Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Alexander DeVanna was convicted of malice murder and other crimes related to the 2017 shooting death of his wife, Casey DeVanna. DeVanna appealed, contending his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to request a proper jury instruction on the legal principle that a convicted felon can possess a firearm while acting in self-defense under certain circumstances. After review of the trial court record, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed with this contention and affirmed DeVanna’s convictions. View "DeVanna v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The State challenged the suspension of part of Antwon Stanford’s recidivist burglary sentence. The trial court and the Court of Appeals concluded that the suspension was authorized by OCGA 17-10-7 (a), part of the general recidivist statute, as interpreted by the Georgia Supreme Court's decision in Goldberg v. Georgia, 651 SE2d 667 (2007). "But Goldberg decided only the right length of recidivist burglary sentences, not whether they can be suspended for offenders like Stanford. OCGA § 16-7-1 (d), part of the burglary statute, plainly says they cannot, and that statute controls this case." Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Georgia v. Stanford" on Justia Law

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Shawncy Barrett was convicted by jury of the 2016 felony murder of Terrence Baker. On appeal, Barrett argued: (1) the evidence presented at trial was insufficient as a matter of due process to support his conviction; (2) the trial court should have granted him a new trial on the general grounds; and (3) that the trial court erred by admitting a recording of his first custodial interview with law enforcement officials. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Barrett's conviction. View "Barrett v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether a trial court’s order dismissing a criminal case for want of prosecution, which did not say that it was with prejudice to refiling, nevertheless constituted an impermissible dismissal with prejudice if the applicable statute of limitation has run. The Court concluded that such a dismissal order was without prejudice to refiling, and that, to the extent the statute of limitation barred the State from reaccusing the defendant, that consequence flowed from the operation of the statute of limitation and not from the dismissal order. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was reversed. View "Walker v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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When this case was before the Court of Appeals, the State argued that Kemar Henry failed to make a request for additional, independent chemical testing pursuant to OCGA 40-6-392(a)(3). The Court of Appeals stated that a request for additional testing is lawfully asserted when a suspect has made some statement that “reasonably could be construed, in light of the circumstances, to be an expression of a desire for such test.” The Court of Appeals applied the “reasonably could” standard in the context of evaluating a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel predicated on counsel’s failure to object to the admission of a blood test conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) where the State allegedly failed to honor Henry’s request for independent chemical testing. In its analysis, the Court of Appeals held that Henry’s statements met the “reasonably could” standard. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the Court of Appeals set forth the proper standard for determining when a person accused of driving under the influence has invoked his or her right to additional, independent chemical testing under OCGA 40-6-392(a)(3). The Supreme Court was unpersuaded that the standard established by the Court of Appeals for making this determination was consistent with the text and context of the statute, and rejected it in favor of a “reasonably would” standard, and overruled Ladow v. Georgia, 569 SE2d 572 (2002) and all other decisions of the Court of Appeals that applied the “reasonably could” standard. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ judgment here was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Georgia v. Henry" on Justia Law

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In 1990, defendant-appellant Marty Dominguez was convicted by jury of second degree murder, and an allegation was found true he was armed with a deadly weapon during the commission of the offense. Dominguez was sentenced to prison for 21 years to life. He appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed in an unpublished opinion. In January 2019, Dominguez filed a petition for resentencing under Penal Code section 1170.95, which permitted a defendant convicted of murder under a felony-murder theory or the natural and probable consequences doctrine to petition for the conviction to be vacated and resentenced. The superior court found that Dominguez did not make a prima facie showing that he was entitled to relief and denied the petition. Dominguez appealed, contending the court erred in determining his petition did not establish a prima facie case for relief. The Court of Appeal concluded the superior court properly considered the record of conviction to determine as a matter of law that Dominguez was ineligible for relief under section 1170.95. View "California v. Dominguez" on Justia Law

