Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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A jury convicted Coby Edwards of gross sexual imposition, a class AA felony. Prior to trial, Edwards retained a psychologist to testify about the accuracy of the child victim’s memories. Trial was held on July 16-18, 2019. Shortly before Edwards began presenting his case, his attorney informed the district court his expert would not be testifying because “He could not make it today.” Additionally, during cross-examination of a police detective by Edwards’ counsel, the detective made a statement regarding Edwards’ post-arrest silence. The statement received no objection, nor was a motion made to strike the statement as non-responsive. On appeal, Edwards argued it was reversible error when his retained expert did not testify. Furthermore, he argued the district court obviously erred by failing to require that his retained expert witness testify at trial. The North Dakota Supreme Court found no error: At trial, Edwards’ counsel first informed the district court the expert witness would testify, and the next day told the court the expert would not be testifying. No offer of proof was made to establish what the expert would state during testimony. Edwards did not otherwise discuss the issue at trial. Thus, the Court affirmed the judgment of conviction. View "North Dakota v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Department of Transportation appealed a district court judgment reversing a hearing officer’s decision suspending Brandon Jorgenson’s driving privileges for 180 days. The Department argued the court erred in determining that, regardless of whether Jorgenson raised a proper objection at the administrative hearing regarding the omission of the phrase “directed by the law enforcement officer” from the implied consent advisory, the court could reverse the hearing officer’s decision if its findings of fact were not supported by the preponderance of evidence. The North Dakota Supreme Court found it was undisputed in this case that the deputy omitted the phrase “directed by the law enforcement officer” from the implied consent advisory. Section 39-20-01(3)(b), N.D.C.C., stated, “A test administered under this section is not admissible in any criminal or administrative proceeding to determine a violation of section 39-08-01 or this chapter if the law enforcement officer fails to inform the individual charged as required under [N.D.C.C. § 39-20-01(3)(a)].” In Vagts, 932 N.W.2d 523 (2019), the Supreme Court concluded that “the officer’s omission of the phrase ‘directed by the law enforcement officer’ was a substantive omission and did not comply with the statutory requirements for the implied consent advisory.” Therefore, the Court concluded the district court properly reversed the hearing officer's decision. View "Jorgenson v. NDDOT" on Justia Law

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The City of West Fargo (the “City”) petitioned the North Dakota Supreme Court for a supervisory writ to direct the district court to vacate a pretrial order requiring the City to produce at trial the individual (or the “Witness”) who initially inspected and reviewed the installation of the Intoxilyzer 8000 testing device used to administer a chemical breath test to Brady Johnson. The City charged Johnson with driving under the influence following a chemical breath test adminstered by law enforcement using an Intoxilyzer 8000 testing device. Johnson objected to the introduction of the analytical report at trial, arguing cross-examination of the Witness is required under the Confrontation Clause and Rule 707 of the North Dakota Rules of Evidence. According to the City and Johnson, the Witness initially inspected and reviewed the installation of the Intoxilyzer 8000 testing device which was used to administer Johnson’s breath test. She signed two documents entitled, “Intoxilyzer 8000 Initial Inspection” and “Intoxilyzer 8000 Installation and Repair Checkout.” The City responded to Johnson’s objection, arguing the documents signed by the Witness were not testimonial statements under the Confrontation Clause or Rule 707 as to require the City to produce the Witness for trial. The district court ordered the City to produce the Witness at trial. The Supreme Court exercised its supervisory jurisdiction and vacated the district court order, concluding the Witness did not make any testimonial statements under the Confrontation Clause or Rule 707 of the North Dakota Rules of Evidence requiring the City to produce her at trial. View "City of West Fargo v. Olson, et al." on Justia Law

