Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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After defendant pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud for purporting to broker cattle deals worth millions of dollars, pocketing the money, and then disappearing the herd, the district court ordered more than $2 million in restitution. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the restitution award, rejecting defendant's contention that the Government failed to prove which cattle he sold and which he stole. Rather, the court concluded that the Government easily met its burden of proving an actual loss of $2,066,525 where it led the district court through each and every line item in its restitution request. Furthermore, the district court went through the data itself, considered the testimony and evidence, and found that each line item individually constituted an actual loss by a preponderance of the evidence. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his motion to suppress incriminating statements which led to federal charges for distributing heroin. In this case, after defendant overdosed on heroin and fell unconscious, officers brought him to a local hospital where, after receiving care, he agreed to talk to the police, received Miranda warnings, and made several incriminating statements.The Seventh Circuit remanded for the district court to make a determination on the validation of defendant's waiver of his Miranda rights in the first instance. The court explained that whether a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his rights at the outset of a police interview is a distinct and separate inquiry from whether, in the circumstances of the interview as a whole, the defendant's statements were voluntary. Given defendant was unconscious and entirely incapacitated from an overdose just two hours before police questioned him, a finding as to whether defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights matters. View "United States v. Outland" on Justia Law

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On several occasions, an undercover officer purchased methamphetamine from Walker. Booker accompanied Walker to one of these sales, handed the officer Walker’s drugs, told the officer that he could offer methamphetamine at a better price, and gave the officer his cell phone number. During the next month, Booker sold methamphetamine to the officer on three separate occasions. At a fourth planned sale, Booker noticed police cars at the planned meeting location and fled, first by car, with a passenger and her two-year-old daughter, and then on foot. Police eventually apprehended him and dialed the phone number that was used to arrange sales with the undercover officer. Booker’s cell phone rang.Booker pled guilty to one count of distributing methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); three counts were dismissed. The district court sentenced Booker as a career offender based on his prior state convictions for unarmed robbery and for the “deliver[y]/manufacture” of a controlled substance, which made his advisory Guidelines range 188-235 months’ imprisonment. The court sentenced Booker to 188 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding Booker’s classification as a career offender. The district court “manifestly designed” Booker's supervised release “conditions to steer Booker away from his prior criminal activities and to facilitate effective monitoring by his probation officer.” View "United States v. Booker" on Justia Law

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In March 2005, a jury found Applicant Humberto Garza guilty of murdering six men in the course of committing or attempting to commit robbery. Applicant was sentenced to death for these crimes, and his sentence was affirmed on direct appeal. Applicant filed his initial habeas corpus application in 2007 raising twenty-eight claims for relief, including twelve allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. Over five years after Applicant filed his initial application, and after prompting by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the trial court entered an order designating issues. In that order, the trial judge directed lead trial counsel and co-counsel to file affidavits responding to Applicant’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel allegations. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing in August 2014, during which both attorneys testified. In February 2015, the trial court signed a 635-page order adopting findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending that Applicant be denied relief on all grounds. In his third allegation, Applicant asserted that his trial counsel’s failure to conduct a constitutionally adequate investigation of mitigating evidence deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel pursuant to Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 (2003). The Court of Criminal Appeals remanded this claim to the trial court for further development. The trial court signed an order adopting supplemental findings of fact and conclusions of law, recommended denying relief, and returned the case the Court of Criminal Appeals. After remand, the Court filed and set the case and directed the parties to submit briefs on Applicant’s third allegation. Based on its independent review of the record, the Court concluded Applicant was entitled to a new punishment hearing because his trial counsel’s mitigation investigation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and had counsel not been deficient, there was a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have struck a different balance and would have answered the mitigation issue differently, voting to spare Applicant’s life. View "Ex parte Humberto Garza" on Justia Law

