Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Illinois Trooper Chapman received a message about a Volkswagen with California license plates driving on I-72. Chapman spotted the Volkswagen, driven by Cole, and trailed him, intending to find a pretext for a roadside stop. After another car cut off the Volkswagen, Chapman believed that the Volkswagen trailed that car at an unreasonably close distance. Chapman stopped Cole, requested his papers, and ordered him to sit in the police cruiser. This initial stop lasted 10 minutes. Chapman spent about six minutes questioning Cole about his residence, employment, travel history, plans, vehicle history, and registration information. Chapman told Cole that he would get a warning but that they had to go to a gas station to complete the paperwork because he was concerned for their safety. Chapman testified later that he had already decided that he was not going to release Cole until he searched the car. Driving to the gas station, Chapman requested a drug-sniffing dog and learned that Cole had been arrested for drug crimes 15 years earlier. At the gas station, Cole’s answers became contradictory. Finishing the warning, 30 minutes after the stop, Chapman told Cole that he could not leave because he suspected Cole was transporting drugs. The dog arrived 10 minutes later and quickly alerted. Chapman found several kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin in a hidden compartment.The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of a motion to suppress. Even assuming that the stop was permissible, the officer prolonged the stop by questioning the driver at length on subjects well beyond the legal justification for the stop, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Cole" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for carjacking; two counts of carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting government exhibits at trial related to a photo on defendant's Facebook, Facebook conversations, and a video of defendant with a firearm while counting a large amount of cash. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury on the "intent" element of carjacking and the phrase "carried a firearm" in 18 U.S.C. 924(c); the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions for carjacking, carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person; and the district court did not err in imposing an enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(1) for possession of between 3 and 7 firearms, and in applying the carjacking offense characteristic under USSG 2B3.1(b)(5). View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of various sexual offenses arising out of a single act of rape of an 11-year-old girl. The trial court imposed a term of 25 years to life on the rape count, and imposed but stayed terms of 25 years to life on the lewd and lascivious act count and 15 years to life on the aggravated sexual assault count.The Court of Appeal concluded that defendant was not entitled to a statutory rape instruction where the trial court had no sua sponte duty to instruct on statutory rape because there was no substantial evidence to support a finding that the offenses were committed without the use of force or fear. The court agreed with the parties that either the rape conviction or aggravated sexual assault of a child by means of rape conviction must be vacated. The court further agreed that the aggravated sexual assault conviction must be vacated because the rape count carries the longer prison term. The court also concluded that no errors reduced the prosecution's burden of proof on counts 1 and 3 in the second trial. Accordingly, the court vacated the aggravated sexual assault conviction and affirmed in all other respects. View "People v. Vasquez" on Justia Law

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Tony Randell Barnett, Jr., was convicted of armed bank robbery. The sole issue on appeal was whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support Barnett’s conviction. After review of the trial court record, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed Barnett's conviction. View "Randell v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Sergio Sandoval was convicted on two counts of touching a child for lustful purposes and one count of sexual battery and was sentenced to fifteen years for each count of touching and thirty years for sexual battery, all to run concurrently. Sandoval only appealed the trial court’s ruling that he was competent to stand trial. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the trial court did not err by finding Sandoval competent. View "Sandoval v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In November 2017, M.S. was charged with third degree assault of a King County Metro bus driver. M.S. approached the driver’s side window of a King County bus while it was parked. When the bus driver leaned out the driver’s side window to speak to M.S., M.S. squirted urine from a plastic bottle at the bus driver. M.S. pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of fourth degree assault and requested a deferred disposition of the criminal assault charge. The court also asked M.S. if he understood that the court could impose a manifest injustice sentence outside the standard range if it found aggravating factors. The court did not mention at the hearing or in the plea agreement any existing aggravating factors it could rely on if it did impose a manifest injustice sentence. The court granted M.S.’s request for a deferred disposition and in it required M.S. to comply with a number of conditions of community supervision. The trial court ultimately sentenced M.S. to a manifest injustice disposition based on facts and aggravating factors that M.S. had no notice of at the time of his plea. The Court of Appeals affirmed M.S.’s sentence and rejected M.S.’s argument that any right to notice of the factual basis of a manifest injustice disposition existed prior to pleading guilty. