Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the decision of the circuit court denying Petitioner's motion for a new trial, holding that the circuit court's jury instruction on the crime of kidnapping was incomplete. A jury found Petitioner guilty of kidnapping, malicious assault, commission of an assault during the commission of a felony, and domestic battery. Petitioner moved for a new trial, arguing that the circuit court incorrectly instructed the jury on kidnapping because the court erroneously omitted from its instruction that "transport" is an element of kidnapping under W. Va. Code 61-14a-2(a)(2). The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order denying Petitioner's motion for a new trial on kidnapping and commission of an assault during the commission of a felony and remanded the case for entry of an order granting a new trial to Petitioner, holding that the circuit court's instruction on kidnapping was fundamental error. View "State v. Woodrum" on Justia Law

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In this case where Defendant was charged with two separate instances of violating a protective order the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to quash his bindover to stand trial, holding that the magistrate properly bound over Defendant to face both counts to the extent they were based on a previously issued ex parte order. In moving to quash the bindover Defendant argued that he had not been properly served with the protective order he was accused of violating and that the ex parte order had expired. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the protective order was served pursuant to Utah R. Civ. P. 5, it was not properly served; (2) the district court correctly determined that the ex parte order was still in effect at the time of the alleged violations; and (3) therefore, to the extent that the charges against Defendant were based on alleged violations of the ex parte order, the bindover is affirmed. View "State v. Bridgewaters" on Justia Law

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While pursuing an outstanding warrant for Buie, Columbia police officers learned that Buie had recently pawned firearms. Viewing surveillance footage from the shops, police saw Buie in possession of a rifle and a shotgun, each of which he exchanged for money. In additional footage, police saw Buie pawn another rifle and another shotgun. Buie pleaded guilty to two counts of felonious possession of a firearm. The PSR found that five of Buie’s past Tennessee convictions qualified as violent felonies under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA): second-degree burglary, arson, voluntary manslaughter, and two counts of aggravated burglary. Buie conceded only that his voluntary manslaughter conviction so qualified. The court excluded his aggravated burglary convictions under Sixth Circuit precedent (Stitt) but rejected Buie’s arguments that his arson and second-degree burglary convictions were not ACCA predicates because Tennessee’s definitions of those crimes were broader than their common-law counterparts—second-degree burglary on the entry element, and arson on the mens rea and act elements. The court found Buie imposed ACCA’s mandatory minimum 180-month sentence. The Supreme Court subsequently reversed the “Stitt” decision, holding that the locational element of aggravated burglary under Tennessee law corresponded with generic burglary, bringing Buie’s aggravated burglary convictions back into play, under ACCA. Buie then argued that the entry element of his burglary convictions was overbroad and that his arson conviction was overbroad. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that Buie has committed three violent felonies under ACCA. View "United States v. Buie" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Richardson pled guilty to multiple federal crimes involving crack cocaine. Federal law then punished crack-cocaine offenses much more severely than powder-cocaine offenses. The district court sentenced Richardson to five years in prison followed by four years on supervised release. Richardson served his custodial sentence but during his supervised release, Richardson stabbed someone in the chest. The district court revoked his supervised release and sentenced him to another 18 months in prison following his state sentence for first-degree assault. While Richardson was serving his state sentence, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine, 124 Stat. 2372, 2372; later, the First Step Act made the new sentencing rules retroactive,18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(B). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Richardson’s petition for relief under the Act. While Richardson was eligible for consideration of a reduced sentence, the district court properly considered the motion along with “the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), took into account “defense counsel’s objections,” and explained how Richardson’s history and characteristics (including his post-incarceration conduct) weighed against granting the motion. View "United States v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed five defendants' sentences imposed after they each pleaded guilty to charges related to their involvement in a prostitution and sex trafficking conspiracy. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by applying a sentencing enhancement for exerting undue influence over a minor victim; for an offense involving the commission of a sex act or sexual contact under USSG 2G1.3(b)(4)(A); and for an offense involving the commission of a sex act or sexual contact under USSG 2G1.3(b)(4)(A). The court also held that Defendant Carter and Coleman's sentences were substantively reasonable and the district court did not commit procedural error in sentencing them. Furthermore, the district court did not err in setting the base offense levels for Defendants Sarina, Ronzell, and Brown. The court found no error in defendants' sentences and rejected their claims to the contrary. View "United States v. Carter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions on three counts of second-degree attempted murder, thirteen counts of aggravated assault and battery, and one count of interference with a peace officer, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court’s finding of no discriminatory purpose in the State’s exercise of peremptory challenges was not clearly erroneous; (2) Defendant's right to a fair trial was not violated when the district court refused to individually query jurors about their exposure to pretrial publicity; (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant’s pretrial motion for a continuance; (4) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal; (5) Defendant did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel; and (6) because there was no error, cumulative error did not deprive Defendant of a fair trial. View "Pickering v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant Loren Kandzior challenged his conviction on one count of sexual assault on two grounds: (1) that the trial court erred by excluding evidence of a prior false rape allegation; and (2) that his right to a fair trial was violated because the jury was exposed to “extraneous, highly prejudicial information” - namely, the substance of an undetermined number of bench conferences that occurred during the three-day trial. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court committed plain error by failing to investigate when it became aware that the jury may have overhead numerous bench conferences during defendant’s trial. Accordingly, defendant’s conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Vermont v. Kandzior" on Justia Law