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After the trial court denied his motion to suppress his confession, Appellant Jesse Martinez pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Appellant was 19 years old, had no prior arrests, and had never before been questioned by the police. In April 2016, police officers arrived at his mother's house after midnight without a warrant for the purpose of questioning him about the disappearance of his friend, Tristan Mina. They took him to the police station in an unmarked car. His mother followed in her own car and waited in the family area when they took him to an interrogation room. She told him that she would get him an attorney. Appellant waited in the interrogation room alone for several minutes before two detectives, Michael Lara and Rex Parsons, joined him there. Detective Lara read Appellant his Miranda rights. Appellant invoked his right to counsel, and the interview was terminated. The detectives told Appellant that he was under arrest for murder and locked him in a holding cell where he was handcuffed to a bench. Less than fifteen minutes later Appellant "flagged down" Lara and said he would give a statement. Appellant was returned to the interrogation room and was again read his Miranda rights. He said he understood the rights and wished to continue. He then gave an hour-long videotaped statement recounting the events of the night that Mina was killed. On appeal he challenged the suppression ruling, claiming that his confession was the product of an illegal arrest. The court of appeals held that the taint was sufficiently attenuated under Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975), and affirmed the trial court. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review of this matter to determine whether the court of appeals misapplied the four-factor test from Brown and whether the court of appeals' finding of probable cause was based on opinions rather than facts in conflict with Torres v. Texas, 182 S.W.3d 899 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005). The Court concluded the court of appeals misapplied the third and fourth Brown factors and erred in looking to Appellant's statement to establish probable cause for his arrest. Judgment was therefore reversed and the case remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Martinez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Dallas Curlee was convicted of possession of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a drug-free zone (a playground). Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, specifically, the requirement that the playground was “open to the public.” The evidence pertinent to the “open to the public” element consisted of the fact that the playground was surrounded by a chain link fence that was not completely locked, an officer’s conclusory testimony that the playground was open to the public, the playground’s location on the premises of a church, and the fact that the playground could be seen through the fence. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that a rational jury could not conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the playground was “open to the public” based on the evidence presented at trial. Therefore, the Court ruled the evidence was insufficient to support the “open to the public” element of a playground, and reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Curlee v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was at what point could an appellant timely object to the thirteenth juror's presence when an alternate juror retires with the jury and was present during deliberations: when the jury retires to deliberate, or when an appellant becomes aware that the alternate was present during deliberations. The Court concluded that the grounds for Appellant’s objection to the alternate juror being sent into the jury room were not apparent until counsel became aware of the error. Because Appellant’s objection, motion for mistrial, and motion for new trial were timely, and the court of appeals erred by failing to reach the merits of Appellant’s statutory and constitutional claims. View "Becerra v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals centered on whether a police officer's entry into a residence was reasonable under the Forth Amendment, when a firefighter, in the line of duty, asked law enforcement for a safety check after seeing drug paraphernalia, guns, and flammable liquids in the residence, and whether that officer’s discovery of drug paraphernalia in plain view provided probable cause for a search warrant? The short answer to this question under the specific facts of this case was yes: the Court therefore upheld the court of appeals’ judgment which affirmed the trial court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to suppress the drug evidence found pursuant to a search warrant. View "Martin v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In November 2017, a jury convicted Appellant William Hudson of capital murder for murdering Carl and Hannah Johnson. Pursuant to the jury’s answers to the special issues set forth in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071, sections 2(b) and 2(e), the trial judge sentenced Appellant to death. On automatic appeal, Appellant raised two points of error. After reviewing Appellant’s points of error, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found them to be without merit. Consequently, it affirmed the trial court’s judgment and sentence of death. View "Hudson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In a 1999 incident, Hale told Lewis to kill Rogers. Lewis handed his revolver to Mays, who shot Rogers multiple times, fatally. Lewis, Hale, and Mays collected drugs and money and fled. Lewis, represented by Attorney Raff, refused to consider plea offers. Lewis was convicted. At sentencing. the court found no mitigating circumstances—none being asserted by the defense—and sentenced Lewis to the maximum aggregate sentence of 130 years' imprisonment. Lewis’s appeal was unsuccessful.In post‐conviction proceedings, the state conceded that Raff “basically did not do any advocacy" at sentencing but argued that he could not have made a difference. Other witnesses at the post‐conviction hearing spoke about a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, associated substance abuse, physical abuse by Lewis's mother’s boyfriends, mental disorders in other family members, and attempted suicide. The state appellate court concluded that Lewis was not prejudiced by the deficient performance of counsel.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief. The decision of the last responsible state court was contrary to Supreme Court precedent, in holding that “Strickland,” not “Cronic,” furnished the applicable rule, While the Indiana Court of Appeals was not unreasonable in finding that Lewis had not been prejudiced by his attorney’s substandard performance, prejudice need not be shown. Raff gave up on Lewis and left him entirely without the assistance of counsel at the sentencing stage of a felony murder case. View "Lewis v. Zatecky" on Justia Law