Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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The North Dakota Supreme Court consolidated two criminal cases because both involved whether a defendant may waive his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Former school teacher Everest Moore appealed three criminal judgments after a jury found him guilty of eight counts of gross sexual imposition with respect eight of his students. Moore argued the district court closed two pretrial hearings and parts of his trial without the pre-closure analysis required by Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39, 48 (1984), thus violating his public trial right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Juan Martinez appealed after a jury found him guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child. The victim was thirteen or fourteen at the time; there had been no public disclosures of her identity, the allegations were very personal, involving multiple penetrative sexual acts. During a hearing on the State’s motion, Martinez’s attorney stated that he did not oppose the motion to close the courtroom for the victim’s testimony. A representative from the Williston Herald newspaper expressed opposition to the motion. The court stated the public, including the media, had an interest in the motion and it would wait to decide the motion to give the media an opportunity to file an objection. Martinez argued the district court erred by ultimately closing the courtroom to the public during the testimony of the minor victim and the victim’s counselor. With respect to Moore, the Supreme Court concluded the exclusion of the public without a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver or Waller findings articulated on the record before the closures negatively affected the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the criminal justice system. With respect to Martinez, the Court found the district court's findings in support of a second closure were clearly erroneous: "the court simply accepted the asserted interest without articulating how it overrides the defendant’s and public’s right to open proceedings. Both judgments were reversed and the matters remanded for new trials. View "North Dakota v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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Dakota Bee appealed a criminal judgment entered on a conditional plea of guilty, reserving the right to appeal a district court order denying her motion to suppress evidence. Burleigh County Social Services (BCSS) contacted the Bismarck Police Department requesting assistance in removing a child from Bee’s care. Officers accompanied BCSS social workers to Bee’s residence and informed her that they were there to remove her child. Bee refused, backing up into the home, picking up the child, and then running towards the rear of the home. Officers pursued Bee through the home and out the back door. Fleeing out the back, Bee fell while holding the child, and officers separated her from the child. After Bee had been detained outside the residence, a social worker entered the residence to obtain personal belongings for the child, and an officer followed. Once the officer was inside, the social worker pointed out a glass smoking pipe. Bee was subsequently charged with Child Neglect; Possession of Methamphetamine; Possession of Drug Paraphernalia; and Refusal to Halt. The district court found that the officers entered “the residence with BCSS to retrieve personal belongings for the child” after Bee had been detained and the child was in BCSS’s custody. The court further found that the officers observed the glass smoking device on a shelf in plain view. The court concluded the officers’ actions did not violate Bee’s Fourth Amendment rights. On appeal, Bee argued the court erred in concluding that her Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when the officers entered her home. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that during the first entry to the residence, the officers observed nothing that Bee sought to suppress. The second entry of the residence was justified only by a need to collect clothing and other personal items needed by the child. Because the search was concededly warrantless and no exception applies, the Court concluded Bee was entitled to claim the protection of the exclusionary rule. The district court erred by denying Bee’s motion to suppress the results of the warrantless search. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to allow Bee to withdraw her guilty plea. View "North Dakota v. Bee" on Justia Law

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Anthony Campbell appealed after the district court summarily dismissed his application for post-conviction relief. In 2016, a jury found Campbell guilty of murder, a class AA felony. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. In November 2017, Campbell filed an application for post-conviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The State opposed the application and moved for summary disposition. In December 2017, Campbell amended his application. By the time of a January 2019 status conference, Campbell’s attorney informed the district court that he wanted to have a blood sample tested. The court gave him 30 days to submit information with regard to the testing; nothing was submitted. In April 2019, the State renewed its motion. At an October 2019 hearing on an order to show cause, Campbell’s attorney represented that the private lab would accept the blood sample only if the State submitted it. In March 2020, the court ordered the State to cooperate with the lab and the production of a DNA profile. At a June 2020 status conference, Campbell was unable to attend because of restrictions on transporting inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Campbell’s counsel was present and acknowledged taking no action on the order to cooperate. The State renewed its motion at the hearing. The court held Campbell failed to meet his burden and granted the summary dismissal. The court requested the State to draft the order dismissing the application. On appeal, Campbell argued his application was dismissed because the district court agreed with the State that his post-conviction counsel did not submit evidence to support the application or respond to the State’s motion. He argued, however, there was a reasonable inference that blood present at the crime scene, if properly tested, would exonerate him. He further contended issues not related to blood testing regarding his trial counsel’s ineffective performance were viable and supported, and that summary disposition had already been denied on those claims. He argued that an evidentiary hearing as to those issues should have been held. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s order and judgment summarily dismissing the application was conclusory: in summarily dismissing, the court did not address the specific claims of Campbell’s amended application alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel; did not undertake any analysis under Strickland; and did not adequately explain why an evidentiary hearing on the application, which had originally been ordered in September 2018, was no longer necessary. The judgment was reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Campbell v. North Dakota" on Justia Law

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Joshua Breeze appeals a district court judgment affirming the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s suspension of his driving privileges based on a conviction for driving under the influence. On appeal, Breeze argued that Waltz, a UND police officer, was outside of his jurisdiction when he stopped Breeze, and therefore had no authority for the stop or the subsequent chemical test. The Department argued that Waltz was in “hot pursuit” and therefore had authority for the stop. After review of the trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined Waltz did not have authority to arrest Breeze: "a reasoning mind could not have reasonably concluded the preponderance of the evidence supports that Waltz was in 'hot pursuit,' as defined by section 15-10-17(2)(d), N.D.C.C., when he continued beyond his jurisdictional boundary to arrest Breeze." The Department's order suspending Breeze's driving privileges, and the district court's judgment affirming the Department's order were reversed. View "Breeze v. NDDOT" on Justia Law

