Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court
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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

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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

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After the United States Supreme Court vacated Defendant's sentence and remanded Defendant's case to the Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of Moore v. Texas, 137 S. Ct. 1039 (2017), the Supreme Court remanded this case to the circuit court with instructions to conduct an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's intellectual disability claim, holding that Defendant produced enough evidence to form a reasonable doubt as to his intellectual capacities so as to warrant a hearing on the issue. In 2014, Defendant was convicted of murder and rape in the first degree. The jury recommended a sentence of death for the murder. The Supreme Court affirmed. The United States Supreme Court vacated the judgment for further consideration in light of the Court's analysis in Moore regarding the execution of intellectually disabled defendants. Since the remand, Defendant pro se asked the Supreme Court to waive his intellectual disability claim so he could move forward with post-conviction proceedings. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding (1) due to his death sentence, Defendant may not pro se waive his pending intellectual disability claim; and (2) Defendant was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the matter of his potential intellectual disability. View "White v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of five counts of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor and five counts of distribution of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor and sentencing Defendant to twenty years' imprisonment, holding that the circuit court did not err. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's request for a stipulation regarding the existence of the child pornography and permitting the Commonwealth to admit portions of five videos containing child pornography; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing limited testimony about eighty-eight additional child pornography videos and a DVD containing child pornography; and (3) Defendant's due process rights were not violated during the penalty phase when the jury heard incorrect testimony regarding Defendant's parole eligibility because it was unlikely that Defendant's parole eligibility affected the jury's recommended sentence. View "Helton v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree sodomy, and related crimes, and sentencing Defendant to seventy years in prison, holding that the trial court improperly admitted certain Ky. R. Evid. 404(b) evidence, but neither of those instances rose to the level of palpable error. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in finding that Defendant failed to present sufficient evidence to merit an in camera review of the juvenile records of some of the alleged victims; (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for an independent evaluation and to continue the trial; (3) the trial court did not err by allowing two of the juvenile victims to testify in chambers and outside of Defendant's presence; and (4) there were two instances of improperly admitted Rule 404(b) evidence, but Defendant was not prejudiced by the admission of the evidence. View "Howard v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed, albeit on different grounds, the decision of the court of appeals dismissing Appellant's appeal from a trial court order not authorizing payment of the full amount of an interpreter's invoiced bill, holding that statutory obligation for payment made the current proceeding inappropriate for resolution of this matter. The public defender's office requested and received approval from the circuit court for interpreting services with respect to Defendant's interview with the police department. The circuit court initially authorized the interpreting services and subsequent orders approved and/or reduced the interpreter's fee. After Defendant was convicted he filed a motion for reconsideration of expert witness fees challenging the trial court's reduction of the interpreter's fees. The trial court declined to approve additional funds. Defendant appealed the order. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal on grounds that the appeal was not timely filed and that an indispensable party - the interpreter - was not named in the notice of appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that payment for the interpreter's services was, by statute, a matter between her and the public defender's office, the requesting agency. View "Hernandez v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of first-degree sodomy, victim under twelve years old, and Defendant's sentence of forty years' imprisonment, holding that the trial court did not commit reversible error. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's argument that a juror's failure to disclose during voir dire that she went to school with Defendant's sister-in-law entitled Defendant to a new trial was not properly preserved for appellate review; (2) the trial court did not commit reversible error by dismissing a juror as the alternate instead of declaring a mistrial; and (3) the trial court did not coerce the jury into reaching a verdict. View "Wright v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of first-degree rape and imposing a twenty-year term of imprisonment, holding that the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's motion for a directed verdict and by denying his motion to suppress his statements to police. Defendant's rape sentence was enhanced pursuant to the jury finding Defendant guilty of being a first-degree persistent felony offender (PFO 1), which was based on an out-of-state statutory rape conviction. Defendant filed a motion for a directed verdict on the PFO 1 charge asserting that the Commonwealth failed to prove Defendant committed a prior sex crime against a minor. The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) while it is better practice to introduce a minor victim's age into evidence as part of the PFO proof, "statutory rape" is commonly understood to be the offense of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and therefore, the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a directed verdict on the PFO charge; and (2) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress because Defendant's Fifth Amendment rights were not violated. View "Bullitt v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions for first-degree fleeing or evading police and first-degree wanton endangerment, holding that the evidence was sufficient to prove Defendant created a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death, the common element to both charges, when the police pursued him in a motor vehicle chase. On appeal, Defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that, as to both first-degree wanton endangerment and first-degree fleeing or evading, his act of fleeing in a vehicle caused or created substantial risk of serious physical injury or danger of death or serious injury to property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under the totality of the evidence, it was not clearly unreasonable for a jury to find Defendant guilty of the crimes. View "Culver v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of murder, first-degree assault, and first-degree wanton endangerment and sentencing him to thirty-five years' imprisonment for these crimes, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the trial court (1) did not abuse its discretion in allowing the Commonwealth to present evidence that one of Defendant's co-defendants had been shot in the months leading up to the murder; (2) did not abuse its discretion in ruling that Defendant could not call a particular impeachment witness on the grounds that the witness had a Fifth Amendment right not to testify; and (3) did not err in denying Defendant's right to a speedy trial. View "McLemore v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law