Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions of eleven offenses arising from a three-day carjacking spree, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Defendant was convicted of four counts of carjacking, one of which resulted in the death of a person, four counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of those carjackings, two counts of possessing a stolen firearm, and one count of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant failed to establish plain error as to the district court's decisions regarding his competency during the first trial; (2) any error in the admission of a forensic expert's testimony regarding DNA evidence presented at trial was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions; (4) Defendant failed to establish plain error regarding the jury instructions; and (5) an officer's testimony in the second trial did not violate Defendant's rights under the Confrontation Clause. View "United States v. Velazquez-Aponte" on Justia Law

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Defendant Cesar Meneses appealed after a jury found him guilty of four counts of committing a lewd act upon a child under 14 years of age and found true, as to each count, the multiple victim sentencing enhancement allegation. Meneses argued: (1) the trial court erred by instructing the jury regarding consideration of evidence of charged sex offenses with CALCRIM No. 1191B; and (2) the prosecutor committed error in her closing and rebuttal arguments. Meneses further argued, to the extent his trial counsel’s failure to object on these grounds results in forfeiture of these arguments on appeal, he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed as to all issues. View "California v. Meneses" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's habeas corpus petition challenging his Nevada conviction and death sentence for four counts of first degree murder. Given that petitioner's underlying ineffective assistance of counsel claims lack merit, the panel need not resolve whether the relevant Nevada law was adequate or if it is, whether petitioner can overcome his procedural default and obtain federal review of the merits of his ineffective assistance claims. Even if the panel held in petitioner's favor in either of those questions and reached the merits of the claims, the panel would affirm the district court's denial of relief. The panel also held that the Nevada Supreme Court's determination -- that petitioner's constitutional rights were not violated when the state's expert made reference during his testimony to test results that he had obtained from petitioner's expert -- was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of controlling Supreme Court case law. Furthermore, the panel rejected petitioner's claim regarding change of venue, the testimony of the mother of the victim, and improper statements by the prosecutor. Finally, the panel declined to expand the certificate of appealability. View "Floyd v. Filson" on Justia Law

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A juvenile from a small village could not afford to travel to the site of his juvenile delinquency proceeding. His attorney with the Public Defender Agency (the Agency) filed a motion asking the superior court to require the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to pay the travel expenses for both the juvenile and one of his parents. The superior court denied the motion and required the Agency to pay the expenses. The court of appeals upheld the superior court’s decision, reasoning that the Agency’s authorizing statute could plausibly be interpreted to cover client travel expenses and that this reading was supported by administrative guidance in the form of two Attorney General opinions and a regulation governing reimbursements by the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA). The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Agency’s petition for hearing, asking the Agency and DJJ to address two questions: (1) whether the Agency has a statutory obligation to pay its clients’ travel expenses; and (2) whether DJJ has a statutory obligation to pay those expenses. The Supreme Court concluded neither entity’s authorizing statutes required the payment and therefore reversed the court of appeals. The Court did not address the question of how these necessary expenses were to be funded; the Court surmised that was an issue for the executive and legislative branches. View "Alaska Public Defender Agency v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The mere proximity between a firearm and drug possessed for personal use could not support a USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) enhancement without a finding that the gun facilitated or had the potential to facilitate the defendant's drug possession. Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence after he conditionally pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's application of a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for possessing a firearm in connection with another felony. In this case, the district court applied the enhancement based solely on the proximity between the firearm and a hydromorphone pill. The court held that the district court erred by applying the enhancement without finding that the firearm facilitated, or had the potential of facilitating defendant's possession of the pill. However, the court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion to suppress and held that, in light of the totality of the circumstances, defendant's known criminal history, non-compliance, argumentativeness, and nervous, agitated behavior following lawful orders to exit the truck would cause a reasonably prudent officer in the circumstances to believe that his safety or that of his fellow