Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
Farmer, a member of the Latin Kings street gang, brutally bludgeoned Lowry and Siegers to death with a hammer in 1999. In 2019, a federal jury convicted Farmer of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), and conspiracy to possess illegal narcotics with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 846. The district court sentenced Farmer to life imprisonment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although the precise date of Farmer’s membership is unclear, the government presented ample evidence from which a jury could conclude Farmer was a Latin King when he killed Lowry and Siegers in 1999 and that his membership motivated the killings. The government also offered sufficient evidence of other qualifying predicate crimes. View "United States v. Farmer" on Justia Law

by
A jury convicted Defendant of attempted willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder. The trial court sentenced Defendant to 32 years to life in state prison. Defendant appealed the application of gang and firearm enhancements and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence under SB 775.    In light of Assembly Bill No. 333’s changes to section 186.22, the Second Appellate District reversed the true findings on the criminal street gang and firearm enhancements. The court remanded to the trial court to permit the prosecution to retry the criminal street gang enhancements if it so elects.Regarding Defendant's SB 775 claim, the court wrote that the parties agree that when a court instructs a jury on both a valid theory of guilt and an invalid theory of guilt the appellate court must review the error under the “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. The court explained that in employing that standard it must reverse the conviction unless the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, the evidence of direct aiding and abetting was overwhelming. Accordingly, the trial court’s error in instructing the jury on natural and probable consequences was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "P. v. Lima" on Justia Law

by
Lee‐Kendrick was charged with sexual assault of girls under the age of 16: his biological daughter; his girlfriend’s daughter, A.W.; and a friend. Lee‐Kendrick testified that the accusations arose only after he started taking away their cell phones and allowances. There was no physical evidence. The jury found him guilty. Lee‐ Kendrick unsuccessfully sought a new trial, arguing that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not objecting to certain prejudicial cross‐examination.In post-conviction motions, Lee‐ Kendrick argued his postconviction counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise his trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in not calling as a witness A.W.'s friend, Keeler. Lee‐Kendrick cited a memorandum from a Wisconsin State Public Defender's investigator, recounting an interview in which Keeler said that A.W. told Keeler of her plan to get Lee‐Kendrick in trouble. The state trial court did not find Lee‐Kendrick’s claims procedurally barred for having not been raised on direct appeal but applied the “Strickland” standard to reject Lee‐Kendrick’s arguments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed, going beyond his failure to raise the argument on appeal and reasoning that the attorney’s decision was not prejudicial because Keeler had no direct knowledge of the sexual assaults; Keeler’s testimony would have been inconsistent with the defense theory.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. His claim concerning failure to call Keeler was denied on an adequate and independent state‐law ground and is procedurally defaulted. That default is not excused by cause and prejudice. View "Lee-Kendrick v. Eckstein" on Justia Law

by
In 2020, large quantities of methamphetamine and firearms were discovered at Olsem’s house. Olsem, a convicted felon, pled guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The Initial PSR identified pending Wisconsin state charges against Olsem: a February 2020 arrest for domestic battery and abuse of Olsem’s then-girlfriend and a December 2020 arrest for strangulation, suffocation, and domestic battery of his then-girlfriend and another man. Probation specifically noted the district court’s “Setser” discretion to determine whether Olsem’s federal sentence would run consecutively to or concurrently with any Wisconsin state sentence. Although Olsem submitted objections to the Initial PSR, he did not express a position on that issue. A Revised PSR calculated Olsem’s Guidelines range as 78-97 months’ imprisonment. Olsem’s sentencing memorandum did not address the consecutive or concurrent issue.The district court analyzed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and imposed a sentence of 84 months’ imprisonment, stating that “If the state court judge does not expressly impose concurrent state sentences, his term of imprisonment shall run consecutively.” Olsem did not address the district court’s Setser discretion or express a preference for consecutive or concurrent sentences. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Setser does not obligate sentencing courts to exercise this discretion and the appropriate time for Olsem to raise his concerns was at sentencing. View "United States v. Olsem" on Justia Law

by
Appellant appealed the judgment after the jury found him guilty of false imprisonment by violence or menace (count 1, Pen. Code, Sections 236, 237, subd. (a)) and infliction of corporal injury on a person with whom he had a current or former dating relationship (count 3, Section 273.5, subd. (a)). He admitted a prior strike (Sections 667, subds. (c)(1), (e)(1), 1170.12, subds. (a)(1), (c)(1)). The trial court sentenced him to state prison for seven years, four months. Appellant contends the trial court erred when it did not: (1) stay the sentence for count 1, and (2) strike his prior strike conviction. He also contends that Senate Bill No. 567, which added a procedural change to section 1170, mandates resentencing.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that a trial court has discretion to dismiss a prior violent or serious felony conviction pursuant to the Three Strikes law. Here, the trial court’s ruling was not irrational or arbitrary. The court explained the reasons for denying the Romero motion. It acknowledged that the strike was 19 years old, but noted it was a “serious offense.” Further, there is a presumption that the trial court considered all relevant factors, even if it did not mention them all, and here the record shows that the trial court did consider Appellant’s life-long history including his mental health history and drug history. The court wrote, that the record “clearly indicates” the trial court would not have imposed the low term had it been aware of its discretion to do so under S.B. 567. View "P. v. Salazar" on Justia Law

