Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction fo multiple drug crimes, holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.On appeal, Defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions because the State's expert identified the drugs only via visual inspection and that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress because the search warrant was defective. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) sufficient evidence supported both possession convictions; (2) the incorrect information on the warrant was mitigated by the fact that the officers executing the warrant knew which home was to be searched; and (3) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it limited certain evidence. View "Kellensworth v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court entering judgment in favor of Rapid City Medical Center (RCMC) and three of its doctors (collectively, Defendants) in this negligence action, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by denying Plaintiff's request to call two rebuttal witnesses and refusing Plaintiff's proposed jury instruction on agency.In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants did not inform her of a growing mass in her chest that caused persistent issues with her throat and chest until the mass was removed. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Plaintiff's request to call two rebuttal witnesses in an attempt to lay foundation for medical records not offered during Plaintiff's case-in-chief; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion when it limited the agency instruction relative to the claims Plaintiff raised against Defendants. View "Frye-Byington v. Rapid City Medical Center" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgments entered against Defendant in this criminal case, holding that the trial judge abused his discretion in excusing a juror who claimed to be unable to begin deliberations anew after the discharge of another juror.A jury convicted Defendant of murder in the first first degree on a theory of felony murder, as well as assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury and possession of a firearm. On appeal, Defendant argued that the motion judge erred in denying his motion to suppress and that the trial judge erred in excusing a juror. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgments entered against Defendant, holding (1) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress; but (2) the trial court's discharge of the juror in question was error, and the error was prejudicial to Defendant. View "Commonwealth v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's convictions for murder in the first degree by deliberate premeditation and of unlawful possession of a firearm, holding that a new trial was not required because there was no error and that there was no reason for the Court to exercise its authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 278, 33E to reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the trial judge did not err by declining to give a requested instruction on self-defense; (2) the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by allowing the prosecutor to introduce prior bad act evidence; (3) the prosecutor's remarks in her opening statement and closing argument did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice; (4) trial counsel provided constitutionally effective assistance; and (5) a new trial was not warranted based on purported newly discovered evidence. View "Commonwealth v. Teixeira" on Justia Law

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A defendant who was sentenced to 66 years to life for violent sex offenses he committed at age 17 is not entitled to youth offender parole consideration under Penal Code section 3051 on federal and California constitutional equal protection grounds.The Court of Appeal found that a rational basis exists for treating one strike offenders such as defendant differently from other youthful offenders entitled to the benefit of the statute, applying the reasoning and analysis of the court in People v. Williams (2020) 47 Cal.App.5th 475, review granted July 22, 2020, S262229. In this case, defendant was convicted of four counts of forcible rape, one count of forcible oral copulation, and one count of first degree robbery. The court explained that defendant is not similarly situated to those who do not commit violent sex crimes, and his exclusion from youth offender parole consideration is rationally related to a legitimate penal interest. View "People v. Moseley" on Justia Law

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Dai'yann Wharton was found guilty after a bench trial on several charges, led by a count of first-degree murder for the death of Yaseem Powell. Wharton appealed, contending her conviction should have been reversed because the State identified a group of highly incriminating text messages less than two weeks prior to trial, though the messages themselves had been contained in a digital discovery disclosure made by the State to Wharton more than a year earlier. Because of the State’s earlier disclosure, and because the Delaware Supreme Court rejected Wharton’s assertions that the State engaged in any discovery violations or other misconduct, it held the superior court was within its discretion to deny Wharton’s motion to exclude the text messages. Accordingly, Wharton's conviction and judgment of sentence were affirmed. View "Wharton v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Before the warrantless seizure of a firearm from a car, the driver, defendant Manuel Chavez, had driven the car at least a couple hundred feet up a private,d irt roadway and