Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's decision holding petitioner statutorily ineligible for cancellation of removal based on a prior 2004 firearm transportation conviction. The court held that petitioner failed to exhaust his challenge to the immigration court's jurisdiction based on alleged defects in his Notice to Appear. However, on the merits, the court held that the Oklahoma misdemeanor of transporting a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle is not one of the firearms offenses listed under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(C). Therefore, petitioner's conviction did not disqualify him from seeking cancellation of removal. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Flores-Abarca v. Barr" on Justia Law

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In 2005, defendant-appellant Jorge Rodriguez pled guilty to unlawful intercourse by a person over 21 under Penal Code1 section 261.5(d). Defendant, as a person over 21, admitted to having sex with a person under the age of 16. The trial court sentenced defendant to formal probation for 36 months. Days later, defendant was taken into custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service pending resolution by an immigration judge whether defendant would be removed from the United States. That same year, defendant was ordered removed. In 2007, defendant admitted to violating his probation. The trial court added 60 days to defendant’s sentence, to be served on a work release program to commence December 14, 2007, and reinstated defendant’s probation. On September 10, 2008, defendant admitted a violation of a term of his probation requiring defendant to report to probation. The court then reinstated probation. In 2016, filed a petition for dismissal under Penal Code section 1203.4, and a petition for a reduction of his felony conviction to a misdemeanor under section 17(b). As mitigation, defendant provided in his petition that he married the victim and had two children with her. Moreover, defendant noted that both violations of probation occurred because he was in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was deported so he was unable to meet his probation officer or check in for his weekend custody obligation. Both motions were denied, and defendant appealed. On January 1, 2017, Penal Code section 1473.7 went into effect. Among other things, section 1473.7 permitted a defendant to challenge a conviction based on a guilty plea where prejudicial error affected the defendant’s ability to understand the immigration consequences of the plea. On July 10, 2017, following the filing of the Court of APpeal's opinion in defendant’s first appeal, defendant, in pro. per., filed a motion to vacate his conviction under section 1473.7. The trial court denied defendant’s motion without defendant or defense counsel present. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant's section 1473.3 motion and reversed. View "California v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his multiple convictions for the robbery of several stores and restaurants, raising numerous claims of error. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly admitted defendant's police-interrogation statement. However, the court held that the admission of a text exchange between his mother and him to show an adoptive admission of guilty on his part, and of the book and documents found in his car, was error. Furthermore, the court held that these errors taken together were prejudicial. The court found it unnecessary to address defendant's remaining contentions. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "People v. McDaniel" on Justia Law

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The State indicted defendant Keith Cuff for fifty-five offenses arising from five residential robberies and an additional incident in which defendant stole a vehicle while attempting to escape from a traffic stop. A jury convicted defendant of nineteen of those offenses, including three counts of first-degree kidnapping while in possession of a firearm. The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate ninety-eight-year sentence, with more than sixty-six years of parole ineligibility. The Appellate Division affirmed defendant’s conviction and sentence with respect to all but one of the offenses, and reduced his sentence to an aggregate ninety-year sentence, with more than sixty-four years’ parole ineligibility. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted defendant's petition for review, limited to two of the issues he raised on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed as to the trial court's imposition of consecutive sentences, finding the trial court should resentence defendant after considering whether certain offenses committed within the same criminal episode warranted concurrent rather than consecutive sentences, as well as whether the decision to make the sentences consecutive rather than concurrent made the aggregate sentence imposed on defendant an abuse of discretion. View "New Jersey v. Cuff" on Justia Law

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After drinking six to ten beers, defendant William Liepe drove his Ford Explorer at approximately 1:00 p.m. Traveling at about forty-five miles per hour, defendant struck the rear end of a Honda Accord waiting to make a left turn. The car was driven by a thirty-five-year-old man, M.G., who was driving his eleven-year-old son, M.J.G., and a nine-year-old family friend, R.S., to a softball game. The collision sent the Honda into the northbound lane, where it was struck by a Cadillac Escalade driven by a woman who was taking her mother, R.V., and her two children on a shopping trip. The second collision sent the car into the parking lot of the softball field. The accident killed R.S. M.J.G. was permanently paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the accident. He was confined to a wheelchair and requires continuous medical care for the rest of his life. M.G. also sustained very serious injuries: he broke many bones, had injured organs, and required a forty-five day hospitalization with multiple surgeries. The driver of the Cadillac and her children were unharmed in the accident; however, R.V. sustained back and neck injuries. Defendant was tried before a jury and was convicted on all counts. The Appellate Division affirmed defendant’s convictions but vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing, observing that defendant would be ineligible for parole until he reached the age of eighty-nine and found that sentence “shocking to the judicial conscience.” The State appealed, challenging the appellate court's holding that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing consecutive terms and that defendant's aggregate sentence so shocked the judicial conscience. The New Jersey Supreme Court did not share the Appellate Division's view that the trial court erred in arriving at defendant's sentence, and reversed. View "New Jersey v. Liepe" on Justia Law

