Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

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The felony offense of driving on a license revoked for driving under the influence (DUI) does not involve actual or threatened violence. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment under the recidivist statute based upon a predicate felony conviction for unlawful assault and two prior felony convictions for driving while license revoked for DUI. Defendant appealed, arguing that his life sentence was not proportionate because the two prior felony offenses did not involve actual or threatened violence. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s sentence, holding that the recidivist life sentence imposed on Defendant based upon the predicate felony conviction for unlawful assault, together with two prior non-violent felony convictions, violated the proportionality principle in W. Va. Const. art. III, 5. View "State v. Kilmer" on Justia Law

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The circuit court erred in vacating Respondent’s conviction for felony murder and granting him a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence in the form of serology test results on a $20 bill, a $5 bill, and a $1 bill. The test results linked the money to the victim during Respondent’s underlying trial. In 1994, the serology evidence at issue was ordered to be retested, and the circuit court made specific findings regarding the evidence in a prior omnibus proceeding brought by Respondent. In 2016, the circuit court granted Respondent a new trial after an omnibus hearing. Specifically, the circuit court found that the previously adjudicated 1994 DNA results concerning the serology evidence constituted “newly discovered evidence.” The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for reinstatement of the 1987 conviction for felony murder, holding that even if the serology evidence were excluded, there was sufficient evidence presented to the jury to support Respondent’s conviction. View "Terry v. Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for writ of prohibition seeking to prevent enforcement of the circuit court’s order suspending Demetrius Moore’s sentence, holding that the circuit court improperly applied sentencing credit for time served on a prior, unrelated charge. Moore was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of two to fifteen years in connection with his plea of guilty to one count of delivery of a controlled substance and second offense felony recidivism. Moore filed a motion for reconsideration seeking to have his sentence suspended. The circuit court ultimately granted the motion and applied credit for time served for a prior, unrelated domestic battery charge. The Supreme Court granted the State’s requested writ, holding (1) W. Va. Code 61-11-24 allows for the granting of credit for time served only on a sentence imposed by the court for the term of confinement “awaiting such trial and conviction”; and (2) in this case, the circuit court directly contradicted the language of the statute and court precedent. View "State ex rel. State v. Honorable David J. Sims" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether double jeopardy principles were violated by Petitioners’ respective convictions for three counts of robbery in the first degree. Petitioners, three defendants, were tried together before a jury. Each was convicted on charges of one count of burglary, three counts of robbery in the first degree, three counts of assault during the commission of a felony, and one count of conspiracy. The Supreme Court reversed Petitioners’ respective sentencing orders and remanded the cases to the circuit court for entry of new sentencing orders, holding that, under the facts of this case, Petitioners should have been indicted, tried and convicted on only a single count of robbery in the first degree. View "State v. Henson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner relief in his petition for a writ of error coram nobis and remanded the case for further proceedings. Petitioner entered a Kennedy plea of guilty to the felony crime of unlawful assault. A few days before Petitioner was set to be released from prison, the Department of Homeland Security notified him that, as a result of his felony conviction, he would be processed for deportation to the place of his birth, Jamaica. During the pendency of the deportation proceedings, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to inform him that his guilty plea to unlawful assault would result in his being deported from the United States. The circuit court ultimately denied relief. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s order and granted Petitioner coram nobis relief, holding that, under the facts of this case, Petitioner satisfied the four-part test for coram nobis relief. The court directed that, upon remand, Petitioner will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and stand trial for the offenses for which he was indicted. View "State v. Hutton" on Justia Law

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The circuit court exceeded its jurisdiction in sua sponte dismissing the indictment charging Respondent with the felony offense of threatening to commit a terrorist act. A Brooke County grand jury returned a single count indictment charging that Defendant committed the felony offense of threats to commit a terroristic act. Although defense counsel did not file a motion to dismiss the indictment, the circuit court entered an order, sua sponte, dismissing the indictment with prejudice. The State filed a petition for a writ of prohibition seeking to prohibit enforcement of the circuit court’s order. The Supreme Court concluded that relief in prohibition was warranted and, therefore, prohibited enforcement of the order dismissing the indictment, holding that the circuit court’s action deprived the State of its right to prosecute a criminal case or deprived the State of a valid conviction. View "State ex rel. State v. Honorable Ronald E. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted in part and denied in part a petition for a writ of prohibition filed by the State seeking to have the court prohibit enforcement of an order of the circuit court that allowed Respondent to testify at his criminal trial about the sexual history of his adolescent victim, M.Y. Respondent was indicted on several counts of sexual assault and sexual abuse. Respondent filed two motions seeking to introduce evidence of M.Y.’s sexual history. The trial court granted the motions. The Supreme Court (1) prohibited enforcement of that part of the circuit court’s order allowing Respondent to introduce evidence that M.Y. accused another man of sexual assault when she was eleven years old, holding that the evidence Respondent sought to introduce is not relevant; but (2) denied the State’s request to prohibit enforcement of that part of the circuit court’s order permitting Respondent to cross-examine M.Y. about whether she told him she had sex with anyone else during the seventy-two hour period prior to his purchase of the Plan B pill, holding that the State sought to introduce inadmissible evidence and that Respondent should be permitted to rebut that evidence with inadmissible evidence as authorized by the circuit court. View "State ex rel. Harvey v. Honorable John C. Yoder" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted two petitions for writs of prohibition, one sought by the State to prohibit enforcement of an order of the circuit court that reduced the criminal sentence of James Wilkerson, the other sought by the State to prohibit enforcement of an order of the circuit court that reduced the criminal sentence of Robert McFarland. The Supreme Court granted both petitions, holding (1) prohibition was appropriate to preclude enforcement of the circuit court’s order reducing Wilkerson’s sentence because the State did not receive notice and an opportunity to be heard on Wilkerson’s motion to reduce his sentence; and (2) the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to reduce McFarland’s sentence because the W. Va. R. Crim. P. 35(b) motion that McFarland relied upon to obtain relief was untimely. View "State ex rel. State v. Honorable David J. Sims" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s order sentencing defendant for five separate violations of W.Va. Code 61-8C-3. Defendant pleaded guilty to five counts relating to his possession of material visually depicting a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct in violation of the statute. On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court erred when it ruled that Defendant’s possession of five individual VHS tapes containing child pornography subjected him to five separate violations of the child pornography statute. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that, based on the unit of prosecution as set forth by the plain language of section 61-8C-3, Defendant’s possession of five VHS tapes subjected him to one violation of the statute. The court remanded the matter to the circuit court for entry of a new sentencing order. View "State v. Dubuque" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for kidnapping his ex-girlfriend and his sentence of life without parole. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion (1) in allowing the State’s expert witness to present testimony that domestic violence victims are often more compliant with their abusers out of fear, not consent; and (2) by admitting into evidence Defendant’s previous conviction for second-degree domestic assault against the same ex-girlfriend. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because Defendant failed timely and specifically to object to the expert witness’s testimony, Defendant waived this issue for appellate review; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting into evidence Defendant’s previous conviction. View "State v. Blickenstaff" on Justia Law