Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In the state of California, Robert Otto Carter Jr. appealed the denial of his request for a full resentencing under Penal Code section 1172.75. Carter was originally sentenced pursuant to a plea agreement for two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and the trial court declined to conduct a full resentencing under the new law. The Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District in California agreed that section 1172.75 required the trial court to conduct a full resentencing, and that the People (prosecution) are not entitled to withdraw their assent to the plea bargain if the trial court further reduces Carter’s sentence on resentencing. The court concluded that section 1172.75 applies to all sentences, including those imposed as part of a plea bargain, and that the prosecution may not withdraw from the plea agreement if the court imposes a lower sentence on resentencing. The court thus reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for a full resentencing. View "People v. Carter" on Justia Law

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In a case involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has partially upheld and partially vacated a lower court's order restricting Trump's public statements about the trial. The case stems from Trump being indicted for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election through unlawful means and for obstructing the election’s certification. Trump had posted numerous statements on social media attacking potential witnesses in the case, the judge, and the prosecution team. The lower court issued an order restraining the parties and their counsel from making public statements that "target" the parties, counsel and their staffs, court personnel, and "any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony." On appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the order insofar as it prohibited all parties and their counsel from making public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in the criminal proceeding. The court also upheld the order to the extent it prohibited parties and their counsel from making public statements about counsel in the case other than the Special Counsel, members of the court’s staff and counsel’s staffs, or the family members of any counsel or staff member, if those statements were made with the intent to materially interfere with the trial or with the knowledge that such interference was highly likely to result. However, the court vacated the order to the extent it covered speech beyond these categories. The court found that the order was justified by a sufficiently serious risk of prejudice to an ongoing judicial proceeding, that no less restrictive alternatives would adequately address that risk, and that the order was narrowly tailored to ensure the fair administration of justice while also respecting Trump's First Amendment rights. View "USA v. Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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The case involves an appeal by Michael Caraballo who was sentenced for an aggravated assault. He challenges the District Court's finding that the injuries sustained by his victim amounted to serious bodily injury rather than bodily injury under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which resulted in a higher guideline range for Caraballo. The case arose from an incident where Caraballo, an inmate, assaulted another inmate with a five-inch metal shank, causing the victim to sustain a number of puncture wounds, a fractured mandible, and abrasions. Caraballo pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon, aiding and abetting, and possessing contraband in prison. During the sentencing hearing, Caraballo's counsel objected to the five-level sentencing enhancement for causing serious bodily injury. The District Court overruled the objection and sentenced Caraballo on the low end of the range, which was 63 months. Caraballo appealed, arguing that the injuries caused to the victim constituted bodily injury, not serious bodily injury.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the phrase "serious bodily injury" as used in the relevant guideline is ambiguous. Therefore, it turned to the Sentencing Commission's interpretation of the phrase in the commentary to the Guidelines. The court held that the reasonableness, character, and context of the Sentencing Commission's interpretation entitles it to controlling weight. Applying the commentary definition, the court held that the District Court did not commit clear error by concluding that the victim's injuries constituted serious bodily injury rather than bodily injury. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the District Court. View "USA v. Caraballo" on Justia Law