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In June 2000, M.J.W. pled guilty to two misdemeanor offenses. In January 2001, he again pled guilty to a misdemeanor offense. In July 2003, he pled guilty to three misdemeanor offenses. In each of these three criminal cases, the district court sentenced M.J.W. to a suspended jail sentence, a fine, and unsupervised probation. M.J.W. was convicted of additional criminal offenses in October 2003 and August 2004. In October 2019, M.J.W. petitioned the district court under N.D.C.C. ch. 12-60.1 to seal records in each of the five cases. The State opposed M.J.W.’s petitions in the first three cases, arguing that M.J.W.’s subsequent convictions within three years of release from probation barred him from filing the petitions. The State did not oppose M.J.W.’s petitions in the October 2003 and August 2004 cases. The district court held a consolidated hearing on M.J.W.’s petitions in December 2019. At the close of the hearing, the State argued M.J.W. did not qualify for relief under N.D.C.C. 12-60.1-02(1)(a) because he had been convicted of new crimes within three years of his release from probation in each of those cases. The district court found the terms of N.D.C.C. 12-60.1-02(1)(a) to be ambiguous, and applying the rule of lenity, granted M.J.W.’s petitions and sealed the records in all five cases. Upon the State's appeal, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court misapplied the law. Judgment sealing the records was reversed. View "North Dakota v. M.J.W." on Justia Law

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The State of North Dakota appealed dismissal of its criminal complaint against Jerome Greenshields with prejudice. In February 2018, the State charged Greenshields with one count of sexual assault occurring in 1997 and one count of gross sexual imposition occurring in 2001. Greenshields requested a bill of particulars, and the district court ordered the State to file a bill of particulars within ten days. The State failed to produce the bill of particulars. After Greenshields moved for dismissal, the court dismissed the complaint. The order of dismissal did not specify whether the dismissal was with or without prejudice, and the State did not appeal the dismissal. In January 2019, the State filed another criminal complaint against Greenshields, charging him again on counts of sexual assault, one occurring between June 1 to July 31, 1997, and the other occurring in August 1997. The complaint also charged Greenshields with gross sexual imposition occurring in September 2001. Greenshields moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing the charges could not be refiled because the district court dismissed the first case with prejudice. In response, the State argued the earlier dismissal was silent as to whether it was with or without prejudice. After the case was assigned to a new judge, the court dismissed the complaint without a hearing, concluding the first judge intended to sanction the State and dismiss the first case with prejudice. The State appealed; the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concurring with the State there was no evidence of whether the district court dismissed the first complaint with or without prejudice. On remand, Greenshields renewed his motion to dismiss, claiming the district court intended to dismiss the first complaint with prejudice. After a hearing, at which the judge who dismissed the first complaint testified, the court found the judge intended to dismiss the first complaint with prejudice. The court dismissed the complaint in this case with prejudice. After reviewing the record, the Supreme Court found evidence to support the court’s findings, leaving the Court with a "definite and firm conviction" no mistake was made. Because the district court’s findings were not clearly erroneous, the Court concluded the court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the criminal complaint against Greenshields with prejudice. View "North Dakota v. Greenshields" on Justia Law

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Carlin Schultz appealed a criminal judgment entered following his conditional guilty plea to the charge of driving under the influence. Schultz entered a conditional guilty plea preserving his right to challenge the denial of his motion to suppress evidence. Schultz argued he did not receive a reasonable opportunity to consult with counsel before deciding to take a chemical test and the subsequent test results should be excluded from evidence. The North Dakota Supreme Court found Schultz was provided with an opportunity to consult with an attorney before he decided whether to submit to chemical testing. Schultz was not required to be provided with a second chance to consult with an attorney subsequent to making a decision to take the chemical test. The judgment of the district court was therefore affirmed. View "City of Jamestown v. Schultz" on Justia Law

