Justia Daily Opinion Summaries

Criminal Law
May 31, 2024

Table of Contents

Thornell v. Jones

Criminal Law

US Supreme Court

United States v. Garnes

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

United States v. Williams

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

US v. Mathis

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Rudolph

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

United States v. Woods

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

In re: West

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Huynh v. Garland

Criminal Law, Immigration Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Garrett

Agriculture Law, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Maloney

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

DOE V. FITZGERALD

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

USA V. GROPPO

Criminal Law, Gaming Law, Tax Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

USA V. WILEY

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Mills v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Mills v. Hamm

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

USA v. Webster

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Lookhart v. State of Alaska, Board of Dental Examiners

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law, Health Law

Alaska Supreme Court

Jeffery v. State

Criminal Law

Arkansas Supreme Court

Wheeler v. Appellate Division of Superior Court

Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Health Law

Supreme Court of California

People v. Pritchett

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Superior Court

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Johnson

Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

Colorado Supreme Court

Sanders v. The People of the State of Colorado

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Colorado Supreme Court

Walter v. Department of Corrections Secretary

Criminal Law

Florida Supreme Court

ALLEN v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

BAKER v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

GOLD v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

HARRIS v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

HOWARD v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

JONES v. THE STATE

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

SMITH v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

STURKEY v. THE STATE

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

TARVER v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

THOMAS v. THE STATE

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

ZAYAS v. THE STATE

Criminal Law, Family Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Supreme Court of Georgia

State v. Hawking

Criminal Law, Real Estate & Property Law

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

State of Iowa v. Rasmussen

Criminal Law

Iowa Supreme Court

State v. Medina

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Family Law

Iowa Supreme Court

State v. Green

Criminal Law

Maine Supreme Judicial Court

Gonzalez v. State

Criminal Law, Immigration Law

Maryland Supreme Court

Mason v. State

Criminal Law

Maryland Supreme Court

Pittman v. State of Mississippi

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Mississippi

Ramsey v. Yellowstone County Justice Court

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Montana Supreme Court

State v. Arellano

Criminal Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. James

Criminal Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. Panasuk

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. Puccinelli

Criminal Law, White Collar Crime

Montana Supreme Court

In re Interest of Jeovani H.

Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

Nebraska Supreme Court

Harris v. Warden

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Nevada

State v. Liverpool

Criminal Law

Rhode Island Supreme Court

Hines v. State

Criminal Law

South Carolina Supreme Court

State v. Henry

Criminal Law

South Dakota Supreme Court

Thomas v. Commonwealth

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Virginia

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Criminal Law Opinions

Thornell v. Jones

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 22-982

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Danny Lee Jones, who was convicted of three murders committed with the intent to steal a gun collection. Jones brutally killed a man, his 7-year-old daughter, and his grandmother. After being found guilty, the trial court proceeded to sentencing. Under Arizona law, the court was required to impose a death sentence if it found one or more aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances sufficiently substantial to call for leniency. The court found three aggravating circumstances and sentenced Jones to death. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the decision.

Jones sought postconviction review, arguing that his attorney was ineffective. He claimed that his attorney should have retained an independent neuropsychologist, rather than relying on a court-appointed psychiatrist. The state court denied this claim. Jones then filed a habeas petition in Federal District Court, reasserting his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims. The District Court held an evidentiary hearing but concluded that Jones could not show prejudice because the additional information he presented barely altered the sentencing profile presented to the sentencing judge. The Ninth Circuit reversed, but the Supreme Court vacated that judgment and remanded for the Ninth Circuit to determine whether it had been proper to consider the new evidence presented at the federal evidentiary hearing.

On reconsideration, the Ninth Circuit again granted habeas relief. The panel held that it was permissible to consider the new evidence and concluded that there was a reasonable probability that Jones would not have received a death sentence if that evidence had been presented at sentencing. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation and application of Strickland.

The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's decision, stating that it had departed from the well-established rules in at least three ways. The Supreme Court found that the Ninth Circuit failed to adequately take into account the weighty aggravating circumstances in this case, applied a strange Circuit rule that prohibits a court in a Strickland case from assessing the relative strength of expert witness testimony, and held that the District Court erred by attaching diminished persuasive value to Jones’s mental health conditions because it saw no link between those conditions and Jones’s conduct when he committed the three murders. The Supreme Court concluded that there was no reasonable probability that the evidence on which Jones relies would have altered the outcome at sentencing.

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United States v. Garnes

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Docket: 23-6790

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: LYNCH

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Quadri Garnes was charged with threatening to assault and murder employees of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and transmitting interstate communications containing threats to injure another person. These charges stemmed from a phone call Garnes made to the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) after his unemployment benefits claim was denied. During the call, Garnes made several statements referencing his criminal record. Before trial, Garnes moved to exclude these statements, arguing they were of limited probative value and could unfairly prejudice the jury. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted his motion, excluding the statements under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

The government appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the court had exceeded its discretion in excluding the statements. The government contended that the statements were highly probative as they were a significant part of the threat (the actus reus) and substantially indicative of Garnes's intent (the mens rea).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the government. The court found that the district court had incorrectly concluded that the statements were of limited probative value. The appellate court held that the statements were highly probative as they were both a significant part of the threat and substantially indicative of Garnes's intent. The court also found that the district court had overstated the risk of unfair prejudice. The court concluded that a jury instruction could mitigate any potential unfair prejudice. Consequently, the appellate court reversed the district court's order of exclusion and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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United States v. Williams

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Docket: 20-3044

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: SULLIVAN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Julius Williams, convicted of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, appealed the denial of his motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). This law allows a court to reduce a defendant’s sentence if the original sentence was based on a Sentencing Guidelines range that the United States Sentencing Commission has subsequently lowered. Williams argued that the district court wrongly concluded that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines because he participated in a narcotics-related murder that subjected him to a higher Guidelines range under the “murder cross-reference” provision of U.S.S.G § 2D1.1(d)(1).

