Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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A 2018 complaint charged Griffin with possession of methamphetamine for sale, possession of materials with the intent to make an explosive, and possession of ammunition by a prohibited person. A 2019 complaint charged entry with intent to commit larceny, malicious destruction of personal property, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and assault with a firearm, with allegations that Griffin personally discharged a firearm and that two prior prison term enhancements applied, based on convictions for weapons offenses. Another 2019 complaint charged Griffin with felony transportation of methamphetamine with intent to sell, other drug crimes, and extortion, alleging two prior prison terms. In two cases Griffin pled no contest to possession of a controlled substance for sale. In the third case, Griffin pled no contest to burglary and admitted a prior prison term. The stipulated term comprised six years for burglary and a one-year Penal Code 667.5 prison term enhancement. The court imposed the sentences in October 2019.Senate Bill 136, effective January 2020, eliminated section 667.5(b)'s enhancement for prior prison terms except those based on sexually violent offenses. The court of appeal reversed the sentence. The enactment is retroactive. The prosecution may withdraw from the plea agreement but it would be an abuse of discretion for the trial court to impose a longer sentence than the original agreement if a new plea agreement is entered. View "People v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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In 2016 agents found Barrett with nearly 15,000 images and 2,450 videos of child pornography. A search of his computer also uncovered a “Pedophile’s Handbook.” Barrett pled guilty to possessing child pornography under a plea agreement with a provision waiving any appellate challenge “on any ground” to “all components” of his sentence. Barrett confirmed that he understood the waiver during his plea colloquy. The district court sentenced Barrett to 97 months’ imprisonment followed by 10 years of supervised release. Barrett brought a First Amendment challenge to “Condition 31” of supervised release that will prevent him from viewing any material depicting “sexually explicit conduct,” defined in 18 U.S.C. 2256(2) to include adult pornography.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Barrett’s sentence, citing its previously-announced “clear and precise rule” that such conduct constitutes waiver, rendering the challenge unreviewable on appeal. Barrett confirmed at sentencing that he received advance notice of all 34 proposed conditions of supervised release and discussed them with his counsel. The district court invited objections; Barrett responded with several. The objections resulted in a colloquy with the judge and ended with rulings on each challenge. Barrett expressed no reservation with and asked no questions about, Condition 31. That Barrett asserts the First Amendment is irrelevant. View "United States v. Barrett" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for attempting to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity and committing a felony involving a minor while required to register as a sex offender. The court concluded that the district court correctly denied defendant's motion for a new trial where neither of the prosecutor's two statements at closing were improper. Even if the statements were improper, the district court cured the problem.The court also held that a restriction on computer usage as a special condition of a lifetime term of supervised release is not plainly unconstitutional. Furthermore, Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730 (2017), was distinguishable from this case because defendant's computer restriction does not extend beyond his term of supervised release. Rather, it is tailored to defendant's offense and he can obtain the district court's approval to use a computer for permissible reasons. View "United States v. Bobal" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for attempted robbery and attempted extortion, and his sentence of 25 years to life plus 14 years. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court abused its discretion by denying defendant's Romero motion to strike a prior conviction. In this case, defendant's prior strikes were remote and committed when he was of diminished culpability based on his age, a factor the trial court erroneously concluded was inapplicable to the formulation of his sentence. Furthermore, despite the trial court's characterization of the facts, defendant's current offenses were not violent and, on the spectrum of criminal behavior, fall closer to the end of less reprehensible conduct.The court also held that the sentence imposed on defendant is cruel or unusual punishment under the California Constitution. The court considered the Lynch technique and concluded that defendant's sentence lacks proportionality to his crimes. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's sentence and remanded for resentencing with the direction to the trial court to strike two of defendant's prior strike convictions and to reconsider his sentence. View "People v. Avila" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty, pursuant to a written plea agreement that contained a waiver of appeal, to coercion and enticement of a minor and possession of child pornography. On appeal, defendant argued that his sentence was procedurally unreasonable and that the district court violated his due process rights.The Fourth Circuit found that defendant's challenges to his sentence fall squarely within the waiver's scope. The court explained that, by its express terms, the appeal waiver is applicable to any sentence imposed "for any reason," including "the weighing of the sentencing factors, and any constitutional challenges to the calculation and imposition of any term of imprisonment . . . ." Therefore, the appeal waiver bars