Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's requested writ of prohibition prohibiting the circuit court from enforcing a ruling that found an audio/video recording of a voluntary statement made to law enforcement officers by H.D., the defendant in the underlying criminal proceeding, violated H.D.'s privilege against self-incrimination, holding that a defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination is not violated by the admission into evidence and/or publication to the jury during a criminal proceeding of an audio/video recording of the defendant's voluntary statement made to law enforcement officers. Because H.D. was in a non-custodial setting when he made his incriminating statement and affirmatively waived his rights, H.D. may not now assert the privilege against self-incrimination in his criminal proceeding to avoid the admission into evidence and/or publication to the jury of that recording. View "State ex rel. Wade v. Honorable David W. Hummel, Jr." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Petitioner's kidnapping convictions and affirmed his remaining convictions, holding that the indictment omitted an essential element of the crime of kidnapping. A grand jury indicted Petitioner on two counts of kidnapping, three counts of wanton endangerment, and one count of breaking and entering. A jury convicted Petitioner on all counts. Petitioner moved for a new trial, arguing that counts one and two of the indictment omitted the essential element of "transportation" of the crime of kidnapping. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court vacated the part of the circuit court's order as to Petitioner's kidnapping convictions and otherwise affirmed, holding that the indictment omitted an essential element of the crime of kidnapping, which rendered the kidnapping counts of the indictment insufficient under W. Va. Const. art. III, 14 and W. Va. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). View "State v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered four certified questions regarding West Virginia's conspiracy statute contained in the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, W. Va. Code 60A-4-414 and remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings. Petitioner was indicted for the offense of conspiracy. Only one other con-conspirator was named in the indictments. As to the certified questions, the Supreme Court held (1) an indictment alleging a conspiracy involving a single defendant and only one other co-conspirator is sufficient to put the defendant on notice that he may be held responsible under section 60A-4-414(f) for the quantity of drugs delivered or possessed with intent to deliver solely by the co-conspirator to other persons not named in the indictment; (2) for purposes of a crime under section 60A-4-414(b), section 60A-4-414(f) requires that overt acts have to be in furtherance of the conspiracy before the trier of fact can attribute to the defendant all of the controlled substances possessed with intent to deliver or manufacture by other participants or members of the conspiracy; and (3) the amount of substances attributable to a Defendant under section 60A-4-414(b) is subject to the foreseeability principles of Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640 (1946). The final certified question answered a question about conflict of interest. View "State v. Legg" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Petitioner's conviction for one count of second-degree murder and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the circuit court erred in instructing the jury for both second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. A jury convicted Petitioner of second-degree murder, and the circuit court sentenced Petitioner to the maximum term of forty years in prison. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the circuit court erred in instructing the jury that it could convict Petitioner of second-degree murder if it found intent to kill or to cause great bodily injury; and (2) the circuit court erred in instructing the jury that it could not convict Petitioner of voluntary manslaughter as a lesser included offense of second-degree murder without proof of sudden provocation and heat of passion. View "State v. Drakes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated a 2018 sentencing order entered by the circuit court after a third trial that failed to suspend Petitioner's sentence of ten to twenty-five years' incarceration in favor of probation, holding that the sentence was an impermissible increase in penalty under State v. Eden, 256 S.E.2d 868 (W. Va. 1979). In 2014, Petitioner was convicted of attempted sexual abuse in the first degree and sexual assault in the second degree. For sexual assault in the second degree, Petitioner was sentenced to ten to twenty-five years' incarceration, suspended in favor of five years' probation. The Supreme Court reversed the convictions and remanded for a new trial. A second trial ended in a mistrial. In 2018, after a third trial, Petitioner was again convicted of attempted sexual abuse in the first degree and sexual assault in the second degree. In its new sentencing order, the circuit court failed to suspend the sentence of ten to twenty-five years' incarceration in favor of probation. The Supreme Court vacated the 2018 sentencing order, holding that the sentence violated Petitioner's due process rights. View "State v. Varlas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for incest, sexual assault in the third degree, and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or person in a position of trust to a child, holding that there was no error. Defendant's first trial resulted in a hung jury, and his second trial resulted in a conviction on nine counts. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions, holding (1) the first trial did not result in Defendant's acquittal based on the circuit court's manner of polling the jury; (2) the circuit court did not err when it continued Defendant's first trial past the first term of court over Defendant's objection; (3) there was no error in the circuit court's decision to allow the jury to hear the State's DNA evidence; (4) the circuit court did not err in refusing to dismiss a juror who admitted to knowing the victim and the prosecutor; and (5) the doctrine of cumulative error did not apply in Defendant's case. View "State v. Jeremy S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Defendant's' motion to dismiss the indictment in his case, holding that West Virginia's felon in possession of a firearm statute is not void for vagueness. Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to the charge of felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant later appealed the order of the circuit court denying his motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing (1) the felon in possession of a firearm statute, W. Va. Code 61-7-7(b), is void for vagueness; or (2) in the alternative, the predicate statute that served as the basis for his conviction was not a crime of violence against the person of another. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 61-7-7(b) is constitutional; and (2) a prior felony conviction for wanton endangerment in the first degree is a crime of violence against the person of another within the meaning of section 61-7-7(b). View "State v. Mills" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming Defendant's conviction for one count of domestic battery, holding that law enforcement officers' entry into Defendant's home was reasonable under the emergency doctrine exception to the warrant requirement. After a magistrate court jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of domestic battery of his wife and sentenced to ten days in jail. The circuit court affirmed, holding that the officers' entry into Defendant's home fell under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment and that, therefore, the officers acted reasonably. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the warrantless entry into Defendant's home fell within the emergency doctrine exception to the warrant requirement; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to reversal on his remaining allegations of error. View "State v. Rexrode" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed an order of the circuit court sentencing Defendant for one count of assault in the commission of a felony and one count of burglary, holding that Defendant waived his sole assignment of error on appeal. On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court erred during his sentencing hearing in considering a previously expunged charge in its decision to incarcerate him instead of placing him on probation. In response, the State argued that Defendant failed timely to object in the proceeding below. The Supreme Court agreed with the State, holding that that Defendant waived his assignment of error. View "State v. Bleck" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the decision of the circuit court denying Petitioner's motion for a new trial, holding that the circuit court's jury instruction on the crime of kidnapping was incomplete. A jury found Petitioner guilty of kidnapping, malicious assault, commission of an assault during the commission of a felony, and domestic battery. Petitioner moved for a new trial, arguing that the circuit court incorrectly instructed the jury on kidnapping because the court erroneously omitted from its instruction that "transport" is an element of kidnapping under W. Va. Code 61-14a-2(a)(2). The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order denying Petitioner's motion for a new trial on kidnapping and commission of an assault during the commission of a felony and remanded the case for entry of an order granting a new trial to Petitioner, holding that the circuit court's instruction on kidnapping was fundamental error. View "State v. Woodrum" on Justia Law