Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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From 1985-2017, Ballard accrued over 30 convictions for crimes including attempted residential burglary, kidnapping, battery, aggravated assault (amended from rape), possession of a firearm as a felon, and multiple convictions for driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license. Ballard also accrued many parole violations and committed infractions while in prison. Ballard pleaded guilty in 2018 to possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). The court initially imposed an armed career criminal enhancement, resulting in a Guidelines range of 180-210 months. The court considered old offenses for which the Guidelines did not assess criminal history points. Citing the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors, the court imposed a 232-month sentence. On remand, a revised presentence report calculated a Guidelines range of 33-41 months, with a statutory maximum of 120 months. The court again pointed to Ballard’s extensive criminal history and cited the section 3553 factors to impose a sentence of 108 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The district court committed procedural error by not providing an adequate explanation for the major upward departure. The court referred to the defendant's history and characteristics and the goals of promoting respect for the law, deterrence, and protecting the public. These were the same factors discussed at the original sentencing, resulting in a sentence only 22 months above the original Guidelines range. The court provided no explanation for why consideration of the same factors warranted a much greater departure on resentencing. View "United States v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Clifford Mecham took his computer to a technician for repairs. The technician discovered thousands of images showing nude bodies of adults with faces of children superimposed. The technician reported the pornography to the Corpus Christi Police Department. Unlike virtual pornography, this “morphed” child pornography used an image of a real child. Like virtual pornography, however, no child actually engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the circuits disagreed about whether morphed child pornography was protected speech. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the majority view that morphed child pornography did not enjoy First Amendment protection, so it affirmed defendant's conviction for possessing child pornography. "But the fact that the pornography was created without involving a child in a sex act does mean that a sentencing enhancement for images that display sadistic or masochistic conduct does not apply," so defendant's case was remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Mecham" on Justia Law

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Clarence Roy, a Christian street preacher, was issued a summons outside a nightclub in Monroe, Louisiana, after a woman accused him of following her and making inflammatory remarks. The summons, which was issued by Sergeant James Booth of the Monroe Police Department, cleared the way for formal charges under the city of Monroe’s “disturbing the peace” ordinance. Roy was tried and ultimately acquitted by a municipal court judge. Shortly thereafter, he filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, in which he argued Booth and the city deprived him of numerous constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Two district court judges denied relief, first in part and then in whole, respectively. Finding no reversible error, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Roy v. City of Monroe" on Justia Law

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Jesse received a suspended sentence and probation for possession of methamphetamine, second offense. Due to several probation violations and arrests, she spent more than 332 days in custodial settings. She was arrested again in June 2003. A state court imposed a revocation sentence of an indeterminate term not to exceed two years’ incarceration. Jesse’s attorney had consulted with the Iowa Department of Corrections, which indicated that Jesse would fully serve her sentence in no more than 332 days; based on her time in custodial settings, she had already served more than that amount of time. The Department advised that Jesse should not be transported to the Classification Center and that counsel should apply for an order discharging Jesse’s sentence. The court granted that order. At sentencing following her guilty plea to federal methamphetamine charges, the issue was whether the state sentence was for more than one year and one month for purposes of calculating criminal-history points under U.S.S.G. 4A1.1(a); 4A1.2(e)(1). The court found that the state sentence was two years, which resulted in an advisory range of 188-235 months. Applying 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), the court noted Jesse’s personal history and imposed a 175-month sentence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Courts should rely on the judgment imposing sentence, rather than evidence of time actually served when calculating criminal history points. The state judge expressly vacated the order regarding Jesse’s transport to prison but did not vacate the sentence and did not believe himself to be amending, retracting, or replacing the sentence. View "United States v. Jesse" on Justia Law

