Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of assault in the first degree, use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, and wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun, holding that the Court of Special Appeals did not err.Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the Court of Special Appeals (1) correctly affirmed the admission of a statement by a witness with memory loss as a prior inconsistent statement given the witness's contradictory testimony at trial; and (2) did not err in expanding the circumstances rule which hearsay is admissible under Md. Rule 5-802.1(a) to include statements containing a "material" inconsistency with the witness's testimony. View "Wise v. State" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's 55-year sentence imposed for his conviction of participating in a pattern of racketeering activity evidenced by his role in the murder of four teenagers. Defendant was 15 years old at the time of the offense and a member of the MS-13 gang when he participated in the execution-style murders of four members of a rival gang.The court assumed, for purposes of this appeal, that the district court was required to consider the factors in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), in determining that a sentence of 55 years, not subject to parole, was warranted for a defendant fifteen years old at the time of the homicide crimes. Even with this assumption, the court concluded that the district court considered the Miller factors and reasonably concluded that a further departure was not warranted. Acknowledging the broad scope of a sentencing judge's discretion and taking into account the care taken by the sentencing judge in exercising that discretion, the court concluded that defendant's sentence is not unreasonable in any legally cognizable sense. Finally, the court noted that defendant's sentence illustrates the unfortunate consequences of eliminating parole. Nevertheless, it is a sentence that a conscientious district judge concluded was appropriate and, upon review, the court affirmed. The court considered defendant's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "United States v. Portillo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding Defendant's convictions in a second appeal, holding that Defendant's right to a speedy trial was violated after his case was remanded to the trial court for retrial.The trial court convicted Defendant of two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of failure to comply with an order or signal of a police officer. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the matter. On remand, Defendant pleaded no contest to the charges of having a weapon under disability and failing to comply with an order or signal of a police officer. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that Defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated during the trial court's remand proceedings. The Supreme Court reversed and vacated Defendant's convictions, holding that all four factors under Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) weighed in Defendant's favor. View "State v. Long" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for receiving healthcare kickback payments. At the request of the government, the district court instructed the jury that defendant violated the statute prohibiting kickbacks if one reason he accepted the payment was because it was in return for writing prescriptions. Both parties subsequently agreed at oral argument that the jury instruction was erroneous and that the statute requires no proof of the defendant's motivation for accepting the illegal payment, so long as he accepts the kickback knowingly and willfully. However, the parties disagreed about whether the error was harmful.The court concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the error caused defendant no harm because it required the government to prove even more than the statute required. Furthermore, the district court correctly instructed the jury about the burden the government bore in proving willfulness, and correctly instructed the jury that defendant committed no crime if he accepted the payments in good faith. The court saw no reason why adding an unnecessary "one purpose" instruction could have prejudiced defendant by detracting from the otherwise correct willfulness and good-faith instructions. View "United States v. Shah" on Justia Law

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Anderson participated in an Illinois conspiracy to distribute heroin that included a dealer, Mansini. In 2012, Reader, a 21-year-old addict, purchased and used heroin from another dealer. Later that day, Reader purchased an additional half-gram of heroin from Mansini, who had obtained it from Anderson. Reader used that heroin and was found dead that evening. According to the coroner’s report, the cause of death was “opiate intoxication.” The report did not attribute Reader’s death to one particular heroin dose or make findings on the incremental effects of other drugs. Anderson and others were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 846. Three defendants, including Anderson, pleaded guilty. Anderson admitted to distributing the heroin that resulted in Reader’s death, which carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Anderson concurred with the plea agreement’s factual statements but told the court that he might have a factual defense to Reader’s death because Reader had bought heroin from other sources and used prescription drugs. The court sentenced him to 223 months’ imprisonment.Anderson's 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition claimed ineffective assistance of counsel because his counsel did not adequately investigate the cause of Reader’s death and advise Anderson of the “but-for” causation standard articulated by the Supreme Court in 2014. Counsel responded that Anderson authorized her to proceed with plea negotiations without hiring a medical examiner and she was “not trained to interpret toxicology results” and “never discussed” the toxicology evidence with anyone who had relevant training. The Seventh Circuit vacated a denial of relief. Anderson was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Anderson v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendant's sentence for possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. Defendant contends that the district court erred in applying a recidivist sentencing enhancement based on his prior state conviction for attempted transportation of marijuana under Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3405(A)(4).The panel held that the district court's application of the six-level recidivist enhancement was plain error. The Arizona statute under which defendant was convicted included hemp in its definition of marijuana. However, in 2018, before defendant's federal conviction, Congress amended the Controlled Substances Act to exclude hemp from its definition of a controlled substance. Therefore, in 2019, when defendant was sentenced, the Arizona statute under which he had been convicted was overbroad and that conviction no longer qualified as a "controlled substance offense" under the Guidelines. Furthermore, the error affected defendant's substantial rights and allowing the error to go uncorrected would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. Accordingly, the panel remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Bautista" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit certified to the Idaho Supreme Court the following question: Whether an Idaho state court order reducing the defendant's judgment of conviction for felony burglary to a judgment of conviction for misdemeanor petit theft under the authority of Idaho Code 19-2604(2) changes the operative conviction for the purposes of Idaho Code 18-310, which prohibits the restoration of firearm rights to those citizens convicted of specific felony offenses. See Idaho Code 18-310(2). View "United States v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft, mingling a harmful substance with food or drink, and solicitation to commit murder, and sentence of death, holding that any error was not prejudicial.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Defendant's judicial bias claim failed; (2) the erroneous admission of certain statements and the possibly erroneous admission of a certain letter were cumulatively harmless; (3) there was sufficient evidence for the lying-in-wait special circumstance finding and the lying-in-wait first degree murder conviction; (4) any asserted juror misconduct did not, singly or in combination, substantially prejudice the trial's fairness; (5) the trial court did not err in finding that Defendant was competent to stand trial; and (6) Defendant's challenges to the constitutionality of California's Death Penalty Law were unavailing. View "People v. Flinner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of first degree murder and finding true the special circumstance allegations that the murder was committed while Defendant was engaged in the commission of rape and burglary and sentencing Defendant to death, holding that the errors committed during the trial proceedings were not prejudicial.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) assuming for the purposes of argument that a recording of the victim's last telephone call and testimony regarding DNA extraction should not have been admitted, any error was harmless; (2) assuming that portions of correspondence to Defendant were inadmissible hearsay, Defendant was not prejudiced by any error in the admission; (3) the prosecution committed misconduct by eliciting statements from a rebuttal witness during the penalty phase regarding the contents of one of those pieces of correspondence, but the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant's related motion for a mistrial; and (4) the cumulative effect of those asserted errors was harmless. View "People v. Schultz" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that, in these two criminal cases, there was no constitutional violation in the practice of temporarily confining level three sex offenders in correctional facilities, after the time they would otherwise be released to parole or postrelease supervision (PRS), while they remain on a waiting list for accommodation at a shelter compliant with N.Y. Exec. Law 259-c(14).New York statutes allow the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to place a Sexual Assault Reform Act (SARA)-restricted sex offender temporarily in a residential treatment facility (RTF) until SARA-compliant housing is identified. At issue was whether the Federal Constitution allows DOCCS to place a SARA-restricted sex offender in an RTF or other correctional facility while awaiting SARA-compliant housing. The Court of Appeals held that the practice is constitutional. View "People ex rel. Johnson v. Superintendent, Adirondack Correctional Facility" on Justia Law