officers was in danger. The court also affirmed the denial of defendant's application of an enhanced base offense level under USSG 2K2.1(a)(3), because his prior Florida conviction for drug conspiracy was a predicate controlled substance offense under the Guidelines. View "United States v. Bishop" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court convicting Defendant of two counts of sexual assault of a child in the first degree and one count each of attempted sexual assault of a child in the first degree, sexual assault of a child in the third degree, and incest with a victim age seventeen or under, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his allegations of error. After convicting Defendant the district court sentenced him to an aggregate period of 100 years' to life imprisonment, plus an additional term of imprisonment of thirty-two to seventy-three years. Defendant appealed, assigning several evidentiary errors and alleging that the district court inappropriately instructed the jury regarding venue. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion as to the challenged evidentiary rulings; (2) regarding the jury instructions, Defendant was not prejudiced as to necessitate a reversal; (3) the sentencing court did not abuse its discretion, and Defendant's sentences were not excessive; and (4) Defendant did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. View "State v. Lee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally remanded this case involving Defendant's conviction for assault with attempt to commit sexual abuse; pattern, practice, or scheme to engage in sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist; and child endangerment, holding that the trial court should have conducted a Iowa R. Evid. 5.412 hearing to determine whether one of the alleged victims made false accusations of sexual abuse against her parents. Defendant, the former owner of a school for troubled youth, was convicted of two offenses involving acts of sexual misconduct against a former female student and a third offense relating to the school's physical mistreatment of two former male students. The Supreme Court affirmed on condition and remanded with directions, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to sustain Defendant's convictions; (2) the district court did not err in declining to consider ineffective assistance claims as part of motion for new trial proceedings; but (3) the district court erred by failing to conduct a rule 5.412 hearing before or during trial to determine whether the female student made false accusations of sexual abuse against her adoptive or foster parents. View "State v. Trane" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment convicting Defendant of first-degree murder, holding that Defendant's Sixth Amendment rights of confrontation or compulsory process were not violated when the district court refused to permit Defendant during trial to call a witness who intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination on all questions. In his retrial for murder, Defendant sought to call a witness so that the jury could him him "take the Fifth" and thus infer the witness's guilt. The district court refused to permit Defendant to call the witness because, pursuant to State v. Bedwell, 417 N.W.2d 66 (Iowa 1987), the jury is not entitled to draw inferences favorable to the defense from a witness's decision to exercise his constitutional privilege. The court of appeals reversed, distinguishing Bedwell on grounds that the witness had testified in Defendant's prior trial and the district court failed to ascertain the scope of his privilege question by question. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision and affirmed the district court, holding (1) under the circumstances, Bedwell provides a categorical rule against compelling the witness to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege in front of the jury; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "State v. Heard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court judge allowing Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence related to an illegal seizure on the ground that the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable, holding that the police officer's stop of Defendant's motor vehicle for failing to drive entirely within a marked traffic lane was reasonable and, therefore, constitutional. Defendant was charged with a marked lanes violation in accordance with Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 89, 4A and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The judge allowed Defendant's motion to suppress, ruling that Defendant had not violated section 4A, and therefore, the stop of his motor vehicle was not reasonable. The Supreme Court vacated the judge's order, holding that Defendant violated section 4A when he crossed the right-side fog line one time for two or three seconds, and therefore, the ensuing traffic stop was reasonable. View "Commonwealth v. Larose" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed a special search condition of supervised release, holding that the record supported the condition and there was no clear error adversely impacting defendant's substantial rights. In this case, not only did the district court expressly adopt the findings of the presentence report (PSR), which included defendant's extensive criminal history, but the condition was a mechanism for enforcing other conditions prohibiting defendant's possession of drugs or firearms by facilitating the detection of evidence of other supervised release violations. Furthermore, the reasonableness of the conditions was evident from the very background of defendant's appeal, which stemmed from a crime he committed while on parole. View "United States v. Dean" on Justia Law