Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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On or about March 22, 2016, Carrie Cabri Witt, a school employee, was arrested and charged with engaging in sex acts with students who were under the age of 19 years. At that time, she was also placed on paid administrative leave. Later that year, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment that charged her with engaging in a sex act or deviate sexual intercourse with two students who were under the age of 19 years. The superintendent of education for Morgan County recommended to the Board that Witt's teaching contract be terminated based on the allegations that she had engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with one or more students in the Decatur City School System. According to the Board, that conduct violated Board policy and corresponding professional standards. The Board notified Witt that it had scheduled a termination hearing for March 2, 2017. Witt filed a petition seeking a preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding until after the disposition of the underlying criminal case, arguing that, because the basis for the termination proceeding was the underlying criminal charges, she would be forced to choose between the risk of self-incrimination if she testified in the termination proceeding or of losing her teaching contract if she did not testify in the termination proceeding. The Board moved to dismiss or deny the petition for a preliminary injunction; the trial court granted the petition for a preliminary injunction. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Board established that circumstances changed since the trial court entered the preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding on February 28, 2017, so that the preliminary injunction or stay was no longer appropriate. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and direct the trial court to dissolve its February 28, 2017, injunction and to dismiss the petition upon which it was based. View "Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education." on Justia Law

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The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the presiding judge of the Montgomery Circuit Court to exercise his power of superintendence over the Montgomery District Court, and to order that court to vacate its order granting Kentory Brown's discovery request. In 2015, Brown was charged with third-degree burglary and second-degree theft of property. Brown filed a motion requesting the appointment of an attorney, a bond hearing, and a preliminary hearing. Thereafter, Brown moved for the State to turn over all discovery permitted by Rule 16.1, Ala. R. Crim. P.; the district court granted the discovery motion on the same day it was filed. However, the State failed to provide the requested discovery. In refusing to produce the requested discovery, the State argued (1) that the case was under active investigation and that nothing had been turned over to the district attorney's office by the Montgomery Police Department, (2) that the demand for discovery was premature because no indictment had been issued, and (3) that the district court had limited jurisdiction in felony criminal cases and, not being the trial court, could not order discovery. The district court indicated that it would issue an order requiring the State to produce the requested discovery, but the court proceeded with the preliminary hearing. On the same day as the preliminary hearing, the court found probable cause that the offenses had been committed and bound over both cases to the Montgomery County grand jury. When the district court issued the order to compel the State to produce the discovery, the State petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court granted the writ: “Simply, the jurisdiction granted district courts in felony cases is limited.” The district court here exceeded the scope of its authority when it entered a discovery order in this case, and the Montgomery Circuit Court erred in refusing to direct the district court to vacate its order. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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The United States Supreme Court vacated the Alabama Supreme Court's earlier judgment in Ex parte Williams, 183 So. 3d 220 (Ala. 2015). Jimmy Williams, Jr., was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during a robbery in the first degree; the offense was committed when Williams was 15 years old. The trial court sentenced Williams to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the only possible sentence and one that was mandatory. In June 2013, Williams petitioned the Montgomery Circuit Court for a new sentencing hearing, asserting that his life-without-the possibility-of-parole sentence was unconstitutional and unlawful in light of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). The circuit court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and this Court disagreed, each holding that Williams was not entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the rule in Miller did not apply retroactively to cases such as Williams's, which were final when Miller was decided. Williams petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari review. While Williams's petition for certiorari review was pending, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016)., which clarified its holding in Miller, stating that "Miller announced a substantive rule that is retroactive in cases on collateral review." The Alabama Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded this case directly to the circuit court for proceedings consistent with Miller and Montgomery. View "Ex parte Jimmy Williams, Jr." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address a question of first impression: whether it was improper to admit into evidence in a trial de novo in the circuit court, evidence of a defendant's guilty plea made in the district court. Otha Lee Woods pleaded guilty to and was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the circuit court's judgment, holding that the circuit court's admission of evidence of Woods's plea of guilty made in the district court "violate[d] well settled principles of law regarding a trial de novo and that the admission of such evidence [was] inherently prejudicial." The Supreme Court disagreed. “A trial de novo in the circuit court provides a defendant with a clean slate with regard to a determination of whether he or she is guilty of the offense charged. It is an opportunity to have the defendant's guilt or innocence determined without consideration of the outcome, i.e., the judgment, of the earlier proceeding. Therefore, because the judgment from the prior court proceeding, and not the defendant's guilty plea, answers the ultimate question posed in the trial de novo – whether the defendant is guilty of the offense charged - admission of the judgment, but not of the guilty plea, is prohibited at the trial de novo.” View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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In 2005, Christopher Floyd was convicted of capital murder for the death of Waylon Crawford, for which he received the death penalty. The United State Supreme Court vacated the Alabama Supreme Court’s judgment in this case, and remanded for reconsideration in light of its recent holding in “Foster v. Chatman,” (136 S.Ct. 1737 (2016)). In selecting the jury for Floyd's case, the prosecutor and Floyd's counsel exercised a total of 36 peremptory challenges. The State used its 18 challenges to remove 10 of 11 African-American veniremembers and 12 of 18 female veniremembers. Floyd’s “Batson” or “J.E.B.” challenges to the venire (precedential cases prohibiting racial or gender discrimination in jury selection) were rejected by the trial court. The trial court found that Floyd had not demonstrated that the prosecutor had engaged in actual, purposeful discrimination during the jury-selection process, and that the prosecutor had proffered race- and gender-neutral reasons for his peremptory strikes. Floyd petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to uphold the trial court’s judgment. The United States Supreme Court then vacated the Alabama Court's judgment upholding the Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded the case for further consideration in light of “Foster.” In his supplemental briefing, Floyd contended that the record in his case, like the record in “Foster,” established that the State improperly focused on race and gender during the jury-selection process. Rather, it was during plain-error review of the record by the Court of Criminal Appeals that that court determined that the prosecutor's use of his peremptory challenges created a prima facie case of discrimination under both Batson and J.E.B. and remanded the case for a Batson/J.E.B. hearing. After the Alabama Court’s reconsideration of the Batson/J.E.B. issues in light of Foster, as mandated by the United States Supreme Court, the Alabama Court reinstated its judgment in this matter and once again affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Ex parte Christopher Anthony Floyd." on Justia Law

