Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellant Matthew Leili was convicted of malice murder and associated offenses arising out of the death of his wife, Dominique Leili. On appeal, Appellant claimed the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress, the State was erroneously permitted to adduce other-acts testimony from his ex-wife, and that trial counsel was ineffective. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Leili v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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After he was tried and convicted of two vehicular homicides, Victor Mobley appealed, claiming that the trial court erred when it denied his pretrial motion to suppress evidence of data that law enforcement officers retrieved, without a warrant, from an electronic data recording device on his vehicle. Before the vehicles were removed from the scene of the collision, a supervisor in the Traffic Division of the Henry County Police Department, directed officers to retrieve any available data from the airbag control modules (ACM) on the two cars: a Charger and Corvette. An investigator entered the passenger compartments of both vehicles, attached a crash data retrieval (CDR) device to data ports in the cars, and used the CDR to download data from the ACMs. The data retrieved from the Charger indicated that, moments before the collision, Mobley was driving nearly 100 miles per hour. In denying the motion to suppress, the trial court had concluded that, whether or not the retrieval of the data was an unlawful search and seizure, the evidence was admissible in any event under the inevitable discovery doctrine. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed, one judge reasoning that the retrieval of data was not a search and seizure at all, and two judges agreeing with the trial court that the inevitable discovery doctrine applied. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred when it denied the motion to suppress. The State failed to lay an evidentiary foundation for the application of the inevitable discovery exception in this case. And the State has failed to identify any other established exception to the exclusionary rule that was applicable to the facts as shown by the record in this case. The judgment of the Court of Appeals, therefore, was reversed. View "Mobley v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Christopher Sullivan appeals a trial court order granting summary judgment to the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) on his Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75 petition challenging the DOC’s decision to deny him reintegration furlough. Petitioner was convicted of one count of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor with death resulting, and one count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. While serving a resulting incarcerative sentence, he sought Civil Rule 75 review of the DOC’s decision to deny him reintegration furlough and earned time toward such furlough, arguing that this denial was predicated on unlawful consideration of his convictions as indicative of a history of violent behavior The Vermont Supreme Court found the DOC could authorize reintegration furlough or an award of earned time toward reintegration furlough only where these decisions were made in accordance with rules promulgated by the DOC pursuant to the grant of authority at 28 V.S.A. 808c(c). During the pendency of this appeal, the DOC moved to dismiss the case as moot, contending that, because petitioner reached his minimum sentence on August 5, 2019, and was paroled on August 14, 2019, the requested relief could no longer be granted. Petitioner responded that the DOC failed to prove that this situation will not reoccur, observing that he could be reincarcerated and subsequently denied furlough on the basis of the same two convictions, which would remain on his record. In the alternative, he urged the Supreme Court to adopt a public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine. The Supreme Court concluded the case was moot, declined to adopt such an exception, and dismissed. View "Sullivan v. Menard" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit held that the Texas burglary statute, Penal Code 30.02(a)(3), is generic. Therefore, defendant's three prior felonies were qualifying predicates for a sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The court held that the Supreme Court's intervening decisions in Quarles v. United States and United States v. Stitt foreclosed defendant's principal grounds for contesting his sentence. The court rejected defendant's claim that section 30.02(a)(3) lacks a requirement that an offender form a specific intent to commit another crime; that generic burglary requires a plan to commit another crime, while section 30.02(a)(3) requires only that one commit or attempt to commit a felony, theft, or an assault; that generic burglary requires breaking and entering or similar unlawful activity, while section 30.02(a)(3) requires none; and that "burglary," as used in the ACCA, is unconstitutionally vague. Accordingly, the court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Herrold" on Justia Law