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York had denied Williams's motion for a sentence reduction, concluding that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Commission’s 2014 revisions to the narcotics Guidelines. The court also found that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court did not reach the issue of Williams’s eligibility for a sentence reduction under section 3582(c)(2), but instead affirmed the lower court's decision based on the independent ground that a sentence reduction was not warranted under the objectives of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Williams’s motion for a sentence reduction.

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US v. Mathis

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 21-4578

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Quattlebaum

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case involves Daniel Lamont Mathis, who was convicted of multiple offenses, including Hobbs Act robbery, racketeering, and violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity, all in connection with the carjacking, kidnapping, and execution-style murder of a Virginia police officer. Initially, Mathis was sentenced to four concurrent life sentences and a consecutively imposed term of 132 years’ imprisonment. However, after an appeal and the passage of the First Step Act of 2018, which amended the sentencing structure for second or subsequent convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), the district court resentenced Mathis to four concurrent life sentences, plus 48 years’ imprisonment.

The district court also set forth mandatory and discretionary conditions of supervised release. One of the discretionary conditions was that Mathis would be subject to warrantless search and seizure to ensure compliance with these conditions. However, the written judgment included additional language, stating that Mathis must warn any other occupants that the premises may be subject to searches pursuant to this condition.

Mathis appealed, arguing that the additional language in the written judgment constituted error under United States v. Rogers and United States v. Singletary. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with Mathis, finding that the requirement to warn other occupants was inconsistent with the orally pronounced condition. The court held that this discrepancy constituted reversible error under Rogers and Singletary. As a result, the court vacated Mathis' sentence and remanded the case for a full resentencing.

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United States v. Rudolph

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Docket: 21-30739

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: Graves

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Gene Rudolph, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute significant quantities of cocaine. Prior to sentencing, Rudolph objected to the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), particularly the application of various enhancements and his designation as a "career offender." The latter significantly increased his offense level and advisory guideline range for incarceration. Rudolph's career offender status was based on his past convictions, including a 1996 drug offense. He argued that this conviction should not have been considered as it occurred more than fifteen years before the current offense, making it too stale for the career offender guideline.

The district court, however, determined that the PSR was accurate and that Rudolph's parole on the 1996 drug offense was revoked in 2004, which was within fifteen years of the commencement of the current offense. Consequently, Rudolph was sentenced to 262 months of incarceration.

Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the government failed to provide an adequate evidentiary basis to support its claim that Rudolph's parole was revoked in 2004 for the 1996 drug conviction. The court ruled that the district court's adoption of this fact and application of the career offender enhancement was clear error. The court also rejected Rudolph's argument that his current offense did not qualify as a "controlled substance offense" under the sentencing guidelines. The court vacated Rudolph's sentence and remanded the case to the district court for resentencing.

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United States v. Woods

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Docket: 23-20452

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Darion Benjamin Woods pleaded guilty to damaging the property of a foreign official in the United States. Woods and his co-defendant broke into the British Consul General’s family home in Houston, Texas, stealing various items and causing over $50,000 in damages. Woods was arrested and charged with one count of damaging property occupied by a foreign official. He pleaded guilty without a plea agreement. The presentence investigation report calculated Woods’s Guidelines imprisonment range at 12 to 18 months. Woods objected to the report, seeking a two-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility.

The district court awarded Woods’s requested two-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility and calculated the Guidelines range at 8–14 months. However, the court varied upwards and sentenced Woods to 30 months in prison. The court concluded that this sentence was necessary to satisfy the 3553(a) factors and to protect the community given Woods’s prior criminal history. The court also ordered Woods to pay $56,636.15 in restitution and imposed a 3-year term of supervised release. Woods timely appealed, arguing that his above-Guidelines sentence is substantively unreasonable and that the condition in the written judgment that he must “refrain from the excessive use of alcohol” conflicts with the oral pronouncement that “while in the program, he’s not to consume alcohol excessively.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Woods to 30 months in prison, which was above the Guidelines range. The court also found that the written condition of supervised release that Woods must "refrain from the excessive use of alcohol" conflicted with the oral pronouncement that "while in the program, he’s not to consume alcohol excessively." The court modified the sentence to reflect that while Woods is in the drug-treatment program, he’s not to consume alcohol excessively.

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In re: West

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Docket: 23-1792

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: STRANCH

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Roy Christopher West, who is serving a life sentence without parole for a conviction that the district judge has attributed to a sentencing error. West was indicted in 2010 on a charge of conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire. He was tried twice, and during the second trial, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. However, the indictment did not include any allegation that personal injury or death resulted from the conspiracy, and the jury was not instructed that death was an element of West's offense. The district court sentenced West under the federal murder-for-hire statute, which imposes a life sentence in cases where "death results." The court concluded that sentencing West to life imprisonment under these circumstances violated West's constitutional rights.

