Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves Jacob Lickers, who was convicted for transporting and possessing child pornography. The conviction was based on evidence found on Lickers' devices, which were seized during a traffic stop and subsequent arrest for drug possession. The initial search of the devices was authorized by a state court warrant, which later suppressed the evidence due to the unconstitutionality of the initial stop and arrest. However, the case was referred to federal authorities who conducted a second search of the devices under a federal warrant. The federal warrant application did not mention the state court's suppression ruling.In the lower courts, Lickers' attorney challenged the constitutionality of the initial stop and arrest, and the adequacy of the state search warrant. The state court agreed, suppressing all evidence seized during the stop and any statements made by Lickers. The state charges were subsequently dismissed. However, in the federal court, the same arguments were unsuccessful. Lickers pleaded guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. The district court sentenced him to concurrent terms of 132 months' imprisonment on each count.In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit, Lickers argued that his trial and appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to argue that the federal agent acted in bad faith by omitting the state court's suppression ruling from the federal warrant application. The court disagreed, finding that the link between the state court's suppression ruling and the federal warrant application was too attenuated to obligate the attorneys to explore the possibility of bad faith. The court affirmed the district court's denial of relief. View "Lickers v. United States" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the defendant, Kyle Slaughter, who was arrested and charged in two separate counties in West Virginia. In Fayette County, he was arrested after leading police on a high-speed chase and subsequently charged with bribery and other offenses. While incarcerated for these charges, his bond was revoked for separate charges pending in Raleigh County. At sentencing in Fayette County, the court credited Slaughter with thirty days for time served—the time between when he was first incarcerated and when his Raleigh County bond was revoked. Slaughter appealed, arguing that he should have been credited for the entire 263-day period that he was incarcerated.The Circuit Court of Fayette County determined that any credit for time served after Slaughter's bond had been revoked in Raleigh County should be applied to the charges in Raleigh County, not Fayette County. Slaughter appealed this decision, arguing that he should receive credit for the entire period he was incarcerated on the Fayette County charges.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia found that the Circuit Court of Fayette County erred in failing to credit Slaughter for the full 263 days he spent incarcerated on Fayette County charges and awaiting sentencing in Fayette County. The court stated that criminal defendants are entitled to credit for time served awaiting trial and sentencing while incarcerated on the underlying offense if the offense is bailable. However, the court deemed the error harmless and affirmed the lower court's decision because Slaughter was ultimately credited his full time served in the Raleigh County sentencing order. View "State v. Slaughter" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Anthony Gay, a convicted felon, who was found guilty of possessing firearms and ammunition, both of which he was prohibited from possessing due to his prior felony convictions. Gay was a passenger in a car that was stopped by the police, and upon being pursued, he fled on foot. The police testified that they found a gun where Gay had fallen and later discovered bullets in a motel room he had rented. Gay was subsequently indicted and convicted on one firearms count and one ammunition count, leading to a sentence of 84 months' imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently, plus three years' supervised release.Previously, Gay had contested the admissibility of the bullets found in the motel room, arguing that their discovery violated his Fourth Amendment rights. However, the district court denied his motion to suppress the bullets, stating that Gay's right to occupy the room had expired, the motel manager had found the bullets before the police were involved, and the manager had the right to admit the police under state law. Furthermore, the court noted that Gay, being on parole, had a diminished expectation of privacy.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Gay argued that the evidence did not support his conviction on the firearms charge, suggesting that the weapon may have been planted. However, the court found that the evidence, including the bullets found in the motel room, supported the firearms charge. The court also dismissed Gay's argument that the reduction of two weeks in preparation time for his second trial was prejudicial, stating that the parties had just been through a trial and the evidence had been assembled.Gay also contended that the prosecution was unconstitutional, arguing that the Second Amendment permits persons with felony convictions to possess firearms and ammunition. However, the court affirmed the lower court's decision, citing precedents that upheld the validity of "longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons." The court concluded that Gay, having been convicted of 22 felonies and being on parole, did not fit the description of a "law-abiding, responsible citizen" who has a constitutional right to possess firearms. View "United States v. Gay" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the interpretation of Minnesota Statutes section 171.177, subdivision 1, which requires law enforcement officers to inform individuals suspected of driving under the influence that refusal to submit to a blood or urine test is a crime. The respondent, Brian Matthew Nash, was pulled over for suspected impaired driving. After failing field sobriety tests, he was arrested and a state trooper obtained a search warrant for a blood or urine test. The trooper informed Nash that refusal to take a test is a crime, and Nash complied. His blood test revealed the presence of a controlled substance, leading to the revocation of his driving privileges.Nash sought judicial review of his license revocation, arguing that the trooper's advisory did not comply with the statutory requirement. The district court rejected Nash's arguments and sustained the revocation. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed, finding that the advisory given to Nash was misleading and an inaccurate statement of law.The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed with the court of appeals' interpretation of the statute. The court held that the trooper's statement that "refusal to take a test is a crime" satisfied the advisory required by section 171.177, subdivision 1. The court reasoned that the statute does not require officers to inform drivers of all the elements and permutations of what is required before the state may take adverse action against them. The court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and remanded the case for consideration of the other issues raised by Nash in his appeal. View "Nash v. Commissioner of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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Brennan Grubb was convicted of sexually abusing a minor, which resulted in severe emotional trauma for the young boy. The boy's mother, a teacher, resigned from her job to care for her son. Grubb pleaded guilty to the charges and was ordered by the superior court to pay restitution, including compensation for the mother's future lost wages and benefits. Grubb appealed the restitution order, arguing that his criminal conduct was not the proximate cause of the mother's future lost wages and benefits. The court of appeals agreed with Grubb and vacated the restitution order.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the decision of the court of appeals. The court held that the mother's resignation from her teaching position was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Grubb's criminal conduct. The court remanded the case to the court of appeals for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The court emphasized that the legislature has steadily expanded the rights of crime victims to obtain restitution and that the statutory right to restitution must factor into the proximate cause analysis. The court also noted that the statutory definition of "victim" necessarily affects the proximate cause analysis. The court concluded that it was error to hold as a matter of law that Grubb's conduct could not be the proximate cause of the mother's future lost wages and benefits. View "State v. Grubb" on Justia Law

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Elden Don Brannan was living with his sister and her three children in Corpus Christi, Texas. In 2022, Brannan's sister called 911 to report that Brannan had assaulted her boyfriend and was threatening suicide. She informed the police that Brannan had a "pipe bomb" in his bedroom closet. The bomb squad removed the device and Brannan was arrested. He was later indicted by a grand jury for possessing an unregistered "destructive device" in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). His sister testified that Brannan had built the device from disassembled fireworks. Brannan's defense was that the device was not an explosive but a "makeshift roman-candle or fountain firework" designed to emit a pyrotechnic display.Brannan was found guilty by a federal jury. He moved for acquittal, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to show he had designed the device as a weapon. These motions were denied. Brannan also requested the court to instruct the jury that to convict him under 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d), it had to find he had intentionally designed the device for use as a weapon. The court rejected this proposed instruction, reasoning that Brannan's intent to design the device as a weapon was not an element of the offense but an affirmative defense. The jury found Brannan guilty and he was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Brannan argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him and that the jury instruction omitted an element of the offense. The court disagreed, affirming Brannan's conviction. The court held that under its binding precedent, the exception to § 5861(d) is an affirmative defense, not an element of the crime. Therefore, the government did not need to prove that the device was "designed for use as a weapon." The court also concluded that the district court did not err by following the circuit’s pattern instructions and declining to add "designed as a weapon" as an element of § 5861(d). View "United States v. Brannan" on Justia Law

