Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
Indiana-based hemp sellers and wholesalers sought to enjoin the enforcement of Indiana’s “Act 516” criminal prohibition on the manufacture, delivery, or possession of smokable hemp, Ind. Code 35-48-3-10.1, arguing that Indiana’s law is preempted by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The 2018 Act expanded the definition of industrial hemp to include all parts of the cannabis plant with a low THC concentration and all low-THC cannabis derivatives; excludes industrial hemp from the federal definition of marijuana, removing it from the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances; provides that the states retain the authority to regulate the production of hemp (7 U.S.C. 1639p); and forbids the states from prohibiting the transportation of hemp products through the state. The district court issued the requested injunction. Indiana then enacted Act 335, which clarifies that Indiana’s prohibition on the delivery and possession of smokable hemp does “not apply to the shipment of smokable hemp from a licensed producer in another state in continuous transit through Indiana to a licensed handler in any state.” The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding the injunction overly broad. The part of Act 516 prohibiting the manufacture of smokable hemp does not fall under the 2018 law’s express preemption clause; it is not clear that the express preemption clause, alone, precludes a state from prohibiting the possession and sale of industrial hemp within the state. View "C.Y. Wholesale, Inc. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit held that petitioner's prior misdemeanor conviction under Virginia Code 18.2-280(A), for willful discharge of "any firearm" in a public place without resulting bodily injury, qualifies as a federal "firearm offense" for purposes of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(C). The court held that the plain language of the Virginia statute, as supported by later acts of Virginia's legislature and by decisions of its appellate courts, prohibits conduct involving the use of a "any firearm," including antique firearms. Therefore, petitioner was not required to identify a prosecution under the Virginia statute involving an antique firearm to defend against removal. Accordingly, the conduct punishable under Virginia Code 18.2-280(A) is broader than the conduct encompassed by the federal definition of a "firearm offense." View "Gordon v. Barr" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for being an accomplice to the crime of aggravated murder, holding that it was reasonably probable that the jury would not have convicted Defendant of aggravated murder absent jury instruction errors. After Defendant was convicted she appealed, arguing that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to three errors in the jury instruction regarding accomplice liability. The court of appeals concluded that there were three errors in the jury instruction and that the performance of Defendant's trial counsel was deficient because he did not object to the errors. However, the court of appeals determined that the errors were not prejudicial because there was not a reasonable probability of a more favorable outcome absent the errors. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) the jury instruction discussing the elements for accomplice liability on aggravated murder contained three errors; and (2) there was a reasonable probability that at least one juror would not have voted to convict Defendant in the absence of the errors. View "State v. Grunwald" on Justia Law

by
Running from police officers, Payne threw down a loaded pistol. Payne then attempted to provide a false identity and said he was not a felon. Payne had outstanding warrants for absconding from probation and three prior felony convictions. He had been convicted of child abuse and driving a stolen vehicle and, later, of felony failure to comply with a police officer and misdemeanor battery after holding hostage a domestic partner and her child. Payne pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), 924(a)(2). The court conducted a colloquy to determine whether Payne’s guilty plea was knowing and voluntary, and confirmed that he previously had been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year. Payne did not say he knew he was a convicted felon. After hearing about his low educational attainment and mental-health issues, the court sentenced Payne to 41 months’ imprisonment, despite a Guidelines range of 51-63 months. Days later, the Supreme Court, in Rehaif, held that to be convicted of such a status offense, a defendant must have known “he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.” Payne argued there was a reasonable probability he would not have pleaded guilty had he known about this element. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction, finding it “highly implausible Payne was ignorant of his felon status.” View "United States v. Payne" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the district court's denial of Defendant's petition for postconviction relief, holding that, under Minn. Stat. 260B.245, subd. 1(b), delinquency adjudications may be deemed "felony convictions" for the purpose of the statutory definition of a crime of violence. Defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, which required proof that Defendant had been convicted of a crime of violence. Defendant pled guilty to the offense, admitting that he had been adjudicated delinquent for committing fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance. The district court accepted the plea and placed Defendant on probation. Defendant later filed a petition for postconviction relief, asserting that his juvenile delinquency adjudication failed to satisfy the definition of a "crime of violence" because, under section 260B.245, a delinquency adjudication cannot be deemed a "conviction of crime." The district court denied postconviction relief. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the phrase "felony convictions," as used in the statutory definition of crime of violence, includes a juvenile delinquency adjudication for felony-level offenses listed in Minn. Stat. 624.712, subd. 5; and (2) Defendant provided an adequate factual basis for his guilty plea. View "Roberts v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized from his vehicle during a traffic stop, holding that a driver violates Minn. Stat. 169.30(b) by driving past the stop sign or stop line before coming to a complete stop. Defendant's vehicle was stopped after he failed to stop at a stop sign and stop line. The district court suppressed the evidence seized from Defendant's vehicle, concluding that the traffic stop was unlawful because Minn. Stat. 169.30(b) requires a driver "to stop at the intersection, not at the stop sign or stop line." The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 169.30(b) is violated when the driver a vehicle drives past the stop sign or stop line before coming to a complete stop; and (2) because Defendant failed to bring his vehicle to a complete stop before he drove his vehicle past the stop line and the stop sign, the traffic stop was lawful. View "State v. Gibson" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Rahsjahn Courtney agreed to a negotiated plea agreement with the State, in which he pled guilty to a first-degree possession of heroin and a distribution charge in exchange for a fourteen-year prison sentence with a sixty-three-month period of parole ineligibility. As a part of the plea agreement, the State agreed not to request a mandatory extended-term sentence for which defendant was eligible under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f). The State alerted the court and defendant that defendant qualified for a mandatory extended term, but it agreed to defense counsel’s offered sentence. Defendant entered a guilty plea under the terms of the negotiated plea agreement. The court imposed the agreed-upon sentence. Defense counsel and defendant both acknowledged their understanding of the terms of the guilty plea and raised no objections regarding defendant’s eligibility for an extended term; the plea form and supplemental plea form reflected that agreement. Defendant, defense counsel, and the prosecutor signed both forms. Despite acknowledging the plea agreement, defense counsel requested a reduced sentence. The sentencing judge denied the request. The Appellate Division affirmed, rejecting defendant’s argument that the sentencing court had discretion to lower his sentence because the State failed to file a formal application requesting the extended mandatory term. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed, finding that N.J.S.A. 2C:35-12 did not require a formal application when a prosecutor agrees not to request a mandatory extended-term sentence under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f) yet seeks the benefit of a Section 12 plea agreement. Given the importance of ensuring consistency and accuracy in sentencing, the Court provided guidance for future cases where the State agrees not to request an extended term but still seeks the benefit of a negotiated waiver of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987's mandatory sentencing requirements under Section 12. View "New Jersey v. Courtney" on Justia Law

by
The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed whether a defendant facing the same charges as a cooperating witness should have been barred from exploring that adverse witness’s sentencing exposure. Tiffany Taylor, Javon Clarke, and defendant Michael A. Jackson were apprehended and charged with participating in a burglary. Clarke accepted a cooperating plea offer in which he agreed to provide testimony inculpating defendant and Taylor in exchange for a three-year sentence. The trial judge urged modification of the plea agreement, suggesting Clarke’s sentencing exposure be lowered to 180 days in county jail, and probation. The new deal was accepted; Clarke testified that defendant and Taylor participated in the burglary. In an effort to demonstrate Clarke’s bias in favor of the prosecution, counsel for Jackson sought to elicit during cross-examination the sentencing range of three to five years’ imprisonment that Clarke would have faced had he not accepted a plea offer in exchange for agreeing to testify against defendant. The trial court barred defense counsel’s line of questioning regarding Clarke’s maximum sentencing exposure, explaining that such information could improperly prejudice the jury if they heard Clarke’s maximum sentencing exposure on the same crimes as defendant. The trial court permitted defense counsel to elicit testimony regarding only the initial plea offer of three years’ imprisonment and the final plea agreement, in which Clarke accepted 180 days’ imprisonment in county jail, plus probation.Under the circumstances here, the Supreme Court found defendant was deprived of his right to confrontation and denied a fair trial. Judgment of the Appellate Division was reversed, and defendant's conviction was vacated. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "New Jersey v. Jackson" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that the district court did not err by imposing sentencing enhancements for possessing three to seven firearms and possessing a firearm capable of accepting a high capacity magazine. In this case, the evidence was sufficient to show constructive or joint possession, if not actual possession of the firearms. The court also held that the district court did not err by imposing an enhancement for possession of the firearm in connection with another felony offense where the firearm facilitated or had the potential of facilitating drug possession. Finally, the court held that any error in imposing any of the enhancements was harmless because the district court expressly stated it would have adopted the sentence regardless of its rulings on the enhancements. View "United States v. Fisher" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of eighteen counts of financial fraud crimes and sentencing him to a total of seven years to serve in prison, with the balance of the eighteen concurrent sentences suspended with probation, holding that the trial justice did not err or abuse her discretion. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial justice did not abuse her discretion in admitting evidence related to Defendant's character; (2) the trial justice did not err by permitted a Rhode Island State Police detective to provide expert opinion testimony as a lay witness; (3) the trial justice was not clearly wrong in allowing a waiver of the attorney-client privilege; (4) the trial justice did not err when she denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence he claimed was illegally obtained by state action; (5) the trial justice did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial; and (6) Defendant waived his remaining allegations of error. View "State v. Doyle" on Justia Law