Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of attempted murder and theft by unlawful taking of a firearm, holding that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury and denying Defendant's motion for directed verdict.A jury found Defendant guilty of attempted murder and theft by unlawful taking of a firearm. Consistent with the jury's recommendation, the trial court sentenced Defendant to a total sentence of twenty years. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err by declining Defendant's request for a renunciation instruction; and (2) the trial court did not err by denying Defendant's motion for directed verdict on the charge of theft by unlawful taking of a firearm. View "Bowen v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Conrai Kaballah's conviction of criminal attempt-murder, first-degree assault, and other crimes and Ricardo Taylor's conviction of criminal attempt-murder, first-degree assault, and other crimes and both defendant's sentences of life imprisonment, holding that any errors were harmless.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) both defendants should have been Mirandized prior to being interrogated shortly after the assault occurred; (2) the trial court erred by allowing a transcript commissioned by the Commonwealth of a phone call Taylor made from jail to be shown during closing arguments; and (3) both errors were harmless as a matter of law due to the overwhelming evidence against the defendants and the inconsequential nature of the evidence produced from the errors. View "Taylor v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the circuit court sentencing Defendant to life in prison plus fifty years, holding that the violent offender statute is not applicable to youthful offenders for purposes of consideration of probation, even if they are sentenced after they have reached the age of majority.Defendant committed the crimes for which he was convicted when he was seventeen years old. The district court transferred the charges to circuit court for Defendant's prosecution as a youthful offender. Defendant was nineteen years old when he pleaded guilty pursuant to plea agreements to murder, first-degree robbery, and other crimes. Under the assumption that Defendant was ineligible for probation, the trial court imposed a life sentence with a fifty-year sentence to run consecutively. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding (1) Kentucky's Juvenile Code and relevant caselaw support the conclusion that the violent offender statute is not applicable to youthful offenders for purposes of consideration of probation, even if they are sentenced after they reach the age of eighteen years and five months; and (2) the trial court erred in failing to consider probation or other forms of conditional discharge as possible alternatives. View "Thomas v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction for first-degree manslaughter, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, and second-degree persistent felony offender and twenty-five-year sentence, holding that Defendant was deprived of his right to counsel at a critical stage of the proceedings.On appeal, Defendant asserted that he was denied the right to conflict-free counsel during an in-chambers hearing that the trial court conducted on the fitness and ability of Defendant's private attorney to try the case. Defendant argued that the in-chambers hearing on his attorney's fitness was a critical stage of the proceedings and that he was prejudiced by not having conflict-free counsel represent him. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the trial court's decision not to inform Defendant of the concerns raised about his counsel's fitness to try the case and not to offer Defendant the opportunity to retain independent counsel to represent his interests was an error of constitutional magnitude mandating reversal. View "Downs v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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