West initially moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate a causation defense. The district court denied that motion. West then moved for compassionate release, arguing that his unconstitutionally imposed life sentence, combined with his rehabilitation while incarcerated, created an extraordinary and compelling circumstance that warranted a sentence reduction. The district court agreed and reduced his sentence to time served. However, the Government appealed, and the appellate court reversed, holding that compassionate release could not be used as a vehicle for second or successive § 2255 motions.

West then sought relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). The district court construed West's motion as a second or successive § 2255 motion and transferred it. West opposed the transfer and asked the appellate court to remand to the district court for a ruling on the merits of his Rule 60(b) motion. The appellate court vacated the district court's order construing West's motion as a second or successive § 2255 motion and remanded the motion to the district court to consider under Rule 60(b).

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Huynh v. Garland

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-1318

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Kobes

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Immigration Law

The petitioner, Nguyen Chi Cuong Nmn Huynh, a Vietnamese citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States, was convicted in Iowa for knowingly purchasing or possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaging in a prohibited sexual act. Following this conviction, the Department of Homeland Security sought his removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), arguing that his crime constituted "sexual abuse of a minor," an aggravated felony that warrants removal. An immigration judge found Huynh removable, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed his appeal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed de novo whether Huynh's state crime qualifies as sexual abuse of a minor. The court applied the "categorical approach," examining whether the state statute defining the crime of conviction categorically fits within the generic federal definition of a corresponding aggravated felony. The court found that the Iowa statute is broader than the generic federal offense of sexual abuse of a minor.

The court held that the conduct criminalized by the Iowa statute, namely, knowingly possessing a prohibited image, falls outside the generic federal offense of sexual abuse of a minor. The court reasoned that none of the definitions of "sexual abuse of a minor" in the INA, reliable dictionaries, or a closely related statute captures simple possession of child pornography. The court also found that the BIA's preferred definition, which requires something more than simple possession of child pornography, does not apply to Huynh's case.

The court also considered the Department of Homeland Security's charge that Huynh committed a "crime involving moral turpitude" within five years of his admission to the United States. The court found that the government could not defend the BIA's decision on this charge and granted the government's request for voluntary remand for the BIA to reconsider its decision.

In conclusion, the court granted Huynh's petition for review, vacated the BIA's order, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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United States v. Garrett

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-1256

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Kelly

Areas of Law: Agriculture Law, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law

James and Levi Garrett, a father and son farming duo in South Dakota, were found guilty by a jury of making false statements in connection with federal crop insurance. The Garretts had participated in a federal crop insurance program, administrated by Crop Risk Services (CRS) and backed by the Risk Management Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They had obtained insurance for sunflower crops in 2018, and James had obtained insurance for a corn crop in 2019. The Garretts were accused of falsely certifying the number of acres of sunflowers and corn they planted in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and subsequently reporting harvest losses to CRS.

The case went to trial in October 2022. The jury heard from several witnesses and examined dozens of exhibits. At the conclusion of the trial, James was convicted on two counts of making a false statement in connection with insurance for sunflower and corn crops, and Levi was convicted on one count of making a false statement in connection with insurance for a sunflower crop. The Garretts moved for judgment of acquittal, and in the alternative, a new trial, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The district court denied their motion.

The Garretts appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, challenging the district court’s evidentiary rulings and its denial of their post-trial motions. They argued that the district court erred in admitting certain evidence and excluding others, and that there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that the trial record supported the jury verdict and that the district court did not err in its evidentiary rulings or in denying the Garretts' post-trial motions.

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United States v. Maloney

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 22-3419

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: SHEPHERD

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Robert Maloney was convicted for his role in a Minnesota-based drug distribution ring while serving a sentence in a state prison for a terroristic-threatening conviction. He was sentenced to 262 months’ imprisonment and 5 years of supervised release. Maloney appealed, arguing that the district court had limited cross-examination of the Government’s key witness, denied his request to represent himself during closing argument, denied his request for discovery sanctions based on the Government’s alleged failure to produce audio recordings of phone conversations, and violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The district court had denied Maloney's request to represent himself during closing arguments, stating that it was too late in the process and it would confuse the jury. The court also denied Maloney's motion for discovery sanctions, concluding that the Government did not violate Rule 16(a) as it had properly disclosed and made available for inspection all the physical evidence, including the audio files, by the deadline. The court also overruled Maloney's objection to the magistrate judge’s order denying his request for sanctions.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions. The court found that any error in limiting the cross-examination of the Government’s key witness was harmless because Maloney had the opportunity to challenge the witness’s credibility in other ways. The court also found that the district court did not err in denying Maloney’s request to represent himself at closing, as the request was untimely and would have disrupted the proceedings. The court further held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for discovery sanctions, as the Government had complied with Rule 16. Lastly, the court found no error in the denial of Maloney’s constitutional speedy trial claim.

