Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellant Seth Joseph Brian Rouzan challenged his 2013 convictions for malice murder and another crime in connection with the shooting death of Joseph Williams, Jr. Appellant claimed: (1) the trial court applied the wrong legal test in admitting other-acts evidence; (2) committed plain error in failing to instruct the jury that an accomplice’s testimony was not sufficient to establish a fact unless corroborated; and (3) abused its discretion in denying his request to continue the hearing on his motion for new trial based on his motion-for-new-trial counsel’s admitted failure to prepare for the hearing. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in applying an obsolete legal standard to allow the State to introduce the other-acts evidence. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for the trial court to apply the correct test under the current Evidence Code and to exercise its discretion on whether other-acts evidence should have been admitted. View "Rouzan v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Cedric Newton, Jr. was tried by jury and convicted of murder and other crimes in connection with the 2010 fatal shooting of Udondra Hargrove. On appeal, Newton claimed the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence of two out-of-court identifications. He also contended he was denied the effective assistance of counsel at trial. Finding no error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Newton v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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At a 2004 trial, a jury found Appellant Mario Stinchcomb guilty of felony murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the shooting death of Jakesha Young. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Stinchcomb’s convictions on direct appeal. In 2018, Stinchcomb filed an extraordinary motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence, which the trial court denied without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court thereafter granted Stinchcomb’s application for discretionary appeal to consider whether the trial court erred by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing before ruling on his motion. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did err, and, accordingly, the Court vacated the order denying Stinchcomb’s motion and remanded this case for an evidentiary hearing. View "Stinchcomb v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Timmy Thompson was found guilty by jury of murder in connection with the death of his wife, Peggy Thompson. Peggy’s cause of death was determined to be blunt-force injuries to her head in conjunction with asphyxia, and her death was ruled a homicide. She had injuries to her head, face, scalp, neck, upper chest area, and arms consistent with blunt-force trauma and strangulation, but not consistent with a fall. Peggy’s injuries were determined to have been caused between one and four hours before her death. Oral and rectal buccal swabs collected from Peggy at the scene tested positive for male DNA matching Thompson. He appealed, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) by allowing improper testimony regarding other alleged acts of violence committed by Thompson against his stepdaughter, stepson, and daughter to be admitted at trial; and (2) by not applying the rule of sequestration to these other-acts witnesses. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Thompson v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellant Dextreion Shealey and his co-defendant Kelvin Hurston were found guilty of felony murder and other crimes in connection with the 2016 gang-related shooting death of Daven Tucker. Appellant’s only contention on appeal of his conviction was that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding from evidence statements that his co-indictee Charles Lovelace made during Lovelace’s guilty plea hearing. Seeing no error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Shealey v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Kristine Heath was convicted by jury of homicide by vehicle in the first degree based on reckless driving; homicide by vehicle in the second degree; five counts of serious injury by vehicle; and failure to stop at a stop sign. The Court of Appeals reversed Heath’s convictions, except for the stop sign conviction, after concluding that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to demur to the fatally defective felony counts in the indictment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for certiorari to consider whether trial counsel's failure to file a general demurrer resulted in prejudice under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The Supreme Court determined Heath demonstrated prejudice under Strickland, thus affirming the Court of Appeals' reversal of the trial court's denial of Heath's motion for a new trial as to the vehicular homicide and serious-injury-by-vehicle convictions. View "Georgia v. Heath" on Justia Law

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A man parked his car in San Francisco's Sutter-Stockton Garage, leaving his dog in the car. When he returned, he saw his dog had been brutally killed. A security guard viewed video clips from the incident and recognized Best, who was charged with second-degree burglary of a vehicle; killing, maiming, or abusing an animal; and vandalism of the vehicle, plus four misdemeanors. The trial court declared a doubt about Best’s competency; Best apparently refused to face the judge in order to avoid having her image recorded. Experts evaluated Best; the court found Best mentally competent to stand trial. The matter was continued for a Faretta hearing. A different judge confirmed that Best had read and initialed each portion of an “Advisement and Waiver of Right to Counsel” and inquired into Best’s education and awareness of the charges. The court engaged in extensive questioning. Some of Best’s responses betrayed a lack of understanding of legal concepts and procedures. When the court asked Best about possible defenses, her discussion verged on incoherence. Best gave clear, accurate answers to simpler questions. The court denied her motion. Best was convicted. The court of appeal reversed; the trial court erred in denying Best the right to represent herself on the grounds she had not knowingly and voluntarily made that choice. The court rejected arguments that the Faretta motion was untimely and that Best was disruptive and disobedient and noted that the transcript does not show Best was advised of the maximum punishment she faced. View "People v. Best" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania Trooper Ramirez stopped a car for speeding after running the license plate and learning the car was owned by Enterprise. It lacked typical rental stickers. Each vent had an air freshener clipped to it. The driver, Fruit, gave Ramirez his license and rental car agreement, identifying his passenger, Garner. The rental agreement listed Fruit as the authorized driver but limited to New York and appeared to have expired 20 days earlier. Ramirez questioned Garner; 12 minutes into the stop, Ramirez put their information into his computer and learned that neither man had outstanding warrants, although Fruit was on supervised release. Both had extensive criminal records, including drug and weapons crimes. Enterprise confirmed that Fruit had extended the rental beyond the listed expiration date. Ramirez resolved to ask permission to search the vehicle but waited for backup, which arrived 37 minutes into the stop. Fruit declined permission to search. Ramirez stated that he was calling for a K-9 and Fruit was not free to leave. "Zigi" arrived 56 minutes into the stop, alerted at the car, then entered the vehicle and alerted in the back seat and trunk. A search revealed 300 grams of cocaine and 261 grams of heroin. Both men were indicted for conspiracy to possess (and possession) with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine. The district court denied their motion to suppress, ruling that Ramirez had “an escalating degree of reasonable suspicion” that justified extending the stop. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. Ramirez had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop based on information he obtained during the first few minutes of the traffic stop before he engaged in an unrelated investigation; no unlawful extension of the stop occurred. View "United States v. Fruit" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Petitioner's successive federal habeas petition, holding that the sentencing judge did not rely on Petitioner's career-offender designation in setting Petitioner's term of imprisonment. In 1998, pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for drug dealing. The above-Guidelines sentence reflected Petitioner's role in two uncharged violent crimes. In 2018, Petitioner filed his successive federal habeas petition claiming that his status as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines impacted his sentence. Basing his argument on intervening Supreme Court caselaw holding the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) unconstitutional, Petitioner claimed that the new precedent on the ACCA also invalidated the Guidelines classification and requested resentencing to a lesser term of imprisonment. The habeas court denied the petition for habeas relief for failure to show actual prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the habeas court did not commit clear error that Petitioner had not shown a reasonable probability that his sentence would have been different absent the career-offender designation. View "Bartolomeo v. United States" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for production of child pornography, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress a video on his cellphone under the private search doctrine. When Defendant's wife was looking through pictures on Defendant's cellphone she discovered a video of the couple's daughter masturbating Defendant. The wife brought the cellphone to law enforcement authorities and directed their attention to the video. Defendant was subsequently indicted on a charge of production of child pornography. Defendant moved to suppress the video and his ensuing confession, arguing that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by accessing the video without a warrant and prior to obtaining his consent. The district court denied the motion to suppress. Defendant was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a 360-month term of immurement. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) under the circumstances, the officers initially could not be said to have conducted a "search" of Defendant's cellphone, and two reexaminations of the video fell within the protections of the private search doctrine; and (2) there was no procedural error at Defendant's sentencing, and the sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Rivera-Morales" on Justia Law