Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Dakota Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court of South Dakota heard the case of Steven Foshay, who was deemed incompetent to stand trial on four criminal charges in 2017. He was committed to a state facility for competency restoration treatment, which remained unsuccessful over the years. In 2021, Foshay requested the dismissal of his charges, citing South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) 23A-10A-14, which mandates the dismissal of a defendant’s criminal charges when there is no significant probability that the defendant will become competent to proceed in the foreseeable future. The circuit court denied his motion, and Foshay appealed.The Supreme Court of South Dakota reversed the circuit court's decision. The court found that the circuit court had erred by not dismissing Foshay's charges in accordance with the relevant statute, given the undisputed testimony that there was no substantial probability that Foshay would become competent in the foreseeable future. The Supreme Court remanded the case for the entry of an order dismissing the criminal charges against Foshay. Any further determinations regarding Foshay's commitment would need to be addressed through a civil commitment proceeding. View "State V. Foshay" on Justia Law

by
In South Dakota, Todd Stevens was convicted on six counts related to drug possession and distribution. The state's key witness was Ashley Burgers, Stevens' former roommate and fellow methamphetamine user, who testified in exchange for immunity. Stevens' trial counsel did not request, and the court did not provide, corroboration or cautionary instructions for the jury regarding Burgers' testimony. On appeal, Stevens asserted that the lack of these instructions was plain error and also argued ineffective assistance by his trial counsel for failing to propose such instructions.The Supreme Court of South Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the absence of a corroboration instruction was plain error, but concluded that Stevens was not prejudiced by this error because the other evidence presented by the State thoroughly corroborated Burgers' testimony. The court also found that the failure of the circuit court to give a cautionary instruction sua sponte was not error, much less plain error. Lastly, the court held that Stevens' claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was unsuccessful because the lack of prejudice in the plain error review precluded a successful claim on this issue. View "State V. Stevens" on Justia Law

by
In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota, the defendant, Robert Horse, appealed his conviction of third-degree rape. The defendant raised three main issues: the validity of a search warrant for location data from his phone, comments made during trial by the State about the victim’s motivation to testify, and opinion testimony given by the detective who investigated the case.On June 4, 2019, the 14-year-old victim, D.M., reported that she was assaulted by a man named "Robert." She had spent the day with Robert, during which they drove around Rapid City, smoked marijuana, and drank alcohol. D.M.'s memory of the events was spotty due to her intoxication. She later identified Robert Horse from a photo lineup. A rape kit showed DNA matching Horse.Detective Dupres, who led the investigation, obtained a search warrant for Horse's cell phone and separate warrants for his Google account to gather location data. The data, analyzed by FBI Agent Fennern, helped map out Horse's movements on the day of the alleged crime. Detective Dupres offered an opinion at trial that the assault occurred at Horse's residence.The court held that there was probable cause to authorize the search warrant for the Google location data, although the exact warrants for this data were not included in the record before the court. The court also decided that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by overruling Horse’s objection to the State’s question regarding D.M.’s motive for testifying and in denying Horse’s motion for a mistrial based on the State’s comment. Lastly, the court ruled that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in permitting Detective Dupres to opine about the location of the crime.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed the lower court's conviction of Horse for third-degree rape. View "State V. Horse" on Justia Law

by
In this case from the Supreme Court of South Dakota, the defendant, Matthew Allan Carter, was convicted of first-degree rape of a minor. The victim, referred to as E.W., was the five-year-old daughter of Carter's then-girlfriend, Nycole Morkve. E.W. disclosed to her mother and grandmother that Carter, known as “Daddy Matt," had “licked” her “lady parts.” Medical examination revealed that E.W. had gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection, and a subsequent test showed that Carter also had gonorrhea. Additionally, a search of Carter's residence uncovered a hard drive containing videos of child pornography.On appeal, Carter argued that the trial court erred in its rulings related to evidence, his motion for acquittal, and his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court of South Dakota reviewed these issues and affirmed the trial court's decisions. The court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury to view brief clips of the child pornography videos found on Carter's hard drive, as they were relevant to proving Carter's intent and motive. The court also found that the trial court did not err in admitting E.W.'s statements about the abuse, as they were reliable and corroborated by other evidence. Additionally, the court held that there was sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Carter orally penetrated E.W. Finally, the court declined to address Carter's ineffective assistance of counsel claims, as the record on that issue was not sufficiently developed.The court, therefore, affirmed Carter's conviction for first-degree rape. View "State V. Carter" on Justia Law

