Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review was one of first impression. Yamil Alexsander Hare and Jose Sosa filed a state-court action to recover personal property that a Gulf Shores police officer seized without a warrant under state law and then transferred to two Baldwin County Sheriff's Office ("BCSO") deputies, acting in their capacity as federally deputized agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration ("the DEA"). The circuit court ruled that it lacked in rem jurisdiction based on the Court of Civil Appeals' caselaw. The Supreme Court held that, under 21 U.S.C. 881(c), exclusive federal jurisdiction attached when the deputized DEA agents took possession of the property and no state court had prior in rem jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Hare v. Mack" on Justia Law

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In 2018, pursuant to a premises search warrant, police in Mobile, Alabama searched the residence of Joshua Moyers, seeking evidence of drug activity. Although Moyers was referenced in the affidavit supporting the issuance of the warrant, no individuals were named in the warrant itself. Police entered Moyers's house and discovered Nancy Powers sleeping on a couch in the first room of the house. Powers's purse was sitting on a table next to the couch. After confirming with Powers that the purse belonged to her, police searched the purse and discovered methamphetamine, a digital scale, and cash. Relevant to these proceedings, Powers was charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The circuit court denied Powers's motion to suppress the evidence found in her purse. Thereafter, Powers pleaded guilty and appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, challenging the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress. The Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously affirmed the trial court's ruling. The Alabama Supreme Court granted Powers's petition for a writ of certiorari to consider a question of first impression: whether police improperly searched Powers' purse, or whether, as the State argued, the purse was simply a container in the House that fit within the scope of the premises warrant. The Supreme Court agreed with the State that the purse was a container that came within the scope of the warrant, and that Powers' right to privacy was not violated. View "Ex parte Nancy Powers." on Justia Law

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Sherman Collins petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment affirming Collins's convictions for capital murder for the intentional killing of Detrick Bell for pecuniary gain, and for criminal conspiracy. The appellate court also affirmed his resulting sentences of death for his capital-murder conviction and of 120 months' imprisonment for his criminal-conspiracy conviction. The Supreme Court granted review to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision was in conflict with Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299 (1932); the Alabama Court concluded that it was. As a result, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision insofar as it affirmed Collins's capital-murder conviction and his resulting death sentence, but reversed the decision insofar as it affirmed Collins's criminal-conspiracy conviction and his resulting sentence to 120 months' imprisonment. The case was remanded to the Court of Criminal Appeals to remand the cause to the trial court to set aside Collins's criminal-conspiracy conviction and resulting sentence. View "Ex parte Sherman Collins" on Justia Law

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Johnny Lee Self petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for review of a Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to affirm the summary dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief. In September 2003, Self pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, and was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment; the crime of sexual abuse in the first degree was a Class C felony. Self did not appeal. In 2019, Self petitioned to challenge his convictions and sentences, arguing he had been improperly sentenced to serve 25 years in prison because the maximum sentence authorized for a Class C felony was 10 years, and, Self asserted, he "was not sentenced as a [h]abitual [o]ffender." Self also alleged "that nothing in the record shows that his sentence was properly enhanced." In 2020, the State responded, arguing Self's claim was not a jurisdictional claim, and was barred by the limitations period set forth in Rule 32.2(c), Ala. R. Crim. P. The circuit court summarily dismissed Self's Rule 32 petition, interpreting Self's claims in his Rule 32 petition as (1) a claim "that the State failed to adequately prove [Self's] prior felony convictions that were used to enhance his sentence" and (2) a claim "that the record does not reflect application of the Habitual Felony Offender Act." The Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision was in conflict with Barnes v. State, 708 So. 2d 217 (Ala. Crim. App. 1997), the facts of which were similar to those presented in this case. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision was in conflict with Barnes, thus reversing the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment. View "Ex parte Johnny Lee Self" on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in affirming a trial court's revocation of Walter McGowan's probation. Probation arose from McGowan's conviction on burglary, assault, obstruction of justice and escape. Before the Court of Criminal Appeals, McGowan asserted that his sentences -- 15 years, split to serve 5 years in prison followed by 2 years' probation -- were illegal sentences because they did not comply with section 15- 18-8(a)(1) or (b), Ala. Code 1975. McGowan argued that, because his split sentences were unauthorized, the trial court had lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to conduct a revocation hearing and to enter an order revoking his probation. Citing Enfinger v. Alabama, 123 So. 3d 535 (Ala. Crim. App. 2012), McGowan argued that, because the trial court had lacked jurisdiction, the probation-revocation order was due to be vacated. The Supreme Court concurred with this reasoning: the trial court was without jurisdiction to conduct probation-revocation proceedings and to enter the probation-revocation order. Therefore, the Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Walter McGowan." on Justia Law

