Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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18 U.S.C. 3583(g), which requires revocation of supervised release and a term of imprisonment for certain drug and gun violations, is not unconstitutional under United States v. Haymond, 130 S. Ct. 2369 (2019). In Haymond, the Supreme Court held that a different mandatory revocation provision, section 3583(k), violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.The Fifth Circuit held that section 3583(g) lacks the three features which led the Supreme Court to hold section 3583(k) unconstitutional: first, while subsection (g) singles out certain conduct, only some of it is criminal; second, although subsection (g) takes away the judge's discretion to decide whether a violation should result in imprisonment, it does not dictate the length of the sentence; and third, subsection (g) does not limit the judge's discretion in the same "particular manner" as subsection (k). Therefore, the district court did not err in its revocation decision. View "United States v. Garner" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Postal Inspection Service identified suspicious packages sent from Puerto Rico to Duenas. Milwaukee officers intercepted and followed a package and arrested Duenas once he accepted the delivery. Duenas mentioned the shooting incident and stated that Medina had repeatedly shipped him cocaine from Puerto Rico. The powdery substance in the intercepted package contained cocaine; 40 small bags amounted to more than one kilogram. Three fingerprints inside the package matched Medina’s fingerprints. Medina was indicted for conspiring to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. The defense suggested that a fourth mail receipt—labeled as being sent from Milwaukee on August 19, 2014, at 3:25 pm—could not have been in Medina’s car. The judge said the receipt raised a “mystery” but dismissed the idea that it created a reasonable doubt as to the Puerto Rico officers’ testimony or the receipts bearing Duenas’ name.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Medina’s conviction. The judge recognized the factual discrepancies that Medina identified and only relied on the credible portions of the testimony. Medina’s arguments do not render the testimony physically impossible or otherwise unbelievable. Given the testimony and the corroborating physical evidence, a rational trier of fact could have easily found Medina guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. View "United States v. Medina" on Justia Law

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Wofford was found guilty of a 1993 murder in a Michigan court following the removal and replacement of a juror. While that juror was holding out against conviction at the time, the judge removed her for misconduct: she had violated his instructions not to discuss the case with anyone other than her fellow jurors by hiring a lawyer to address the court about tensions in the jury room. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Wofford’s conviction under a state precedent on juror removal.A federal district court granted Wofford’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, finding that decision not entitled to deference under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. 2254, because the Michigan court had overlooked Wofford’s Sixth Amendment claims and the removal of the juror violated Wofford’s Sixth Amendment rights.The Sixth Circuit reversed. The 2020 Supreme Court decision, “Ramos,” held that the right not to have a juror removed due to the juror’s opinions on the merits of the case is contained in the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a “trial by an impartial jury.” Michigan did not overlook Wofford’s Sixth Amendment claims. While the juror was a holdout, she was not removed for this reason, but because of her misconduct. The Michigan court was free to require a showing of an actual constitutional violation and clearly, if implicitly, did so. View "Wofford v. Woods" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming the judgment of the coram nobis court ruling that Defendant failed to prove that his attorney performed below constitutional standards and was therefore not entitled to coram nobis relief, holding that the coram nobis court did not err.Defendant was convicted of reckless endangerment and illegally transporting a handgun in a vehicle. The court sentenced Defendant to fourteen days of jail time and three years of probation. Defendant's attorney later filed a motion for modification of sentence, asking that the court consider changing the sentence to probation before judgment. However, the attorney asked the court to defer consideration of the motion until after the conclusion of Defendant's probation. A hearing on the motion was never held. Defendant subsequently sought to expunge the records of his criminal charges but was not successful because he had not received probation before judgment. Defendant sought a writ of error coram nobis asking that the sentencing court belatedly hold a hearing and decide his motion for modification of sentence. The coram nobis court and the court of special appeals denied relief. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Defendant's attorney did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Franklin v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from a postjudgment order denying his petition for resentencing pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95 and Senate Bill No. 1437. Defendant alleged that the judge erred by ruling on the petition although he was not the judge who sentenced defendant in the underlying matter, and by summarily denying defendant's petition.The Court of Appeal agreed with the parties that the trial court erred in denying defendant's petition based on the constitutional challenges to Senate Bill 1437 and section 1170.95 and on the the merits of his petition. The court explained that the record provides no basis for the trial court's determination as a matter of law that "the overall record" precluded defendant from showing that he was not a major participant in the robbery and did not act with reckless indifference to human life. The court interpreted the statute to require the judge who originally sentenced the petitioner to rule on the petition, unless that judge is unavailable. In this case, the record contains no evidence that the original sentencing judge was unavailable. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "People v. Santos" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's denial of petitioner's request for deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).The panel held that the federal generic definition of murder is "the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought" under 18 U.S.C. 1111(a); because federal law defines the term "human being" to exclude an unborn fetus, California Penal Code section 187(a), which criminalizes the unlawful killing of an unborn fetus, is broader than the federal generic definition; section 187(a) is divisible because it creates distinct crimes for the unlawful killing of a human being and the unlawful killing of a fetus; and, under the modified categorical approach, petitioner's section 187(a) second degree murder conviction under section 187(a) for the unlawful killing of a human being is an aggravated felony under the INA. Accordingly, substantial evidence supported the denial of deferral and petitioner is removable as charged. View "Gomez Fernandez v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the of the trial court convicting Defendants of first degree murder and other crimes and sentencing both defendants to death, holding that no prejudice resulted from any error of the trial court.Separate juries convicted Daniel Silveria and John Travis of first degree murder, second degree robbery, and second degree burglary. After retrials, a single penalty jury returned death verdicts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) during the guilt phase, the trial court did not err in denying Travis's motion to suppress or in instructing the jury on first degree murder; and (2) during the joint penalty retrial, there was no abuse of discretion in denying Defendants' severance motions, the trial court did not wrongfully excuse for cause prospective jurors, the trial court did not err in admitting portions of Silveria's first penalty phase testimony, any error in placing conditions on proffered testimony by Travis's trial counsel was harmless, and any other assumed or actual error was not prejudicial. View "People v. Silveria" on Justia Law

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Here, the Supreme Court addressed the propriety of a criminal defense subpoena served on Facebook seeking restricted posts and private messages of one of its users, who was a victim and critical witness in the underlying attempted murder prosecution, holding that the trial court erred in denying Facebook's motion to quash the subpoena.Lance Touchstone, the defendant in the prosecution below, argued that the trial court properly denied Facebook's motion to quash. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the trial court erred by conducting an incomplete assessment of the relevant factors and interests when it found that Defendant established good cause to acquire the communications at issue from Facebook. After highlighting seven factors a trial court should explicitly consider and balance in ruling on a motion to quash a subpoena directed to a third party the Supreme Court vacated the trial court's order denying the motion to quash and remanded the matter to the trial court to conduct further proceedings consistent with the guidelines set forth in this opinion. View "Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for four counts of first degree murder and other crimes and sentence of death, holding that, considering any actual or assumed errors altogether, their cumulative effect did not warrant reversal of Defendant's convictions or sentence.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) assuming that the trial court erred by using an unsworn, uncertified interpreter during the preliminary hearing and to interpret a victim's outburst, there was no prejudice; (2) sufficient evidence supported the theory of felony murder for two murders, and even assuming there was no sufficient evidence, the first degree murder verdicts would still be upheld; (3) there was assumed or found error during trial regarding difficulties that made it difficult to hearing the court proceedings, the accuracy of interpreters, and other issues, but there was no prejudice; and (4) none of the assumed or actual errors, considered either individually or collectively, warranted reversal of Defendant's convictions or sentence. View "People v. Suarez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part Defendant's convictions and sentences for two counts of theft, two counts of vehicle theft, and one count of robbery, holding that theft is a lesser-included offense of both vehicle theft and robbery but that vehicle theft is not a lesser-included offense of robbery.At issue was whether Defendant's convictions and sentences constituted multiple punishments for the same offense in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court held (1) theft is a lesser-included offense of vehicle theft, and therefore, the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibited Defendant's convictions for both theft and vehicle theft; (2) theft is a lesser-included offense of robbery; (3) vehicle theft is not a lesser-included offense of robbery, and vehicle theft and robbery may be punished separately; and (4) an offense with a greater penalty can be a lesser-included offense of one with a lesser penalty. View "State v. Carter" on Justia Law