Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
Roddis was convicted of aggravated domestic battery and sentenced to six years in prison. The trial court dismissed as untimely Roddis’s pro se motion for reduction of his sentence that also alleged ineffectiveness of trial counsel. The appellate court upheld the conviction and sentence but remanded for a “Krankel” hearing. On remand, the trial court conducted a “pre-inquiry Krankel hearing” to determine if the allegations of ineffective assistance were founded, at which point the court would appoint separate counsel and proceed to a “full-blown” Krankel hearing. The court conducted a hearing with Roddis and his previous counsel, giving Roddis the opportunity to elaborate on his allegations and allowing counsel to respond. The court ruled that the allegations did not establish ineffective assistance. The appellate court, finding that the trial court should not have decided the merits at that initial hearing, remanded. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, reinstating the trial court judgment. Even in preliminary Krankel inquiries, a trial court must be able to consider the merits in their entirety when determining whether to appoint new counsel on a pro se posttrial claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. This serves both the ends of justice and judicial economy. After scrutinizing the record, the court found that Roddis received effective assistance and was not prejudiced by his attorneys’ performance. The court rightfully exercised its discretion to decline to appoint new counsel to address his pro se posttrial claims. View "People v. Roddis" on Justia Law

by
The Department of State Police revoked Johnson’s Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card under the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act (430 ILCS 65/8(n) due to her conviction for a misdemeanor involving domestic violence. That conviction prohibited her from possessing firearms under federal law. Johnson sought judicial relief. The circuit court held that section 922(g)(9) of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), and several provisions of the FOID Card Act, which incorporate that federal statute, were unconstitutional as applied to Johnson. The court ordered the Department to reissue Johnson’s FOID card. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the judgment on different grounds, vacating the circuit court’s findings that the state and federal statutes are unconstitutional as applied to Johnson. Under the federal Act, “civil rights” include firearm rights and Johnson fits an exemption for those who have had their “civil rights restored” following a conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence. Illinois’s regulatory scheme (430 ILCS 65/10(c)(1)-(3), which affirmatively provides for a “status-altering dispensation” under section 10 of the FOID Card Act sufficiently fulfills Congress’s intent to “defer to a State’s dispensation relieving an offender from disabling effects of a conviction.” Granting Johnson relief is not contrary to federal law. View "Johnson v. Department of State Police" on Justia Law

by
Ashley was convicted of stalking (720 ILCS 5/12-7.3(a)(2), (c)(1) and was sentenced to serve 18 months’ imprisonment. The appellate court and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting his arguments that the provisions of the stalking statute under which he was convicted are facially unconstitutional in violation of the first amendment and substantive due process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. The statute is not unconstitutionally overbroad; it does not criminalize protected speech consisting of threats to engage in lawful, nonviolent behavior. The amended statute requires two or more threats that the defendant knows or should know would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress; the legislature intended that the term “threatens” refers to “true threats” of unlawful violence such as bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, and restraint, as set forth in other subsections. The statute that the accused be consciously aware of the threatening nature of his speech and the awareness requirement can be satisfied by a statutory restriction that requires either an intentional or a knowing mental state. The term “threatens” is readily susceptible to a limiting construction and does not cover negligent conduct. The statute is not susceptible to arbitrary enforcement. View "People v. Ashley" on Justia Law

by
Convicted of the 2014 first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) of his wife, Kathleen, King was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Kathleen’s body was found on railroad tracks near the family’s home. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial, finding that King’s motion for substitution of the judge was properly denied after the judge had made a substantive ruling; that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, such that retrial would not violate double jeopardy principles; that the testimony of a crime scene analyst (Safarik) was inadmissible in its entirety because the opinions he rendered were either beyond his qualification or involved conclusions that the jurors easily could draw for themselves without any expert assistance; that portions of other testimony were unduly inflammatory; and that the state’s comments in closing argument about the reasonable doubt standard were improper. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed in part. The motion for substitution was untimely, coming after the judge ruled on a motion to obtain cell phone records. Safarik’s inadmissible testimony was not harmless. The trial court should have excluded some brief foundational testimony by a friend about the closeness of her relationship with Kathleen and the state improperly attempted to define and dilute its burden of proof during its closing argument. View "People v. King" on Justia Law

