Justia Criminal Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Ex parte Anthony Lane.
Anthony Lane was convicted for felony murder with the predicate offense of first-degree robbery. Although Lane initially lied to police about his involvement in the murder, he eventually told police that he had approached Frank Wright at a car wash to ask him the time, that Wright had used a degrading racial epithet to describe Lane, and that Lane had "blanked out" and shot Wright multiple times, killing him. Lane claimed that, after he shot Wright, he panicked and drove away in Wright's vehicle. A police officer testified that Wright's body, which was found at the car wash, was discovered with his pants pockets "turned out" and his wallet missing. Wright's wallet was discovered later in his vehicle, containing his personal identification documents but no money. An investigating police officer testified that, in his opinion, Wright's vehicle had been "ransacked," although the wallet, the stereo, and other valuable items had not been taken. Before he was sentenced, Lane argued to the trial court that he was intellectually disabled and therefore, under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), ineligible to be sentenced to death. The trial court rejected that argument and, following the jury's 10-2 recommendation, sentenced Lane to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. The United States Supreme Court granted Lane's petition certiorari review, vacated the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment, and remanded for further consideration in light of Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986 (2014). On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Lane's conviction and sentence. The State changed its position, now agreeing with Lane's argument, and conceded that the trial court should not have sentenced Lane to death. The remaining issue before the Alabama Supreme Court centered around whether Lane had the requisite deficits in adaptive skills necessary to render him intellectually disabled. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Hall afforded Lane no relief. The Supreme Court disagreed, vacating that court's order and remanding to the trial court for resentencing to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. View "Ex parte Anthony Lane." on Justia Law
Ex parte State of Alabama.
Jeffery Duncan pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of marijuana in the second degree, a Class A misdemeanor, and to unlawful possession of a controlled substance, a Class D felony. Before sentencing, Duncan made application to, and was accepted into, the Clay-Coosa Drug Court Program. The trial set Duncan's case on the next drug-court docket and continued the imposition of Duncan's sentence pending Duncan's successful completion of, or expulsion from, the drug-court program. Duncan was accepted into the drug-court program in January 2017. Less than a month later, Duncan was sentenced to 48 hours in jail for violating the terms and conditions of the drug-court program. Duncan was subsequently sentenced to jail on three additional occasions for violating the terms and conditions of the drug-court program. In May 2017, the circuit court removed Duncan from the drug-court program, based on a recommendation of the drug-court-program coordinator and on the circuit court's finding that Duncan was unwilling and/or unable to abide by the rules of the program. On appeal, Duncan argued that the sentences imposed by the circuit court "represented an improper departure from the presumptive sentencing standards," because the circuit court imposed a period of incarceration, although he says the presumptive sentencing standards did not provide for incarceration under the facts of his case. The Alabama Supreme Court determined section 13A-5-8.1 authorized (but did not require) the circuit court to impose a prison or jail sentence on Duncan. The duration of the sentence was to be determined as provided in the presumptive sentencing standards. The parties agreed the duration of the sentence imposed on Duncan was consistent with the presumptive sentencing standards. The Court reversed the judgment of the majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law
Ex parte State of Alabama.
In 2000, George Martin was convicted of murdering his wife, Hammoleketh. The jury found that Martin killed his wife to collect the proceeds from life-insurance policies he had taken out on her life. The jury recommended by a vote of 8-4 that Martin be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, but the trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Martin to death. After his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, Martin filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., petition for postconviction relief in which he alleged, among other things, that the State had suppressed material exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the circuit court granted Martin's Rule 32 petition and held that he was entitled to a new trial. While preparing for a new trial, Martin moved to dismiss the indictment as both a sanction for the State's willful misconduct, and because the prejudice resulting from that misconduct could not be corrected with a new trial. The trial court ultimately dismissed the indictment with prejudice on the grounds that the State's misconduct was willful and that the prejudice to Martin resulting from that misconduct could not be corrected by a new trial. The State appealed. After review of the trial and appellate court records, the Supreme Court held the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in affirming the trial court's order imposing the extreme sanction of dismissing the indictment. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment was reversed and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law
Ex parte Dionntez Byner.
Dionntez Byner petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to affirm dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief. Byner challenged his 2015 convictions for one count of first-degree robbery , and one count of obstructing justice using a false identity. The Supreme Court issued the writ of certiorari in order to determine as an issue of first impression whether robbery was a crime involving "dishonesty or false statement" for purposes of Rule 609(a)(2), Ala. R. Evid., thereby rendering evidence of a conviction for robbery admissible for impeachment purposes. The Court held robbery wass a crime involving "dishonesty or false statement" and that a prior robbery conviction was admissible for impeachment purposes under Rule 609(a)(2). Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment. View "Ex parte Dionntez Byner." on Justia Law
Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education.
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
Ex parte State of Alabama.
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
Ex parte Jimmy Williams, Jr.
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
Ex parte State of Alabama.
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
Ex parte Christopher Anthony Floyd.
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
Ex parte Jennifer Watters
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