Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves a juvenile, Jose R., who was declared a ward of the court and committed to a secure youth treatment facility (SYTF) for a baseline term of three years with a maximum term of six years. This followed his admission, as part of a plea deal, that he had committed an assault with a semiautomatic firearm. The case arose from a shooting incident in which Jose and an adult man fired multiple gunshots, resulting in a victim's death. Initially, Jose was charged with first-degree murder, but the charge was later amended to assault with a semiautomatic firearm, which Jose admitted to.The Superior Court of Los Angeles County denied Jose's motion to apply his precommitment custody credits to his baseline term, instead applying the 395 days of precommitment custody credits against the maximum term. Jose appealed this decision, arguing that the court erred in applying his precommitment custody credits to his maximum term instead of his baseline term.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Seven affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court found that the lower court did not err in applying Jose's precommitment custody credits to the maximum term of confinement. The court based its decision on the clear statutory language in section 875, subdivision (c)(1)(C), which states that precommitment custody credits must be applied against the maximum term of confinement. The court also rejected Jose's argument that the legislative scheme violated his right to equal protection of the laws. The court concluded that the legislative amendments did not violate equal protection principles, even if they resulted in less favorable treatment of precommitment credits. View "In re Jose R." on Justia Law

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Five members of the Baltimore-based gang, Murdaland Mafia Piru (MMP), appealed their convictions and sentences. The defendants were convicted of various crimes, including conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and possession of a firearm and ammunition as convicted felons. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed most of the convictions and sentences, but reversed two convictions for Shakeen Davis due to a violation of Rehaif v. United States, which requires the government to prove that a defendant knew he was a felon at the time he possessed a firearm. The court remanded the case for entry of a corrected judgment. The court rejected the other defendants' arguments, including claims of evidentiary errors, failure to enforce a plea agreement, and challenges to the reasonableness of their sentences. View "US v. Banks" on Justia Law

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Marcus Antonio Ashford pleaded guilty to two counts of drug-related crimes. As part of his plea agreement, he voluntarily and knowingly waived his right to contest either the conviction or the sentence in any direct appeal, with the exception of claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. At Ashford's sentencing hearing, the court sentenced him to 168 months' imprisonment and eight years of supervised release. After the sentence was imposed, Ashford's counsel indicated that Ashford wished to address the court. The court allowed Ashford to speak but did not alter the sentence. Ashford subsequently appealed, arguing that the court's failure to allow him to speak before the sentence was imposed constituted reversible error.The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina had sentenced Ashford without first giving him the opportunity to allocute. Ashford's appeal was based on the contention that this omission constituted reversible error and he asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that Ashford's allocution challenge was barred by the appellate waiver in his plea agreement. The court dismissed the appeal as to that issue and any other issues falling under the appellate waiver, and affirmed as to all other issues. The court held that the Government had properly asserted the appeal waiver in its supplemental response brief, and that it was not required to raise the waiver in response to Ashford's pro se brief. The court also found no meritorious grounds for appeal outside the scope of Ashford's valid appeal waiver. View "US v. Ashford" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dr. Peter Bolos, who was convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, and felony misbranding as part of a complex scheme. Bolos purchased an interest in Florida-based pharmacy Synergy Pharmacy Services in 2013 and became the managing partner. Synergy signed an agreement with HealthRight, a telemarketing firm, to generate business. HealthRight used social media advertisements and large phone banks to generate potential clients for Synergy. The information collected from potential clients was forwarded to a licensed doctor in the patient’s home state for review. Most of these decisions were made without the doctor ever seeing or speaking to the patient. The doctors then sent the prescriptions to Synergy for filling.The District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee convicted Bolos on all counts after a four-week trial. Bolos appealed, arguing that his actions were not unlawful and that he was being unfairly held criminally culpable for contractual violations and others’ misconduct.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed with Bolos and affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Bolos and Synergy leadership knew of the deficiencies in their business practices and either actively facilitated and furthered them or turned a blind eye, all in an effort to induce Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) to pay Synergy. The court also held that the federal healthcare-fraud statute requires the government to prove that Bolos knowingly devised a scheme or artifice to defraud a health care benefit program in connection with the delivery of or payment for health care benefits, items, or services. The court found ample evidence in the record to support the jury’s finding that Bolos conspired to create a scheme with the intent to defraud the PBMs of their money. View "United States v. Bolos" on Justia Law

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The case involves the State of Texas and Dwayne Robert Heath, who was indicted for injury to a child in 2016. Heath's counsel requested discovery from the District Attorney's Office, which provided law enforcement records, child protective services records, and photographs. However, a 911 call made by the complainant's mother on the date of the alleged offense was not disclosed until six days before the fourth trial setting, despite being in the possession of law enforcement since 2016. Heath's counsel filed a motion to suppress the 911 call, alleging that the evidence was improperly withheld in violation of Article 39.14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and various constitutional provisions.The trial court granted Heath's motion to suppress the 911 call, concluding that the State violated Article 39.14(a) by failing to disclose the 911 call "as soon as practicable" after Heath's timely request for discovery. The State appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision. The State then sought discretionary review from the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. The court held that under Article 39.14, "the state" means the State of Texas, which includes law enforcement agencies. The court also held that "as soon as practicable" means as soon as the State is reasonably capable of doing so. Therefore, the State violated its duty under Article 39.14 by failing to timely disclose the 911 call. The court further held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the 911 call due to the State's untimely disclosure. View "Texas v. Heath" on Justia Law