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Thomas was charged with a 10-year conspiracy involving kidnapping, forced labor, hate crimes, and racketeering-related violent crimes. The court rejected his guilty plea and ordered competency restoration under 18 U.S.C. 4241(b). Thomas was evaluated at a Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. Clinical Psychologist Chavez concluded Thomas was unlikely to become competent in the foreseeable future; 18 U.S.C. 4246(d) required commitment if, due to Thomas's mental deficiencies, his release would create a substantial risk of bodily injury or serious property damage. A Risk Assessment Panel diagnosed Thomas with an unspecified neurocognitive disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, and adult antisocial behavior, finding that Thomas “show[ed] a pattern of violating the rights of others,” and had previously been convicted of sexual assault, and implied that his professional boxing career suggested violent tendencies. The Panel explained that Thomas was easily manipulated by his domestic partner (the conspiracy’s ringleader). Thomas’s denials of past violence indicated a lack of empathy. The court granted Thomas’s request for an independent examination. Clinical Psychologist DeMier largely agreed with the diagnosis but concluded that Thomas’s dangerousness primarily stemmed from his manipulability, not his mental defects and did not warrant commitment. The court noted Chavez and the Panel spent significantly more time evaluating Thomas and because DeMier’s opinion was inconsistent. Thomas was committed to the Attorney General’s custody. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. That DeMier’s “less-than-robust opinion” is contrary to the court’s conclusion does not warrant clear-error reversal. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court judge granting in part and denying in part Defendant's motion to correct an illegal sentence, holding that this Court cannot consider the merits of Defendant's constitutional arguments because a motion to correct an illegal sentence is an improper vehicle for them. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole for twenty-five years, known as a hard twenty-five, upon his plea of no contest to first-degree murder. Defendant later filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that his hard twenty-five was constitutionally disproportionate and that the district judge erred by imposing lifetime postrelease supervision. The district court agreed that Defendant should not be subject to lifetime postrelease supervision but rejected Defendant's constitutional challenge. Defendant appealed, arguing that his hard twenty-five was disproportionate under the state and federal constitutions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a motion to correct an illegal sentence cannot raise claims that a sentence violates a constitutional provision. View "State v. Peterson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of burglary, theft, and prohibited possession of firearms, holding that the district court judge's response to a jury's mid-deliberation question about jury nullification was not reversible error and that the jury instructions were not in error. During trial, the members of Defendant's jury asked if nullification can "be applied" to the firearm charges. On appeal, Defendant asserted that the district judge's answer affirmatively misinformed the jury and clearly implied that jury nullification did not apply. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district judge's response to the jury question was not error; (2) the burglary instruction given to the jury was erroneous but not reversible; and (3) the accomplice instruction was not error. View "State v. Boeschling" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant after he pled guilty to felony possession of methamphetamine, felony domestic battery, and violation of a protective order, holding that the district judge did not engage in prohibited double counting of two prior misdemeanor domestic battery convictions. Defendant's domestic battery conviction qualified as a felony rather than a misdemeanor because it was his third such conviction in five years. In calculating Defendant's criminal history score to determine the sentence for Defendant's conviction for methamphetamine possession, the judge included the same two misdemeanor domestic battery convictions that were used to elevate Defendant's domestic battery to a felony. On appeal, Defendant asserted that the district judge engaged in double counting of the two prior misdemeanor domestic battery convictions under Kan. Stat. Ann. 21-6810(d)(9). The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that including Defendant's prior domestic battery convictions in Defendant's criminal history calculation for his primary grid conviction did not violate the double-counting provision of section 21-6810(d)(9). View "State v. Fowler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's denials of Defendant's motions to withdraw his pleas of guilty to first-degree felony murder and attempted second-degree intentional murder but vacated the imposition of lifetime supervision, holding that the district court had no authority to impose lifetime postrelease supervision. Before sentencing, Defendant moved to withdraw his pleas of guilty to first-degree felony murder and attempted second-degree intentional murder. The district court denied the motions. The court imposed a life sentence for the first-degree murder conviction and ordered lifetime postrelease supervision. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's motions to withdraw his pleas; but (2) the district court erred when it sentenced Defendant to lifetime postrelease supervision on the first-degree murder conviction because Defendant was eligible for parole after serving twenty years of his off-grid indeterminate life sentence for that conviction. View "State v. Newman" on Justia Law

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In this appeal challenging several district court rulings in a grand jury proceeding the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court, holding that the State cannot subpoena a criminal defense expert but that the prosecution's contact with the expert does not merit recusal and that there was no basis to quash the grand jury proceeding. Before the grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor contacted an expert witness retained by John Doe, who faced possible criminal charges, and asked the expert her opinions about the matter. When the expert declined to substantively respond, the prosecutor served the expert with a subpoena to appear before the grand jury. Doe moved to quash the subpoena and to disqualify the prosecutor from the proceeding. Doe also sought to quash the grand jury proceedings. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the district court erred in not quashing the grand jury subpoena of Defendant's retained expert; (2) the issuance of the subpoena did not amount to the kind of misconduct that requires the disqualification of the prosecutor; and (3) the district court did not err in declining to quash the grand jury. View "In re 2018 Grand Jury of Dallas County v. Doe" on Justia Law