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether a juvenile, before entering a guilty plea in a criminal proceeding, had a statutory or constitutional due process right to notice of the factual basis of and the intent to seek a manifest injustice disposition. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that a juvenile has a right to notice of the factual basis necessary to support a manifest injustice sentence before deciding to plead guilty. View "Washington v. M.S." on Justia Law

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In 2017, D.L., a 14-year-old boy, was charged with three counts of first degree rape and one count of attempted first degree rape of his 5-year-old half brother. At the time, D.L. had no prior criminal history. D.L. successfully negotiated a plea deal with the prosecutor, reducing the charges to a single count of first degree attempted child molestation. D.L. stipulated in his plea agreement that the trial court could use the probable cause statement to determine the facts that supported his conviction. But when the court imposed the manifest injustice disposition, it relied on three facts that were not in the probable cause affidavit: (1) that D.L.’s victim had a cognitive disability; (2) that D.L. refused accountability; and (3) that D.L. would not cooperate with treatment. This case asked the Washington Supreme Court whether due process required that the State give a juvenile notice of these specific facts before pleading guilty if they will be used to justify a manifest injustice disposition. "Ultimately, due process requires that juveniles be treated in a manner that is fundamentally fair. ... Without adequate notice, juveniles and their attorneys cannot predict which facts might be unearthed and weaponized to extend the juvenile’s sentence after the plea. This lack of notice causes unfair surprise to young defendants and serves only to undermine juveniles’ and their families’ trust in our juvenile justice system. Our adult defendants in Washington are not treated so unfairly and neither should we so treat our juveniles." As a result, the manifest injustice disposition was improperly imposed. As D.L. already served his sentence and this case was technically moot; the Court resolved this legal issue without modifying D.L.’s sentence. View "Washington v. D.L." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment entered by the superior court denying in part Petitioner's petition for post-conviction review of his conviction on several sexual assault charges, holding that Petitioner was deprived of his right to the effective assistance of trial counsel.After a trial, the jury found Petitioner guilty of one count each of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, and sexual abuse of a minor. The Supreme Court affirmed. Petitioner subsequently filed a postconviction petition arguing that he had been deprived of his right to the effective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court granted the petition as to the convictions for unlawful sexual contact and sexual abuse of a minor and vacated Petitioner's convictions on those counts but denied Petitioner's petition as to the conviction for gross sexual assault. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment and remanded for entry of a judgment granting Petitioner's petition for post-conviction review and vacating the remaining conviction, holding that counsel's performance was deficient and that Petitioner was entitled to post-conviction relief from the remaining portion of the judgment of conviction. View "Hodgdon v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and his sentence of death, holding that Defendant failed to demonstrate any reversible error.Defendant pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. Defendant appealed, raising ten allegations of error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in allowing Defendant to represent himself during trial; (2) the trial court did not err in accepting Defendant's guilty plea; (3) the trial properly renewed the offer of counsel at all critical stages of the proceedings; (4) there was no reversible error in the trial court's findings on the statutory aggravators alleged by the State and on certain statutory and non statutory mitigators; (5) any error in the trial court's inclusion of a sentencing recommendation in the presentence investigation report did not rise to the level of fundamental error; and (6) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "Woodbury v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Petitioner's postconviction petition filed under Ark. R. Crim. P. 37, holding that the circuit court did not err.Defendant was convicted of four counts of rape and one count of terroristic threatening. The Supreme Court affirmed. Thereafter, Defendant filed amended petition under Rule 37 alleging six grounds for relief. The circuit court denied the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that trial counsel provided constitutionally effective assistance of counsel; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in striking the testimony of Defendant's expert witness. View "Joyner v. State" on Justia Law