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In early 2019, Devils Lake Police Officer Gilbertson was dispatched on a report of a possibly impaired driver. Gilbertson pulled the vehicle over and as he reached the back of the vehicle, the vehicle fled the scene. Gilbertson pursued; another officer attempted to deploy road spikes. The vehicle avoided the spikes and zig-zagged through a field until it became stuck in the snow. When the occupants did not leave the vehicle, Gilbertson approached the vehicle, reached in, put it in park, smelling a strong odor of marijuana. After removing and arresting the driver, officers removed passenger, K.V. Another responding officer, Officer Engen, Engen did a pat down search of K.V. and found drug paraphernalia, a bong, and a bag of meth in K.V.’s jacket. Engen averred he patted down K.V. to search for weapons as a safety issue and to look for illegal drugs. K.V. was alleged to be a delinquent child, charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. K.V. filed a motion to suppress, contending there was no exception for the warrantless search and the search was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. The juvenile court denied the motion to suppress on the record, finding: “There was marijuana in the vehicle. You were in the vehicle [K.V.]. Once [the officers] establish that they had the smell of marijuana in the vehicle, they had the right to search you and they found the methamphetamine in the coat pocket that you were wearing.” The court denied K.V.’s renewed motion to suppress at the adjudication hearing. K.V. was adjudicated a delinquent child for possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia. Although the juvenile court court received testimony about the officers’ concern for their safety and the smell of marijuana, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the juvenile court did not make specific findings on the reasonableness of the pat down or subsequent search. "It did not identify which exception to the warrant requirement justified the search in its conclusions of law. We are unable to understand the court’s reasoning for its decision and are left to speculate as to the law and facts the court relied on in denying the motion to suppress." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for reconsideration of the suppression order. View "Interest of K.V." on Justia Law

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Edward Skorick appealed from a district court order civilly committing him as a sexually dangerous individual. In September 2018, the State petitioned to have Skorick civilly committed. Two experts, Dr. Richard Travis and Dr. Stacey Benson, submitted reports and each opined that Skorick met the criteria of a sexually dangerous individual and recommended that Skorick be committed as a sexually dangerous individual. Skorick argued the court erroneously considered the experts’ reports in making its decision. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court indeed relied on Dr. Benson’s and Dr. Travis’ reports in making its decision. The district court’s memorandum decision and order stated that although Dr. Benson did not testify at the hearing, the court “received and reviewed her report.” The court’s order also stated, “The [report] of each psychologist was reviewed extensively by the court in preparation for the hearing and again following the hearing. The findings that follow are based upon a weighing of the testimony and credibility of each psychologist in light of their respective evaluative findings.” The State conceded the district court may have erroneously considered Dr. Benson’s report. The State did not offer the report into evidence at the commitment hearing; however, it argued any error in considering the report was harmless. The Supreme Court found the court’s order specifically mentioned Dr. Benson’s report seven times in its findings of fact. To the extent the court relied on Dr. Benson’s report in making its decision, the Supreme Court could not conclude its reliance on the report was harmless, therefore finding the court abused its discretion in considering Dr. Benson’s report. With regard to Dr. Travis’ report, the State did not offer it into evidence, and the district court’s order was silent on whether it was part of the hearing record. Because the Supreme Court was uncertain whether Dr. Travis’ report was admitted at the hearing, it reversed and remanded for a determination of whether the report was part of the hearing record. If not, the court had to make findings on whether Skorick was a sexually dangerous individual on the basis of Dr. Travis’ testimony at the hearing. View "Interest of Skorick" on Justia Law

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Richard Scott was convicted by jury of solicitation of a minor and child neglect. Scott argued the district court erred when it did not instruct the jury on the defense of double jeopardy. He also argues the court erred when it did not conduct a hearing concerning the trustworthiness of the child-victim’s out-of-court statements under N.D.R.Ev. 803(24). Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "North Dakota v. Scott" on Justia Law

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Steven Helm appealed after he was found guilty of driving under the influence, a fourth offense in fifteen years. He argued the State failed to present evidence on the second essential element that he was under the influence. Because Helm failed to preserve the issue he argued on appeal, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "North Dakota v. Helm" on Justia Law