Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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Bernadine Odom appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of several supervisory officers in the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Department of Public Safety, Highway Patrol Division, in a lawsuit based on the misconduct of a state trooper. In 2015, Odom was involved in an automobile accident. State Trooper Samuel Houston McHenry II responded to the scene. Odom's vehicle was inoperable, so after McHenry investigated the accident, he gave her a ride, ostensibly to a safe location. At 12:12 a.m., he radioed his post dispatcher that he was en route with Odom to an exit about 10 miles from the accident scene. He did not mention his vehicle's mileage as of the time he left the accident scene. Instead of taking Odom directly to the exit, McHenry took her to a wooded area and sexually assaulted her. At 12:21 a.m., he radioed that he was dropping Odom off at the exit, and at 12:25 he radioed that he had completed the drop-off. Within two days, McHenry's employment was terminated based on his misconduct. McHenry was charged with first-degree rape, and he pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Odom then filed this civil lawsuit against McHenry and law enforcement officials alleging violations of various law-enforcement policies and procedures, and well as failing to properly train and supervise McHenry. Because Odom could not demonstrate the supervisory defendants were not entitled to State-agent immunity, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in their favor. View "Odom v. Helms et al." on Justia Law

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James Blackman petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing Judge James Patterson of the Mobile Circuit Court ("the trial court") to set aside an order setting Blackman's case for trial, to reinstate Blackman's guilty plea that the trial court withdrew sua sponte, and to proceed to sentencing Blackman on his guilty-plea convictions. Because the trial court's sua sponte withdrawal of Blackman's guilty plea subjected Blackman to double jeopardy and thus divested the trial court of jurisdiction to conduct a trial, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte James Antuam Blackman." on Justia Law

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Calvin Barnes petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its orders revoking his bail and denying his motion to reinstate his bail. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred by basing the revocation on an unsupported and unsubstantiated belief that Barnes intended to delay his trial setting and had become a flight risk, rather than on evidence satisfying the requirements for revocation in Rule 7.5. Furthermore, the circuit court erred in denying Barnes's request to reinstate his pretrial bail -- a right to which he was entitled under the law, regardless of the heinousness of the crime he was accused of committing. Because the Supreme Court determined the circuit court acted beyond its authority, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Calvin Barnes." on Justia Law

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Marvin Gray sought mandamus relief to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss a complaint filed against him by Ruthie Thomas. In 2017, Thomas was involved in an automobile accident with Gray in a Montgomery parking lot. In 2019, she filed suit. Eighty-nine days after she filed her original complaint, Thomas moved to amend her complaint, asserting she made multiple "scrivener's errors" resulting in the incorrect identification of one of the defendant in the original complaint. In the amendment, Thomas named Gray as defendant in place of another person involved in the accident. Gray filed a motion to dismiss the claims against him, asserting that he was not added as a defendant until after the statute of limitations had expired. Gray argued that the amended complaint did not relate back to the filing of the original complaint because, he argued, it did not satisfy the requirements of Rule 9(h), Ala. R. Civ. P., regarding fictitiously named defendants. In particular, Gray asserted that Thomas was aware of Gray's name 12 days following the accident and well before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the amended complaint related back to the filing of the original complaint under Rule 15, Ala. R. Civ. P., it denied Gray's petition. View "Ex parte Marvin Gray." on Justia Law

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The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to grant mandamus relief to R.E.D. R.E.D. had asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate a circuit court order denying his request for a jury trial on the issue whether the State intentionally committed misconduct during R.E.D.'s first trial so as to goad R.E.D. into requesting a mistrial and to enter an order granting his jury-trial request. The Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals' order vacating the trial court's ruling was in conflict with Ex parte Adams, 669 So. 2d 128 (Ala. 1995), and/or Pettibone v. Alabama, 91 So. 3d 94 (Ala. Crim. App. 2011). After that review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision was in conflict with both Ex parte Adams and Pettibone, and, thus, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals' order. View "Ex parte State of Alabama" on Justia Law

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The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a mandamus relief. The State sought the vacation of a circuit court order holding certain statutes and acts of Alabama unconstitutional, and to require the Mobile circuit clerk to withhold 10% of the funds collected as court costs and fees from litigants in Mobile County until such time the State adequately funds the clerk’s office. This matter arose out of a criminal proceeding in which a grand jury indicted Mandy Brady for trafficking methamphetamine. Brady posted bond on that charge and was released; however, she was subsequently arrested on a new charge, and the State moved to revoke her bond. The circuit court granted the State's motion and revoked Brady's bond. Despite the fact that Brady was in State custody when the circuit court revoked the bond, Brady did not appear at her scheduled trial on the trafficking charge. When Brady failed to appear, the circuit court issued a show-cause order to the circuit clerk, the Mobile County sheriff, "and/or" the warden of the Mobile County jail seeking an explanation as to why Brady was released from jail despite the fact that the circuit court had revoked her bond. The warden testified that he never received notice from the circuit clerk's office that Brady's bond had been revoked; the circuit clerk testified that an employee in her office had properly entered the circuit court's order revoking Brady's bond before Brady was released from the county jail but that employee apparently failed to send notice of the order to the county jail. The circuit clerk explained that this mistake occurred because she did not have the ability to fully train her employees before giving them the responsibility of managing a circuit judge's docket; ultimately the problem, according to the circuit clerk, was that she did not have adequate funding to retain well trained personnel. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its authority in the Brady matter, “purporting to award declaratory and injunctive relief no party had requested.” The State’s petition for mandamus relief was granted. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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Crystal Wayne petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision affirming, by an unpublished memorandum, a circuit court's revocation of Wayne's probation. Wayne was convicted of second-degree manufacturing of a controlled substance, a Class B felony. She was sentenced Wayne to 60 months' imprisonment, which sentence was split, and she was ordered to serve 18 months' imprisonment, followed by 36 months' supervised probation. The circuit court further ordered Wayne to pay $4,799 in various fees and costs. Four months later, Wayne's probation officer filed a delinquency report alleging that Wayne had violated the terms and conditions of her probation by failing to report to her probation officer as directed, by failing to pay supervision fees, by failing to pay court-ordered moneys, and by failing to report to the court referral officer ("CRO"). The Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether Wayne received adequate notice of the State's charge that Wayne had violated her probation by absconding. The Supreme Court determined Wayne's constitutional right to receive written notice of the charges against her was violated insofar as she did not receive notice that absconding was being alleged as a probation violation, and the circuit court exceeded its discretion in revoking her probation on the basis that she had absconded. The Court of Criminal Appeals' was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Crystal Joetta Wayne." on Justia Law

