Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
In July 2020, Taylor Hildreth was a passenger in a car stopped by police at known narcotics locations. The driver consented to a search, and Hildreth admitted to having drugs in his pant leg, which led to the discovery of methamphetamine, Xanax, and drug paraphernalia. A loaded firearm was found in the glove compartment, which Hildreth admitted was his, knowing he was barred from possessing it due to a prior felony conviction. Hildreth was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm and released on pretrial supervision. He was later arrested for assaulting his father, violating his pretrial conditions, and was ordered to in-patient drug treatment, which he completed after an initial discharge for policy violations.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas reviewed the case. Hildreth pleaded guilty to the firearm possession charge. The presentence investigation report (PSR) calculated a total offense level of eighteen and a criminal history category IV, resulting in a Guidelines range of forty-one to fifty-one months. The PSR recommended no adjustment for acceptance of responsibility due to Hildreth's continued criminal conduct. The district court denied the adjustment and imposed an upward departure, sentencing Hildreth to eighty months' imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the case. Hildreth raised four challenges: the inclusion of a prior misdemeanor in his criminal history, the denial of an acceptance of responsibility adjustment, the upward departure in sentencing, and the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The court found no clear or obvious error in including the misdemeanor, upheld the denial of the adjustment based on continued criminal conduct, found no abuse of discretion in the upward departure, and rejected the constitutional challenge based on existing precedent. The Fifth Circuit affirmed Hildreth's sentence and conviction. View "U.S. v. Hildreth" on Justia Law

by
In the early morning of January 9, 2021, Alex Manuel López-Felicie and two accomplices broke into a closed pharmacy, stole an ATM containing approximately $21,580, and fled in a pickup truck. They were pursued by police officers in an unmarked car, leading to a shootout in a residential area. López was shot in the leg and later arrested. A firearm covered in López's blood was found nearby, although López denied firing a gun.López was indicted on one federal charge of bank larceny under 18 U.S.C. § 2113(b). He pled guilty, and the parties agreed on a guideline range of 12 to 18 months in prison, based on a total offense level of 13 and a criminal history category of I. Both the government and López recommended a sentence within this range. However, the district court sentenced López to 60 months, citing the seriousness of the offense and the substantial risk of harm caused by the discharge of firearms during the flight.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the case. López argued that the sentence was procedurally and substantively unreasonable, claiming the district court did not sufficiently justify the upward variance and that the record did not support findings that he possessed or fired a weapon. The appellate court found no procedural or substantive error, noting that the district court had adequately explained its decision, considered the relevant factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), and made reasonable factual findings. The court affirmed the 60-month sentence, concluding that the district court's decision was justified given the circumstances of the case. View "US v. Lopez-Felicie" on Justia Law

by
In 2017, Ángel Manuel Carmona-Alomar was found in possession of a modified 9mm Glock pistol, ammunition, marijuana, and Percocet pills during a vehicle search by Puerto Rico Police. He admitted ownership of the firearm and ammunition. Subsequently, he was charged and pled guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and possession of a machinegun. He was sentenced to thirty months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. In 2020, while on supervised release, Carmona was again found with a modified firearm and ammunition, leading to new charges and a supervised release violation.The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico sentenced Carmona to sixty months in prison for the new charges and an additional two years for the supervised release violation, to be served consecutively. The court justified the upward variance from the sentencing guidelines by citing Carmona's repeated offenses, lack of remorse, and the serious nature of machinegun possession, particularly in the context of Puerto Rico's gun violence issues.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the case. Carmona argued that the District Court erred procedurally by not providing case-specific reasons for the upward variance and by relying on factors already accounted for in the guidelines. He also contended that the sentence was substantively unreasonable. The First Circuit found no merit in these arguments, noting that the District Court had appropriately considered Carmona's repeated offenses and the specific context of gun violence in Puerto Rico. The appellate court affirmed both the sixty-month sentence for the new charges and the two-year sentence for the supervised release violation, concluding that the District Court did not abuse its discretion. View "US v. Carmona-Alomar" on Justia Law