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In California, Edgardo Ortiz Guevara was sentenced to 28 years to life under the "Three Strikes" law, due to his third strike being a nonserious, nonviolent felony. He also had prior prison term enhancements. When the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 (Prop. 36) (Reform Act) was enacted, Guevara petitioned for relief from his life sentence, but the trial court denied his petition due to concerns of public safety. Later, Guevara moved to have his prior prison term enhancements struck under Penal Code section 1172.75, arguing that he was entitled to have his three strikes life term reduced to eight years, double the term for his current offense, irrespective of the denial of his section 1170.126 petition. The trial court agreed and reduced his life term to eight years.The People petitioned the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Six for a writ of mandate or prohibition seeking to direct the trial court to recall its sentence and reinstate Guevara’s 25-years-to-life sentence. The appellate court granted the writ, finding that Guevara's interpretation of section 1172.75 would result in a repeal of section 1170.126 for inmates serving an indeterminate term with a prior prison enhancement, which would be unconstitutional. It also stated that Guevara’s prior prison term enhancements were struck, but not his 25-years-to-life term mandated by the Reform Act, which remains in effect as Guevara was found to be a danger to the public. Therefore, the appellate court directed the superior court to vacate its order recalling Guevara’s sentence and imposing a second strike sentence, and to reinstate Guevara’s three strikes sentence of 25 years to life in prison. View "People v. Super. Ct. (Guevara)" on Justia Law

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Derrick Durrell Jones, a convicted felon, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Jones argued that the law under which he was convicted, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), was unconstitutional because it violated the Commerce Clause and the Second Amendment. Addressing the Commerce Clause argument, the court stated that their circuit precedent has consistently upheld the constitutionality of § 922(g)(1), and that Jones had not presented any Supreme Court decisions that had expressly overruled this.In response to the Second Amendment argument, the court noted that Jones' challenge came in light of a new test for assessing the constitutionality of a statute under the Second Amendment as set forth by the Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen. However, the court pointed out that it had previously held that § 922(g)(1) did not violate the Second Amendment, and a concurring opinion in Bruen had stated that the decision should not cast doubt on prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons. The court also observed that there was no binding precedent holding that § 922(g)(1) was unconstitutional, and that two other federal circuits have reached conflicting conclusions on the issue.Given these considerations, the court concluded that Jones had failed to demonstrate that the district court’s application of § 922(g)(1) constituted clear or obvious error, and thus affirmed the decision of the lower court. View "USA v. Jones" on Justia Law

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In the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the defendant, William Klensch, appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to one count of transportation of an illegal alien. Klensch argued that he was entitled to a minor-role reduction in his sentencing, contending that he had no knowledge of the full smuggling operation and was paid only a small sum for his part. The district court denied this reduction because Klensch was the one physically transporting the individuals. However, the appellate court ruled that the district court did not apply the correct legal standard in denying a minor-role reduction, as the court did not conduct a proper comparative analysis of Klensch’s conduct. The court noted that the district court's explanation did not indicate it considered the factors required for a minor-role reduction. As such, the appellate court vacated Klensch’s sentence and remanded for resentencing in regard to the minor-role reduction.Additionally, Klensch argued that the district court erred by imposing a dangerous-weapons enhancement because he did not possess the stun gun in his car in connection with his illegal smuggling activity. The appellate court rejected this argument, as Klensch acknowledged having the stun gun within his reach while transporting the two men. The court ruled that even if the district court applied an incorrect standard of proof by not requiring the Government to prove a nexus to the stun gun, this error was harmless. As such, the district court's imposition of the dangerous-weapons enhancement was affirmed. View "USA V. KLENSCH" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reviewed a conviction for domestic abuse battery involving strangulation. The defendant, Jose Sagastume, was found guilty by a unanimous jury and sentenced to three years imprisonment with two years suspended, followed by two years of probation. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his challenges for cause against two potential jurors: a retired police officer and a former assistant district attorney. However, the defense counsel did not object when the trial court denied these challenges.The Court of Appeal set aside the conviction, stating that despite the lack of formal objection, the defense counsel's reasons for the challenges and subsequent use of peremptory challenges to remove the jurors were sufficient to preserve the issue for review.The Supreme Court of Louisiana disagreed, ruling that according to the Code of Criminal Procedure art. 800(A), a defendant must object contemporaneously to a ruling refusing to sustain a challenge for cause in order to assign it as an error on appeal. The court found that the defense counsel's acquiescence without objection did not meet this requirement. Therefore, it reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeal, reinstated the conviction and sentence, and affirmed them. The court emphasized that the legislature's language in Article 800(A) was clear: an objection must be made at the time of the ruling, and the nature and grounds for the objection must be stated at that time. View "STATE OF LOUISIANA VS. JOSE M. SAGASTUME" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas, Devawn T. Mitchell was convicted for first-degree felony murder, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, two counts of felony fleeing and eluding, and misdemeanor fleeing and eluding. Mitchell appealed, arguing that the district court inappropriately found him competent to stand trial, failed to obtain a psychological evaluation before sentencing him, and incorrectly applied his "B" criminal history score to increase his mandatory minimum sentence.The Supreme Court of the State of Kansas affirmed the lower court's decisions. In addressing Mitchell's competence to stand trial, the court determined that the district court had correctly followed procedure, ordering a competency evaluation and holding a hearing. The court found that Mitchell failed to prove he was incompetent and therefore upheld the lower court's finding of competence.Regarding the failure to order a psychological evaluation, the Supreme Court noted that Mitchell did not explicitly request such an evaluation. As the request was not made, the district court was under no obligation to order an evaluation.As for the application of Mitchell's criminal history score, the court ruled that the lower court correctly applied the score to Mitchell's mandatory minimum life sentence before parole eligibility. The court found that neither the plain language nor any reasonable interpretation of the statutes prohibited the use of Mitchell's criminal history score to calculate his minimum life sentence before parole eligibility.In sum, the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas affirmed Mitchell's conviction and sentence. View "State v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of Iowa, the defendant, Stephen Arrieta, a truck driver, was pulled over at a weigh station after his vehicle failed a "PrePass" check. During the stop, an Iowa Department of Transportation officer requested a K-9 unit to conduct a free air sniff of the truck and trailer. The drug dog alerted to the presence of drugs in the sleeper compartment of the cab, and Arrieta admitted to having marijuana inside. Arrieta was subsequently charged with possession of a controlled substance.Arrieta appealed the denial of his motion to suppress the marijuana. His main argument was that the officer unlawfully extended the time of his stop, known as a Level 3 inspection, to allow the K-9 handler to arrive and search his truck. Arrieta cited Rodriguez v. United States, a Supreme Court case that ruled such extensions of traffic stops without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity are unconstitutional.The Supreme Court of Iowa agreed with Arrieta, finding that he was detained longer than necessary to complete the Level 3 inspection, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court concluded that the officer had effectively completed his tasks before the arrival of the K-9 unit and that the 25-minute delay until the K-9 unit's arrival was unjustified. As such, Arrieta was improperly detained when the free air sniff occurred, and any evidence obtained as a result of the search should have been suppressed.The court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and reversed and remanded the judgment of the district court. View "State of Iowa v. Arrieta" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Clay Y. Bixby, was convicted for driving under the influence (DUI), which was his third offense. He contended that the district court had erred in using evidence of his two prior DUI convictions to enhance his sentence. The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected this claim.The court noted that the state had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the offenses underlying Bixby’s previous convictions occurred within 15 years of the date of his current offense, as required for sentence enhancement. The court also rejected Bixby's claim that his South Dakota DUI offense was not sufficiently similar to his Nebraska DUI offense to be valid for sentence enhancement. The court determined that Bixby’s South Dakota DUI offense, as statutorily defined in South Dakota, would have been a violation of the Nebraska DUI statute and was thus valid to be used for sentence enhancement.Lastly, the court rejected Bixby's argument that the district court failed to consider mitigating factors before sentencing. The court explained that under the precedent set in State v. Vann, any conviction record obtained after Gideon v. Wainwright is entitled to a presumption of regularity. Once the government establishes the existence of a prior conviction, it becomes the defendant’s burden to prove that he or she did not have counsel and did not waive the right to counsel at the time of conviction. The court concluded that Bixby's South Dakota DUI conviction was valid for sentence enhancement under this precedent, even though the record did not show whether Bixby had or waived counsel at the time of his sentencing in that case.The court ultimately affirmed the sentence enhancement and Bixby's conviction for DUI, third offense. View "State v. Bixby" on Justia Law