Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
In 1998, Campbell pled guilty in state court to escape and felony aggravated battery. He was released with his sentence discharged in 2001. In 2006 he was convicted for possessing a controlled substance with intent to deliver; in 2013 he was convicted for unlawful delivery of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of church property. In 2017, Campbell pled guilty to four counts of distributing controlled substances, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) after making several sales of crack cocaine and heroin to a confidential source. The probation officer filed four different PSRs; the first three found that Campbell was a career offender under Guidelines section 4B1.1 in part because of his 2006 and 2013 convictions. The court determined that certain uncharged drug sales beginning in 2016 were relevant conduct, which stretched the beginning of the offenses of conviction back far enough that Campbell’s 1998 conviction counted as a predicate offense.The Seventh Circuit affirmed his 120-month sentence. The district court properly calculated Campbell’s range under the Guidelines but also recognized the narrow margin by which he qualified as a career offender. It was appropriate for the court to rely primarily on its consideration of the statutory sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) to decide on an appropriate sentence. View "United States v. Campbell" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant to the statutory maximum of two years' imprisonment for violating two conditions of his supervised release, holding that the written judgment rendered unreliable this Court's assumption that the district court excluded from its consideration the comments it made before formally explaining its sentence.Specifically, the First Circuit held that the written judgment rendered unreliable the Court's otherwise controlling assumption that the trial court excluded from its consideration the express comments it made shortly before formally explaining its sentence. The Court remanded the case to a new district court judge for prompt resentencing. View "United States v. Serrano-Berrios" on Justia Law

by
Greenpoint Tactical Income Fund and its affiliates and managers were the subjects of an FBI investigation into suspected fraud, particularly with respect to Greenpoint’s asset valuation practices. The investigation led to the issuance of a search warrant for plaintiffs’ properties and the seizure of some assets. Plaintiffs filed suit against Agent Pettigrew and Assistant United States Attorney Halverson, alleging violations of their Fourth Amendment rights by submitting a false and misleading affidavit in support of the search warrant. They sought damages. The district court dismissed the suit, concluding that plaintiffs were seeking to extend “Bivens” to a “new context” and that “special factors” counseled hesitation in doing so.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal on different grounds. Even assuming that Bivens can reach the Fourth Amendment violations alleged here, Halverson is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity and Agent Pettigrew is entitled to qualified immunity. There is no allegation that Halverson was interviewing witnesses himself, was actively involved in the investigation as it was unfolding, or personally vouched for the truth of the allegations in Pettigrew’s affidavit. A reasonable agent in Pettigrew’s position could believe the allegations amounted to probable cause. View "Greenpoint Tactical Income Fund LLC v. Pettigrew" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the court of special appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for various crimes related to the murders of two high school seniors, holding that the court of special appeals erred in reversing the convictions.On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to allow Defendant to cross-examine one of the State's witnesses about out-of-court statements allegedly made by one of his co-defendants and by allowing a lay witness to testify that a cellphone user such as himself has the ability to turn off location tracking associated with the user's Google accounts. The court of special appeals agreed and ordered a new trial. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by limiting the proposed cross-examination; and (2) a user's ability to adjust the location tracking feature of a smartphone is within the understanding of the average lay person, and therefore, a witness whose testimony referred to that ability was not required to qualify as an expert. View "State v. Galicia" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's fourth postconviction petition alleging alleging a claim of newly-discovered evidence, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion.Appellant was convicted of six counts of aiding and abetting first-degree murder for the benefit of a gang and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release. In his fourth postconviction petition, Defendant asserted a successive claim of newly discovered evidence based on three affidavits. The district court denied the petition, determining that the claims were time-barred. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly concluded that Appellant's fourth petition for postconviction relief was untimely. View "Caldwell v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court imposing a mandatory five-year conditional release term in connection with Defendant's conviction of fourth-degree assault of a secure treatment facility employee of the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program (MSOP), holding that there was a rational basis for the sentencing disparity at issue in this case.After he was convicted, Defendant filed a petition for postconviction relief arguing that Minn. Stat. 609.2231, subd. 3a(e) required the district court to impose different sentences for the same conduct based on the defendant's civil commitment status, and therefore, his sentence violated his equal protection rights under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. The district court denied postconviction relief, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the disparate sentence survived rational basis review. View "State v. Lee" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of two murders and finding true the special circumstances that one murder occurred during the commission of a robbery, that the other murder involved the killing of a witness and that Defendant had been convicted of multiple murders, and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that no errors required reversal of the judgment.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) substantial evidence supported the excusal of juror J.W. for cause; (2) assuming that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecution to introduce "other acts" evidence at the guilt phase of trial, any error was harmless; (3) assuming that the trial court erred in introducing evidence at the penalty phase regarding Defendant's participation in mutual combat was harmless; and (4) there was no cumulative error requiring reversal of the judgment below. View "People v. Pineda" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict that Defendant committed first degree murder, robbery, burglary, and firearm possession by a felon and sentencing him to death, holding that while the court committed statutory error, there were no additional errors or rulings that caused Defendant undue prejudice.On appeal, Defendant asserted that several errors in the guilt and penalty phases occurred, resulting in cumulative prejudice warranting reversal of his convictions. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding (1) the trial court erred by allowing Defendant to be absent from trial without a written waiver, but the error was not prejudicial; and (2) Defendant failed to identify any other reversible error on appeal. View "People v. Poore" on Justia Law

by
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Christian Bollen, acting on a hunch, initiated a traffic stop on what ended up being a rental car. The vehicle had out of state plates, and because it was a rental, the trooper though the car might be involved in the transportation of illegal narcotics. The driver informed him that she and her passengers were traveling from California to Maryland, but the trooper did not believe that story. Asking the passengers, their respective stories did not match the driver’s. A drug detection dog made no alert on a sniff of the vehicle. Acting on a hunch, the trooper searched the vehicle to find a kilogram of cocaine in the glove box and some fentanyl in a prescription bottle. In this interlocutory appeal brought by the prosecution, the parties agreed that Trooper Bollen performed a lawful traffic stop. The question before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether the district court erred in granting the defendant’s motion to suppress on the ground that Trooper Bollen lacked probable cause to search the vehicle. “Because probable cause to search was measured against an objective standard of reasonableness and cannot be established by piling hunch upon hunch or by ignoring facts that militate against it,” the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
Swank, a registered sex offender, logged onto a dating application under the username “lkng4younger.” After eight days of sexually explicit online chatting, the other user (an undercover FBI agent) stated he was 15. Swank drove from Iowa to meet with the user in Illinois. FBI agents arrested Swank, who admitted to exchanging sexually explicit images and messages with the user and crossing state lines with the intent of taking a 15-year-old male to Iowa for sex. The district court calculated a Guidelines range of 210-262 months’ imprisonment and found that a 210-month sentence was sufficient but not greater than necessary because of Swank’s risk to recidivate and the danger he presented. The judge stated: I do think that general deterrence is a factor … it is a little arbitrary, but it is the way that our system works is it’s tethered to the reality of the sentences and the ranges and everything like that. … a variance … could minimize the general deterrent impact.”The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Swank’s argument that the district court procedurally erred when it suggested the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(2)(B) factor of adequate deterrence was “tethered” to the Guidelines. When read as a whole, the transcript indicates that the district court followed the proper procedure and did not err in determining the appropriate sentence. View "United States v. Swank" on Justia Law