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 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

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of prohibition sought by Petitioner to have the Supreme Court disqualify the Honorable Kurt W. Hall, Judge of the Circuit Court of Upshur County, from presiding over his criminal trial, holding that Judge Hall was not required to recuse himself because the prosecutor intended to call the court clerk as a witness. Petitioner was charged with the felony offense of failure to appear arising from Petitioner’s failure to make an appearance at a pretrial hearing in a previous felony criminal proceeding in which he was the defendant. In preparation for the failure to appear charge, the prosecutor filed a witness list that included the clerk of the circuit court. The prosecutor intended the clerk of court to authenticate records from the prior criminal case. Petitioner moved to recuse Judge Hall because the clerk was going to testify at the trial. Judge Hall denied the motion. Petitioner then filed the instant petition challenging the denial of his recusal motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Judge Hall was not required to recuse himself under the circumstances of this case; and (2) there is no per se disqualification of a presiding judge when the clerk of court is called to testify for the prosecution’s case-in-chief. View "State ex rel. Lewis v. Honorable Kurt W. Hall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court sentencing Petitioner for his convictions of first-degree murder, holding a hostage to file, and two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) Petitioner’s failure to object to the admission of toxicology evidence at trial precluded the Court from addressing the matter in this appeal; (2) the trial court did not err in admitting certain evidence pursuant to Rule 404(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner’s motion to sever the hostage count from the remaining charges; (4) an alleged severance error did not meet the standard for invoking the plain error rule; (5) the trial court did not commit reversible error in responding to jury questions in Petitioner’s absence and the absence of his counsel; and (6) the evidence was sufficient to find Petitioner guilty as to first-degree murder and delivering a controlled substance. View "State v. Sites" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted the writ of prohibition sought by Petitioner, the prosecuting attorney of Jackson County, to prohibit the Circuit Court of Jackson County from enforcing its order suppressing all evidence of text messages between the defendant in the underlying criminal case and an accountant for the company from which she allegedly embezzled $306,000, holding that the circuit court committed a clear error of law in prohibiting the admission at trial of the text messages. The circuit court found that W. Va. R. Evid. 408 precluded the admission of the text messages. On appeal, the State argued that although Rule 408 may be applicable in criminal proceedings, the text messages were not statements made for civil settlement purposes, and therefore, they should have been admitted at trial. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that because the text messages were not exchanged in the context of civil settlement negotiations, the circuit court erred in denying admission of the text messages. View "State ex rel. Franklin v. Honorable R. Craig Tatterson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court sentencing Defendant to a term of incarceration of one to three years for his conviction of threatening to commit a terrorist act, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the circuit court did not err by denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment against him based upon misleading evidence submitted to the grand jury because Defendant failed to make a prima facie showing of willful, intentional fraud; and (2) there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant’s conviction, and therefore, the circuit court did not err in denying Defendant’s post-trial motions seeking a judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. View "State v. Back" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner’s convictions of multiple felony counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, holding that there was no merit to Petitioner’s assignments of error. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court erred by not instructing the jury pursuant to W. Va. Code 60A-4-402(a)(1), not allowing the State to use a peremptory strike in violation of his equal protection rights, refusing to admit into evidence at trial certain exhibits, and denying his motion for a new trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court committed no prejudicial error. View "State v. Wasanyi" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s denial of Petitioner’s petition for writ of prohibition seeking to prohibit the municipal court's prosecution of him, holding that the prosecution of Petitioner pursuant to this complaint was in violation of W. Va. art. VIII, 11 and W Va. Code 8-11-1(a). Petitioner was charged with a criminal complaint issued from the Masontown Municipal Court with ten violations of the West Virginia Code. In his petition, Petitioner argued that he was not prosecuted within the statute of limitations. The circuit court denied the petition. Petitioner appealed, arguing that the prosecution was outside the statute of limitations and raising two issues of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court remanded with instructions that the circuit court grant the writ of prohibition, holding (1) the record was devoid of any evidence that Masontown adopted, as municipal ordinances, any provisions of the West Virginia Code upon which the complaint against Petitioner was based; and (2) therefore, the Municipal Court of Masontown was proceeding in excess of its jurisdiction. View "Lewis v. Municipality of Masontown, W. Va." on Justia Law

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The State breached its plea agreement with Petitioner by failing to remain silent at sentencing. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the State agreed to remain silent at sentencing. During the sentencing hearing, however, the State recommended to the court that consecutive sentences be imposed. The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court sentencing Petitioner to ten to twenty years for each of three sexual abuse convictions, with the sentences to be served consecutively, holding that the State breached the plea agreement and that the appropriate remedy for the breach was specific performance of the agreement in a new sentencing hearing before a different judge. View "State v. Blacka" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of prohibition sought by Scott Smith, Prosecuting Attorney for Ohio County, against the Honorable David J. Sims, Judge of the Circuit Court of Ohio County, seeking to prevent the trial court from enforcing its order vacating Dallas Michael Acoff’s convictions for second-degree murder and malicious wounding and granting a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Petitioner argued as grounds for the writ that the trial court erred in finding that Acoff was diligent in his efforts to secure the trial attendance of Banks, the eyewitness to the homicide who did not testify at trial, and that Banks’ subsequently offered testimony exonerating Defendant would have produced a different outcome at trial. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding that the decision to grant a new trial based on newly discovered evidence was within the sound discretion of the trial court. View "State ex rel. Smith v. Honorable David J. Sims" on Justia Law

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The circuit court erred in admitting evidence seized as the result of an unlawful, warrantless search, a search that failed to satisfy any of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. Petitioner was convicted and sentenced for possession of a controlled substance, cocaine, with intent to deliver. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court erred by admitting evidence seized from his person because the evidence was obtained without a search warrant and that none of the exceptions to the warrant requirement were satisfied. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed Petitioner’s conviction, holding that the evidence was seized unlawfully and that the admission of the evidence was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court remanded the case for a new trial. View "State v. Barefield" on Justia Law