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In March 2004, Antonio Jones was convicted of capital murder for the intentional killing of Ruth Kirkland during the course of a burglary. The jury recommended, by a vote of 11 to 1, that Jones be sentenced to death. The trial court accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Jones to death. In January 2009, Jones filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition to challenge conviction and sentence. In 2014, the trial court entered an order summarily dismissing Jones's Rule 32 petition. Jones appealed the dismissal of his Rule 32 petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Jones's appeal in accordance with that court's decision in Loggins v. Alabama, 910 So. 2d 146 (Ala Crim. App. 2005), and the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in K.P. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources, 243 So. 3d 835 (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). Jones then petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissing his appeal of the dismissal of his Rule 32 petition conflicted with the Supreme Court's decisions interpreting Rule 29, Ala. R. Crim. P. The Supreme Court determined the record conclusively established a timely order reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition was issued on September 7, 2010, two days before the trial court was to lose jurisdiction to rule on Jones's postjudgment motion to reinstate the petition. The order itself was dated and signed on September 7, 2010. When it was discovered that the circuit clerk had failed to timely enter the order reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition, the same order was forwarded again to the circuit clerk to be entered, which the clerk did on September 29, 2010. "[T]he trial court's order granting Jones's Rule 29 motion in this case did not alter the date on which the order was rendered. . . . it simply corrects the circuit clerk's ministerial error in failing to timely enter the order, so that the record accurately reflects Justice Kennedy's original order reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition as having been rendered on September 7, 2010." Accordingly, the trial court did not err in granting Jones's Rule 29 motion to reflect that the order rendered on September 7, 2010, reinstating Jones's Rule 32 petition was entered by the trial court effective on that same date. The Court of Criminal Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Antonio Devoe Jones." on Justia Law

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Taurus Carroll was convicted on one count of murder for intentionally causing the death of Michael Turner, a fellow inmate, after having been convicted of another murder within the preceding 20 years, and a second count of murder made capital for committing murder while Carroll was under a sentence of life imprisonment. Before he was sentenced, Carroll argued to the circuit court that he was intellectually disabled and therefore, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), ineligible to be sentenced to death. The circuit court rejected that argument and, following the jury's unanimous recommendation, sentenced Carroll to death for each capital-murder conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Carroll's convictions and sentences. On May 1, 2017, the United States Supreme Court granted Carroll's petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and remanded the case to that court "for further consideration in light of Moore v. Texas, 581 U.S. ___ (2017)." On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Carroll's convictions and sentences. The Alabama Supreme Court granted Carroll's petition for a writ of certiorari, and concluded the circuit court did not exceed its discretion in determining that Carroll failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered from significant or substantial deficits in adaptive functioning as an adult and that his current intellectual deficits arose during the developmental period. The Alabama Court further concluded the circuit court's final determination that Carroll was eligible for the death penalty did not violate Atkins, Moore, Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. 701 (2014), and Brumfield v. Cain, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). View "Ex parte Taurus Jermaine Carroll." on Justia Law

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Aaron Smith, an officer employed by the City of Montgomery Police Department, petitions the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Smith immunity pursuant to 13A–3–23(d), Ala. Code 1975, and to enter an order granting Smith immunity under that statute. In the alternative, Smith asked for mandamus relief directing the Montgomery County Circuit Judge enter an order recusing himself from the case. Smith requested a change of venue based on pretrial publicity. The Supreme Court surmised the issue of Smith's credibility would arise at trial because he appeared to be the only witness to the incident underlying these proceedings, and he might be called to testify at trial in support of a defense of self- defense. "The risk of prejudice under these circumstances is evident where the trial judge has already stated that he does not find Smith to be credible and that statement has been widely reported in the local community from which the jury pool would be drawn. Judge Griffin's comments were made and reported approximately six moths ago, in late July 2018. There is no dispute that this case has generated much attention in Montgomery County, and it seems likely to generate continued attention moving forward. It is reasonable to assume that Judge Griffin's comments regarding Smith's credibility will continue to be dispersed in the local media." Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded Smith could not have his case decided by a fair and impartial jury in Montgomery County. Because Smith demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief sought, the Supreme Court granted his petition as to the change-of-venue and recusal issues and directed that this case be transferred to another venue. The Court denied relief as to all other issues raised. View "Ex parte Aaron Cody Smith." on Justia Law