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DOE V. FITZGERALD

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 22-56216

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: Ikuta

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Ten plaintiffs filed a civil lawsuit against Daniel Fitzgerald under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), alleging multiple sex trafficking violations. The government intervened and requested a stay of the litigation pending the resolution of a criminal case involving a different defendant, Peter Nygard. The district court granted the stay under a provision of the TVPRA that mandates a stay of any civil action during the pendency of any criminal action arising out of the same occurrence in which the claimant is the victim. Fitzgerald appealed the stay order.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that it had jurisdiction to review the stay order as it was lengthy and indefinite, thus effectively placing the litigants out of court. The court also held that the district court properly granted a mandatory stay under the TVPRA because a criminal action was pending, the criminal action arose out of the same occurrence as the civil action, and the plaintiffs in the civil action were victims of an occurrence that was the same in the civil and criminal proceedings. The court rejected Fitzgerald's argument that the stay should only be issued if the defendant in the civil action is a named defendant in the related criminal action. The court also held that if a stay is required under the TVPRA, then the district court must stay the entire action.

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USA V. GROPPO

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 22-50288

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: Katzmann

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Gaming Law, Tax Law

In 2014, Salvatore Groppo pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the transmission of wagering information as a "sub-bookie" in an unlawful international sports gambling enterprise. He was sentenced to five years' probation, 200 hours of community service, a $3,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. In 2022, Groppo moved to expunge his conviction, seeking relief from a potential tax liability of over $100,000 on his sports wagering activity. He argued that the tax liability was disproportionate to his relatively minor role in the criminal enterprise.

The district court denied Groppo's motion to expunge his conviction. The court reasoned that expungement of a conviction is only available if the conviction itself was unlawful or otherwise invalid. The court also stated that the IRS's imposition of an excise tax does not provide grounds for relief as 'government misconduct' that would warrant expungement.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that because Groppo alleged neither an unlawful arrest or conviction nor a clerical error, the district court correctly determined that it did not have ancillary jurisdiction to grant the motion to expunge. The court explained that a district court is powerless to expunge a valid arrest and conviction solely for equitable considerations, including alleged misconduct by the IRS.

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USA V. WILEY

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 22-50235

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Owens

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involved Chanel Wiley, who was convicted for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. During jury selection, Wiley's ankle monitor, which she was wearing as a condition of her pretrial release, started beeping. Wiley argued that this incident prejudiced her and warranted a new trial.

The district court judge acknowledged hearing the alert but did not believe the jurors knew what the sound was. After the monitor beeped again, the judge ordered a recess and had the monitor removed outside the presence of the jury. Wiley was subsequently convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and acquitted of distributing methamphetamine.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit assumed that at least one juror concluded that the beeping sound meant Wiley was wearing an ankle monitor. However, the court held that ankle monitors are not inherently prejudicial under the standards set by previous cases, including Deck v. Missouri and Holbrook v. Flynn. The court reasoned that ankle monitors are less obtrusive and do not create the same perception of the defendant as shackles do. The court also found that Wiley failed to prove that she was actually prejudiced by the beeping ankle monitor. Therefore, the court affirmed the conviction.

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Mills v. Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Docket: 24-11661

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: William Holcombe Pryor, Jr.

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Jamie Mills, an Alabama inmate, was convicted of the capital murders of Floyd and Vera Hill in 2007 and sentenced to death. Mills and his common-law wife, JoAnn, had plotted to rob the Hills, and Mills was found to have executed the Hills with a machete, tire tool, and ball-peen hammer. JoAnn testified against Mills at his trial and later pleaded guilty to murder, receiving a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. Mills moved for a new trial, arguing that JoAnn had perjured herself by denying that she testified against him to procure leniency for herself. The trial court denied the motion, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision. Mills also unsuccessfully sought post-conviction relief under Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.

Mills petitioned the district court for a writ of habeas corpus in 2017, which was denied in 2020. His motion for a certificate of appealability was denied, and the Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari in 2022. In 2024, Mills filed a successive motion under Rule 32 in state court, offering an affidavit by JoAnn Mills’s attorney, Tony Glenn, alleging that JoAnn had been offered a plea deal in exchange for her testimony at Mills's trial. Mills also moved for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60, arguing that newly discovered evidence established that the district attorney had engaged in misconduct by falsely stating to the trial court that there was no deal with JoAnn. The district court denied relief on each ground.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Mills's application for a certificate of appealability and his motion to stay his execution. The court found that no reasonable jurist could conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying Mills's motion for relief under Rule 60(b)(2), Rule 60(b)(3) and (d)(3), and Rule 60(b)(6). The court also found that Mills's motion for Rule 60(b)(6) relief was not timely and that no reasonable jurist would question the denial on the merits as supported by the record.

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Mills v. Hamm

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Docket: 24-11689

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: William Holcombe Pryor, Jr.

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

An Alabama inmate, Jamie Mills, who was scheduled for execution on May 30, 2024, for committing two murders in 2004, appealed the denial of his motion for a preliminary injunction. Mills claimed that the State's practice of restraining its condemned prisoners on a gurney before execution would violate his constitutional rights to access the courts, to counsel, to due process, and against cruel and unusual punishment.

Mills's case had been reviewed by multiple courts. His death sentence was affirmed by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court of Alabama. The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari. Mills also sought postconviction relief under Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32, which was denied by the trial court and affirmed by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court of Alabama. His federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the district court in 2020. This Court denied a certificate of appealability in 2021, and the Supreme Court denied certiorari in 2022.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Mills's motion for a stay of execution. The court found that Mills had not established that he was substantially likely to succeed on the merits of his appeal or that the equities favor a stay of execution at this late stage. The court rejected Mills's arguments that he was likely to succeed on the merits of his claims under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The court also found that Mills's delay in seeking a preliminary injunction and a stay was "unnecessary and inexcusable," and that other equities weighed against a stay.