by
Alexander Lail appealed from a criminal judgment entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of two counts of attempted murder. Lail argued there was insufficient evidence to support the guilty verdicts. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "North Dakota v. Lail" on Justia Law

by
Gene Hondl appealed from an order that granted the State’s motion to dismiss his “motion for writ of replevin” and dismissed his case with prejudice. On January 23, 2019, Hondl filed a “motion for writ of replevin” to the district court, in addition to filing a notice of motion, motion for evidentiary hearing, motion for appointment of counsel, and a certificate of service. Hondl named the North Dakota and Stark County as defendants (collectively, “the State”), seeking the return of certain personal property seized when he was arrested on drug charges and forfeited in separate civil forfeiture proceedings. Hondl’s certificate of service indicates the documents were served by U.S. Mail on December 28, 2018. On February 19, 2019, a district court entered its order dismissing the matter with prejudice. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court dismissed the case with prejudice without providing any explanation. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the order and remanded for the court to decide the State’s motion to dismiss for insufficiency of service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Hondl v. State, et al." on Justia Law

by
Dowthard pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g). Because of his prior state convictions, he was sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), section 924(e), to 186 months in prison. Although he did not raise the argument in the district court, he argued on appeal that the Supreme Court’s 2019 Rehaif decision invalidated his plea because he was not informed that knowledge of his status as a previously convicted felon was an element of his section 922(g) charge. Alternatively, he disputed his classification as an Armed Career Criminal, arguing that two of the four prior offenses used to sentence him did not qualify as violent felonies. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence. Dowthard had the burden of showing that a misunderstanding of the elements of his offense affected his substantial rights but he did not even assert that he would not have pleaded guilty if he had properly understood the elements. His prior Illinois conviction for attempted aggravated domestic battery has as an element the attempted use of physical force and counts as an ACCA “violent felony.” With that conviction and the two he did not challenge, he has the three necessary predicates for an enhanced sentenced under section924(e). View "United States v. Dowthard" on Justia Law

by
Rodney Chisholm appeals from a district court order summarily dismissing his application for postconviction relief. Chisholm was convicted of murder in 2011 and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. Chisholm filed his first application for postconviction relief in 2013. In that application, Chisholm alleged ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. The district court summarily denied Chisholm’s application, and he appealed. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded. On remand, the district court again denied Chisholm’s application and he appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court the second time. In this case, the Supreme Court concluded Chisholm's his claim for ineffective assistance of postconviction counsel was barred under N.D.C.C. 29- 32.1-09(2), and his other claims were barred by res judicata. Therefore, the Court affirmed the summary dismissal of his postconviction relief application. View "Chisholm v. North Dakota" on Justia Law

by
In 1994, sixteen-and-a-half-year-old Stephen McGilberry brutally murdered four family members, including his three-year-old nephew. McGilberry premeditated and planned his crime, enlisting a younger neighbor’s help. A jury found McGilberry guilty of four counts of capital murder and sentenced him to death. But in 2005, the United States Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty for offenders who committed their capital crimes before reaching the age of eighteen. McGilberry's death sentence was vacated and he was resentenced to life without parole. In 2012, the Supreme Court held that the mandatory imposition of life without parole for crimes committed before the offender turned eighteen violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Based on Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), the Mississippi Supreme Court granted McGilberry permission to seek post-conviction relief from his sentence. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined that the record supported the trial court's determination that McGilberry should have been sentenced to life without parole based on his "irreparably corrupt nature," the Court found no abuse of discretion in the sentencing decision. View "McGilberry v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder and sentence of death for one murder and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the other murder, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) the trial court did not err in admitting Defendant's convictions because there was no basis to conclude Defendant's Miranda waiver was anything other than knowing, intelligent, and voluntary; (2) any error in instructing the jury was harmless; (3) Defendant's challenges to the constitutionality of California's death penalty scheme were unavailing; and (4) the potential errors in the instructions were harmless, and even considered together, the errors did not warrant reversal. View "People v. Leon" on Justia Law