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The State appealed a circuit court order denying its request for a preliminary injunction against TY Green's Massage Therapy, Inc., Yuping Tang, and Jiao Liu a/k/a Serena Tang (collectively, "the defendants"). In September 2018, police received an anonymous tip that a customer had gone into the defendants' Madison location for a massage and that he had been touched inappropriately. As a result, the police started an investigation of TY Green's Massage Therapy that included, among other things, sending multiple men into the business locations undercover to get massages and conducting surveillance of the business locations and of the houses where the employees of the business were housed. During the investigation, some of the massage therapists touched clients in places they were not supposed to touch, according to Board of Massage Therapy guidelines; that some massage therapists straddled clients and/or touched the clients with the intimate parts of their bodies and/or touched the intimate parts of the clients' bodies; and that at least one massage therapist engaged in sexual acts, including intercourse, with a client. The investigation also revealed that the massage therapists lived in houses owned by the Tangs; that the Tangs provided transportation for the therapists each day to get to the business locations where they worked; and that the therapists normally worked 12 hours per day, 7 days per week. The State filed a complaint against TY Green's Massage Therapy, Inc. that included 41 counts, including first- and second degree human trafficking, and deceptive trade practices. Among other things, the State requested injunctive and declaratory relief, damages and civil penalties. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not exceed its discretion in denying the State's request for a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the trial court's order was affirmed. View "Alabama v. TY Green's Massage Therapy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Marcus King George and Alyssa Watson petitioned the Alabama SUpreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision in Watson v. Alabama, Ms. CR-18-0377, Jan. 10, 2020 (Ala. Crim. App. 2020), which affirmed the circuit court's judgments convicting the pair for felony murder (murder committed during the course of a kidnapping in the first degree), for which they were sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. Central to the State's case against Watson and George was the testimony of Allison Duncan, an intelligence analyst with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency ("ALEA"), analyzing the historical cell-site data of Watson's and George's cellular telephones. The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that Duncan's testimony analyzing historical cell-site data was lay testimony admissible under Rule 701, Ala. R. Evid., and determined that Rule 702, Ala. R. Evid., had no application to Duncan's testimony. At the request of Watson and George, the Supreme Court granted review in both cases to consider as an issue of first impression whether testimony analyzing historical cell-site data was expert or lay testimony. More specifically, the Court determined, as an issue of first impression, whether Duncan's testimony analyzing the historical cell-site data of Watson's and George's cellular telephones was "scientific" testimony and, thus, subject to the admissibility requirements of Rule 702(b), Ala. R. Evid. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgments and remanded to the trial court for a hearing to be held to determine whether Duncan's scientific testimony satisfied the admissibility requirements of Rule 702(b). View "Ex parte Marcus King George." on Justia Law