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USA v. Webster

Court: US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Docket: 22-3064

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: MILLETT

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

A retired New York police officer, Thomas Webster, attended a rally convened by former President Trump on January 6, 2021, and subsequently assaulted Officer Rathbun of the Metropolitan Police Department at the Capitol. Webster was convicted of five felonies and one misdemeanor offense and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He appealed his convictions and sentence.

Webster's trial took place in the District of Columbia. He had requested a change of venue, arguing that he could not get an impartial jury in the District due to its political leanings and exposure to news coverage of the January 6th events. The district court denied his motion, finding no presumption of prejudice against Webster in the District's jury pool. The court also noted that other January 6th cases had proceeded to trial in the District without any jury-bias issues. A jury subsequently found Webster guilty on all counts.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed Webster's convictions and sentence. The court rejected Webster's arguments that the jury was not impartial, that he was wrongly denied his right to effectively cross-examine Officer Rathbun, and that the district court incorrectly instructed the jury on his Section 111(b) charge. The court also found no error in the district court's application of a sentencing enhancement for Webster's use of body armor during the commission of the offense, and it rejected Webster's argument that his sentence was substantively unreasonable compared to other January 6th defendants.

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Lookhart v. State of Alaska, Board of Dental Examiners

Court: Alaska Supreme Court

Docket: S-18466

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: PATE

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law, Health Law

Seth Lookhart, a dentist, was convicted of numerous crimes related to a fraudulent scheme that endangered his patients' health and safety. The scheme involved unnecessary sedation of patients to fraudulently bill Alaska’s Medicaid program, overcharging it by more than $1.6 million. Lookhart also stole $412,500 from a business partner. His reckless sedation practices nearly resulted in the loss of two patients' lives. He was arrested in April 2017 and convicted on 46 charges in January 2020, leading to a sentence of 20 years in prison with eight years suspended.

Following Lookhart's convictions, the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing sought to revoke his dental license. Lookhart agreed to the facts of the accusation but argued that revocation was not an appropriate sanction. The administrative law judge (ALJ) disagreed, stating that Lookhart's misconduct was more severe than any prior case and that revocation was the clear and obvious sanction. The Board of Dental Examiners adopted the ALJ's decision.

Lookhart appealed to the superior court, arguing that the Board's decision was inconsistent with its prior decisions. The court disagreed, stating that the Board had wide discretion to determine appropriate sanctions and that no prior case was comparable to Lookhart's. The court affirmed the Board's decision. Lookhart then appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska.

The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. It held that the Board of Dental Examiners did not abuse its discretion by revoking Lookhart's license. The court found that none of the Board's prior licensing cases involved misconduct of the scope and severity in this case, so there was no applicable precedent to limit the Board's exercise of its discretion.

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Jeffery v. State

Court: Arkansas Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 Ark. 96

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: JOHN DAN KEMP

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Corey Jeffery, who was convicted of capital murder and first-degree unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle by the Arkansas County Circuit Court. The victim, Christopher Haynes, was found dead in his car at his workplace, Riceland Foods plant. The investigation led to the identification of a Dodge Ram truck, distinctive in its features, which was likely involved in the homicide. Jeffery and Jonathan Dabner were identified as suspects, with Dabner pleading guilty in a separate case to unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle. Evidence against Jeffery included a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson bullet found in the truck, a receipt for the purchase of a .40-caliber handgun and ammunition, and video footage of Jeffery and Dabner at the gun store. Jeffery's wife testified about an alleged affair between her and the victim, which had caused friction in their marriage.

The trial court denied Jeffery's motions for directed verdict, and the jury convicted him of capital murder and first-degree unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus seventy years with an enhancement of fifteen years on each count for committing a felony with a firearm. Jeffery appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in denying his motions for directed verdict, claiming that the State failed to present substantial evidence that he committed the offenses.

The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found substantial evidence supporting the convictions, including Jeffery's access to a .40-caliber handgun, his presence at the crime scene, and his attempt to silence a witness. The court concluded that the jury could have reached a conclusion with reasonable certainty, without resorting to speculation or conjecture, that Jeffery discharged a firearm from a vehicle, causing Haynes's death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.

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Wheeler v. Appellate Division of Superior Court

Court: Supreme Court of California

Docket: S272850

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: Jenkins

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Health Law

In 2019, Emily Wheeler, a property owner, was charged with various violations of the Los Angeles Municipal Code related to unlicensed cannabis activity on her property. Wheeler, who was 85 years old and had no criminal record, claimed she had no knowledge of the illegal activity. The trial court dismissed the charges against her, citing her age, clean record, and lack of knowledge about the illegal activity on her property. The People appealed the dismissal, arguing that the trial court erred in considering Wheeler's lack of knowledge because the charges were strict liability offenses.

The appellate division of the superior court reversed the dismissal, agreeing with the People that the trial court should not have considered Wheeler's lack of knowledge. The appellate division reasoned that since the charges were strict liability offenses, Wheeler's lack of knowledge was not mitigating. Wheeler then petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate to affirm the trial court's dismissal, but the Court of Appeal affirmed the appellate division's decision.

