Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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Dr. Ralph Smith Jr. was arrested and indicted in a murder-for-hire plot in 2012. He was eventually committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, where he had been treated for mental illness. Soon after his arrival at Whitfield, the facility’s director recommended Dr. Smith’s illness required continual, involuntary treatment and that he should remain committed at the facility. Dr. Smith disagreed with the recommendation and has contested his commitment to Whitfield at every step. Most recently, Dr. Smith filed a habeas petition and motion for relief from the chancellor’s ruling that ordered his continued inpatient treatment. Dr. Smith argued he was improperly confined and should have been released immediately or discharged to an outpatient facility. The chancellor denied his petition and motion for relief. On appeal, Smith argued his habeas petition was wrongly denied and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health lacked standing to oppose his requests. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that during the pendency of this appeal, Dr. Smith was discharged from Whitfield to an outpatient facility. So the relief he requests in this appeal could no longer be granted; the Court thus dismissed his appeal as moot. View "Smith v. Mississippi Dept. of Mental Health" on Justia Law

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Justin Blakeney was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death after a trial in Jones County before Greene County jurors. On August 10, 2010, twenty-six-year-old Justin Barrett Blakeney called 911, stating that two-year-old Victoria Viner (“V.V.”) had become unresponsive. Blakeney and Lidia Viner, V.V.’s mother, had been dating for approximately eight months at that time. Viner was a noncitizen of the United States. Blakeney and Viner had been living together for approximately six months. V.V. had attended daycare when Blakeney first moved in, but Blakeney had been keeping V.V. at home for around two months because he did not have a job and the couple needed to save money. One day, V.V. complained of headaches and collapsed, prompting a 9-1-1 call. Doctors found V.V. had head injuries consistent with hits to the head. Blakeney was arrested in connection with the child's eventual death. Blakeney was charged with felonious child abuse; Viner was charged with negligence, given probation, and deported. Pre-trial publicity surrounding this case prompted a change in venue. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined reversible error occurred in the denial of Blakeney’s opportunity to present a complete defense, by allowing evidence and testimony obtained from informants working as State agents, and through prosecutorial misconduct. It therefore reversed Blakeney’s conviction and sentence and remanded his case for a new trial on the merits. View "Blakeney v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Curtis Flowers was indicted on four counts of capital murder with the underlying felony of armed robbery, stemming from the 1996 murders of four employees of Tardy Furniture Store in Winona, Mississippi. After six trials, he was convicted on all four counts of capital murder and sentenced to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and death sentence (“Flowers VI”). Flowers filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. In Flowers v. Mississippi, 136 S. Ct. 2157 (2016), the Supreme Court granted Flowers’s petition, vacated the Mississippi Supreme Court’s judgment in Flowers VI, and remanded the case to Mississippi for further consideration in light of Foster v. Chatman, 136 S. Ct. 1737 (2016). The Supreme Court decided “Foster” after Flowers VI had been decided. Because the sole issue raised in Foster was whether the prosecution’s use of peremptory strikes was racially motivated in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the Supreme Court’s order pertained to only one issue raised by Flowers in his latest appeal to the Mississippi Court - the Batson issue. Accordingly, the remaining issues addressed by the Court in Flowers VI were not disturbed and the Mississippi Court’s opinion as to the remaining issues was reinstated. After review and further consideration in light of Foster, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no Batson violation and reinstated and affirmed Flowers’s convictions and death sentence. View "Flowers v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Terry Pitchford was convicted of capital murder in February 2006 and sentenced to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Pitchford thereafter filed a motion for leave to file a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR), arguing, inter alia, he had not received a competency hearing in violation of Rule 9.06 of the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court Practice. The Supreme Court granted Pitchford’s motion in part and ordered the trial court to conduct a retrospective competency hearing. Before the hearing was conducted, a majority of the Supreme Court held that retrospective competency hearings did not satisfy the purpose of Rule 9.06. Despite this ruling, Pitchford’s retrospective competency hearing took place in May 2015. The trial court found that Pitchford was competent to stand trial in February 2006 and denied Pitchford’s PCR motion. Pitchford appealed, arguing the retrospective competency hearing was: (1) an inadequate remedy for purposes of Rule 9.06; and (2) the State’s experts did not apply the proper standard for competency to stand trial. Finding no merit to these claims, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court denying the PCR petition. View "Pitchford v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Kendall Martin was convicted of possession of more than one kilogram of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was sentenced as a subsequent drug offender and as a nonviolent habitual offender to sixty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Martin argued that the trial court erred by admitting the evidence because the initial traffic stop was not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, and the stop was unreasonably extended in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Martin also argues that the State failed to prove that he was a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-81, and that the trial court erred in sentencing him as such. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Martin’s conviction and sentence. View "Martin v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Marvin Carver was the passenger in a vehicle not owned by him in which marijuana was found in the rear of the trunk. Although Nicholas Ingram, Carver’s half-brother who had been driving the vehicle, took full ownership of the contraband, Carver was convicted of possession of marijuana. Because the State presented insufficient evidence to support Carver’s conviction, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and rendered judgment. View "Carver v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Sitting as “thirteenth juror,” the Court of Appeals reversed Marlon Little’s convictions and remanded for a new trial, finding the weight of the evidence preponderated heavily against the verdict. Despite its prior language suggesting otherwise, neither the Mississippi Supreme Court nor the Court of Appeals assumes the role of juror on appeal. Nurse practitioner David Ellis was attacked from behind and robbed while leaving his medical clinic. Ellis reacted by swinging his computer bag at the assailant’s head. During the struggle, Ellis fell down, and his attacker also stumbled. Ellis was on the ground when his attacker stuck a gun in Ellis’s face. Ellis saw the man “square in the face” from about three feet away. The man demanded Ellis’s wallet. Ellis complied. And the man fled. When Ellis took the stand, he stated clearly and unequivocally that Little was man who robbed him. The jury found him guilty of armed robbery and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment for armed robbery and ten years’ for felon-in-possession, with his sentences to run concurrently. After his post-trial motions for judgment not withstanding the verdict and for a new trial were denied, he timely appealed. The appellate court majority found Ellis’s initial identification conflicted with Little’s “actual physical attributes, including age and build.” And because Ellis’s identification of Little as the robber was the only substantive evidence against Little, the majority found a new trial was warranted. The Supreme Court took an opportunity to clarify that neither it nor the Court of Appeals ever acted as “juror” on direct appeal. “We sit as an appellate court, and as such are ill equipped to find facts. [E]ven if we wanted to be fact finders, our capacity for such is limited in that we have only a cold, printed record to review.” The Court found no reason to disturb Little’s guilty verdict. Therefore, the Curt reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Little v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In 2015, William Wells shot and killed Kendrick Brown on the steps of the Madison County Mississippi Courthouse. He was convicted by jury of first-degree murder. On appeal, Wells argued: (1) the trial court violated his due process rights when its in limine orders denied him a fair opportunity to defend himself against the State's accusations; (2) the trial court deprived him a fundamental right to assert his theory of self-defense; (3) the trial court erroneously defined "self-defense,"; (4) the trial court erred in barring Wells' theory of the case as to manslaughter; and (5) the trial court erred in granting the State's motions in limine. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Wells' conviction. View "Wells v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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The City of Meridian filed a petition for forfeiture against Maria Catalan after police found $104,690 in her truck during a traffic stop. Catalan filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, which the county court granted. The Circuit Court affirmed. The City appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. Having granted certiorari, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals’ dissent that the City’s forfeiture petition satisfied the notice pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court also agreed with the Court of Appeals’ dissent that in deciding the Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the county court considered matters outside the City’s petition: the court also considered matters outside the pleadings for purposes of Rule 12(c), which allowed for a judgment on the pleadings. In doing so, the county court in effect converted the Rule 12(b)(6) and/or 12(c) motion into a motion for summary judgment, as provided in Rule 56 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56(c) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure requires at least ten days’ notice to both parties that the court is converting the motion, which did not occur in this instance. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals as well as the county court’s order, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "City of Meridian v. $104,960.00 U.S. Currency et al." on Justia Law

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After probation was revoked and he was sentenced to serve the full five years of his suspended sentence, Demario Walker filed a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR). The circuit court dismissed Walker’s petition, and Walker appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the circuit court. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted certiorari review and held that the Court of Appeals did not err in finding: (1) the circuit court had jurisdiction and authority to revoke Walker’s probation; (2) Walker was afforded due process at his revocation hearing; and (3) revocation of Walker’s probation was proper. However, the Court of Appeals did err in finding that the circuit court’s sentencing Walker to serve the full, five-year term of his suspended sentence was improper. Therefore, in affirming in part and reversing in part, the Supreme Court reinstated and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "Walker v. Mississippi" on Justia Law