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Andrew Glasser appealed a district court’s corrected, amended criminal judgment modifying his sentence for conviction of gross sexual imposition and from an amended criminal judgment for conviction of possession of certain materials prohibited. On appeal, Glasser contended the court lost jurisdiction upon announcement of his original sentence, and thus had no authority to amend his judgments. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not have jurisdiction to amend the criminal judgments to modify Glasser’s sentences. The Court reversed and remanded for entry of judgments reinstating Glasser’s original sentences. View "North Dakota v. Glasser" on Justia Law

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Russell Walbert appealed an amended criminal judgment after a jury found him guilty of gross sexual imposition. At a pretrial conference, the State moved to stop people from entering and exiting the courtroom while the victim testified during trial. The State made clear it was “not asking for the courtroom to be closed, just that we don’t have those interruptions while she’s testifying, if there’s no objection to that. Whoever is in, stays in. Whoever is out, stays out.” Walbert agreed to the State’s request. The court did not enter a written order and did not analyze its decision under the four-factor test found in Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984). Walbert argued the district court created a structural error by denying his constitutional right to a public trial. He claimed the court was required to engage in a Waller analysis before closing the courtroom, and the court’s failure to do so requires reversal. The North Dakota Supreme Court found judges possessed broad power to control their courtrooms, minimize disruptive behavior, and maintain security, and here, the district court's actions did not constitute a closure. Judgment was thus affirmed. View "North Dakota v. Walbert" on Justia Law

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Tyler Richter appealed a criminal judgment entered after he pled guilty to the charge of luring minors by computers, and conditionally pled guilty to the charge of attempted promotion of obscenity to minors. Richter reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the charge of attempted promotion of obscenity to minors. He argued attempted promotion of obscenity to minors was not a cognizable offense. Specifically, Richter argued there was an inconsistency in the elements of the criminal attempt and promotion of obscenity to minors offenses which was impossible to rectify. He claimed attempt required the actor have an intent to complete the commission of the underlying crime, promoting obscenity only requires the actor to act recklessly which did not require an intent to commit a particular objective, and a person cannot intend to commit an offense that can be committed without any intent. The State opposed Richter’s motion. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concurred that the attempted promotion of obscenity to minors was not a cognizable offense, and the district court erred in denying Richter's motion to dismiss. Judgment convicting Richter of attempted promotion of obscenity to minors was reversed, and the matter remanded to allow Richter to withdraw his guilty plea to the attempt offense and dismiss the attempt charge. View "North Dakota v. Richter" on Justia Law

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Jordan Borland was convicted by jury of criminal vehicular homicide at the conclusion of a third jury trial on the charge. Borland argued: double jeopardy barred his retrial; the district court erred by denying his requested jury instruction and special verdict form seeking a jury finding on double jeopardy; and he was denied the right to a speedy trial. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. View "North Dakota v. Borland" on Justia Law

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Michael Lee Stands appealed a judgment and an order denying his motion to suppress evidence after entering a conditional plea of guilty to possession with intent to manufacture or deliver methamphetamine and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia. On appeal, Stands argued he did not consent to the search of his person. He also argued the traffic stop was unlawfully extended when police asked if he had anything on him, if she could search him, and subsequently searched him. Additionally, Stands argued the stop was unlawfully extended when officers detained him and waited for a drug dog to arrive on the scene. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed judgment and the trial court's order denying Stands' motion to suppress. View "North Dakota v. Stands" on Justia Law

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Rodney Friesz appealed a district court order denying his application for post-conviction relief. In 2016, Friesz was convicted by jury of manslaughter and arson, both class B felony offenses. Friesz appealed the case, asserting insufficient evidence to support the conviction, and the court erred denying his motion to suppress. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and remanded with instructions for the district court to correct a clerical error in the criminal judgment. In 2018, Friesz filed his first application for post-conviction relief, arguing: (1) his conviction was based on a coerced confession; (2) the evidence admitted was obtained by an unlawful search and seizure; his arrest was unlawful; (3) he was denied the right to call witnesses to testify on his behalf; (4) the State failed to disclose certain evidence; (5) he was denied effective assistance of counsel; and (6) he was denied his right to appeal. The district court denied his application and the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the denial of the application. In 2020, Friesz filed a second application for post-conviction relief, alleging: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel; (2) denial of effective assistance of counsel on his post-conviction appeal with appellate counsel; (3) insufficiency of evidence to sustain a conviction; (4) denial of his fourth amendment rights regarding the warrantless search of the residence, the seizure of a firearm, and the failure of the court to grant his motion to suppress; and (5) failure to disclose evidence by the prosecution. The district court dismissed Friesz’s application after finding the two-year statute of limitations in N.D.C.C. 29-32.1-01(2) barred the relief requested, and the application did not state any exceptions to the limitations period listed in N.D.C.C. 29-32.1-01(3). The court found all grounds for relief asserted by Friesz had been or could have been raised in his direct appeal from his conviction or in his previous application for post-conviction relief. Here, Friesz argued in part that the district court acted prematurely in dismissing his application two days after the State requested dismissal, and prior to receiving a response from him. To this, the Supreme Court concurred--the district court erred in its premature ruling. The ruling was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Friesz v. North Dakota" on Justia Law