by
In the case brought before the Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota, Elias Richard was convicted of second-degree murder for the shooting death of Vernall Marshall. Richard appealed the decision, arguing that the circuit court erred in allowing evidence of his gang affiliation and in denying his motion for mistrial due to the State’s failure to disclose a forensic report.On Christmas Eve 2020, Richard, along with several others, confronted Marshall regarding inappropriate text messages Marshall had sent to a minor. Richard was part of a gang known as the Dark Side Family, and the confrontation ended with Marshall being shot twice in the back and left for dead. The court allowed reference to Richard’s gang affiliation to explain his involvement in the incident, which was otherwise unconnected to him.Richard also sought a mistrial after it was revealed during trial that the State had not disclosed a forensic report. This report contradicted the defense's opening statement claim that shell casings found at the crime scene matched those found at a co-defendant’s apartment. The court, however, denied the motion, deeming the failure to disclose inadvertent and not prejudicial.On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decisions. It concluded that the evidence of Richard’s gang affiliation was relevant to explain his motive for confronting Marshall and did not unfairly prejudice the jury. The court also found that the failure to disclose the forensic report did not materially prejudice Richard's defense, as his primary strategy was to argue that another defendant was the shooter, a theory that was not undermined by the undisclosed report. Therefore, the court held that the circuit court did not err in denying Richard's motion for mistrial. View "State V. Richard" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the defendant, Manegabe Chebea Ally, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter for the death of a 16-month-old child. He was sentenced to a 45-year prison term with 20 years suspended. Following his conviction, Ally appealed, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective in several respects. After a series of evidentiary hearings, the habeas court granted him relief, determining that his counsel was indeed ineffective and that the cumulative effect of these deficiencies prejudiced his defense. The habeas court determined that Ally's right to a fair trial was violated.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota, however, reversed the decision of the habeas court. The Supreme Court found that while Ally's counsel's opening statement included an imprecise remark, this mistake did not undermine the adversarial process or deprive Ally of a fair trial. The Court also found that Ally's defense counsel made a reasonably strategic decision to exclude parts of Ally's three interviews with a detective and to not elicit additional testimony from a medical expert. Although the Court acknowledged that the defense counsel's failure to disclose a certain video to the prosecutor deviated from prevailing professional norms, it did not result in significant prejudice to Ally. The Court therefore concluded that Ally did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel at his 2012 trial, and the decision of the habeas court was reversed. View "Ally V. Young" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree manslaughter and sentencing her to forty years in prison with twenty years suspended, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on her allegations of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's motion for a new trial based on an alleged violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); (2) there was sufficient evidence from which a jury could find Defendant guilty of first-degree manslaughter, as defined in S.D. Codified Laws 22-16-15(4); and (3) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant. View "State v. Peltier" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the habeas court dismissing Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the court correctly applied res judicata to determine that Appellant could not demonstrate prejudice as to his ineffective assistance of counsel claim.Appellant pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Appellant argued that he was actually innocent and that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by not assuring that he understood his right to assert a claim of self-defense. In granting the State's motion to dismiss, the habeas court concluded that Appellant's claims were precluded from relitigation under the doctrine of res judicata because the Court had previously considered them on direct appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the habeas court did not err in applying res judicata to determine that Appellant could not demonstrate prejudice under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). View "Ceplecha v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court denying the State's motion to dismiss the second petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by David Lee in 2004, holding that Lee's claim for habeas relief must be denied.Lee brought his second habeas corpus petition in 2004, alleging that his habeas counsel was ineffective for failing to seek a certificate of probable cause in his first habeas corpus proceeding. It wasn't until 2019, however, that Lee served the State with the provisional writ. The State moved to dismiss the writ, arguing that after the expiration of the statutory 30-day period for filing a motion for a certificate of probable cause under S.D. Codified Laws 21-27-18.1, the court did not have the authority to issue a certificate of probable cause. The circuit court denied the motions to dismiss. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Lee had no right to appeal absent a certificate of probable cause issued by the habeas court or a member of the Supreme Court, and Lee had no right to a certificate of probable cause; and (2) even if Lee's habeas counsel was ineffective, it did not deprive Lee of any constitutional or statutory right that may be vindicated in a habeas corpus proceeding. View "Lee v. Weber" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of second-degree murder and sentencing him to forty years in prison, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) as concerning the prosecutor's effort to conceal the State's involvement in Defendant's transfer proceedings, the circuit court properly exercised its discretion to neutralize any error; (2) the circuit court acted within its discretion to denying Defendant's motion for mistrial; (3) viewed in their entirety, the instructions given to the jury correctly stated the applicable law; (4) the exercise of the circuit court's discretion did not contravene Defendant's right to present a complete defense; and (5) Defendant's sentence could not be described as grossly disproportionate to his crime. View "State v. Black Cloud" on Justia Law