The Supreme Court of California reversed the Court of Appeal's judgment. The Supreme Court held that a trial court has discretion to consider a defendant's lack of knowledge when deciding whether to dismiss charges in furtherance of justice under Penal Code section 1385, even for strict liability offenses. The Supreme Court reasoned that the nature of the charged offense and a defendant's minimal culpability can be relevant considerations for a section 1385 dismissal. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeal with instructions to issue a writ of mandate directing the appellate division to affirm the trial court's dismissal.

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People v. Pritchett

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: A168411(First Appellate District)

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: LANGHORNE WILSON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case revolves around a defendant, Tara Shawnee Pritchett, who was on probation for two misdemeanor offenses. In September 2021, a detective conducted a warrantless search of Pritchett's room, believing she was on searchable probation. The search resulted in the discovery of U.S. currency and what was believed to be fentanyl. Pritchett was subsequently charged with one felony count of possession for sale of a controlled substance. However, Pritchett moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search, arguing that her probation had been automatically terminated by Assembly Bill No. 1950 (AB 1950), which limited the maximum term of probation for most misdemeanor offenses to one year.

The trial court granted Pritchett's motion to suppress the evidence. It concluded that Pritchett's probation had automatically terminated when AB 1950 became effective on January 1, 2021, several months before the search. The court also ruled that the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply, leading to the dismissal of the charge against Pritchett.

The People appealed the trial court's decision to the Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District. They argued that the trial court erred in concluding that Pritchett's probation had terminated automatically due to AB 1950. They also contended that the "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule should apply because the detective had made objectively reasonable efforts to determine Pritchett's probation status.

The appellate court agreed with the People's latter contention and reversed the trial court's decision. The court found that the detective had acted in objectively reasonable good faith by relying on court records to verify Pritchett's probation status prior to conducting the search. The court concluded that applying the exclusionary rule in this case would not serve its purpose of deterring unlawful police conduct. Therefore, the court directed the trial court to set aside the order granting Pritchett's motion to suppress and to enter a new order denying the motion.

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People v. Superior Court

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: D082865(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: HUFFMAN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Diana Contreras Chagolla, under the influence of prescription painkillers, led California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers on a high-speed chase. The chase ended when Chagolla crashed her vehicle into a guardrail, blocking two lanes of traffic. Despite repeated orders from the CHP officers, Chagolla did not exit her vehicle for about 45 minutes. During this time, a four-vehicle collision occurred about half a mile to a mile away from Chagolla’s vehicle, resulting in the death of a driver. Chagolla was charged with murder and unlawfully causing death to a person while driving a motor vehicle in attempting to elude a peace officer, among other crimes.

The trial court granted Chagolla's motion to set aside the information for the charges of murder and unlawfully causing death to a person while driving a motor vehicle in attempting to elude a peace officer. The People then filed a petition for mandate, arguing that the superior court erred in setting aside these charges. They requested the court to vacate its order and reinstate the charges.

The Court of Appeal declined to order the requested relief. The court found that the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing did not establish that Chagolla intentionally remained in her car after it crashed and knew that remaining in the vehicle would endanger the life of another. Without establishing these fundamental facts, the People could not show Chagolla’s act of remaining in her car proximately caused the victim’s death. Therefore, the court denied the People's request for relief.

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People v. Johnson

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 32

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Monica M. Márquez

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

The case revolves around a defendant who was convicted for enticement of a child. The defendant had approached a ten-year-old girl, A.W., while she was walking her dog. He drove into the opposing lane of traffic to pull his truck up beside her, asked her personal questions, and made inappropriate comments. Based on these events and evidence of the defendant’s previous behavior with a five-year-old girl in Louisiana, a jury convicted the defendant of enticement of a child.

The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove the offense of enticement. The court of appeals agreed with the defendant's argument, vacating his conviction on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the defendant had attempted to invite or persuade A.W. to enter his truck, or that he intended to commit unlawful sexual contact.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado disagreed with the court of appeals' interpretation of the term "attempt" in the child enticement statute. The Supreme Court held that the term "attempt" in the statute should be interpreted according to its plain meaning, not as referring to the inchoate crime of "attempt" defined in another statute. The Supreme Court found that the defendant's words and actions, taken together and viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, constituted sufficient evidence for a reasonable person to conclude that the defendant attempted to invite or persuade the victim to enter his vehicle with the intent to commit unlawful sexual contact upon her. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ decision vacating the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case to the court of appeals to address his remaining appellate arguments.

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Sanders v. The People of the State of Colorado

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 33

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Gabriel

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

The case revolves around Khalil Jamandre Sanders, who was charged with first-degree assault, illegal discharge of a firearm, menacing, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, and two counts of violence after shooting and injuring Jamie Vasquez during a road-rage incident. Sanders requested the presiding judge to recuse herself from the case, arguing that she had experienced a similar incident of criminal conduct, which could potentially bias her judgment. The trial court denied Sanders's motions, and the case proceeded to trial, resulting in Sanders's conviction.

