changed the result of Barr’s sentencing hearing. Essentially, Barr thought the government would not be able to prove as much loss, which would have produced a lower guidelines range; Barr presented no legitimate reason to withdraw his plea. View "United States v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The State petitioned for review the court of appeals' judgment reversing a trial court's imposition of consecutive sentences for respondent Martin Espinoza's ten convictions of attempted first degree murder of ten different people. Espinoza was charged with first degree arson, third degree assault, and attempted first degree murder (extreme indifference), with corresponding crime-of-violence counts, arising out of an incident in which a fire raged through his mother’s apartment. Respondent started a fire on the balcony of his mother’s apartment, which spread throughout the apartment building and to a neighboring building. The ten people who were named victims of the attempted murder counts were inside the defendant’s mother’s apartment building during the fire but were able to escape and survive. Reasoning that Espinoza’s ten attempted murder convictions were separate crimes of violence, the trial court considered itself bound by statute to impose consecutive sentences. The intermediate appellate court, however, found that because the ten convictions were premised on a “single act of fire-setting,” they were supported by identical evidence, notwithstanding the fact that each conviction required proof that the defendant attempted to kill a different person. Further concluding that convictions for multiple crimes of violence that were supported by identical evidence did not fall within the statutory mandate to sentence consecutively, the intermediate appellate court reversed and remanded for resentencing. The Colorado Supreme Court found that because offenses defined in terms of their victimization of another and committed against different victims were not capable of being proved by identical evidence within the contemplation of section 18-1-408(3), C.R.S. (2019), and because even according to the appellate court’s understanding of the term “separate crimes of violence,” Espinoza’s convictions therefore required consecutive sentences pursuant to section 18-1.3-406(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Colorado v. Espinoza" on Justia Law