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Defendants Thomas and Katherine Ferguson appealed their respective convictions for animal cruelty and a judgment for animal forfeiture, both arising from the conditions in which they kept over twenty animals in their care. In September 2017, defendants’ landlord entered their trailer to check the smoke detectors. He found the interior of the residence smelled strongly of urine and ammonia, and he observed more than two dozen animals in “questionable living conditions.” Numerous dogs were crowded into small crates and lacked access to food and water, including a nursing mother and her puppies. Birds were kept in dirty cages and their water was viscous and filled with feces, food, and feathers. Landlord took photographs and a video of some of the animals, including three dogs sharing one travel crate. Landlord, his family, and other contractors continued to do maintenance work on the property for the next month, during which time the animals remained in similar conditions. One of landlord’s contractors eventually contacted the police regarding the animals’ conditions. Defendants challenged their ultimate convictions on the basis that the affidavit prepared by a police officer in support of the search warrant that led to the charges relied on information obtained from a prior illegal search, and therefore the court should have excluded all evidence obtained as a result of the warrant. They challenged the forfeiture order on the ground that the court improperly admitted hearsay statements in the forfeiture hearing. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to the criminal convictions because even if the information from the challenged prior search was stricken, the remaining portions of the affidavit were sufficient to support the search warrant that led to the charges. The Court agreed that the court improperly allowed hearsay evidence in the forfeiture proceeding, and remanded for the court to reconsider its ruling without the objectionable evidence. View "Vermont v. Ferguson" on Justia Law

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Appellant contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the direct appeal of his murder conviction in D.C. Superior Court. Appellant alleged that his appellate counsel labored under two conflicts of interest and failed to argue that the government withheld exculpatory evidence. The court rejected appellant's claims that a conflict arose from counsel's prior representation of another individual present at the time of the murder where counsel had forgotten his prior representation of the individual and thus lacked an actual conflict. Consequently, appellant's second claim of conflict also failed. The court further held that counsel was not ineffective by declining to pursue a losing Brady claim. Moreover, appellant's final argument that counsel was ineffective on appeal in failing to argue that he had been ineffective at trial simply repackaged the losing Brady argument. Therefore, appellant was not denied effective assistance of appellate counsel. View "Johnson v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Defendant's postsentence motion to withdraw his pleas of guilty to two counts of premeditated murder, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion and did not commit reversible error. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to two premeditated murder charges for the death of his wife and the unborn child she was carrying. The district court accepted the terms of the agreement and sentenced Defendant to two concurrent hard fifty terms of life imprisonment. Defendant subsequently filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that manifest injustice warranted voiding the plea agreement. The district court denied the motion after a hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not demonstrate that the district court's findings were arbitrary or unreasonable, were based on an error of law, or were based on an error of fact. View "State v. Cott" on Justia Law