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Ruiz-Martinez was charged with two counts of murder; among the special allegations was that each murder was committed for a criminal street gang, Pen. Code, 190.2(a)(22). Ruiz-Martinez unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the prosecutor improperly dismissed three grand jurors in violation of section 939.5, the separation of powers doctrine, and Ruiz-Martinez’s due process rights and resulting in an indictment “not found, endorsed, and presented as prescribed in” Penal Code 995(a)(1)(A)). The California Supreme Court remanded in light of its 2018 “Avitia” decision. On remand, the court of appeal concluded that the record does not show that the prosecutor’s actions reasonably might have adversely affected the grand jury’s impartiality or independence or violated the separation of powers doctrine or petitioner’s rights to due process. Although the prosecutor lacked authority to excuse grand jurors (two of whom stated that they could not be impartial because of gang connections), there is a high probability that the foreperson would have removed them upon advice from the prosecutor; their removal helped to ensure the grand jury’s impartiality. There is nothing suggesting that the grand jury as ultimately composed was not properly constituted or contained any jurors who were possibly biased. Nothing indicates that the prosecutor might have skewed the grand jury’s ultimate composition in favor of the prosecution or improperly affected the decision-making process. View "Ruiz-Martinez v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Portee pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and faced a sentencing guidelines range of 63–78 months, with a statutory maximum of 120 months. The government sought sentencing under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. 924(e), citing: a 1983 Illinois attempted armed robbery conviction; a 1990 Indiana robbery conviction; a 2000 Indiana pointing a firearm conviction; and a 2006 Indiana intimidation conviction. Under ACCA, a defendant convicted of 18 U.S.C. 922(g) who has three prior violent felony convictions must be sentenced to at least 15 years. In 2010, the judge sentenced Portee, under ACCA, to 180 months. In 2015, the Supreme Court held, in “Johnson,” that ACCA’s residual clause was unconstitutionally vague; a felony is a “violent felony” under ACCA only if it satisfies ACCA’s elements clause (has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another) or is specifically enumerated as a violent felony. Portee moved to correct his sentence. The Seventh Circuit reversed the denial of relief. The elements of Indiana felony pointing do not require that the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use physical force against the person of another. There are situations that could meet all the elements of Indiana felony intimidation by threat to commit a forcible felony that do not involve the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another. View "Portee v. United States" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the forfeiture order entered by the district court in the amount of over $14 million, the sum Defendant obtained from some of his clients through a fraudulent scheme for which he was convicted of nineteen counts of mail and wire fraud, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to enter the forfeiture order when it did; (2) the sum forfeited was not in error; (3) the forfeiture order did not violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment; and (4) the imposition of the forfeiture order by the district court did not violate his right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment. View "United States v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the judgment of the district court accepting Defendant's pleas of no contest to open lewdness and disorderly conduct, holding that the trial judge erred in denying Defendant's oral motion to defer the acceptance of her no contest plea (motion for DANC). The State and Defendant reached an agreement where Defendant would plead no contest to the charges against her, the State would recommend five days of jail time and would not object to a subsequent motion for DANC, provided that Defendant be placed on unsupervised probation for six months. After Defendant made an oral motion for DANC the district court denied the motion on the basis that Defendant did not wish to stay in Hawaii during the six-month probation period. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, holding that the district court abused its discretion in denying Defendant's motion for DANC where defense counsel stated that Defendant would be willing to return to Hawaii and the court did not specifically consider the factors described in Haw. Rev. Stat. 853-1. View "State v. Phillips " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court convicting Petitioner of six counts of sexual assault in the second degree, seven counts of sexual abuse by a custodian, and one count of sexual abuse in the first degree and sentencing Petitioner to a total of 131 to 295 years in prison, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief on any of his assignments of error. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in finding the State properly authenticated its exhibit of Facebook Messenger text messages; (2) the circuit court did not err in denying Petitioner's motion for judgment of acquittal; and (3) Petitioner was not entitled to relief on any of his remaining claims. View "State v. Benny W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction for murder and felony murder and entering a revised order sentencing Defendant to life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) for his murder conviction, holding that the revised order did not rely on non-statutory aggravating circumstances to impose LWOP. On appeal, Defendant argued that the LWOP sentence must be vacated because the trial court impermissibly relied on non-statutory aggravating circumstances. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Defendant offered no evidence to suggest that the revised order relied on non-statutory aggravating circumstances to impose LWOP. View "Schuler v. State" on Justia Law