Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Edwards pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, 18 U.S.C. 2250 (SORNA). It was his fourth conviction for a failure to register a change of address as required by state and federal statutes. The district court ordered him to serve a prison term of 27 months and imposed three conditions on his supervised release: a requirement that, as required by his probation officer, he inform employers, neighbors and family members with children, and others of his criminal record, his obligation to register as a sex offender, and other SORNA requirements; a ban on meeting, spending time with, or communicating with any minor absent the express permission of the minor’s parent or guardian and the probation officer; and a bar on working in any job or participating any volunteer activity in which he would have access to minors, absent prior approval of his probation officer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conditions. Although Edwards has never committed a “hands‐on” sexual offense against a child, the district court expressly considered that point and articulated a reasonable basis to believe that such restrictions were warranted. Edwards has possessed and distributed child pornography, including pornography depicting adults having sex with minors. The court noted his enduring sexual interest in children and his pattern of deception and non‐compliance with the conditions of his release. View "United States v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for carjacking, conspiracy to commit carjacking, and destruction of government property. The court held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal on the carjacking and conspiracy charges, because there was sufficient evidence to support the charges; motion to suppress evidence related to a cell phone search, because the district court's inference that defendant abandoned his phone while fleeing was reasonable; and motion to excuse and question two jurors, because defendant failed to show that the extrajudicial communications or contacts at issue were more than innocuous interventions. View "United States v. Small" 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 conditionally pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful use of identification documents. In this case, ICE officers determined that defendant was not the suspect that they were in fact looking for, but the officers learned during an investigatory stop that defendant had been previously charged with an immigration offense. The court held that the officer had a reasonable suspicion that the initial suspect had committed a crime and that the suspect lived at the residence where defendant was arrested because the suspect listed the address as his residence and had a car registered to the address. Furthermore, it was not unreasonable for the officer to mistake defendant for the actual suspect in light of the circumstances. Therefore, the officer's mistake was not objectively unreasonable and he had reasonable suspicion to stop defendant. View "United States v. Lopez-Tubac" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence of 600 months in prison imposed after he was convicted of eight child pornography offenses and one count of sexually exploiting a child while required to register as a sex offender. The court held that any error in determining that defendant's Nebraska conviction related to the possession of child pornography was a predicate offense for application of 18 U.S.C. 2551(a) was harmless error. The court also held that defendant's conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor and for possession of the images did not constitute double jeopardy under the Blockberger test or the merged offenses doctrine. View "United States v. Hansen" on Justia Law

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It is proper only to consider a defendant's financial eligibility for new counsel under the Criminal Justice Act. The Second Circuit granted Defendant Nunez's motion for in forma pauperis (IFP) status and a motion to withdraw as counsel and appointment for new counsel under the CJA. The court held that Nunez has established that he was financial eligible for CJA counsel, and was no threshold showing of the merits of the appeal was required to obtain IFP and CJA counsel in direct criminal appeals. View "United States v. Kosic (Nunez)" on Justia Law

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B.B. was charged with aggravated assault based on allegations from August 2016. In November 2018, B.B. was 20 years old, and filed a motion for youthful-offender status based on his age in 2016 . B.B. struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction, and his residential and employment situations were “unstable.” The State opposed the motion. There was prima facie evidence that B.B. “engaged in a new violent act” while he was “under the influence of alcohol,” even though B.B. was underage and was subject to a condition of release that required him to refrain from drinking alcohol. The youthful-offender statutory scheme would have allowed, if the criminal defendant was under twenty-two years old and was at least twelve years old at the time of the alleged offense, a motion to be filed with the criminal division requesting youthful-offender status. Attaining that status would provide for the defendant to obtain a battery of counseling and rehabilitation in addition to any punishment determined by the court. Only if the court finds that public safety will be protected may the court then go on to consider the other statutory factors. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that B.B. had not met his burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that public safety would be protected if he were granted youthful-offender status, and denied the motion. B.B. requested permission to appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, which was granted. However, finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "In re B.B., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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Security cameras captured Bernal ransacking a home. A witness later saw him breaking into a car in a driveway and called 911. Arrested, Bernal had in his possession the items taken from the car and other stolen property. Bernal was released on bail. A business owner later reported computers, cash, and credit cards stolen from his car. Security video from a store showed Bernal using a stolen credit card. Bernal displayed a knife to escape a man who found Bernal inside his car. He was arrested and again released. Days later, a woman reported items missing from her car. Her work badge and personal checks were found in Bernal’s pocket when he was arrested. Released on bail, he broke into two more cars and stole jewelry. Police obtained a warrant to search Bernal’s apartment and found jewelry, multiple driver’s licenses, other stolen items, and methamphetamine pipes. Bernal was convicted of residential burglary, identity theft, assault with a deadly weapon, auto burglary, tampering with a vehicle, receiving stolen property, and child endangerment, with two prior serious felonies, prior prison terms and committing new offenses while released on bail and was sentenced to 85 years to life. The court of appeal affirmed the convictions, rejecting Bernal’s arguments that his constitutional rights were violated when his attorney conceded guilt on certain charges in closing argument, that there was insufficient evidence to support two of his convictions, and that his attorney provided ineffective assistance. The court remanded so the trial court can exercise its discretion regarding prior conviction enhancements under Penal Code 667(a) (mandatory at the time of sentencing but now discretionary). View "People v. Bernal" on Justia Law

