Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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Following the death of his four-month-old daughter and his subsequent indictment for murder, Joshua Clark was convicted of depraved-heart murder. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Dr. Karen Lakin, a pediatrician who opined that the daughter's death resulted from Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) (now referred to as Abusive Head Trauma (AHT)). The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Clark’s conviction after finding that crucial parts of Dr. Lakin’s testimony were unreliable and therefore inadmissible. The Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed with the conclusion of the Court of Appeals that Dr. Lakin’s opinion testimony was inadequately supported to meet the reliability prong of the Daubert standard and was thus improperly admitted. Instead, the Court found the circuit court did not err by admitting Dr. Lakin’s testimony. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed, and the judgment of the trial court was reinstated and affirmed. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found Clark’s six additional assignments of error not previously addressed by the Court of Appeals were without merit. View "Clark v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Darron Thames was indicted by grand jury for conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact to murder. Thames was acquitted by a jury of the conspiracy charge, but he was found guilty of accessory after the fact to murder under Mississippi Code Section 97-1-5 (Rev. 2014). Thames appealed his conviction claiming he was unfairly prejudiced by the State’s use of impeachment evidence and transcript testimony of a prosecution witness who had previously testified at a guilty-plea proceeding and at another trial. Thames further claimed his conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence, and that the jury’s guilty verdict was not supported by overwhelming weight of evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Thames’s conviction. View "Thames v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Cephus Terry was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to sell, possession of methamphetamine, possession of Tramadol, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. He was convicted on all five counts, and the circuit court sentenced him as a habitual offender to serve forty-six years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. The trial court denied his motion for a new trial, and the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed. A majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury's verdict. Additionally, Terry’s argument that the trial judge erred by improperly instructing the jury as to the issue of constructive possession was subject to a procedural bar. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Terry v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Kadedria Hampton appealed her convictions for two counts of felony child abuse for burning and starving a minor child. She claimed on appeal that there constitutional right to be present at every stage of her jury trial was violated, and that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient to support either of her convictions. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no merit to Hampton's claim her right to be present at trial was violated. Nor did the Court find the State presented insufficient evidence to support a conviction for felonious starvation of a minor child. The Court did find, however, the State presented insufficient evidence to support Hampton's conviction of the felonious burning of a minor child. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hampton v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Keith Havard was convicted by jury and sentenced to death for capital murder. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted Havard’s third petition for post-conviction relief and allowed him to proceed in the trial court based on his claim that newly discovered evidence pertaining to shaken-baby syndrome required a new trial and vacating his death sentence. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge determined that Havard failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that new evidence existed that would have caused a different result as to his guilt or innocence. But the trial judge did vacate Havard’s death sentence and resentenced him to life without parole. Havard appealed the trial judge’s denial of a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Havard v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jason Keller robbed and murdered Hat Nguyen in her Biloxi, Mississippi convenience store. A jury later convicted him of capital murder and sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the conviction. On May 25, 2017, the Court granted Keller’s motion for leave to proceed in the trial court with a petition for post-conviction relief. Keller argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and discover significant mitigating evidence. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge entered an order denying Keller’s request for a new sentencing hearing before a newly empaneled jury. Keller appealed. Based on the strong presumption that trial counsel provided adequate assistance and on the highly deferential standard of review, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined trial judge did not clearly err by finding that trial counsel provided adequate assistance. "[T]he trial judge did not ignore evidence or conjure a tactical decision for trial counsel. Any error in conducting factual research beyond what was in the record was harmless error." View "Keller v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury found Joseph Patrick "Peanut" Brown shot and killed a convenience store clerk during a robbery. He was sentenced to death, and had been on death row since 1994. Brown filed a successive petition for post-conviction relief in which he raised numerous issues. Most of the claims raised at this point were subject to the time bar, the successive-writ bar, and/or were barred by res judicata. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the remaining issue was without merit. The successive petition was therefore denied. View "Brown v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Andrew McGraw appealed his conviction for forcible rape. The victim, SR, was a thirty-three-year-old woman with a standing condition of bacterial meningitis. She contracted bacterial meningitis as a two-year-old; the infection was "neurologically devastating." SR weighed less than fifty pounds, and spent most of her time bent in a fetal position. Muscles in her upper and lower body were severally underdeveloped. SR could not walk or talk. She required twenty-four-hour care and supervision. After SR's mother took SR to the hospital for a checkup, it was discovered SR was pregnant. Some time after SR’s admittance, her mother requested that SR’s child be terminated. The hospital Ethics Committee met and found this was an appropriate course of action. Three days later, SR was induced into labor. The child was born unresponsive. Individuals with access to SR's home were identified; in addition to the DNA samples from five men, DNA samples were also taken from the deceased child. After testing the samples, the laboratory was able to say with 99.999999998 percent certainty that Andrew McGraw fathered his daughter’s child. McGraw was indicted on one count of forcible rape and one count of incest; he was tried and convicted on both counts. He appealed only the rape charge, arguing the State failed to provide sufficient evidence to establish that his victim was incapable of consenting to intercourse. After examining the record, the Mississippi Supreme Court found there was sufficient evidence and affirmed McGraw's conviction. View "McGraw v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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William Wilson was charged with capital murder and felonious child abuse. A trial court set aside William Wilson's death sentence, but not his guilty plea. Wilson did not appeal that decision in the time allowed under Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 4. Wilson argued that the failure to file an appeal was through no fault of his own and that good caused existed to grant his out- of-time appeal. The circuit court found that it did not have jurisdiction to grant the out-of- time appeal or, in the alternative, that Wilson had failed to demonstrate that good cause existed to grant an out-of-time appeal. Wilson appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined Wilson’s attorney failed to advise him regarding his right to appeal the trial court’s refusal to set aside his guilty plea. The attorney also advised him that he was no longer his attorney. Wilson, therefore, not knowing he could appeal the refusal to set aside the guilty plea, and believing that he did not have an attorney, failed to timely perfect his appeal. The Supreme Court granted Wilson’s application for an out-of-time appeal and allowed the case to proceed on the merits. View "Wilson v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Kasey Boomer Kelly was convicted of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. Kelly appealed his conviction, claiming that his constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated and that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. After review of the trial court record, the Mississippi Supreme Court found Kelly's constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated because he failed to assert that right and because he failed to demonstrate that he was prejudiced by the delay. The Court also found the State presented sufficient evidence to show constructive possession of the weapon. Therefore, the Court affirmed Kelly's conviction and sentence. View "Kelly v. Mississippi" on Justia Law