by
Aquiles Jimenez appealed the denial of his second petition for resentencing under California Penal Code section 1172.6. Jimenez had previously pled guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life. His first petition for resentencing was denied after an evidentiary hearing where the trial court found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as a direct aider and abettor with implied malice. This decision was affirmed on appeal based on the sufficiency of the evidence.In his second petition, Jimenez argued that changes in the law, specifically Senate Bill No. 775 and the California Supreme Court's decision in People v. Reyes, made the doctrines of collateral estoppel and law of the case inapplicable. He also cited People v. Pittman, which changed how courts should consider an offender’s youth when determining implied malice. The trial court denied the second petition at the prima facie stage, stating there was no legal basis to revisit its prior ruling.The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, reviewed the case. The court concluded that significant changes in the law regarding the culpability of young adult offenders necessitated a new evidentiary hearing. The court noted that recent case law and legislative changes require consideration of a defendant's youth and brain development when determining malice. The court found that the trial court's failure to consider Jimenez's youth was not harmless and that the doctrines of collateral estoppel and law of the case did not bar his second petition.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order and remanded the case for a new evidentiary hearing consistent with current law, allowing the trial court to consider Jimenez's youth and brain development in determining whether he acted with malice. View "P. v. Jimenez" on Justia Law

by
Elizabeth Peters Young was convicted of conspiring to pay and receive kickbacks from federal reimbursements for medical creams and lotions dispensed by pharmacies she worked with. The district court sentenced her to 57 months in prison and ordered her to pay $1.5 million in restitution and forfeiture, representing the gross proceeds she controlled during the conspiracy.The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida initially reviewed the case. Young challenged her conviction, restitution order, and forfeiture judgment, arguing insufficient evidence for her conspiracy conviction, improper calculation of restitution, and errors in the forfeiture amount. The district court denied her motion to set aside the verdict and sentenced her, including the contested financial penalties.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed Young’s conspiracy conviction, finding sufficient evidence that she conspired with others, including a pharmacy, to receive kickbacks. The court also upheld the forfeiture judgment, ruling that Young was liable for the gross proceeds she controlled, even if she distributed some to co-conspirators. However, the court vacated the restitution order, agreeing with Young that the government did not prove the amount of loss it experienced due to her conduct. The court remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the correct restitution amount. View "USA v. Young" on Justia Law

by
In 2011, Raymond Edward Hernandez was charged with corporal injury to a significant other, with enhancements for great bodily injury (GBI) and three prior prison terms. He entered a plea agreement in 2013, resulting in a 21-year sentence, which included enhancements for the GBI and prior prison terms. In 2017, his sentence was reduced to 19 years after two prison priors were reclassified as misdemeanors. In 2022, the trial court further reduced his sentence to 18 years by striking the remaining prison prior under Penal Code section 1172.75. Later, the court struck the GBI enhancement, reducing his sentence to 13 years.The Superior Court of Riverside County initially accepted the plea agreement and imposed the stipulated sentence. In 2017, the court resentenced Hernandez under section 1170.18, removing two prison priors and reducing his sentence to 19 years. In 2022, the court recalled and resentenced Hernandez under section 1172.75, striking the remaining prison prior and setting a hearing for a motion to dismiss his prior strike. In 2023, the court struck the GBI enhancement, further reducing his sentence to 13 years.The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, reviewed the case. The court held that section 1172.75 required a full resentencing, even in plea bargain cases, and allowed the trial court to strike the GBI enhancement. The court concluded that the People could not withdraw from the plea agreement due to the sentence reduction. The appellate court affirmed the postjudgment order and directed the trial court to correct clerical errors in the amended abstract of judgment, including the resentencing hearing date, the status of the GBI enhancement, and updated custody credits. View "P. v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

by
David Devaney, Jr. was convicted of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy. He provided security for a drug deal orchestrated by his father, which went wrong when the buyers refused to go to a hotel room. This led to a car chase where David and his co-conspirators shot at the buyers, injuring one and killing a bystander. David was later identified by one of the buyers and arrested after a high-speed chase. In his post-arrest interview, he admitted to his role in the drug deal but denied firing a gun. Searches of his car and cell phones revealed drugs and incriminating messages.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied David’s motions to suppress evidence from his car and cell phones, as well as his post-arrest statements. The court found him guilty of conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute and sentenced him to 480 months in prison. David appealed, challenging the suppression rulings and the calculation of his offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the case. The court upheld the district court’s denial of the suppression motions, finding that the search warrants were supported by probable cause and that David did not unequivocally invoke his right to counsel during his post-arrest interview. The court also affirmed the district court’s application of the Sentencing Guidelines, including the cross-reference to the murder guideline, which set David’s offense level at 43. The court concluded that any other potential errors in the sentencing calculation were harmless, as the cross-reference dictated the offense level. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "USA v. Devaney" on Justia Law

