Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The victim’s body was found in a storage locker with multiple stab wounds. Maldonado reported witnessing the killing. Police were later unable to locate Maldonado. Maldonado subsequently told people that he was involved in the killing and that he and his friend buried their clothes and the knife. Police found a sweatshirt, knife, and cell phone buried at Maldonado’s former residence, and found a photograph of Morales with the victim’s body in Maldonado’s residence. Maldonado testified that he did not kill the victim or help Morales kill the victim, but that Morales brought him to the body for help in burying the evidence. Maldonado's jury was instructed on two theories: the murder was willful, deliberate, and premeditated; and the murder was committed by lying in wait. The jury was also instructed on direct aiding and abetting but was not instructed on felony murder or the natural and probable consequences doctrine. The jury convicted Maldonado of first-degree murder but found the lying-in-wait special circumstance not true. In 2020, Maldonado sought resentencing (Penal Code 1172.6) based on legislative changes relating to murder convictions under the natural and probable consequences doctrine or other theory under which malice is imputed to a person based solely on that person’s participation.’The court of appeal reversed the denial of his petition. The record does not conclusively establish Maldonado is ineligible for relief. The jury instructions permitted conviction based on an impermissible theory of imputed malice. View "People v. Maldonado" on Justia Law

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Kwasnik was an estate-planning attorney who convinced clients to open irrevocable family trusts in order to avoid federal and state taxes and to ensure that they earned interest on the funds. Kwasnik named himself as a trustee, with authority to move assets into and out of the trust accounts. He received the account statements. In reality, Kwasnik moved the funds from his clients’ trust accounts to accounts of entities that he controlled. Within days, the funds were depleted. Clients were defrauded of approximately $13 million.Kwasnik pleaded guilty to money laundering, 18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1)(B)(i), then moved to withdraw his plea. The district court denied the motion and sentenced him. Kwasnik then filed a notice of appeal. He later filed three more post-appeal motions in the district court concerning his guilty plea. The court denied them. The Third Circuit affirmed with respect to the denial of the first motion. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Kwasnik did not have “newly discovered” evidence. The court declined to consider the others. A party must file a new or amended notice of appeal when he seeks appellate review of orders entered by a district court after he filed his original appeal, Fed.R.App.P. 4(b). View "United States v. Kwasnik" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Jones was convicted of possessing a methamphetamine mixture with intent to distribute it. Because Jones had twice served time, in California and Nevada, for similar narcotics offenses the court sentenced Jones to 360 months in prison, 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A). In 2016, Jones filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his sentence. In 2021, Jones obtained dismissal of his prior California conviction and filed another section 2255 motion, arguing that dismissal of the California conviction triggered resentencing under the Supreme Court’s 2005 “Johnson” decision.Believing the motion second or successive, the district court transferred it to the Sixth Circuit. That court returned the case to the district court, concluding that the motion is neither second nor successive. When “the events giving rise” to a section 2255 claim have not yet occurred at the time of a prisoner’s first 2255 motion, a later motion predicated on those events is not “second or successive.” The events giving rise” to Jones’s Johnson claim occurred in 2021 when California dismissed and vacated Jones’s prior California conviction. View "In re: Ronald Jones" on Justia Law