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Jennifer Watters petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to stay proceedings in her criminal trial, and to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing to consider whether she was immune from prosecution on the ground of self-defense under the then existing version of § 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 1975. In 2015, Watters was charged with second-degree assault. In response to the trial court's actions, Watters filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, seeking a writ directing the trial court to conduct a pretrial hearing on her immunity defense. A majority of that court, noting that "[t]here are no Alabama cases interpreting the application and scope of section 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 1975, to criminal charges," denied Watters's request for relief. Watters then filed another petition for mandamus with the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court offered no opinion as to the factual merit of Watters's immunity claim, it nonetheless held that she was entitled to attempt to prove its application before she was required to stand trial. The Court therefore granted the petition and issued the writ directing the trial court to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing considering whether Watters was immune from criminal prosecution on self-defense grounds. View "Ex parte Jennifer Watters" on Justia Law

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In June 2011, Jerry Bohannon was charged with and convicted of two counts of capital murder in connection with the shooting deaths of Jerry DuBoise and Anthony Harvey outside the Paradise Lounge in Mobile. He received the death penalty. He raised four grounds on appeal of the conviction and sentence, alleging: (1) his death sentence should have been vacated in light of "Hurst v. Florida," (136 S.Ct. 616 (2016)); (2) the circuit court erred in characterizing the jury's penalty-phase determination as a recommendation and as advisory, conflicting with "Hurst;" (3) the circuit court erred in allowing the State to question defense character witnesses about Bohannon's alleged acts on the night of the shooting; and (4) the circuit court erred in failing to sua sponte instruct the jury on the victims' intoxication. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment to affirm Bohannon's conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ex parte Jerry Bohannon" on Justia Law

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Jacquees Maurice Boone was convicted of attempted murder, for which he was sentenced as an habitual felony offender to life imprisonment. On appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Boone argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that he was affiliated with a "gang." The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Boone's conviction and sentence in an unpublished memorandum, reasoning that the evidence was relevant under Rule 404(b), Ala. R. Evid., to prove motive. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court disagreed, reversed and remanded for further proceedings: "The record does not disclose any evidence indicating that [the victim] Cooley or anyone in his family was a member of a gang. The motive advanced by the State at trial was that there was animosity between Boone and his friends, on the one hand, and Cooley's family, on the other hand, arising from the participation of Cooley's mother in police drug investigations that led to the arrest of Boone's friends. The State does not explain how the evidence of 'gang' affiliation is relevant to Boone's motive for shooting Cooley." View "Ex parte Jacquees Maurice Boone." on Justia Law

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While serving a subpoena on Christopher Okafor at the residence of Shanna Hereford, law-enforcement officers noticed a strong smell of marijuana and entered the residence. When an officer asked Okafor if there was marijuana in the residence, Okafor responded that there was. When the officers requested that Okafor sign a consent form to permit a search the residence, Okafor informed them that he did not live at the residence and that he could not sign a consent form to search the residence. Okafor, however, led the officers to the marijuana, which was located in a white plastic bag in the closet of a downstairs bedroom. A subsequent search of the bedroom resulted in the seizure of not only the marijuana, but also $16,500 in cash. Okafor denied any knowledge or ownership of the currency. The State filed a complaint against Okafor seeking to condemn the $16,500 seized from Hereford's residence. Okafor filed an answer in which he stated that he was the lawful owner of the currency, that the currency was not subject to condemnation, and that the law-enforcement officers had seized the currency during an unlawful search. The State moved for a summary judgment; Okafor, amongst other things, argued that the officers did not have probable cause or consent to enter Hereford's residence and that any consent that they may have gotten for the search of the residence was not given knowingly, intelligently, and/or freely. The Court of Civil Appeals, in a per curiam opinion, reversed the summary judgment, finding that Okafor presented sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact with regard to the legality of the search of Hereford's residence and the legality of the seizure of the currency. The Supreme Court disagreed: because Okafor did not demonstrate that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy or a proprietary interest in Hereford's residence, he did not establish that he had standing to challenge the search of the residence and the seizure of the currency. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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An issue implicating the "prison mailbox rule" came before the Supreme Court in this case. The rule, codified at Ala. Code 1975 13A-5-9.1, was revised to place a time limit on motions like the motion for reconsideration of sentence underlying this appeal, and a question arose as to whether the statute's time limit applied here. The Supreme Court concluded the time limit did appeal, and reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals' holding to the contrary. View "Ex parte Joe Louis Spencer." on Justia Law