by
On December 3, 2017, Yuguang Lin and Ruan “Katie” Wenting were robbed by three masked men who took their belongings and forced entry into their apartment, stealing money, cigarettes, and cigars. The police tracked Lin’s stolen cell phone to a vehicle where they found Shaquan Lewis and Raheem Stevenson (Appellant) along with the stolen items. Appellant was charged with robbery, burglary, and criminal conspiracy.The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County held a jury trial where Appellant decided to testify. Before he took the stand, his counsel made an oral motion in limine to exclude a 2005 burglary conviction, arguing its remoteness. The trial court denied the motion, ruling the conviction admissible. Appellant then preemptively disclosed the conviction during his testimony. The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to eight to sixteen years of incarceration followed by ten years of probation. Appellant’s post-sentence motion challenging the admissibility ruling was denied, and he appealed to the Superior Court.The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that Appellant forfeited his right to challenge the admissibility of the prior conviction by introducing it himself. The court relied on Commonwealth v. Conner and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ohler v. United States, which held that a defendant who preemptively introduces evidence of a prior conviction cannot claim error on appeal.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reviewed the case and disagreed with the Superior Court. It held that a defendant does not waive the right to appeal a trial court’s ruling on the admissibility of a prior conviction by preemptively introducing the evidence following an adverse in limine ruling. The court reversed the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Commonwealth v. Stevenson" on Justia Law

by
Bryan Jennings was convicted of the murder and sexual battery of six-year-old Rebecca Kunash in 1979. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and other charges, and sentenced to death. Jennings's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, and his initial state postconviction relief efforts were unsuccessful. He filed his first federal habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in 2002, which was denied, and the denial was affirmed on appeal.Jennings later filed additional postconviction motions in state court, including claims under Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States, alleging prosecutorial misconduct based on new evidence, such as an affidavit from a cellmate who testified against him. The state trial court held an evidentiary hearing but did not find the new evidence credible and denied relief. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed this decision.In 2018, Jennings filed a second federal habeas corpus petition, including the Brady and Giglio claims. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida dismissed the petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, ruling it was a second or successive petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b), and denied Jennings's motion for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b).The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case and affirmed the district court's dismissal. The Eleventh Circuit held that Jennings's second-in-time § 2254 petition was indeed a second or successive petition subject to § 2244(b)’s restrictions, as established in Tompkins v. Secretary, Department of Corrections. The court concluded that Jennings's Brady and Giglio claims were ripe at the time of his first petition and thus did not fall under the exception outlined in Panetti v. Quarterman. Consequently, the district court correctly dismissed the petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Jennings v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
Alexander Kawleski was convicted of sexually assaulting his then-girlfriend's adolescent daughter and recording the act. He also recorded videos of the girl undressing and showering, which were stored on a flash drive. His new girlfriend, Tracy Brown, discovered the flash drive and turned it over to the police. Kawleski faced state charges and was federally indicted for producing and possessing child pornography. Key evidence included Brown's testimony and the videos found on the flash drive.The United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin oversaw the trial. The jury found Kawleski guilty on all counts. Kawleski moved for a new trial, citing newly discovered evidence from Brown's ex-boyfriend, who questioned her credibility and suggested she might have transferred the videos to the flash drive. The district judge denied the motion, stating the ex-boyfriend's statements were speculative and would only serve as impeachment evidence, which was unlikely to lead to an acquittal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed the case. The court affirmed the district judge's decision, agreeing that the new evidence was speculative and insufficient to warrant a new trial. The court also found that the forensic examination of the Apple computer, which found no evidence of child pornography, refuted the ex-boyfriend's theory. The court held that the district judge did not abuse his discretion in denying the motion for a new trial and in declining to hold an evidentiary hearing. The convictions and sentences were affirmed. View "U.S. v. Kawleski" on Justia Law