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An informant purchased 3.1 grams of methamphetamine from Smith. Later, an undercover agent purchased 0.7 grams of fentanyl and heroin from Smith. Smith was subsequently arrested on an outstanding warrant, carrying a loaded semiautomatic handgun; 23 packages collectively containing 3.1 grams of fentanyl and heroin; several hundred dollars in cash; and a digital scale bearing fentanyl residue.Smith was convicted (21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C)) for both purchases and the drugs recovered during his arrest; of carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 924(c); and as a felon in possession of a firearm, 922(g)(1). The PSR grouped Counts 1, 2, 3, and 5 together for an offense level of 23 because Smith’s semiautomatic firearm was “capable of accepting a large capacity magazine,” and a one-level multiple-count enhancement applied. The court awarded one point for acceptance of responsibility. Smith was in the highest criminal history category. The Guidelines range on the grouped counts was 84–105 months; the 924(c) conviction carried a 60-month mandatory consecutive minimum sentence. Smith argued that he had possessed small quantities of drugs, that his criminal history was nonviolent, and that he only carried a gun for protection. The district court noted that fentanyl was especially dangerous and that Smith's presence with a gun created “a very dangerous event” but determined that the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors made a downward variance appropriate. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Smith's 120-month sentence. Smith failed to establish any procedural error. His below-Guidelines-range sentence is substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of multiple counts of rape, second-degree sexual assault, sexual indecency with a child, engaging a child in sexually explicit conduct for use in visual or print medium and other offenses, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) substantial evidence supported Defendant's forty-one convictions; (2) Defendant's argument that the State improperly relied on a religious text to urge a conviction during closing argument was not preserved for appeal; and (3) Defendant's arguments regarding his sentence of life imprisonment plus 488 years were not preserved for appellate review. View "Break v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court convicting Appellant of capital murder and sentencing him to life imprisonment, holding that not prejudicial error occurred in the proceedings below.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) substantial evidence supported Appellant's capital murder conviction; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in the guilt phase of trial by excluding the victim's emergency room medical records and a death certificate; and (3) Appellant's argument that the deputy chief medical examiner provided invalid forensic testimonial evidence and resulted in his conviction was not preserved for appeal. View "May v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's motion for new trial based on allegations of juror misconduct, holding that the motion was clearly untimely, and therefore, the circuit court did not have authority to act on Appellant's motion when it entered orders in this action.In 2004, Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2018, Appellant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus and motion for new trial alleging juror misconduct. The trial judge dismissed the habeas petition without prejudice and denied the motion for new trial. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that Appellant's motion for new trial was untimely, and the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to consider the motion. View "Herron v. Ark. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Arkansas Client Security Fund Committee denying Appellant's application for the reimbursement of client funds, holding that the Committee properly denied Appellant's application for relief because his application was untimely.Appellant, who was incarcerated for second-degree sexual assault, filed an application for relief with the Fund seeking $2500 in reimbursement from his former attorney Thomas Wilson. The Committee denied the application pursuant to Rule 4(B) of the Rule of the Client Security Fund Committee. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant's application was not filed within the three-year time frame set forth in Rule 4(B). View "Curran v. Ark. Client Security Fund" on Justia Law

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Kyle Kenneth Bell appealed a district court’s judgment grant of summary judgment in favor of the State. In 1999, Bell was convicted of murder, a class AA felony. Bell appealed his conviction to the North Dakota Supreme Court, which dismissed Bell’s appeal after concluding he had abandoned the appeal after escaping from custody. The United States Supreme Court denied Bell’s petition for a writ of certiorari of his conviction. In March 2001, Bell applied for post-conviction relief. His application was dismissed by the district court and affirmed by the North Dakota Supreme Court. In October 2021, Bell filed for a second post-conviction relief application arguing that certain testimony proffered at trial was unconstitutional, that this testimony resulted in perjury, that his trial counsel was ineffective, and that North Dakota v. Pickens, 916 N.W.2d 612 established a new rule of law requiring reversal of his case. Bell argued his post-conviction relief application should have been considered although it was submitted more than two years after Pickens was decided and beyond the statute of limitations. Bell argued the “restraint of being incarcerated in a federal facility with limited access to caselaw” constituted a “physical disability” under N.D.C.C. § 29-32.1-01(3)(a)(2). The State raised the affirmative defenses of misuse of process, res judicata, and statute of limitations, and moved for summary judgment. The Supreme Court determined the limitation on Bell’s access to state case law as the result of being held in a federal correctional facility did not constitute a physical disability extending the statute of limitations for the filing of his application for post-conviction relief. Accordingly, summary judgment was affirmed. View "Bell v. North Dakota" on Justia Law

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Sheldon Davis appealed a district court judgment awarding restitution. Davis was found guilty of the murder of Denise Anderson, endangering by fire or explosion, and arson. The district court ordered restitution without a hearing. The North Dakota Supreme Court remanded the case, holding the district court erred in ordering restitution without a hearing. On remand, the district court held a hearing to determine restitution. The State presented evidence that a bill for the funeral of Denise Anderson was sent to Nicholas Berlin, Denise Anderson’s son. The State also presented testimony from the funeral director of West Funeral Home, Craig Olsen. Olsen testified the total bill for the funeral was $3,550.00, the bill was sent to her son, Nicholas Berlin. Olsen testified he was not certain if Berlin or another family member paid the bill, but the bill had been paid in full. The district court found there was an actual cost incurred of $3,550.00 for Denise Anderson’s funeral and awarded restitution in that amount to Nicholas Berlin. Davis contended on appeal that the district court could not have properly determined Berlin actually incurred a recoverable loss under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-08(1) because there was no evidence presented which showed Berlin was the person who paid for the funeral. The Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding restitution in the amount of $3,550.00. View "North Dakota v. Davis" on Justia Law