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Kary Meadows was confined in a work-release program for eight months after his sentence ended. In 2009, Meadows pleaded guilty to theft, receiving stolen property, and possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to five years; that sentence was split and he was ordered to serve one year in the Walker County Community Work Release Program (operated by WCCC, a private company), followed by four years of supervised probation. In 2012, his probation was revoked, and he was placed under house arrest. In early May 2013, he was removed from house arrest for marijuana violations and placed back in the work-release program, where he was confined at night but released to work during the day. On the day Meadows was supposed to be released from custody, he asked to be released, but Shaver refused. Every day for the next eight months, Meadows asked to be released, insisting that his time had been served and asking to be shown his time sheet. Shaver and his subordinates refused to release Meadows and refused to provide him any document showing when he was supposed to be released or to provide him his prisoner-identification number so he could find his release date for himself. Meadows asserts that Shaver threatened to have him charged with felony escape and placed in a maximum-security facility for 15 years if he ever failed to return to the facility after work, so Meadows continued to spend every night in custody for 8 months. Meadows eventually retained an attorney and filed suit against Shaver and WCCC, asserting claims of of negligence and wantonness, negligence per se, false imprisonment, and money had and received (based on the fees and rent Meadows had paid to WCCC during the eight months he was improperly in custody). Shaver moved to dismiss, Shaver contended that he was not responsible for calculating the end-of-sentence date, nor was he capable of doing so. WCCC likewise moved for a summary judgment, incorporating by reference Shaver's arguments. The trial court ultimately entered judgment in favor of Shaver and WCCC. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed dismissal: "This Court ordinarily cannot reverse a summary judgment on the basis of an argument that reasonably could have been, but was not, presented to the trial court before that court entered the summary judgment." Because Meadows' appellate arguments were not preserved for review, summary judgment was affirmed. View "Meadows v. Shaver et al." on Justia Law

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Natasha Cunningham petitioned for, and was granted, certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment holding that the offense of possession of a controlled substance was a lesser-included offense of the offense of distribution of a controlled substance. Cunningham's motion for judgment of acquittal as to the distribution-of-a-controlled-substance charge was granted because the evidence did not support that charge. Over Cunningham's objection, the circuit court instructed the jury on possession of a controlled substance as a lesser-included offense of distribution of a controlled substance. The jury returned a verdict finding Cunningham guilty of possession of a controlled substance. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the circuit court properly instructed the jury on the offense of possession of a controlled substance as a lesser-included offense of distribution of a controlled substance. As part of its analysis, the Court of Criminal Appeals recognized that there could be circumstances in which a controlled substance could be distributed without a defendant being in actual or constructive possession of the substance. The court then reasoned that, because there was evidence indicting that Cunningham actually possessed a controlled substance, the jury was free to consider possession as a lesser-included offense of the charged offense of distribution. In reversing the appellate court's judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court found the indictment charging Cunningham with distribution did not include the statutory element of possession, nor did it allege any facts essential to the offense of possession of a controlled substance. Thus, under the facts of this case, because the indictment enumerated only the statutory language for the offense of distribution of a controlled substance, Cunningham was not given sufficient notice that she would have to defend against the offense of possession of a controlled substance. "We look to the indictment and must strictly construe it. To do otherwise would treat the proceedings in this case as if the terms of the indictment were so flexible as to imply a factual allegation that Cunningham was in possession of a controlled substance. To reach such a determination would require us to disregard the law." View "Ex parte Natasha Cunningham." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall and circuit judges Michael Bradley Almond, Ruth Ann Hall, Brandy Hambright, Jacqueline Hatcher, and Bert Rice, all in their official capacities, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") to grant their motion to dismiss a complaint for a declaratory judgment filed by respondents Michael Belcher, Peter Capote, Derrick Dearman, Lionel Francis, Brett Yeiter, and Benjamin Young, all prisoners on death row. Respondents were all convicted of capital offenses and sentenced to death after August 1, 2017, the effective date of the Fair Justice Act ("FJA"), Act No. 2017-417, Ala. Acts 2017 (codified at Ala. Code 1975, section 13A-5-53.1). Respondents alleged the FJA was unconstitutional because it denied them access to courts to present arguments their convictions and sentences were not imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Alabama law and other established constitutional guarantees. The complaint went on to allege that, because of the FJA's alleged prohibition on seeking discovery in postconviction proceedings for death-penalty petitioners, respondents would be unable to assert in their Rule 32 petitions any "Brady" claims for the alleged withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence or to raise any claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that require access to the prosecution's file to establish or to allege many juror claims that require rigorous investigation. Petitioners moved to dismiss on grounds the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded respondents' claims were not ripe for adjudication in this declaratory-judgment action because their claims are inherently fact-specific and must be raised within the context of their six individual Rule 32 proceedings. Therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the respondents' complaint. Petitioners' petition was granted and the Court issued the writ. View "Ex parte Marshall, as Attorney General of the State of Alabama, et al." on Justia Law