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The case involves Carlos Hill, who was convicted in 2013 for possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), a law that makes it illegal for a person convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison to possess a firearm. In 2019, Hill sought to challenge his conviction following the Supreme Court's decision in Rehaif v. United States, which overturned previous interpretations of § 922(g)(1) and held that the government must prove that the person knew they belonged to the prohibited group. Hill requested the appointment of counsel to pursue his Rehaif claim in a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The District Court denied his request, ruling that Hill's § 2255 motion was second or successive and that he did not qualify for relief under Rehaif.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit disagreed with the District Court's ruling. The appellate court determined that Hill's § 2255 motion was not second or successive, and that Rehaif announced a new substantive rule that is retroactive for non-successive § 2255 motions. The court concluded that the District Court's order was incorrect and vacated it, remanding the case for further proceedings. The appellate court also issued a certificate of appealability for Hill's appeal, finding that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether Hill has stated a valid constitutional claim and whether the District Court was correct in its procedural ruling. View "United States v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Genaro Medina-Luna, a Mexican national, was charged with attempted reentry by a removed noncitizen, a violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326, after he was found concealed in the trunk of a car at the Otay Mesa, California Port of Entry. Medina-Luna had been previously removed from the United States five times between 2006 and 2022. He waived his right to a grand jury indictment and pleaded guilty unconditionally. The district court sentenced him to 41 months of imprisonment, a downward variance from the Guideline range of 63–78 months, considering his sincere family reasons for reentry and overcoming methamphetamine addiction.Medina-Luna appealed his sentence, raising two issues: the validity of his waiver of the right to a grand jury indictment and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Medina-Luna waived his right to appeal the validity of his waiver of indictment by entering an unconditional guilty plea. The court overruled a previous decision, United States v. Travis, which characterized any defect in the waiver of indictment as jurisdictional, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Cotton, which held that defects in an indictment do not deprive a court of jurisdiction.Regarding the substantive reasonableness of the sentence, the court found no abuse of discretion. The district court had considered the statutory factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), acknowledged Medina-Luna's sincere family reasons for reentry, and his overcoming of methamphetamine addiction. The court affirmed the 41-month sentence, which was the sentence Medina-Luna himself had requested. The appeal was dismissed in part and affirmed in part. View "United States v. Medina-Luna" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Kansas affirmed the conviction of Kylie Jo Elizabeth Waldschmidt for aiding and abetting felony murder and interference with a law enforcement officer. Waldschmidt was involved in a romantic relationship with Diego Gallaway, the victim, and Ryan Thompson, the person who killed Gallaway. The court found that Waldschmidt's actions, including discussing plans to confront Gallaway, driving Thompson to pick up a gun, and driving him to Gallaway's apartment, constituted aiding and abetting in the commission of the crime.The lower court had rejected Waldschmidt's claim that the predicate felonies of aggravated assault and aggravated battery were not distinct from the killing and thus should be merged. The Supreme Court of Kansas agreed with the lower court, finding that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the jury to conclude that the acts of displaying the gun and placing Gallaway in a headlock were distinct from the act that killed Gallaway.The Supreme Court also found that the district court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on the use of force in defense of a person or in defense of an occupied vehicle. The court held that while these instructions would have been legally appropriate, their omission was not clearly erroneous and therefore could not be assigned as error on appeal.The court also found that the prosecutor committed two errors: bolstering the credibility of the State's witnesses and personally commenting on Waldschmidt's testimony. However, the court held that these errors did not deprive Waldschmidt of a fair trial. The court also held that an unpreserved instructional issue that is not clearly erroneous cannot be considered in a cumulative error analysis. View "State v. Waldschmidt" on Justia Law

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The case involves Lucas Denney, a former U.S. Army specialist and president of a Texas-based militia, who was arrested and indicted for assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon during the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Denney pleaded guilty and was sentenced to fifty-two months in prison. The district court applied a two-level enhancement for "more than minimal planning" and a four-level enhancement for use of "a dangerous weapon" under the United States Sentencing Guidelines.Prior to the appeal, Denney had been found guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. He challenged the application of the two enhancements in his sentence, arguing that his planning was for a political protest, not an assault, and that he did not intend to cause bodily harm with the weapon.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found ample evidence supporting the district court's conclusion that Denney had engaged in more than minimal planning for violent altercations with law enforcement officers. The court also found that Denney had admitted in open court to intentionally and forcibly hitting an officer with a PVC pipe, which was considered a dangerous weapon. The court concluded that the enhancements were correctly applied, and Denney's sentence was upheld. View "United States v. Denney" on Justia Law