The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision, concluding that the trial judge's recusal was not required under the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Colorado Constitutions, section 16-6-201(1)(d), C.R.S. (2023), and Crim. P. 21(b), or the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct (“C.J.C.”) 2.11. The division determined that disqualification was not necessary because Sanders failed to demonstrate actual bias on the part of the judge.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado affirmed the division's judgment but on somewhat different grounds. The court concluded that the division applied too strict a standard by requiring a showing of actual bias to support a disqualification motion. However, the court agreed that disqualification was not warranted on the facts of this case. The court also concluded that Sanders had not established an appearance of partiality that might have required the trial court to recuse itself under C.J.C. 2.11(A).

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Walter v. Department of Corrections Secretary

Court: Florida Supreme Court

Docket: SC2023-1640

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Reginald Scott Walter, an inmate serving a thirty-year sentence for attempted first-degree murder and armed burglary, filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court of Florida. This was not his first petition; since 2014, Walter had filed eight habeas corpus petitions and two mandamus petitions, all related to his convictions and sentences. All of these petitions were denied, dismissed, or transferred by the court. In his most recent petition, Walter argued that the evidence against him was insufficient to support his convictions, a claim he had raised in two previous habeas petitions.

Walter's convictions and sentences were affirmed by the Second District Court of Appeal in 2001. His continued filings began in 2014, and all were related to his original case. Despite the repeated denials, dismissals, or transfers of his petitions, Walter continued to file petitions with the Supreme Court of Florida.

The Supreme Court of Florida denied Walter's latest petition as successive and directed him to show cause why he should not be barred from filing any further pro se requests for relief. Walter responded by repeating much of his previous argument and asserting his constitutional right of access to courts and equal protection under the law. However, he failed to acknowledge the frivolous nature of his repeated filings and expressed no remorse for his misuse of the court's resources. The court found that Walter had failed to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed and concluded that he had abused the court's limited judicial resources. As a result, the court ordered that any future pleadings or requests for relief submitted by Walter related to his original case be rejected unless signed by a member in good standing of The Florida Bar. The court also directed the clerk to forward a copy of the opinion to the Florida Department of Corrections' institution where Walter is incarcerated.

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ALLEN v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0171

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Peterson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Sherman Lamont Allen was convicted for the murder of his cousin, Treston Smith, following a physical altercation. Allen had suspected his partner, Tia, of having an affair with Smith. One night, Allen found Tia and Smith together at a gas station. After Tia drove away, Allen engaged in a verbal altercation with Smith, which escalated into a physical fight. Surveillance footage showed Allen beating and kicking Smith, who was on the ground. Smith later died from his injuries. Allen was indicted for one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of aggravated battery. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for malice murder.

Allen appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter as a lesser offense of murder. He contended that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury instruction, as he had acted out of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation, namely, discovering Tia's infidelity with Smith.

The Supreme Court of Georgia agreed with Allen. It held that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter. The court found that there was at least slight evidence to support the instruction, namely, Allen's discovery of Tia's infidelity. The court also found that the State failed to show that it was highly probable that the error did not contribute to the verdict. As a result, the court reversed Allen’s murder conviction.

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BAKER v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0478

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Peterson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Kenneth Lee Baker, who was convicted for the murders of his wife, Lynnale Baker, and stepdaughter, Shaelinda Sanders, and for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The victims were found dead in May 2010, and Baker was indicted in February 2011. He was found guilty on all charges except for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, which was not submitted to the jury. The trial court imposed four consecutive life-without-parole sentences for the murder counts, along with a consecutive five-year sentence for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Baker appealed his conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient, the trial court erred by failing to give a jury charge on impeachment for bias, and the trial court abused its discretion by admitting certain autopsy photos and a notebook found in his truck. His motion for a new trial was denied by the trial court, and the case was transferred to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support Baker's convictions, both as a matter of constitutional due process and Georgia statutory law. The court also concluded that the trial court did not plainly err in failing to give an instruction on impeachment for bias, and did not abuse its discretion in admitting the photos and notebook. The court held that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize the jury’s verdict on the malice murder counts. The court also found that Baker’s confession to his father was corroborated by various evidence, including the circumstances under which the victims were discovered and the various evidence of Baker’s consciousness of guilt.

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GOLD v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0445

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: McMillian

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around the appellant, Justin Christopher Gold, who was convicted of malice murder in connection with the stabbing death of Antonio DePass. Gold was indicted for malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony. A jury found Gold guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for malice murder, plus a consecutive five years in prison for the weapon charge. Gold filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied, but his sentence was modified to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Gold appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in charging the jury on excessive force and that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to evidence of DePass’s good character or to a detective’s testimony about whether Gold’s conduct was consistent with an assertion of self-defense.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the trial court did not err in giving the suggested pattern jury instruction on excessive force as part of its broader instructions on self-defense. The court also found that Gold failed to show that his counsel’s performance was deficient and that such deficiency prejudiced his defense. Therefore, his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were dismissed.

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HARRIS v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0321

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Pinson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Leslie Harris pleaded guilty to malice murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Michael Anthony Davenport. She later moved to withdraw her guilty pleas, asserting that certain mental health issues had prevented her from entering a knowing and voluntary plea. The trial court denied her motion. Harris was indicted for malice murder, felony murder predicated on aggravated assault, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. She pleaded guilty to all counts except felony murder, which was nolle-prossed. Harris was sentenced to life in prison for malice murder, a concurrent life sentence for armed robbery, and a consecutive 5-year sentence for possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

The trial court denied Harris's motion to withdraw her guilty pleas. Harris timely filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals, which was transferred to the Supreme Court of Georgia. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court's decision, finding that the record supports the trial court’s conclusion that Harris’s plea was knowing and voluntary.

