Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the superior court suppressing the DNA results of a buccal swab taken from Defendant pursuant to a valid search warrant while he was incarcerated, holding that the trial justice erred in suppressing the buccal swab evidence. Three years after the murder of Robert Bullard Defendant was apprehended and taken into custody. A criminal complaint was filed, and Defendant was held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI). Thereafter, a detective obtained search warrants to collect Defendant's DNA at the ACI using a buccal swab. When Defendant refused to comply with the search warrants law enforcement officers used force to obtain the buccal swab. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the DNA evidence, which the trial court granted. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's order, holding that the use of force was objectively reasonable because the intrusion into Defendant's Fourth Amendment interests was minimal and was far outweighed by countervailing government interests. View "State v. Querido" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Appellant's application for postconviction relief, holding that Appellant's claims lacked merit. Appellant was convicted of first-degree murder, discharging a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, and conspiracy. Appellant later filed a pro se application for postconviction relief, arguing that newly discovered evidence required a new trial, that the trial justice impermissibly amended the indictment, and that a consecutive life sentence for discharging a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence should not have been imposed. The hearing justice denied the application for postconviction relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the hearing justice correctly found that Appellant's evidence did not meet the test for newly discovered evidence; and (2) Appellant's remaining claims were barred by res judicata and also lacked merit. View "Graham v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the superior court adjudicating Defendant to be in criminal contempt, holding that the trial justice's two-year consecutive sentence was clearly beyond the six-month maximum. Defendant was convicted for first-degree robbery and assault with a dangerous weapon in a dwelling. At sentencing, the trial justice deviated from the sentencing benchmarks and sentenced Defendant to thirty-five years' incarceration. When Defendant acted out in the presence of the court, the trial justice found Defendant in contempt of court. The trial justice sentenced Defendant to an additional two years' incarceration for criminal contempt, to be served consecutively with his sentence to serve on the underlying charges. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the trial justice was clearly within her authority in adjudicating Defendant in criminal contempt; but (2) Defendant's sentence for contempt was unlawful. View "In re Joseph I. Lamontagne" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of felony assault and one count of simple assault, holding that none of the trial justice's rulings challenged on appeal was erroneous. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) because Defendant never questioned the trial justice's impartiality when it was appropriate to do so Defendant waived his argument that he was deprived of his right to trial by a neutral and detached arbiter; (2) the trial justice’s finding of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on each count did not constitute an impermissible pyramiding of inferences; (3) Defendant's argument that he was deprived of his right to fair notice of the crime for which he was convicted and prejudiced by the timing of the introduction of the theory of aiding and abetting was without merit; and (4) because each of the individual allegations of error lacked merit, the cumulative effect doctrine did not apply. View "State v. Parrillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of two counts of first-degree child molestation sexual assault and two counts of second-degree child molestation sexual assault, holding that the trial justice did not err by admitting evidence of an uncharged incident and by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's argument that evidence of a previous encounter Defendant had with the police, which resulted in neither charges against Defendant nor injuries to the victim, was improperly admitted under R.I. Evid. R. 404(b) was waived; and (2) the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive any material evidence and did not clearly err by denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. View "State v. Mensah" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Defendant's motion to vacate an illegal sentence and judgment, holding that the hearing justice did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when he found that Defendant violated the conditions of his probation to which he was sentenced after his 2009 conviction. In 2009, Defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment plus a suspended sentence, with probation. In 2018, Defendant pled nolo contendere to other offenses. Because Defendant was on probation at the time of the 2018, the hearing justice found Defendant to have violated the conditions of his 2009 probation and sentenced him on the same sentence previously imposed. Defendant filed a motion to vacate an illegal sentence, which the hearing justice denied. Before the Supreme Court, Defendant asserted that there were no conditions of probation prior to the enactment of R.I. Gen. Laws 12-19-8.1 in 2017. Therefore, Defendant argued that because he was sentenced to probation before 2017, he could not have violated any probation condition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 12-19-8.1 codified what had long been recognized as conditions of probation in Rhode Island. View "State v. Chandler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of three counts of first-degree child molestation sexual assault, holding that Defendant's argument alleging an instructional error was waived and that the trial justice did not err in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. On appeal, Defendant asserted that the trial justice erred in failing to grant a mistrial or to strike the complaining witness's testimony and exacerbated the error by instructing the jury to disregard a portion of the complaining witness's testimony and that the trial justice erred in denying his motion for a new trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant waived his argument as to the denial of the motion for a mistrial and motion to strike and further waived his contention that the trial justice compounded the alleged error; and (2) the trial justice did not overlook or misconceive material evidence and was not otherwise clearly wrong when he denied Defendant's motion for a new trial. View "State v. Franco" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court quashed the order of the district court denying Appellant's motion to seal his records under R.I. Gen. Laws 12-1-12 on the grounds that because Defendant was charged with a civil violation rather than a criminal violation, he was not entitled to relief under the statute, holding that a person charged with a first violation of driving with a suspended license is entitled to have his records sealed under the provisions of section 12-1-12. In denying Defendant's motion to seal his records, the trial judge looked to the language of the statute, noting that it speaks only to criminal cases and is silent with respect to civil violations, and concluded that the Legislature had provided no mechanism to seal or expunge civil violations. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that where Defendant was detained by police but not arrested or charged with an offense, he was entitled to the benefits of section 12-1-12(a) with respect to the destruction and sealing of his records. View "State ex rel. Coventry Police Department v. Charlwood" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Defendant's judgment of conviction on one count of first-degree child molestation sexual assault and remanded the case to the superior court for a new trial, holding that the trial justice erred in denying Defendant's motion to pass the case after the prosecutor's statements during closing argument about Defendant's courtroom demeanor and behavior toward the complainant. Specifically, the Court held (1) the prosecutor's statements regarding Defendant's courtroom demeanor had the potential for unfair prejudice, and a curative instruction could not overcome the prejudice in this case; (2) the trial justice erred in admitting some, but not all, of the evidence pertaining to a police investigation into Defendant for possession of child pornography; and (3) Defendant's claim that the trial justice erred in failing to safeguard Defendant's right to a fair trial based on various claims related to the presence of members of a motorcycle group known as Bikers Against Child Abuse in the courtroom during trial was not properly before the court. View "State v. Bozzo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court convicting Defendant of first-degree murder and first-degree arson, holding that the trial justice was not clearly wrong in denying Defendant's motion for a new trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial justice was clearly wrong when she denied his motion for a new trial because the weight of the evidence did not support the jury's verdict. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence supported a finding that Defendant was the perpetrator and that the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence because the evidence supported a finding of premeditation. View "State v. Gumkowski" on Justia Law