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Following a "road rage" incident, Gonzalez was convicted of assault with a firearm, shooting at an occupied motor vehicle, and possession of a firearm by a felon. The jury found that he personally used a firearm during the commission of the assault and that Gonzalez had a prior felony conviction for attempted second-degree robbery. An employee of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office witnessed the incident and followed the cars, using his cell phone to take a video, which was played for the jury. When Gonzalez was arrested for driving with a suspended license, officers found gunshot residue on the interior window of his car. His home was searched and the license plate shown in the video was found. An automated license plate reader program revealed photos of the Buick with that license plate; when Gonzalez was arrested, it had different license plates. The victim identified Gonzalez as “resembl[ing]” the Buick driver, but was not 100 percent sure. The court of appeal remanded for resentencing but otherwise affirmed. The trial court erred in admitting uncertified and unauthenticated records to prove the prior conviction. Gonzalez is entitled to remand under new legislation granting trial courts discretion to strike or dismiss a firearm enhancement. Any error in the admission of an automatic license plate reader report was harmless. The court upheld a jury instruction statement, “You’ve heard eyewitness testimony identifying the Defendant” as not assuming that the eyewitness testimony was definitive. View "People v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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A defendant's act of furnishing drugs and the user's voluntary act of ingesting them constitute concurrent direct causes, such that the defendant who so furnishes personally inflicts great bodily injury upon his victim when she subsequently dies from an overdose. In this case, defendant was found guilty of furnishing or giving drugs to his girlfriend, and the jury found true the allegation that he had personally inflicted great bodily injury upon her. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that, because the victim's voluntary ingestion of the drugs furnished by defendant did not absolve him of his direct causal role in her injury, the argument that it did was contrary to the law and was properly barred by the trial court. The court agreed with People v. Martinez (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1169, and rejected People v. Slough (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 419. Finally, the court rejected defendant's contention that the trial court erred in imposing the upper-term sentence; defendant's due process-based arguments under People v. Dueñas (2019) 30 Cal.App.5th 1157; and defendant's argument that the $370 in monetary obligations constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. View "People v. Ollo" on Justia Law

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Darren Lee Wharton was found guilty by a jury of capital murder in 1995 for the shooting death of Danny McCugh during the commission of a robbery. The crime occurred on July 17, 1994, when Wharton was seventeen years of age. Wharton was granted leave by the Mississippi Supreme Court to the proceed with a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR) based on Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). The trial court vacated Wharton’s life- without-parole sentence for capital murder and granted Wharton a Miller sentencing hearing. The trial court denied Wharton’s request that a jury make the Miller determination, stating that “the sentencing authority is the trial court.” Following the Miller hearing, the trial court resentenced Wharton to life in prison without parole. The Court of Appeals reversed Wharton’s sentence and remanded the case to the trial court, instructing that “Wharton’s Miller resentencing should be decided by a jury, not the trial court, because Wharton was convicted and sentenced under [Mississippi Code Section] 99-19-101 that prescribes sentencing solely by a jury.” The State petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which was granted. The Supreme Court found Wharton was not entitled to have a Miller resentencing hearing in front of a new jury because Section 99-19-101 was complied with at the original sentencing proceeding. Accordingly, it reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. Further, although the Court of Appeals did not reach the question, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision not to resentence Wharton to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Accordingly, the Court reinstated and affirmed. View "Wharton v. Mississippi" on Justia Law