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The circumstances that gave rise to this case stemmed from Plaintiff Floyd Bledsoe’s allegedly wrongful conviction for the 1999 rape and murder of fourteen-year-old C.A. C.A> lived with Plaintiff and his wife Heidi, C.A.'s older sister. Plaintiff and Heidi reported C.A. missing when C.A.'s coat and book bag were found, but C.A. was not. The couple spent the next forty-eight hours or so looking for the missing girl. A breakthrough came days later when Tom Bledsoe, Plaintiff’s older brother, confessed that he had killed C.A. Tom led the officers to C.A.’s body, which had been buried under a large amount of dirt and plywood. C.A. had been shot once in the back of the head and several times in the torso. The coroner later found semen in her vagina but could not say whether she had been forcibly raped. Near her body, investigators found three bullet casings, a pornographic video, and a t-shirt printed with the name of the church Tom attended. Tom’s attorney also surrendered a Jennings nine-millimeter handgun—the professed murder weapon—to the authorities. Authorities soon charged Tom with the first-degree murder of C.A. Despite this evidence, authorities switched course and decided to pin C.A.’s death on Plaintiff instead. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the prosecutor enjoyed absolute immunity from suit for fabricating evidence against Plaintiff during the preliminary investigation of the crime. The Tenth Circuit determined Supreme Court precedent dictated that the prosecutor did not, the district court’s order denying the prosecutor absolute immunity was affirmed. View "Bledsoe v. Vanderbilt" on Justia Law

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In 2015, defendant Charudutt Patel was charged in two separate instances with DWI. Patel had twice before been convicted of DWI. Because of the passage of more than ten years between the first and second convictions, Patel was sentenced as a first-time offender. The two 2015 DWI charges exposed Patel to potential third and fourth DWI convictions. Patel claimed that his 1994 conviction in the Piscataway Municipal Court was uncounseled and therefore could not be used for custodial enhancement purposes pursuant to New Jersey v. Laurick, 120 N.J. 1, 16-17 (1990). Thus, for Laurick purposes, Patel contended that he stood before the court as a second-time offender, and he moved to bar the use of his allegedly uncounseled 1994 DWI guilty plea to enhance any custodial sentence in the pending DWI cases. The court denied Patel’s Laurick motion. Patel filed a motion for reconsideration and a third certification to clarify his earlier certifications. He asserted that in 1994, “the judge never advised me that I had a right to retain an attorney nor did he advise me that I had a right to an appointed attorney at no charge. Therefore, I simply pled guilty.” The court denied the motion for reconsideration, stating that in the absence of municipal court records, Patel’s certifications were insufficient to prove that he was denied notice of his right to counsel twenty-two years earlier and that, in any event, he should have filed his Laurick motion in 2010 when he was charged with his second DWI. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed: "Although his certifications were far from ideal, Patel carried his burden of presenting sufficient proof -- unrebutted by the State -- that his 1994 guilty plea was uncounseled, whether he was indigent or non-indigent. Patel had no obligation to establish that he would not have pled guilty or been convicted at trial had he been represented by counsel." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. Patel" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from warrantless searches of his cell phone by a Customs and Border Patrol official. Applying United States v. Cotterman, 709 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 2013) (en banc), the panel held that manual cell phone searches may be conducted by border officials without reasonable suspicion but that forensic cell phone searches require reasonable suspicion. The panel clarified Cotterman by holding that "reasonable suspicion" in this context means that officials must reasonably suspect that the cell phone contains digital contraband. Furthermore, cell phone searches at the border, whether manual or forensic, must be limited in scope to a search for digital contraband. In this case, the panel held that the officials violated the Fourth Amendment when their warrantless searches exceeded the permissible scope of a border search. Therefore, most of the evidence from the searches of defendant's cell phone should have been suppressed. Finally, the panel held that defendant's Brady claims were unpersuasive. Because the panel vacated defendant's conviction, the panel did not reach his claim of prosecutorial misconduct. View "United States v. Cano" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The panel held that defendant's prior conviction for delivery of methamphetamine in violation of Oregon law does not qualify as a "controlled substance offense" under USSG 2K2.1(a)(4)(A) and 4B1.2(b). The panel rejected defendant's argument that the Oregon statue sweeps more broadly than the federal controlled substance offense because it criminalizes soliciting the delivery of methamphetamine. Therefore, the district court should have applied a base level offense of 20 under section 2K2.1(a)(4)(A). Accordingly, the panel remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Crum" on Justia Law

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An inmate representing himself sued the prison superintendent and chaplain for violating his religious rights by providing an inadequate halal diet, banning scented prayer oils, and not allowing him to have additional religious texts in his cell beyond the prison’s limit. He claimed these actions violated the Equal Protection Clause of both the Alaska Constitution and the federal Constitution, and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The inmate also sought reimbursement for scented oils that the prison had destroyed. The superior court granted the prison officials’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of the inmate’s claims. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed summary judgment on the inmate’s RLUIPA claim regarding the halal diet because the inmate did not receive adequate guidance on how to file affidavits in opposition to the summary judgment motion. The Court also reversed summary judgment on the RLUIPA claim regarding scented oils because the prison officials failed to satisfy their burden of proving that banning such oils was the least restrictive means to address their substantial interest in maintaining prison security and health. The Court affirmed dismissal of the inmate’s claims regarding the religious book limit because the issue was not yet ripe. And the Court vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs. View "Leahy v. Conant" on Justia Law