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The case involves William Alan Null, who was convicted of second-degree felony sexual assault. A DNA analyst testified that Null was linked to a previous sexual assault by comparing his DNA profile to profiles developed by a third-party laboratory. Null objected, arguing that the analyst's testimony was unreliable as she had no personal knowledge about the third-party laboratory or its data. The trial court overruled Null's objection, and he was sentenced to 60 years' confinement. Null appealed, and the court of appeals ordered a new punishment trial.The court of appeals had previously affirmed the trial court's decision, but later overturned part of its decision, granting a new punishment trial. The State petitioned for discretionary review, arguing that the court of appeals erred in its interpretation of the Texas Rules of Evidence and the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The court held that the DNA analyst's testimony was reliable under Rule 702 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, as she had relied on data produced by technicians and a forensic analyst employed by a well-known and accredited third-party forensic laboratory. The court also held that the court of appeals should not have decided the judicial notice issue, as it was moot given that Null had forfeited the arguments the issue was based on. View "Null v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The case involves two defendants, Raekwon Patton and Austin Mallory, who were found guilty of their roles in a drive-by shooting following an encounter with a rival gang member. The shooting occurred after the defendants and their gang members spotted Raysean Nelson, a rival gang member, in a parking lot and followed him. The defendants were charged with attempted murder in aid of racketeering and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.The district court overruled multiple objections raised by the defendants. Patton argued that the jury instructions were missing and that the evidence presented by the government was excessive and portrayed him negatively. He also claimed that his decision to return fire was justified as the other side shot first. However, the court found that Patton had not attempted to retreat before using force, which was required by Iowa law. The court also rejected Patton's argument that the instructions set the bar too low on the racketeering element.Mallory challenged the verdict based on two evidentiary decisions and questioned whether the government established that he was a knowing accomplice. The court excluded a hearsay statement that Mallory hoped would prove he was not the driver during the shooting. The court also did not admit evidence showing Mallory's involvement in non-gang activities, considering it as inadmissible character evidence.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgments of the district court, finding sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Mallory was guilty as an accomplice and rejecting Patton's arguments about the jury instructions and the evidence presented by the government. View "United States v. Mallory" on Justia Law

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The case involves Camilo Jesus Alarcon-Bustos, who was convicted of felony property destruction and misdemeanor reckless driving and possessing an open container of an alcoholic beverage. Alarcon-Bustos lost control of his truck while towing a trailer, causing significant damage to a park. The damage exceeded $18,000. Witnesses testified that Alarcon-Bustos and another man appeared intoxicated at the scene. Alarcon-Bustos claimed he had not been drinking and that the accident was caused by a problem with the wheel of his truck.At trial, Alarcon-Bustos was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to two to four years of incarceration, suspended in favor of two years of probation. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the prosecutor committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments by misstating the law and referring to facts not in evidence.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the prosecutor did not misstate the law regarding the "knowingly" element of felony property destruction. The court also found that while the prosecutor did reference a conversation with a prospective juror during closing arguments, which was not in evidence, this did not materially prejudice Alarcon-Bustos. The court concluded that Alarcon-Bustos did not establish plain error, and thus, his conviction was upheld. View "Alarcon-Bustos v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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The case involves a defendant, Nelson Barros, who was charged with assault and battery on a household member. Barros, a noncitizen, chose to represent himself during his arraignment and plea hearing. He signed a form acknowledging he had waived his right to counsel. The judge did not conduct any further inquiry to determine whether Barros' waiver of counsel was made knowingly and intelligently. Barros later admitted to sufficient facts to warrant a guilty verdict and was placed on probation for one year. After completing his probation, the charge was dismissed. However, upon returning to the U.S. from a trip to Portugal, Barros was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers due to his admission of guilt in the assault case.The lower courts denied Barros' motions to withdraw his plea. The motion judge found that Barros' waiver of the right to counsel was knowing and voluntary. Barros appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court granted his application for direct appellate review.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a defendant's waiver of the right to counsel must be made knowingly and intelligently, regardless of whether the defendant is at arraignment or a plea hearing. The court confirmed that a trial court judge has the responsibility of ascertaining whether the waiver is made knowingly and intelligently. The court also recognized that for a noncitizen defendant, the disadvantages of self-representation include forgoing counsel's advice about the immigration consequences of a disposition. However, the court affirmed the lower court's decision on alternate grounds, concluding that Barros' waiver of counsel was invalid, but he failed to establish a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice to prevail on appeal. View "Commonwealth v. Barros" on Justia Law

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The case involves Alonzo Cortez Johnson, a state prisoner who petitioned for federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Johnson, a Black man, claimed that his constitutional rights were violated because the state court failed to follow the appropriate procedural steps under Batson v. Kentucky, which prohibits racial discrimination in jury selection. Johnson alleged that the prosecutor had exercised peremptory strikes based on race. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the state court had mishandled the Batson procedural framework and remanded the case to the district court to hold a Batson reconstruction hearing, unless doing so would be impossible or unsatisfactory.On remand, the district court granted Johnson conditional habeas relief, deciding that holding a Batson reconstruction hearing would be “both impossible and unsatisfactory.” The court reasoned that it could not sufficiently reconstruct all relevant circumstances to meaningfully apply Batson’s third step, which involves determining whether the prosecutor’s stated reasons for the strikes were actually a pretext for discrimination.The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the district court's decision. The court found that the district court had enough evidence to hold a Batson reconstruction hearing at step two, which involves the prosecution providing a race-neutral reason for the objected-to strike(s). The court concluded that the district court had applied the “impossible or unsatisfactory” standard too harshly and remanded the case back to the district court to hold a Batson reconstruction hearing. View "Johnson v. Rankins" on Justia Law