Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for one count of murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, holding that the trial court did not err by failing to give the jury a no duty to retreat instruction and by failing to strike two jurors for cause. A jury convicted Defendant of murder and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant was found to be a first-degree persistent felony offender and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's request for a "no duty to retreat" jury instruction; and (2) the trial court did not err by failing to strike two jurors, Juror 5 and Juror 50, for cause. View "Curry v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of three counts of first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance, holding that the trial court did not err in refusing to suppress evidence that was found on Defendant's person during a warrantless search. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because (1) the officer illegally extended the traffic stop beyond its original purpose, (2) the continued detention of Defendant after the traffic stop constituted an illegal seizure, and (3) the officers did not have probable cause to search his person. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the lawful traffic stop had not concluded at the time consent was obtained to search the vehicle, and the officer did not inquire into matters unrelated to the stop's mission; (2) Defendant's detention during the search of the vehicle was reasonable; and (3) a search of Defendant's person was warranted under the circumstances. View "Carlisle v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment in favor of Defendant on Plaintiff's age-discrimination claim, holding that the trial court committed reversible error by requiring the jury, rather than the court itself, to make the specific factual determination about whether Defendant, Plaintiff's former employer, replaced Plaintiff with a substantially younger person. Plaintiff sued Defendant for age discrimination in violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act and for retaliation, alleging that she was terminated for complaining about her former supervisor's behavior before she was replaced. During trial, Plaintiff relied on circumstantial evidence to support her age discrimination claim. The jury rendered a verdict for Defendant. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court committed reversible error by instructing the jury to decide the element under the McDonnell Douglas framework that Defendant replaced Plaintiff with a substantially younger person. View "Norton Healthcare, Inc. v. Disselkamp" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals denying the Commonwealth's petition for a writ of prohibition challenging the trial court's issuance of an order granting Defendant's request for an in camera review of the alleged victim's therapy records, holding that the trial court had no authority to order the Commonwealth to provide it with the names of the victim's therapy providers. Defendant was indicted on four counts of incest, one count of sodomy in the first degree, and one count of rape in the first degree. Defendant filed a motion requesting that the trial court conduct an in camera review of any therapy or mental health records of the victim. The trial court granted the motion as to the records from the relevant time period. The Commonwealth petitioned the court of appeals for a writ of prohibition. The court of appeals denied the writ. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that a reasonable belief existed that exculpatory information may be found in the records; but (2) the trial court lacked authority to order the Commonwealth to retrieve the names of the healthcare providers directly from the victim. View "Commonwealth v. Honorable Mary Shaw" on Justia Law

by
Charlie, the one-year-old son of Breazeale's girlfriend Samantha, was not Breazeale’s son. When he and Charlie had strep, Breazeale babysat Charlie. Breazeale was the only person in the home with Charlie that day. The next morning, when she removed Charlie’s clothing, Samantha saw bruises all over his body. Breazeale said that he tripped and landed on Charlie. Breazeale would not allow Samantha to take Charlie to the hospital. Charlie began spitting up blood, so Samantha and her mother took him to the emergency room. Charlie had life-threatening injuries and was flown to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville. After surgery, Charlie was hospitalized for 12 days. He was placed on a ventilator but survived. The Medical Director in Chief of the Division of Child Maltreatment at the University of Louisville testified that Charlie’s injuries were consistent with an intrusion injury: a stomp, kick, or punch to his stomach. Breazeale was convicted of first-degree assault and first-degree criminal abuse. The Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed his 30-year sentence, rejecting Breazeale’s argument that his two convictions violated his rights against double jeopardy. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to instruct the jury on justifiable force or by allowing evidence of Breazeale’s prior bad acts and photographic evidence Breazeale’s right to a unanimous verdict was not violated; all 12 jurors had to find that Breazeale intentionally committed some violent act against Charlie; it was not required to identify the specific act. View "Breazeale v. Kentucky" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Appellant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to allow Appellant to withdraw his guilty plea. Appellant entered a guilty plea pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 91 S. Ct. 160 (1970), to the murder of his wife. Appellant subsequently filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging deficiencies in representation. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. On remand, the trial court again denied Appellant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Appellant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea due to ineffective assistance of counsel, counsel's alleged conflict of interest, or Appellant's incorrect belief that he could withdraw his guilty plea at any point prior to sentencing; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellant's motion to withdraw his plea. View "Zapata v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's convictions for first-degree fleeing or evading, first-degree wanton endangerment, reckless driving, and being a first-degree persistent felony offender, holding that the trial court erred by depriving Defendant of the right to be represented during a critical stage of the trial. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that he was denied representation at a critical stage of his trial through the trial court's ex parte discussion with a juror who had been offered a bribe. The trial court's interview with the juror was conducted outside of Defendant's presence. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's convictions, vacated the sentences, and remanded this matter to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that the trial court's failure to take action to include counsel during the bench conference and the failure to admonish the juror to disregard her encounter and not to discuss the attempted bribe with fellow jurors violated Defendant's right to a fair trial as guaranteed by his rights to representation and right to be present at all critical stages of trial. View "Eversole v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting and sentencing Defendants for several counts of first-degree robbery, tampering with physical evidence and of being first-degree persistent felony offenders, holding that any error in the trial proceedings was harmless. Defendants in this case were Dawan Q. Mulazim and Quincinio Deonte Canada. After a jury found them guilty, the trial court sentenced Mulazim to sixty years in prison and Canada to fifty years in prison. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in admitting a pre-trial identification of Canada; (2) there was sufficient evidence to support the first-degree robbery charges; (3) the Commonwealth's closing argument did not impermissibly shift the burden of proof; (4) the trial court did not err in refusing to strike jurors for cause; (5) the information presented in the penalty phase complied with Mullikan v. Commonwealth, 341 S.W.3d 99 (Ky. 2011); and (6) the trial court's decision to shackle Defendants during sentencing was an abuse of discretion, but the error was harmless. View "Mulazim v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of murder and vacated her twenty-year sentence, holding that the trial court committed reversible error by failing to grant Defendant's motions for a mistrial and in ruling that Defendant did not qualify for the domestic violence exemption for parole ineligibility. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant a mistrial after the Commonwealth played inadequately redacted recordings of police interviews with Defendant; and (2) the trial court erred in ruling that Defendant did not qualify for the domestic violence exemption for parole eligibility pursuant to Ky. Rev. Stat. 403.720. View "Roberts v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court vacated the interlocutory orders of the trial court concluding that Defendants' individual psychological assessments provided further support for the exclusion of the death penalty as to Defendants individually, holding that the constitutional issue in this case was not a "justiciable cause" before the circuit court and was not properly before the Supreme Court. At issue in these consolidated cases was whether evolving standards of decency require that the Eighth Amendment prohibit imposition of the death penalty as to a defendant under twenty-one years old at the time of his offense. Defendants argued before the circuit court that the current national consensus and scientific research supported raising the age for death-penalty eligible from age eighteen to twenty-one. At this stage in the proceedings, none of the defendants had been convicted or sentenced. The circuit court declared Kentucky's death penalty statute unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment insofar as it permits capital punishment for offenders under twenty-one years old at the time of their offense and that two of the defendants should not receive the death penalty. The Supreme Court vacated the interlocutory orders, holding that none of the defendants had standing to raise an Eighth Amendment challenge to the death penalty. View "Commonwealth v. Bredhold" on Justia Law