Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of his vehicle. The court held that the officers lawfully continued their investigation after they determined defendant was not carrying a gun because, during the pat down, defendant admitted that he had threatened to shoot a woman. In this case, the officers' request for defendant's identification was a reasonable and lawful extension of their initial investigatory stop. The court also held that the officers then had probable cause to search defendant's vehicle because one of the officers smelled marijuana when defendant opened the car door. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The court held that defendant failed to meet his burden of establishing a fair and just grounds for withdrawal and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion. In this case, the plea hearing transcript belies any contention that defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter his plea, the record contained no evidence that defendant's medication had an effect on his competency, and the timing of defendant's attempted withdrawal was after the presentencing report was prepared. View "United States v. Eller" on Justia Law

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Godinez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and 846, and to possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(i). The prosecution notified the court under 21 U.S.C. 851 that Godinez had a prior Ohio conviction for possession of cocaine. The district court determined that this prior state conviction made Godinez eligible for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment rather than the otherwise applicable five-year mandatory minimum. The Seventh Circuit vacated the Sentence, citing the First Step Act of 2018, 132 Stat. 5194 enacted after the signing of Godinez’s plea agreement but before his sentencing. By failing to recognize the changes implemented by the Act, including the heightened thresholds that must be met for a court to impose increased mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses, the district court premised its sentencing calculations on a mandatory minimum that was twice what it should have been. The oversight constitutes plain error and requires resentencing. View "United States v. Godinez" on Justia Law

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Upon reconsideration, the Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. The court held that defendant's private, person-to-person text messages asking an individual he thought was a minor to send him sexually explicit pictures of herself cannot support a conviction for making a "notice" to receive child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2251(d)(1). The court also held that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that defendant believed the victim was thirteen years old, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the detective's challenged testimony. Therefore, the court reversed defendant's conviction under section 2251(d)(1) and affirmed his convictions under sections 2422(b) and 2251(a). View "United States v. Caniff" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Appellant Darren Wiggins was arrested for possession of drugs; a vial containing an amber liquid with brown chunks suspended in the liquid. The State’s chemist tested the amber liquid, which tested positive for phencyclidine (“PCP”); she did not test or otherwise identify the brown chunks. The chemist also weighed the liquid PCP and brown chunks together and determined that they weighed 17.651 grams. The chemist did not weigh the liquid or the brown chunks separately. At trial, the State presented no evidence regarding the nature of the brown chunks or their relation to the liquid PCP other than their co-location within the same vial. Nonetheless, the jury found Wiggins guilty of Aggravated Possession of PCP under Delaware’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Relevant here, possession of 15 grams or more of PCP, or of any mixture containing any such substance, was classified as a Class B Felony and carried a minimum sentence of two years at Level V incarceration. The parties’ sole focus in this appeal is on whether a rational jury could have concluded that the State met its burden to prove that the liquid PCP and brown chunks in Wiggins’s vial constituted a “mixture” under the statutory scheme. The Delaware Supreme Court held that the meaning of “mixture” within Delaware’s statutory scheme required a showing that the mixture was marketable or usable. As the State presented no evidence concerning what the brown chunks were, that they were in any way associated with liquid PCP, or that they were conventionally sold or used with PCP mixtures, the State made no showing that the liquid PCP and unidentified brown chunks were a marketable or usable drug mixture. Therefore, the Court vacated the conviction for Aggravated Possession of PCP and remanded for sentencing for the lesser-included offense of Misdemeanor Possession of PCP. View "Wiggins v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Dakai Chavis was indicted by grand jury on four counts of trespassing with the intent to peer or peep, four counts of burglary in the second degree, three counts of burglary in the second degree, and one count of theft of a firearm. A jury acquitted Chavis on all but one of the charges, finding him guilty of the second degree burglary of an apartment at 61 Fairway Road in Newark, Delaware. At that address, unlike the other residences identified in the indictment, the police had obtained a DNA sample from a bedroom window. The police sent that sample to an out-of-state laboratory for analysis, and when they later arrested Chavis and swabbed his mouth for DNA, they sent that sample to the same lab. According to one of the lab’s analysts, the evidentiary sample taken from the bedroom window at the burglary scene matched the reference sample taken from Chavis. It was undisputed that several analysts from the lab handled and performed steps in the analytical process on both samples. Even so, before the trial, the State moved in limine for an order declaring that the out-of-state laboratory’s DNA findings would be “admissible via the testimony of [the lead analyst], and that no one else from [the laboratory] needs to appear for trial.” Chavis opposed the motion, citing the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause and 10 Del. C. sec. 4331. The Superior Court agreed with the State and granted its motion. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court's judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Chavis v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal after a jury found Defendant guilty of aggravated assault, holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict. After a trial, the jury found Defendant guilty of aggravated assault. Defendant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the circuit court denied. The court sentenced Defendant to a seven-year term of imprisonment, suspended in favor of probation for three years. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the State proved every element of aggravated assault, and a rational trier of fact could have found Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. View "State v. Ware" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's conviction of defrauding a hotel restaurant when she obtained food from the restaurant without paying, holding that a rational trier of fact could not have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant was convicted of violating Va. Code 18.2-188(b)(2), which makes it unlawful for any person who "without paying therefor, and with the intent to cheat or defraud the owner or keeper to...obtain food from a restaurant or other eating house." On appeal, Defendant argued that the plain language of section 18.2-188(b)(2) requires proof of specific intent to defraud at the time the benefit is received and that the Commonwealth's evidence was insufficient to prove she possessed the intent to defraud at the time she obtained the meal. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 18.2-188(b)(2) required proof that Defendant had the intent to cheat or defraud the hotel restaurant at the time she gained possession of the food; and (2) the trial court did not find the essential element of specific intent beyond a reasonable doubt - that Defendant possessed the intent to cheat or defraud the hotel restaurant at the time she obtained the food. View "Caldwell v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's convictions for aggravated involuntary manslaughter and driving while intoxicated, holding that the Commonwealth presented evidence sufficient to support jury verdicts finding that Defendant had, prior to the accident, self-administered intoxicants that impaired his ability to drive safely. At the close of the Commonwealth's evidence, Defendant moved to strike it on the ground that the Commonwealth had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drugs in his blood were self-administered. The trial court denied the motion, and the jury found Defendant guilty. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's assignments of error relating to the question of whether the drugs found in his blood had been self-administered were without merit. View "Lambert v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing as untimely Defendant's appeal of his convictions, holding that Defendant's immediate appeal was untimely. Defendant was convicted of abduction and assault and battery of a family member. Because the original sentencing order contained a scrivener's error the court entered an amended order adding handwritten notations on the first and last pages. Defendant appealed. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal as untimely, noting that the original order was the final appealable order and that the amended order was entered to correct a scrivener's error. Defendant appealed, arguing that the court of appeals erred in holding that the amended order was not the final order for purposes of noting his appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the original order, and not the amended order, was the final appealable order in this case and that, therefore, Defendant's appeal was untimely. View "Jefferson v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law