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In 2018, defendant pleaded guilty to carjacking as a second strike, and admitted he sustained a prior serious felony conviction. In 2020, the secretary of the CDCR sent a letter to the trial court invoking the sentence recall provision of Penal Code section 1170, subdivision (d)(1). The trial court recalled defendant's sentence and held a resentencing hearing under section 1170, subdivision (d)(1), declining to strike defendant's enhancement.The Court of Appeal agreed with People v. Pillsbury (Sept. 30, 2021, C089002) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, where the Third Appellate District recently held that, "upon the recommendation of the Secretary of the CDCR . . . , trial courts have the authority to recall and resentence defendants based on post-judgment changes in the law giving courts discretion to strike or dismiss enhancements, even when the judgment in the case is long since final and even when the original sentence was the product of a plea agreement." The court also concluded that the trial court abused its discretion when it declined to strike defendant's prior serious felony enhancement. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's sentence and remanded for a new section 1170, subdivision (d)(1) resentencing hearing. View "People v. Cepeda" on Justia Law

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McClain pleaded guilty to drug charges and violating the conditions of his supervised release. He was also sentenced in state court to 20 years for failure to report an accident involving death. He was sentenced to 120 months in the distribution case; 24 months to be served concurrent to the state sentence and the remaining 96 months consecutive to it. In his delivery case, the court imposed a sentence of 24 months consecutive to both the distribution and state sentences. In 2013, the Seventh Circuit vacated: the district court resentenced McClain. The written judgments, however, were inconsistent with the oral pronouncements. In 2016, following U.S.S.G. Amendment 782, McClain's distribution sentence was reduced, under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), to 70 months, to run concurrent to the delivery sentence; 24 months would run concurrent to the state sentence. In 2021, the court corrected the 2016 errors.McClain was scheduled to be released in June 2021. In April, he moved in with his family and secured employment. Meanwhile, the government moved under FRCP 36, to correct clerical errors in the judgment. The district court entered an amended judgment in the distribution case. McClain was sent back to prison to serve 18 additional months. The Seventh Circuit ordered McClain’s release and vacated. The changes to his sentences were not merely clerical, so the district court erred by “correcting” the sentences under Rule 36. View "United States v. McClain" on Justia Law

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After serving several stints in prison, Latimer moved into his girlfriend’s Akron home. When Ohio parole officers knocked on the door, Latimer, apparently freshly awakened greeted the officers and allowed them to enter. The officers noticed a 9-millimeter pistol on a loveseat, just steps away. The officers detained Latimer and requested assistance to search the entire home. In Latimer’s bedroom, officers discovered large sums of cash, including a six-inch stack of dollar bills. Officers found three cell phones, dialed Latimer’s known phone number, causing one of the phones to ring. The phone contained text messages referencing Latimer’s “strap,” an indication that Latimer owned and was using a firearm. Information extracted from the phones suggested that all three belonged to Latimer and revealed that Latimer was selling powder cocaine out of the home. In an adjacent bedroom, officers found two additional firearms. In the kitchen, officers discovered numerous baggies of cocaine and a digital scale, a picture of which was saved on one of the seized phones, and more cash.Latimer was convicted under 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C), and for being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g). The district court sentenced Latimer to 175 months plus 24 months’ imprisonment, to be served consecutively, for supervised-release violations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the government failed to show that Latimer possessed the contraband found at his residence. View "United States v. Latimer" on Justia Law

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Cox, a transgender woman, was assaulted at three different Georgia prisons for male inmates: At each of these institutions, Cox received estrogen injections, causing her to present with female features. Cox’s identity as a transgender woman within these male prisons made her a target for sexual and other physical abuse she was forced to endure at the hands of other inmates. Cox sued six Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) officials, invoking 42 U.S.C. 1983, and alleging that the GDC officials, in failing to protect her, violated the Eighth Amendment. She further alleged that three GDC officials exhibited deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm she faced as a transgender inmate by failing to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), 34 U.S.C. 30301.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Cox’s suit. Cox failed to state a failure-to-protect Eighth Amendment claim; with respect to each defendant, she either failed to establish the subjective component of deliberate indifference or failed to allege facts suggesting that the defendant acted in an objectively unreasonable manner. The court rejected the PREA claims for the same reasons. View "Cox v. Deputy Warden" on Justia Law