Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

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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

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified to it by the circuit court after reformulating the question, holding that a jury may consider images of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct contained in the temporary Internet cache files on a defendant's computer as evidence of a violation of W.Va. Code 61-8C-3(a). Respondent was charged with one count of violating section 61-8C-3. The circuit court certified a question to the Supreme Court. The Court reformulated the question and answered in the affirmative, holding (1) images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct found in temporary Internet cache files on a defendant's computer are contraband in a prosecution for a violation of section 61-8C-3(a) on a theory of constructive possession if the State's evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew of the cached images and exercised dominion and control over them; and (2) if the State cannot prove that the defendant knew of the cached images and exercised dominion and control over them, the images are still circumstantial evidence the State may use to prove that the defendant violated section 61-8C-3(a). View "State v. Beck" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence for one count of delivery of a controlled substance, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. After Defendant was convicted, a trial was conducted pursuant to the procedures contained in W. Va. Code 61-11-19, and Defendant was found to have been previously convicted of two prior felony offenses. The circuit court then sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment on the predicate delivery of heroin charge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction; (2) a criminal defendant who has been twice convicted and sentenced for crimes punishable by confinement in a penitentiary but has not discharged such prior penitentiary sentences and is subsequently convicted of a third crimes punishable by confinement in a penitentiary is subject to an enhanced sentence under the recidivist statute, W. Va. Code 61-11-18 and -19; and (3) the life sentence under the recidivist statute did not violate proportionality principles. View "State v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding that Petitioner was not denied due process or effective assistance of trial counsel when he did not receive a sex offender evaluation pursuant to W.Va. Code 62-12-2(e). Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse by a parent. Petitioner later filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging due process violations and ineffective assistance of counsel based on his allegation that neither his attorney nor the circuit court informed him that the State would have provided a sex offender evaluation at no cost to him. The circuit court denied habeas relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief because he failed to prove that he was deprived of due process by his failure to undergo a sex offender evaluation or that the outcome of his sentencing hearing would have been different so as to establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Christopher H. v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Petitioner's second amended motion for writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err. Petitioner pled guilty by information to first-degree murder. Petitioner later filed his second amended habeas petition asserting (1) his guilty plea by information was illegal under the West Virginia Constitution and Rule 7 of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure because he faced a life sentence; (2) his guilty plea was involuntary; and (3) his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) while the guilty plea by information did not comport with Rule 7, Petitioner waived his argument as to that irregularity when he waived his constitutional right to an indictment; (2) Petitioner's guilty plea was voluntary; and (3) Petitioner failed to establish deficient performance by trial counsel. View "Montgomery v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Petitioner's conviction for attempted first-degree murder under a felony-murder theory ("attempted felony-murder"), holding that there is no cognizable crime of attempted felony-murder in West Virginia. Petitioner was indicted on eight counts, including attempting first-degree murder. The day before the trial, the State indicated that it would pursue the theory of attempted felony-murder against Petitioner. The circuit court allowed the State to proceed with attempted first-degree-felony-murder. After hearing all of the evidence presented at trial, the jury convicted Petitioner on the charge of attempted felony-murder. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the crime of attempted felony-murder does not exist in the state. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed Petitioner's conviction, holding that attempted felony-murder is not a cognizable crime under West Virginia law because the crime of attempt requires as one of its elements the specific intent to commit the underlying substantive crime and the only way that the transferred intent of felony-murder is achieved is if an actual homicide occurs. View "State v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's felony conviction for two counts of delivery of a controlled substance but reversed the circuit court's order sentencing him to life in prison with mercy in accordance with the recidivist statute, W. Va. Code 61-11-18, holding that the sentence violated the proportionality clause of the state Constitution. The circuit court imposed a recidivist life sentence based upon Petitioner's conviction for delivery of a controlled substance and two prior felony convictions for unlawful wounding and conspiracy to commit the felony of transferring stolen property. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but reversed the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to convict Petitioner of two counts of delivery of a controlled substance; but (2) the imposition of a life sentence with mercy was unwarranted and an abuse of discretion. View "State v. Lane" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting relief to the State in a writ of prohibition proceeding, holding that the circuit court applied the correct statute in order to grant relief to the State. The order of the circuit court at issue prohibited enforcement of a magistrate's order that granted deferred adjudication to Petitioner in a criminal prosecution for driving under the influence (DUI), second offense. The State filed a petition for a writ of prohibition asking the circuit court to prohibit enforcement of the magistrate's order. The circuit court found that the State was entitled to the writ because W. Va. Code 17C-5-2(r) and 17C-5-2b do not permit suspension of a sentence for a DUI offense or participation in the deferral program by defendants charged with second offense DUI. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a person charged with DUI under W. Va. Code 17C, 5 may only seek deferred adjudication as permitted by section 17C-5-2b and that the deferred adjudication allowed under W. Va. Code 61-11-22a is not available to a person charged with a DUI offense. View "State v. Honorable Debra Ditto" on Justia Law