Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's conviction of one count of death of a child by a parent, custodian, or guardian by child abuse but reversed the determinate sentence of one hundred years imposed by the circuit court and remanded the matter for resentencing, holding that the circuit court erred in part.On appeal, Petitioner challenged the circuit court's ruling that W. Va. Code 61-8D-2a(c) permits the imposition of a determinate sentence within a range of fifteen years to life. The Supreme Court reversed Petitioner's sentence, holding that the 2017 amendment to the statute established an indeterminate sentence. The Court remanded the case for the circuit court to impose an indeterminate sentence as statutorily required. View "State v. Tusing" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court sentencing Defendant to life in prison without mercy for his first-degree murder conviction and terms of imprisonment for his remaining convictions, holding that the circuit court committed reversible error during Defendant's jury trial.On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court reversibly erred when it dismissed a member of the jury after deliberations began and replaced that juror with an alternate who had been discharged from the case rather than granting a mistrial. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed Defendant's conviction and the sentencing orders, holding that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Defendant's motion for a mistrial. View "State v. Sheffield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the sentencing order of the circuit court in this criminal case, holding that Defendant's right to be present at the imposition of his sentence was violated and that this violation was not harmless error.Defendant pled guilty to three counts of failure to register as a sex offender and one count of fleeing from an officer. During the sentencing hearing, Defendant and his counsel participated by video conference. On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court impermissibly failed to allow him to be physically present for his sentencing hearing, in violation of W. Va. R. Crim. P. 62-3-2, W. Va. R. Crim. P. 43 and both the West Virginia and United States Constitutions. The Supreme Court vacated the sentencing order, holding (1) Defendant's right to be present at the imposition of his sentence was violated; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the error was not harmless. View "State v. Byers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Defendant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying the petition.Defendant was convicted of first-degree robbery, conspiracy, and entry of a dwelling. In his habeas petition, Defendant alleged that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance and that the State violated his constitutional rights by presenting false testimony. The circuit court denied the habeas petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to prove ineffective assistance of counsel and that Defendant's second assignment of error lacked merit. View "Goodman v. Searls" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court sentencing Petitioner to an indeterminate term of incarceration rather than a determinate term under W. Va. Code 61-3C-14b(b) in connection with his conviction of solicitation of a minor, holding that that Petitioner's due process rights were not violated by the imposition of the corrected sentence.Petitioner pled guilty to one count of solicitation of a minor. Upon sentencing, the circuit court misread the statute and erroneously sentenced Petitioner to an indeterminate term of incarceration rather than a determinate term. The Supreme Court reversed the sentencing order. On remand, the circuit court imposed a sentence within the parameters of the statute. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court imposed a more severe sentence than the one originally imposed in violation of his constitutional right to due process. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a circuit court does not violate a defendant’s due process right to appeal when it corrects a sentence that is void ab initio by imposing a more severe punishment that comports with the penalty provided for in the applicable statute. View "State v. Riffle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Petitioner's conviction for first-degree murder and sentence of life imprisonment, holding that the circuit court erred in its determination that evidence regarding Petitioner's conviction for another murder was admissible at his trial pursuant to W. Va. R. Evid. 404(b).On review of Petitioner's convictions, the Supreme Court concluded that an incomplete record did not allow for a determination of whether Petitioner's right to a speedy trial had been violated. On remand, the circuit court ruled that Petitioner's right to a speedy trial was not violated. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case for a new trial, holding that the circuit court erred in admitting the 404(b) evidence and that a limiting instruction given to the jury was not effective to preclude prejudice as a result of the error. View "State v. Combs" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative two questions certified by the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, holding that there is no separate cause of action for excessive force by police officers during the course of arrest within the plain language of W. Va. Const. Art. III, 10.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) West Virginia applies to its constitution the rule established in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), and United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259 (1997), which requires a constitutional claim that is covered by a specific constitutional provision to be analyzed under the standard specific to that provision and not under substantive due process; and (2) in light of Fields v. Mellinger, 851 S.E.2d 789 (W. Va. 2020), a claim for excessive force by police officers brought under W. Va. Const. art. III, 10 is redundant to a claim brought under Article III, Section 6. View "Stepp v. Cottrell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing this complaint alleging violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act (WVHRA), W. Va. Code 5-11-1 to -20, holding that Respondent was not entitled to qualified immunity under the WVHRA, and Petitioner's complaint sufficiently stated her claims.Petitioner, a former commercial driver's license instructor for Respondent, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, filed a complaint alleging that Respondent's decision to terminate her employment was predicated upon illegal age and sex discrimination. The circuit court granted Respondent's motion to dismiss, concluding that Respondent was entitled to qualified immunity and that Petitioner had failed to satisfy the heightened pleading standard. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Petitioner's complaint pleaded sufficient facts to survive a W. Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. View "Judy v. Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed two of Defendant's convictions in this case arising from a fatal drug overdose and remanded the case to the circuit court to resentencing, holding that the convictions violated the constitutional prohibition against putting an individual twice in jeopardy.Defendant was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), delivery of a controlled substance (Fentanyl), conspiracy to commit a felony, drug delivery resulting in death, and possession of Fentanyl. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the circuit court erred in permitting Defendant to be convicted of both delivery of a controlled substance and delivery of a controlled substance causing death; and (2) there was no error in regard to Defendant's remaining two issues. View "State v. Duke" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a certified question from the circuit court by holding that Defendant's conviction for "attempted to commit an assault during the commission of a felony" was a qualifying offense under Sex Offender Registration Act, W. Va. Code 15-12-1 to -10, requiring Defendant to be a lifetime registrant.Defendant pled guilty to one count of attempt to commit a felony and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. At the time of his conviction and sentence Defendant was not required to register as a sex offender. Defendant later entered an Alford/Kennedy plea to two counts of failure to register as a sex offender. Defendant then filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis and motion in arrest of judgment, claiming he was not required to register. The circuit court certified the question to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that the Act required Defendant to register as a sex offender for life because his conviction was based on a proffer that Defendant committed sexual assault in the third degree, which was a qualifying offense under the Act. View "State v. Conn" on Justia Law