Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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In the case before the Supreme Court of North Dakota, Rozalyn Rinde appealed from a criminal judgment after the district court revoked her probation and resentenced her. Rinde was initially charged with five counts, including unlawful possession of a controlled substance and endangerment of a child or vulnerable adult. She pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to 360 days with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, with all but 63 days suspended for two years of supervised probation. However, after multiple violations of her probation, the court revoked her probation and resentenced her to 360 days on the misdemeanor count and to five years on the felony count. Rinde argued that the court imposed an illegal sentence, exceeding the maximum penalty allowed at the time of her original offenses. She also claimed that the sentence violated the prohibition on ex post facto laws.The Supreme Court of North Dakota found that the district court had not imposed an illegal sentence. The court stated that the determining factor in applying the statute governing probation revocation (N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-07(6)) was the date of the original convictions and sentencing, not the date of the offense. Since Rinde’s original conviction and sentencing occurred after the August 2021 amendment of the statute, which removed the restriction on a court’s ability to resentence a defendant in the case of a suspended sentence, the court was not limited by the pre-amendment version of the statute. Therefore, the court was within its rights to resentence Rinde to five years on her felony count. The court also rejected Rinde's claim of an "ex post facto application," stating that the amendment did not increase the maximum possible punishment for her crime, nor did it make an innocent act criminal, aggravate the crime, or relax the evidence required to prove the offense. As such, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. View "State v. Rinde" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of North Dakota had to decide whether the district court had implicitly accepted a plea agreement by accepting a guilty plea from the defendant, Devin Fischer. Fischer had initially entered a plea agreement with the State, in which he would plead guilty to a reduced charge of menacing, with the remaining charges of burglary, reckless endangerment, and tampering with physical evidence being dismissed. The district court accepted Fischer's guilty plea, but ultimately rejected the plea agreement after hearing victim impact statements and viewing video evidence of the crime. Fischer was subsequently tried and found guilty of terrorizing and reckless endangerment.Fischer appealed, arguing that by accepting his guilty plea, the district court had implicitly accepted the plea agreement. The Supreme Court of North Dakota disagreed, ruling that a court can accept a guilty plea without accepting an associated plea agreement. The court found that the district court had acted within its discretion to separately consider the guilty plea and the plea agreement.Fischer also argued that the district court judge should have recused himself after making a comment that, after viewing the video evidence, he did not see how Fischer could be found not guilty of all charges. The Supreme Court of North Dakota rejected this argument, finding that the judge had not demonstrated bias as the comments were made outside of the presence of the jury and were a necessary part of the judge's explanation for rejecting the plea agreement.The court affirmed Fischer's convictions for terrorizing and reckless endangerment, as well as the district court's denial of Fischer's motion for recusal. View "State v. Fischer" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision finding Erica Good Bear guilty of terrorizing, a class C felony. Good Bear appealed the judgment, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to warrant a conviction, improper admission of hearsay evidence, and denial of her right to confront a witness. The alleged hearsay evidence was two statements made by the victim's four-year-old child, both of which were recounted by other witnesses. The first statement was recounted by the victim, and the second was recounted by the responding police officer. The court concluded that both statements fell under the "excited utterance" exception to the hearsay rule, making them admissible. The court also found that the second statement did not violate Good Bear's right to confront her accuser, as it was not considered "testimonial" under the Sixth Amendment. The court determined that sufficient evidence supported the jury's verdict of guilty on the terrorizing charge. View "State v. Good Bear" on Justia Law

