Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of law to the Idaho Supreme Court. The federal court asked whether an Idaho state court order reducing a defendant’s judgment of conviction for felony burglary to a judgment of conviction for misdemeanor petit theft under Idaho Code 19-2604(2) changed the operative conviction for the purposes of Idaho Code 18-310, which prohibited the restoration of firearm rights to those citizens convicted of specific felony offenses. In 2019, defendant Antonio Gutierrez was indicted in the District of Montana on four charges: (1) conspiracy to commit robbery affecting commerce; (2) robbery affecting commerce; (3) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence; and (4) felon in possession of a firearm. These charges resulted from a robbery of Dotty’s Casino in Billings, Montana, that involved a firearm. The felon in possession of a firearm charge stemmed from Gutierrez’s previous convictions under Idaho state law for burglary. In 2000, Gutierrez pleaded guilty to two counts of felony burglary. He was sentenced to the Idaho State Correctional Institution for a fixed term of two years and a subsequent indeterminate term of three years. In 2003, acting pursuant to Idaho Code section 19-2604(2), an Idaho district court ordered Gutierrez’s burglary convictions “REDUCED to Misdemeanor Petit Theft.” The order specified that Gutierrez was “not to be considered a convicted felon because he has successfully complied with the terms and conditions of probation and paid all restitution/reimbursement and fines in full.” Based on the plain language of Idaho Code section 19-2604 the Idaho Supreme Court's answer to the Ninth Circuit’s question was no. "A grant of leniency under Idaho Code section 19-2604(2) does not remove a defendant originally convicted of an enumerated felony from the reach of section 18-310(2) and (3)." View "United States v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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In 2004, a jury found Azad Haji Abdullah guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, three counts of attempted first-degree murder, and felony injury to a child. He was sentenced to death for the murder. Abdullah filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which was dismissed by the district court in 2011. Abdullah then filed a consolidated appeal that included a direct appeal from his convictions and sentences and an appeal from the district court’s dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief. The Idaho Supreme Court, in Idaho v. Abdullah, 348 P.3d 1 (2015), affirmed the convictions, sentences, and denial of post-conviction relief. In 2013—after the district court issued its order dismissing the petition for post-conviction relief, but prior to the Supreme Court’s issuance of Abdullah in 2015—Abdullah filed a successive petition for post-conviction relief. The Successive Petition was amended in 2016 and 2017. Abdullah also filed a pro se supplement to the successive petition that was incorporated with the successive petition. The successive petition and supplement included substantive claims, claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The district court determined that Abdullah was not entitled to post-conviction relief and summarily dismissed his successive petition and Supplement. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal. View "Abdullah v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs were indigent defendants represented in criminal actions by attorneys provided through Idaho’s public defense system. They alleged that numerous inadequacies in Idaho’s public defense system, as administered by the State and the Idaho Public Defense Commission (“PDC” or together “Respondents”), violated the rights of the named plaintiffs, as well as those of similarly situated criminal defendants across Idaho, under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the Idaho Constitution. In 2019, the district court denied cross motions for summary judgment, citing a lack of precedent as to the controlling legal standard to be applied, and requested this appeal. The Idaho Supreme Court granted the district court’s request for permissive appeal to determine the standard of review. The central issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on how to properly evaluate the deficiencies in Idaho’s public defense systems alleged by Appellants. In sum, Appellants insisted that a broader view was sufficient, while Respondents demanded the district court examine this issue closely. The Supreme Court held that both views were necessary: "a close up view, which allows for greater specificity, must be applied to the individual claims of at least one of the named plaintiffs whose allegations formed the basis of standing; however, a more distant view, which allows for greater overall perspective, is permissible for the examination of the systemic constitutional shortcomings alleged by Appellants." View "Tucker v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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In 1985, Gerald Pizzuto Jr. murdered Berta and Delbert Herndon. Pizzuto was convicted of two counts of murder in the first degree, two counts of felony murder, one count of robbery, and one count of grand theft. He was sentenced to death for the murders. Between 1986 and 2003, Pizzuto filed five petitions for post-conviction relief. His fifth petition for post-conviction