Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court sentencing Petitioner to two terms of one to five years of imprisonment in connection with his conviction of two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, holding that the circuit court did not err in not suppressing evidence of an audio/video recording of one of the two drug transactions. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court erred in refusing to suppress evidence related to one of the drug transactions on the grounds that the evidence was obtained as a result of a recorded transaction within his home without an electronic intercept order issued prior to the transaction. Petitioner argued that this conduct violated State v. Mullens, 650 S.E.2d 169 (W. Va. 2007), and was not in compliance with the Electronic Interception of Conduct or Oral Communications in the Home Act. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that exigent circumstances prevented law enforcement officers from obtaining an order authorizing the use of an audio/video recorder in Petitioner's home. View "State v. Howells" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court resentencing Petitioner to not less than ten nor more than twenty-five years in prison, holding that the sentence did not shock the conscience and was not disproportionate to the crime. For appeal purposes, Petitioner was resentenced subsequent to his guilty plea to a charge of failure to provide sex offender registration change of information. In this appeal, Petitioner argued that his sentence shocked the conscience and was disproportionate to the offense. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner's sentence does not shock the conscience; and (2) Petitioner failed to establish that his sentence is disproportionate. View "State v. Patrick C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for expungement of her felony charge, holding that Petitioner was entitled to mandatory expungement of her felony record under W. Va. Code 60A-4-407(b). Petitioner was a first-time offender whose drug-related offense to which she pled guilty involved distributing less than fifteen grams of marijuana without remuneration. Petitioner served a term of probation and satisfied all requirements of section 60A-4-407(b), and the case against her was dismissed. Petitioner later petitioned for expungement of her felony charge. The circuit court denied the petition on the ground that W. Va. Code 61-11-25 does not allow for the expungement of offenses that are dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea to another offense. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that W. Va. Code 60A-4-402(c) mandates that if a defendant who has been found guilty of a first offense for distributing less than fifteen grams of marijuana without any remuneration and satisfies the conditions of section 60A-4-407 then the defendant is entitled to expungement of any record of her arrest directly connected to the offense. View "State v. A.D." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's recidivist life sentence imposed in connection with Defendant's conviction of second offense failure to register as a sex offender, holding that Defendant's recidivist life conviction, as applied, was unconstitutionally disproportionate. Defendant was sentenced to ten to twenty-five years in prison for his offense. Because of his prior convictions, Defendant received a recidivist life sentence under W. Va. Code 61-11-18(c). Defendant appealed both his conviction and his sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but reversed the sentence, holding (1) the circuit court properly denied Defendant's motions for acquittal based on the sufficiency of the evidence and Defendant's contention that the trial court incorrectly instructed the jury that time was not of the essence of the alleged offense; but (2) the sentence imposed by the trial court for Defendant's offense was unconstitutionally disproportionate under W. Va. Const. art. III, 5 and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. View "State v. Hoyle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court in this case considered two certified questions regarding West Virginia's kidnapping statute, W. Va. Code 61-2-14a. Defendant was indicted for kidnapping. During pretrial proceedings, the parties discussed (1) whether, under Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), the judge or the jury would need to make additional determinations when considering a kidnapping charge and (2) the propriety of special interrogatories to the jury in a kidnapping case. Defendant's trial was continued so that these issues could be brought to the Supreme Court for consideration. The Court answered, for a person convicted of kidnapping, (1) the trial judge, rather than the jury, is vested with the authority under the kidnapping statute to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole; and (2) in the absence of a statutory or constitutional requirement that special interrogatories be submitted to a jury in a kidnapping case, a trial court exceeds its authority and abuses its discretion in submitting special interrogatories to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole. View "State v. Scruggs" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner relief on his second petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief on his three arguments on appeal. Petitioner was convicted of burglary by entering without breaking and other offenses. In his second habeas corpus petition Petitioner raised four grounds for relief. The circuit court summarily dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the errors Petitioner raised in this appeal were either not raised below and therefore waived or were previously and finally adjudicated on the merits and not clearly wrong. View "Lewis v. Ames" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court convicting Petitioner of six counts of sexual assault in the second degree, seven counts of sexual abuse by a custodian, and one count of sexual abuse in the first degree and sentencing Petitioner to a total of 131 to 295 years in prison, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief on any of his assignments of error. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in finding the State properly authenticated its exhibit of Facebook Messenger text messages; (2) the circuit court did not err in denying Petitioner's motion for judgment of acquittal; and (3) Petitioner was not entitled to relief on any of his remaining claims. View "State v. Benny W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court erred in finding that W.Va. Code 61-11-23(b) of the Juvenile Sentencing Reform Act did not apply retroactively to Petitioner's sentence. Petitioner, who was sixteen years old at the time he committed the offenses, was convicted of sexual assault in the first degree and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in a position of trust. The circuit court sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate sentence of thirty-five to seventy-five years of incarceration and fifty years of supervised release. The court further required Petitioner to register as a sexual offender for his lifetime. After the legislature enacted the Act, Petitioner brought this habeas corpus proceeding. The circuit court denied relief. The Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court erred in concluding that the legislature did not intend for section 61-11-23(b) to be applied retroactively; (2) Petitioner failed to establish that the State provided false and perjured testimony; and (3) Petitioner's sentence was not disproportionate. View "Christopher J. v. Ames" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus in which Appellant asserted ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that there were no grounds upon which to find that Appellant's trial counsel was ineffective. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree for fatally shooting his wife. Defendant was sentenced to life with mercy. After the circuit court denied Defendant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus Defendant appealed, raising eight separate instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus. View "Coleman v. Binion" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus asserting ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that there were no grounds upon which to find Petitioner's counsel was ineffective. After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of murder in the first degree. Petitioner's habeas petition asserted numerous grounds to support his claims of ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel. After an omnibus hearing, the circuit court denied the petition. Petitioner appealed, raising eight separate instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner received effective assistance of counsel. View "Coleman v. Binion" on Justia Law