by
El-Battouty was a leader of a large-scale online child pornography ring for almost two years. Using an alias, El-Battouty posted several thousand times on the internet chat platform, Discord's servers, which were organized into text channels that functioned as chatrooms. They operated as hierarchical distribution networks for sexually explicit images and videos of minors. Users shared methods to coerce children into producing pornography. El-Battouty used a fictional online persona to deceive minors into believing they were playing a “game” of progressively lewder sex acts with a fellow minor, surreptitiously recorded and then distributed this content to other users on the Discord servers. An undercover FBI agent monitored and preserved content. A search of El-Battouty’s residence pursuant to a warrant recovered digital devices containing thousands of archived sexually explicit images and videos of minors. The devices and El-Battouty’s own statements established his access and use of the servers.Convicted of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(g), he was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, a life term of supervised release, and restitution. The Third Circuit affirmed. The central issue was whether El-Battouty acted alone or conspired with other users on the Discord servers. The statute presents common words and phrases, which the district court explained to the jury in a straightforward way. View "United States v. El-Battouty" on Justia Law

by
Defendant pleaded guilty to distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. Section 841. The district court imposed a bottom-of-Guidelines sentence of 87 months in prison. Defendant challenged his sentence as procedurally and substantively unreasonable.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the sentence. The court explained that “procedural error includes failing to calculate (or improperly calculating) the Guidelines range, treating the Guidelines as mandatory, failing to consider the Section 3553(a) factors, selecting a sentence based on clearly erroneous facts, or failing to adequately explain the chosen sentence—including an explanation for any deviation from the Guidelines range.” United States v. Feemster, 572 F.3d 455, 461 (8th Cir. 2009).   Where, as here, the defendant fails to object at sentencing, the court reviews for plain error. Plain error is (1) error, (2) that is plain, and (3) that affects substantial rights. The court wrote that contrary to Defendant’s argument, the court found that the safety valve applied. But safety valve eligibility does not guarantee Defendant a below-statutory minimum sentence; it just gives the court the opportunity to sentence below the minimum if it believes it is appropriate. Defendant argued that the court needed to specifically explain why it decided not to impose a below-minimum sentence— beyond the usual explanation for choosing a particular sentence. But he does not cite any cases from this circuit announcing such a rule, and the out-of-circuit cases he cites do not support his argument. Further, the court found that a within-Guidelines sentence is presumptively reasonable and the court’s Section 3553(a) analysis was proper. View "United States v. Jaamil Owens" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of felony possession of marijuana, entered following Defendant's conditional guilty plea, holding that the initial traffic stop of Defendant in this case comported with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.In denying Defendant's motion to suppress, the trial court concluded that the initial traffic stop was justified as a drug trafficking investigation. Defendant appealed, arguing that the district court erred in concluding the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop Defendant based on the collective knowledge doctrine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the initial stop was legally justified under the Fourth Amendment, and therefore, the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. View "Guandong v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court determined that a warrantless search conducted in this case did not comport with the Fourth Amendment under the "single-purpose-container exception" to the warrant requirement, holding that when police search a bookbag in a home under circumstances that do not give rise to any exigency they must first obtain a warrant.After he was charged with illegal possession of drugs Defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the warrantless search of the book bag conducted by a law enforcement officer was unlawful. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the warrantless search was lawful because the book bag was in plain view and the officer had probable cause to suspect it contained contraband. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) absent exigent circumstances, the search of a closed container requires a warrant; and (2) the single-purpose-container exception to the warrant did not apply in this case because a bookbag is not a single-purpose drug container. View "State v. Burroughs" on Justia Law

by
In November 2018, at approximately 10:20 p.m., Trenton detectives stopped defendant David Smith’s motor vehicle for a purported tinted windows violation after the detectives observed dark tinting on defendant’s rear windshield. Despite the rear windshield’s tint, detectives were able to see that defendant was alone in the car and was making a furtive “shoving” motion, raising suspicions that he was trying to conceal a weapon. When the detectives searched the vehicle, they found a firearm. The detectives cited defendant for a tinted windows violation and charged him with various weapons offenses. In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether a purported violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-74 based on tinted windows justified an investigatory stop of a motor vehicle. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court found the stop at issue here was not supported by a reasonable and articulable suspicion of a motor vehicle violation. "Consistent with the plain language of N.J.S.A. 39:3-74, reasonable and articulable suspicion of a tinted windows violation arises only when a vehicle’s front windshield or front side windows are so darkly tinted that police cannot clearly see people or articles within the car." View "New Jersey v. Smith" on Justia Law