any appeal of defendant's sentence based on an alleged failure to consider his nonfrivolous statistical argument or any purported due process violation. Because defendant's 264 month sentence was far below the advisory Guidelines range of life in prison, the court dismissed defendant's appeal. View "United States v. McGrath" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal reversing the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and reinstating Defendant's conviction, holding that trial counsel rendered objectively deficient performance that prejudiced Defendant's case.After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of fifteen years to life. Defendant later filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel and actual innocence. The Supreme Court concluded that Defendant had stated a prima facie case for relief and issued an order to show cause. The trial court vacated Defendant's conviction, finding that Defendant's trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance. The court of appeal reversed, finding no deficient performance. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that counsel's failure to investigate the victim's time of death, in a case where the timeline was crucial, was an error sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome. View "In re Long" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of fetal murder and affirmed his convictions of ten counts of murder, holding that hearsay was improperly admitted on the question of fetal viability.Defendant was convicted of murdering ten women and one viable fetus and sentenced to death. The primary issues on appeal were whether the trial court erred in admitting statistical evidence about the significance of DNA matches and in admitting hearsay testimony about the fetus's viability. The Supreme Court reversed the fetal murder conviction and otherwise affirmed, holding (1) the challenged testimony admitted in this case was hearsay, and the error in admitting the testimony was prejudicial; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "People v. Turner" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Sanders, age 15, forcibly entered his victims’ homes while they slept, suffocated and raped them, and then robbed them. His youngest victim lived in a foster home. Another had given birth only a few weeks earlier. Sanders admitted that he committed his crimes near the first of the month, believing the victims would have just received public assistance checks. Fingerprints recovered from three homes led the police to Sanders. Charged as an adult with five counts of sexual assault and one count of armed robbery, Sanders entered an Alford plea. Wisconsin courts rejected Sanders’s argument that his Alford plea was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, then denied post‐conviction relief, rejecting ineffective assistance claims.In 2011, Sanders, who will be eligible for parole in 2030, sought federal habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254, reviving his challenge to his Alford plea, and arguing that his sentence did not conform with the Supreme Court’s 2010 "Graham" holding, which requires that states give juvenile nonhomicide offenders “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” and that the sentencing court violated the Eighth Amendment by not considering his youth in sentencing him. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Sanders, who will be eligible for parole in his early 50s, has not been denied a meaningful opportunity for release under the rule announced by the Supreme Court. View "Sanders v. Eckstein" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming Defendant's conviction of breach of the peace in the second degree, criminal mischief in the third degree, and threatening in the second degree, holding that there was no error.On appeal, Defendant argued that the Appellate Court erred in determining that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by precluding Defendant from cross-examining the state's key witness about the facts underlying the witness's prior misdemeanor convictions. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the facts underlying the witness's prior misdemeanor conviction were not relevant to veracity, motive, intent, or a common scheme or pattern; and (2) therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by precluding this evidence. View "State v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for panel rehearing, denied on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc, and filed an Amended Opinion and Concurrence.The panel affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for knowingly engaging in sexual contact with another person without that other person's permission on an international flight, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2244(b). The panel rejected defendant's contention that the district court erred in giving the Ninth Circuit Model Instruction on the elements of section 2244(b), which does not require that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant subjectively knew that his victim did not consent to his conduct. The panel rejected defendant's reading of the statute as contrary to its text, the structure of the statutory scheme and its very purpose in penalizing those who sexually prey upon victims on the seas or in the air within federal jurisdiction. Because unwanted sexual contact of the type defendant engaged in—touching first, and asserting later that he "thought" the victim consented—is precisely what section 2244(b) criminalizes, the panel rejected defendant's claim of instructional error. Furthermore, the Supreme Court's recent decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), does not alter the panel's conclusion. The panel also concluded that the police had probable cause to arrest defendant, that he was properly Mirandized, and that the district court acted within its discretion in refusing to read back to the jury portions of the victim's testimony. View "United States v. Price" on Justia Law