parked it outside his isolated trailer home. The district court approved just one of the government’s asserted justifications for the seizure of the firearm (a .38 special caliber Amadeo Rossi S.A.), ruling that the deputy’s seizure of the firearm was reasonable as part of an inventory of the car’s contents in preparation for impounding it. But during the inventory, a woman emerged from the trailer and satisfied the deputy that she owned the car. So the deputy left the car with her where it was parked, mere feet from her and defendant’s trailer, but the deputy kept the firearm. In denying an ensuing motion to suppress, the district court held that the deputy could lawfully seize and keep the firearm, even without admissible evidence that anyone had illegally possessed or used it. The court did not evaluate whether it mattered that the deputy never in fact impounded the car. The Tenth Circuit rejected the district court’s denying the motion to suppress on inventory-impoundment grounds. Further, the Court rejected all the government’s other asserted bases to validate the deputy’s seizing and keeping the firearm. The district court erred by denying the motion to suppress, so the Tenth Circuit reversed. View "United States v. Chavez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of a 28 U.S.C. 2241 habeas corpus petition where petitioner challenged an Oregon Circuit Court order under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), authorizing involuntary medication to restore petitioner's competency to stand trial for murder. The district court applied Younger abstention and concluded that intervention by a federal court would be inappropriate in light of the important state interests at stake in the pending criminal prosecution.The panel held that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction and the authority to rule on the petition. In this case, the state mischaracterized the cognizability issue as a subject matter jurisdiction issue. Furthermore, although the basic Younger criteria are satisfied in this case, the irreparable harm exception to Younger applies and the district court erred in abstaining. The panel remanded for the district court to consider the issue of the cognizability of petitioner's claim in habeas. View "Bean v. Matteucci" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Hudson was shot and killed in his Louisville apartment. Detective Roberts sought DNA testing for items at the murder scene. DNA on a hat came back “consistent with a mixture” from Lester, Baker, and an unknown person. Lester and Baker had been implicated by a witness. The case went cold. In 2012, Roberts interviewed Sullivan, an inmate who had contacted the police years before about the murder. Sullivan had dated Hudson and had been friends with Jasmine (the woman living with Baker,). She stated that Jasmine had told her that Baker killed Hudson “over money.” Roberts then interviewed Jasmine, who stated that, on the day of the murder, she, Baker, and “Desean” went to Hudson’s apartment. The men emerged from the apartment with bandanas covering their faces. Baker confessed that he murdered Hudson. Jasmine could not recall “Desean’s” last name and pronounced his first name differently from how Lester pronounces it. She identified Lester’s photo array picture as “Desean.”At trial, Jasmine distanced herself from her identification of Lester. The jury acquitted Lester. Baker was convicted after a second trial. Lester had spent 20 months in jail and three months in home confinement. After his acquittal, he sued Roberts and the Louisville Metro Government.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary-judgment rejection of malicious-prosecution claims against Roberts. The Fourth Amendment and Kentucky law required only probable cause for Lester’s pretrial detention and prosecution. Jasmine’s earlier identification of Lester, combined with corroborating evidence like DNA, met that standard. View "Lester v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Bracey was convicted of murder in 1995. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Plummer, an alleged eyewitness, and Bell, who claimed Bracey had confessed to him. At trial, both acknowledged that they had received favorable plea agreements in exchange for their testimony. Bracey's appeal and state habeas petitions were unsuccessful. In 2010, Bracey learned the Commonwealth had disclosed only some of the cases that were pending against Plummer and Bell. State courts rejected Bracey's petition under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act as time-barred; the factual basis of the claim could have “been ascertained [earlier] by the exercise of due diligence.” The district court dismissed Bracey's 2011 federal habeas petition as untimely under 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1)(D), reasoning that the plea agreements were public records; Brace filed his petition more than one year after the “factual predicate” for his Brady claim “could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.” The Third Circuit denied review.Three years later, the circuit held (Dennis) that a defendant has no burden to “scavenge for hints of undisclosed Brady material” even if the material part could be found in public records. The prosecution’s “duty to disclose under Brady is absolute.” Bracey moved for reconsideration under Rule 60(b). The Third Circuit vacated a summary denial. Dennis effected a material change in Circuit law. A defendant can reasonably expect—and is entitled to presume—that the government fulfilled its Brady obligations because the prosecution’s duty to disclose in no way hinges on defense efforts. View "Bracey v. Superintendent Rockview SCI" on Justia Law