Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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Prisoner Timothy Pryer filed an action in chancery court against the Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department and the Itawamba County Circuit Clerk. Pryer claimed that the defendants wrongfully had denied him access to public records under the Mississippi Public Records Act, entitling him to civil damages. More than three years after filing the complaint, Pryer filed a motion for leave to amend it to add a Public Records Act claim against Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner, III. Pryer alleged that, in deeming his public records request a motion for post-conviction relief, and then denying it, Judge Gardner had violated the Public Records Act, entitling Pryer to civil damages. The Chancery Court of Itawamba County granted Judge Gardner’s motion to dismiss, and Pryer appealed. Because Pryer’s claim against Judge Gardner was barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of his amended complaint. View "Pryer v. Gardner" on Justia Law

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Damion Pace was indicted for one count of burglary, two counts of kidnapping, one count of forcible rape, and one count of extortion. The jury acquitted Pace of forcible rape, but convicted him of one count of extortion, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of robbery, a crime for which Pace had not been indicted. The Circuit Court sentenced him to twenty years for robbery, twenty years for each of the kidnappings, and ten years for extortion, with the sentences to run consecutively. Pace appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by denying his motion for a directed verdict and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that, because Pace was not indicted for robbery and robbery was not a lesser-included offense of the indicted crime of burglary, the trial court’s entry of a judgment of conviction of robbery was a plain error that required vacation of the robbery conviction and sentence. Therefore, the Court vacated and remanded the robbery conviction and sentence. The Court found no merit to Pace’s other issues. View "Pace v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Damion Pace was indicted for one count of burglary, two counts of kidnapping, one count of forcible rape, and one count of extortion. The jury acquitted Pace of forcible rape, but convicted him of one count of extortion, two counts of kidnapping, and one count of robbery, a crime for which Pace had not been indicted. The Circuit Court sentenced him to twenty years for robbery, twenty years for each of the kidnappings, and ten years for extortion, with the sentences to run consecutively. Pace appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by denying his motion for a directed verdict and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that, because Pace was not indicted for robbery and robbery was not a lesser-included offense of the indicted crime of burglary, the trial court’s entry of a judgment of conviction of robbery was a plain error that required vacation of the robbery conviction and sentence. Therefore, the Court vacated and remanded the robbery conviction and sentence. The Court found no merit to Pace’s other issues. View "Pace v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Willard Marquis was convicted for the sexual battery of a female minor under the age of fourteen. In a pretrial competency hearing, J.D., who was seven at the time, was found to be competent to testify. And a day later, J.D. testified at trial through closed-circuit TV. During the trial, a recording of a forensic interview of J.D. was played before the jury. Also played before the jury was a recording from J.D.’s mother’s cell phone in which J.D. told her mother of the alleged sexual abuse. At the end of the trial, the jury found Marquis guilty. Marquis appealed, arguing: (1) that J.D. was not competent to testify; (2) that the State’s use of a recorded forensic interview of J.D. violated his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him; and (3) that the State’s use of the recorded conversation between J.D. and her mother, along with the recording of the forensic interview, was cumulative evidence which amounted to improper bolstering. Having reviewed the record, the Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed Marquis’s conviction. View "Marquis v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Willard Marquis was convicted for the sexual battery of a female minor under the age of fourteen. In a pretrial competency hearing, J.D., who was seven at the time, was found to be competent to testify. And a day later, J.D. testified at trial through closed-circuit TV. During the trial, a recording of a forensic interview of J.D. was played before the jury. Also played before the jury was a recording from J.D.’s mother’s cell phone in which J.D. told her mother of the alleged sexual abuse. At the end of the trial, the jury found Marquis guilty. Marquis appealed, arguing: (1) that J.D. was not competent to testify; (2) that the State’s use of a recorded forensic interview of J.D. violated his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him; and (3) that the State’s use of the recorded conversation between J.D. and her mother, along with the recording of the forensic interview, was cumulative evidence which amounted to improper bolstering. Having reviewed the record, the Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed Marquis’s conviction. View "Marquis v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Walter Sanford was convicted for aggravated DUI causing death under Mississippi Code Section 63-11-30(5). Having found no appealable issues, Sanford’s counsel filed a “Lindsey” brief. Sanford argued, pro se, insufficiency of the evidence. Finding the conviction was supported by legally sufficient evidence, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Sanford v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jerry Lofton was convicted by jury for murder. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to life without parole. Lofton appealed, claiming he was forced to proceed pro se without knowingly or voluntarily waiving his right to an attorney. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the record was clear Lofton was not left to his own defense as a pro se litigant. Instead, after being warned of the dangers of self-representation, he asked for and received a “hybrid defense.” Lofton made it clear he wished to take the “lead” role in a “co-counsel” arrangement with his court-appointed attorney. And the judge allowed him to proceed in that fashion. Because Lofton “received the best of both worlds—the assistance of counsel while conducting his own defense[,]” he could not now complain that he was wholly pro se or received inadequate warnings. View "Lofton v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Everett Moore of second-degree murder for the 2015 shooting and killing Norris Smith. The Circuit Court sentenced Moore to thirty years’ imprisonment. A majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court determined the trial court erred by denying Moore the circumstantial evidence jury instruction to which he was entitled. Thus, it reversed his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. View "Moore v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In July 2014, a jury found Dominic Robinson guilty of three counts of aggravated assault, and he was sentenced to serve a total of thirty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Robinson appealed his convictions, arguing that the trial court erred in its evidentiary rulings and instructions to the jury and that his convictions were not supported by the weight of the evidence. In addition to those issues, which were raised by the Office of Indigent Appeals, Robinson filed a pro se supplemental brief raising eleven additional assignments of error. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Robinson’s convictions and sentences. View "Robinson v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury sentenced Willie Russell to death for murdering a correctional officer. Russell later claimed he was intellectually disabled and thus could not be executed under Atkins v.Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). In 2014, the trial court set an Atkins hearing to determine if Russell was intellectually disabled. Prior to the hearing, the State moved to assess Russell based on his claimed intellectual disability. But Russell opposed the State’s expert conducting the evaluation; years earlier, Russell had undergone psychological testing ordered in a separate aggravated-assault case. But that testing was for his competency to stand trial, not assessing intellectual disability. Although the State had initially proposed that the 2006 assessment cover both issues, Russell’s attorney also objected back then to the State evaluating Russell’s Atkins claim in that proceeding. So Russell was never evaluated on the specific criteria for intellectual disability under Atkins. The record showd both Russell and the State understood that the 2006 testing would not serve as his complete Atkins assessment. Even the State's expert felt additional testing was required. Still, the trial court denied the State’s motion to evaluate Russell, concluding the prior testing was sufficient. "Consequently, the court’s denial led to what was essentially a one-sided Atkins hearing." At the end of the hearing, the trial court ruled that Russell was intellectually disabled under Atkins and Chase v. Mississippi, 873 So.2d 1013 (Miss. 2004), and vacated his death sentence. The State appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the trial court reversibly erred: the trial judge abused her discretion by denying the State’s well-supported motion to evaluate Russell prior to the Atkins hearing. View "Mississippi v. Russell" on Justia Law