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In this case, George Lyons appealed from a district court order dismissing his application for postconviction relief. Lyons had been convicted of gross sexual imposition in 2017, a conviction that was upheld on appeal. He filed an application for postconviction relief more than two years after his conviction became final, claiming newly discovered evidence and arguing that his conviction was barred by a statute of limitations for gross sexual imposition. The district court dismissed his application as untimely under N.D.C.C. § 29-32.1-01, which requires such applications to be filed within two years of the conviction becoming final.On appeal, the Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the dismissal. The court first noted that while postconviction relief is available for convictions obtained without jurisdiction, such claims must be brought within the two-year deadline, and no exception exists for claims challenging the district court's jurisdiction. Therefore, Lyons' claim concerning the statute of limitations for gross sexual imposition was untimely.Second, the court rejected Lyons' argument that the newly discovered evidence exception to the two-year deadline applied. The court found that Lyons had failed to provide competent admissible evidence to support his claim that the new evidence was discovered after trial. As such, the court held that Lyons had failed to meet his burden to obtain an evidentiary hearing in the district court.Lastly, the court declined to address Lyons' ineffective assistance of counsel claim because he did not provide any argument or explanation concerning this claim in his brief. View "Lyons v. State" on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of North Dakota, Daynen Hoover contested a district court judgment that affirmed a decision by the North Dakota Department of Transportation (Department) to suspend his driving privileges for 91 days. This penalty was the result of Hoover being arrested for being in control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, with a blood alcohol concentration of .085 percent by weight. The Department conducted an administrative hearing by video conference, during which they introduced eight foundational exhibits from the State Crime Laboratory. Hoover objected to this on the grounds that he and his counsel did not have copies of these exhibits to review and analyze. Despite these objections, the hearing officer admitted the exhibits and the Department subsequently suspended Hoover's driving privileges for 91 days.On appeal, the Supreme Court of North Dakota reversed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the procedure used by the Department, which admitted exhibits into evidence without providing Hoover a meaningful opportunity to examine them, deprived him of a fair hearing. The court noted that the Department's notice of information did not offer copies of the exhibits or specifically identify which documents maintained by the Department or available on the attorney general's website would be introduced at the hearing. The court found that this violated the requirement for parties to be afforded an opportunity to examine exhibits before they are admitted into evidence. Therefore, the court ruled that the Department's procedures did not comply with state law and substantially prejudiced Hoover's procedural rights. The court's decision emphasized the importance of a party's ability to examine exhibits introduced against them as a critical procedural protection in adjudicative proceedings. View "Hoover v. NDDOT" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of North Dakota heard an appeal from Robert Williamson, who was sentenced for probation violations related to two counts of gross sexual imposition and one count of luring minors by computer. Williamson had initially served approximately four and a half years of a 10-year sentence, with all but five years suspended, and was then released on probation. He was given "good time" credit by the Department of Corrections, which aids in reducing a sentence. However, after violating his probation conditions, Williamson was re-sentenced to a 10-year term with credit for 4 years and 181 days, without any consideration of his accrued good time.Williamson appealed the decision, arguing that his re-sentencing was illegal because it did not account for his good time credit. The Supreme Court of North Dakota agreed, stating that a court does not have the authority to waive or limit good time awarded by the Department of Corrections, and any credit for sentence reductions must be stated in the criminal judgment. The court held that the lower court had illegally sentenced Williamson by failing to include his accrued good time in the re-sentencing. The case was reversed and remanded for re-sentencing in accordance with the opinion. View "State v. Williamson" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed a decision from the District Court of Burleigh County, which had granted a motion to suppress evidence in a criminal trial. The defendant, Matthew Gietzen, was charged with possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia that were found in a locked bag within a backpack during a vehicle search. The driver of the vehicle had consented to the search, but Gietzen, a passenger, did not give explicit consent. The district court held that the driver's consent did not extend to the search of Gietzen's backpack, particularly the locked bag containing contraband, because it was unreasonable to believe the female driver had authority to consent to a search of a locked bag containing men’s items. On appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with this assessment, stating that it is the officer's burden to obtain affirmative consent for a search when a constitutional protection applies and consent alone serves as the basis for the search. The court therefore affirmed the district court's order to suppress the evidence found in the backpack, upholding the principle that a third party's consent to a search does not necessarily extend to personal items belonging to another individual. View "State v. Gietzen" on Justia Law

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In this case, the State of North Dakota appealed an order transferring a criminal case involving the defendant, A.J.H., who was charged with six counts of gross sexual imposition, to the juvenile court. The transfer was based on a newly amended definition of "Child" in the North Dakota Century Code, which the district court concluded applied to this case. However, A.J.H. moved to dismiss the State's appeals, arguing that there was no appealable order.The Supreme Court of North Dakota considered whether the transfer order qualifies as an appealable order under the state's laws. The State argued that the transfer order was effectively an order quashing the criminal information, a type of order that it could appeal. However, the Supreme Court rejected this argument, noting that the district court did not dismiss the case but simply transferred it to the juvenile court. The court also rejected the State's argument that the transfer order was an order made after judgment affecting any substantial right of the state, because no judgment had been entered in the case.Based on these considerations, the Supreme Court held that the State did not have the right to appeal under the relevant statute, and dismissed the appeals for lack of an appealable order. The court also denied A.J.H.'s request for costs and attorney’s fees, finding that the State's appeal was not frivolous. View "State v. A.J.H." on Justia Law

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In the State of North Dakota, defendant Ibrahim Salou was convicted of possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance while in possession of a firearm, and possession of a controlled substance. Salou appealed his conviction, alleging the district court erred in allowing evidence obtained from his phone under Rule 404(b) of the North Dakota Rules of Evidence and there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction.The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The court noted that Salou had preserved his claims of error related to the relevance and unfair prejudice of the evidence but had not preserved his objection to the Rule 404(b) issue, meaning it would only be reviewed for obvious error. The court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's determination that the evidence was relevant and not more prejudicial than probative. The court further found that the district court did not obviously err in its handling of Rule 404(b) as Salou had not raised this issue at trial.The Supreme Court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support Salou's conviction. The court noted that the evidence indicated that the backpack containing marijuana was located at Salou's feet during a traffic stop, and neither he nor the driver claimed possession of the backpack. The packaging of the marijuana found in the backpack was similar in appearance to the marijuana shown in a photograph found on Salou's phone. As such, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to draw an inference that Salou was in possession of the backpack. View "State v. Salou" on Justia Law

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In the state of North Dakota, Garron Gonzalez was initially charged with two counts of gross sexual imposition, both class A felonies, in September 2003. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on each count, all but 130 days suspended, and placed on probation for five years. The sentences were to be served concurrently. After his probation was twice revoked, Gonzalez was resentenced to additional time. However, in the second amended judgment, the sentences were to be served consecutively.In 2012 and again in 2022, Gonzalez filed petitions for post-conviction relief. The court granted both petitions, finding that the sentences imposed in 2014 were greater than the time originally suspended and were therefore deemed illegal. In April 2023, a new sentencing hearing was held wherein Gonzalez was sentenced again to five years' imprisonment for each count, to be served consecutively, thus totaling ten years.Gonzalez appealed, arguing that his sentences are illegal under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-07(6) because the amended judgment imposes more severe sentences than the original sentences and retroactively increases the punishment for his prior conduct.The Supreme Court of North Dakota agreed with Gonzalez's argument. The court found that the district court had effectively increased Gonzalez’s total term of imprisonment to 10 years, exceeding the suspended sentences originally imposed. Therefore, the sentences were deemed illegal under the pre-amended version of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-32-07(6). The court reversed the decision and remanded the case for resentencing consistent with its opinion. View "State v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law