relief was predicated on the holding in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the execution of an intellectually disabled person constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In his fifth petition, Pizzuto asserted that his death sentence should be “reversed and vacated” because he was intellectually disabled. The district court summarily dismissed Pizzuto’s petition. The Idaho Supreme Court held that the district court did not err when it dismissed Pizzuto’s fifth petition for post-conviction relief on the basis that Pizzuto had failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact supporting his claim that he was intellectually disabled at the time of the murders and prior to his eighteenth birthday. Pizzuto pursued this same claim in a federal habeas corpus action. In 2016, the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho denied Pizzuto’s successive petition for writ of habeas corpus after holding a four-day evidentiary hearing in 2010. Although it affirmed the federal district court’s decision denying Pizzuto’s successive petition for writ of habeas corpus, the Ninth Circuit stated in dicta that its decision does not preclude Idaho courts from reconsidering whether Pizzuto was intellectually disabled at the time of the murders. Based on this dicta, Pizzuto filed a motion with the district court to alter or amend the judgment dismissing his fifth petition for post-conviction relief in accordance with Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). The district court denied Pizzuto’s Motion in early 2020. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Pizzuto’s Motion, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision. View "Pizzuto v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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Daniel Chernobieff appealed a district court’s decision on intermediate appeal to uphold a magistrate court’s summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief. Chernobieff was convicted of a misdemeanor for driving under the influence with an excessive blood alcohol content in June 2014. After the Idaho Supreme Court upheld his conviction on direct appeal, Chernobieff filed a petition for post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. He alleged that his defense counsel’s decision to object to testimony at a suppression hearing suggesting that the on-call magistrate could not be reached to obtain a warrant because his cell phone ringer was off was unreasonable and prejudicial. He argued that the objection to the ringer testimony prevented him from arguing at trial that the State did not have good cause for the on-call magistrate's unavailability. The magistrate court granted the State's motion for summary dismissal, reasoning the objection was an unreviewable strategic decision and would not have changed the outcome of the case. The district court, sitting in an appellate capacity, affirmed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court also affirmed. View "Chernobieff v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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A group of prisoners (“Petitioners”) sought a writ of habeas corpus based on the conditions of their confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Petitioners were all incarcerated at the Elmore County Jail (“Jail”), contending the conditions of confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. More specifically, the Petitioners claimed they were in imminent danger because officials at the Jail did not implement any discernable mitigation measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Elmore County Sheriff Mike Hollinshead and Lieutenant Shauna Gavin (collectively “Officials”) denied this assertion, contending that Petitioners’ request for a writ of habeas corpus should have been denied because the Petitioners did not exhaust their administrative remedies. The Officials filed a motion for summary judgment with the district court, which was granted. The district court also awarded the Officials their attorney fees. Petitioners timely appealed the district court’s decisions to the Idaho Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the appeal on an expedited basis. After that review, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment, but reversed the district court’s award of attorney fees. View "Williams v. Hollinshead" on Justia Law

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Appellant Derrick Lingnaw, a registered sex offender, sought declaratory relief from the district court asking whether he could legally reside on his property. The district court found Lingnaw’s residence was within five hundred feet of property on which a school was located, as that term was used in Idaho Code section 18-8329(1)(d). The court thus denied Lingnaw’s request to enjoin the Custer County Sheriff, Stuart Lumpkin, from interfering with Lingnaw’s ability to reside on his property. The court also denied Sheriff Lumpkin’s request for attorney fees and costs. On appeal, the parties mainly disputed the district court’s finding that Lingnaw’s residence was within five hundred feet of a school. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's ruling that Lingnaw's property was within five hundred feet of property on which a school was located. Lingnaw raised a question of fact as to whether the building, ruled as a "school," was simply a gymnasium and building leased by the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”); Lingnaw argued the plain meaning of “school” required some form of traditional educational instruction. The trial court found “that the gymnasium, as contemplated by the statute, is a school building utilized by the school for school functions on a regular basis . . . for sporting events and other school activities. And children are coming and going from that building on a regular basis.” Because it was “clear from the evidence” that Lingnaw’s property fell “well within” five hundred feet or the buildings’ property line, the district court found that Lingnaw lived within five hundred feet of a school. To this, the Supreme Court concurred. The district court's judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Lingnaw v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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In 2016, John Doe was cited for petit theft. Doe’s disposition hearing was held, and the magistrate court committed Doe to the custody of Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections (“IDJC”). the magistrate court ordered Doe’s father, Dennis Dudley, to reimburse IDJC for expenses incurred in caring for and treating Doe pursuant to Idaho Code section 20-524(1). Doe and Dudley appealed the reimbursement order to the district court. The district court, acting in its intermediate appellate capacity, affirmed. Doe and Dudley timely appealed the district court’s decision. The Idaho Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, finding the reimbursement order against Dudley was not a final appealable order. View "IDJC v. Dudley" on Justia Law

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Glen Ward appealed an order and final judgment of the district court granting the State’s motion for summary dismissal and dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief. In 2014, Ward was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor under 16 years of age after he pleaded guilty to all elements of the crime except for the sexual intent element, to which he entered an Alford plea. He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with a 7-year fixed term. Ward asked for, and was granted, appointment of counsel to represent him in the post-conviction relief proceedings. After granting the motion, the district court appointed a conflict public defender to represent Ward in the action. Although he had secured new counsel, Ward subsequently filed numerous pro se documents. Ward argued the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion to proceed pro se as moot. Ward also argued the district court erred in denying his motion to proceed pro se because a post-conviction petitioner has a right to proceed pro se. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated in part and affirmed. The Court held that the district court should have refused to entertain Ward’s independent filings in the first place; to the extent that the district court entertained the filings made by Ward as opposed to by his attorney, it was error to do so. However, having come to the conclusion that the district court erred, not by ruling incorrectly on Ward’s purported motion, but by ruling on it at all, the Supreme Court did not need to reverse the district court’s separate order and final judgment granting summary dismissal. "Because we hold that there was no motion properly before the district court to be ruled upon in the first place, the district court’s denial of the purported motion has no impact on the propriety of its final decision and judgment dismissing Ward’s post-conviction petition on the merits." View "Ward v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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On the evening of June 17, 2018, Appellants Shane Dodge and his wife Christine (“the Dodges”) were returning home with their son after having dinner together, when they turned onto District Two Road and saw a police car partially blocking their lane of travel. At that time, two Bonners Ferry police officers, Sergeant William Cowell and Officer Brandon Blackmore, were conducting a traffic stop of another vehicle. To avoid hitting them, Shane drove slowly by the two cars, and then pulled over about four car-lengths away. He exited his car and approached the police officers. He informed them that the location “was a pretty stupid place to pull people over.” Sergeant Cowell instructed Shane that he could be arrested for obstruction or interfering with the traffic stop, whereupon Shane said, “go to hell.” Shane was then arrested and placed in the back of the patrol car. When she saw her husband being arrested, Christine exited her car and attempted to approach and question the officers. When she asked the officers why they were arresting her husband, Sergeant Cowell told Officer Blackmore to arrest her too, but Officer Blackmore ordered her to leave the scene. Shane was taken to the county jail and booked. Thereafter, he posted bond and was released. The Dodges appealed after a district court dismissed their tort claim against the Bonners Ferry Police Department, Sergeant Cowell and Officer Blackmore. The grounds for dismissal was failing to file a notice of tort claim pursuant to Idaho Code sections 6-610 et seq., and for failing to post a bond prior to commencing their cause of action. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dodge v. Bonners Ferry Police Department" on Justia Law