The Supreme Court of Georgia found that the trial court had considered Harris's mental-health diagnoses and treatment and her ability to communicate with counsel and the court to conclude that she understood the nature of the charges, rights she was waiving, and consequences of entering her plea. The court found that Harris's responses and those of plea counsel amply supported the court’s conclusion that Harris’s plea was knowing and voluntary. The court also found that the record contains no evidence that Harris's schedule of taking her medication affected her ability to enter a knowing and voluntary plea. The court concluded that the trial court did not err in determining that Harris entered her plea of her own free choice, with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences. The trial court therefore acted within its discretion when it denied Harris’s motion to withdraw her guilty pleas. The judgment was affirmed.

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HOWARD v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S23G1037

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Peterson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Isaac Taqai Howard was sentenced as a first offender to two concurrent fifteen-year sentences, with the first eighteen months in confinement and the balance served on probation. In November 2022, the State filed two petitions alleging that Howard violated the conditions of his probation. After a hearing, the trial court entered an adjudication of guilt on both petitions and resentenced Howard as a felon to fifteen years, with the first five years in confinement and the balance served on probation. Howard appealed, but the Court of Appeals dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction because he failed to file an application for discretionary appeal.

The Court of Appeals applied its decision from nearly 40 years ago in Dean v. State, which held that the revocation of a defendant’s first-offender probation was controlled by the discretionary appeal procedure in OCGA § 5-6-35. The court reasoned that OCGA § 5-6-35 (a) required a discretionary application for appeals from orders revoking probation, making no distinction between first-offender probation and probation otherwise provided for in criminal cases.

The Supreme Court of Georgia granted certiorari to determine whether Howard had the right to a direct appeal under OCGA § 5-6-34 (a) or was instead required to file a discretionary application under OCGA § 5-6-35 (a). The court concluded that the entry of an adjudication of guilt and revocation of a defendant’s first-offender status is directly appealable. The court reasoned that the entry of an adjudication of guilt and sentence constitutes a final judgment and triggers the defendant’s right to an immediate appeal under OCGA § 5-6-34 (a) (1). The court further reasoned that an appeal in this context is not an appeal from an order revoking probation and thus does not require a discretionary application. Therefore, the court reversed the Court of Appeals’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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JONES v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0351

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Boggs

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Darious Jones, who was convicted for felony murder in 2016, related to the beating death of Faith Parke. Jones arranged to meet Parke at the location where she was found dead. His DNA and fingerprints were found at the crime scene, including on a doorstop bar near Parke's body. Parke had injuries matching the pattern on the end of the doorstop bar. Jones challenged his conviction, arguing that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient, that the trial court erred by allowing him to decide whether to testify without further inquiry due to his mental condition, and that the trial court erred in refusing to give voluntary manslaughter-related instructions that he requested.

Jones was indicted for malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault by a DeKalb County grand jury in 2015. In 2016, the jury found him not guilty of malice murder but guilty of felony murder and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for felony murder. Jones filed a timely motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court in 2023. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to uphold Jones' conviction. The court also ruled that Georgia law does not require a trial court to advise a defendant concerning his right to testify or to make the type of inquiry that Jones asserts the trial court should have made. The court further held that the trial court properly refused to give Jones' requested instructions regarding voluntary manslaughter because no evidence supported them. Lastly, the court dismissed Jones' argument that the trial court erred in sentencing him to life without parole.

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SMITH v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S23G0701

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Colvin

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves an appeal from an in rem civil-asset-forfeiture proceeding against over $1 million held in various bank accounts, real property, and other property. The State alleges that the property was used, intended for use, or constituted the proceeds derived from the commission of numerous crimes related to the theft, purchase, and sale of catalytic converters and other regulated metal property. The appellants, Garrett Smith, Stacey Smith, SmithCo Recycling, LLC, and SmithCo Transfer, LLC, claimed to be the owners of the seized property and moved to dismiss the complaint. They argued that the trial court had failed to timely hold a bench trial or order a continuance, and that the State had failed to allege the essential elements of a crime. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court of Georgia granted certiorari to address three questions. The court concluded that the appellants are estopped from arguing on appeal that the date SmithCo Transfer filed its answer was not equivalent to the date it was served with the complaint. On that basis, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of appellants’ motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to timely hold a bench trial or continue the trial. The court also held that the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the second amended complaint adequately alleged the essential elements of theft by taking. The court therefore reversed the portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion holding otherwise. The case was remanded for further proceedings without answering the third certiorari question.

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STURKEY v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0493

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Bethel

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Ricardo Sturkey was convicted of malice murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Albert White. The crimes occurred in February 2009, and Sturkey was indicted by a Macon County grand jury in July 2010. In December 2010, a jury found Sturkey guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to life in prison for malice murder, along with additional concurrent and consecutive terms for other crimes. Sturkey filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court in January 2022.

The Supreme Court of Georgia reviewed the case in 2024. Sturkey raised two claims of trial court error and argued that his trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. The first claim was that the trial judge expressed an opinion on Sturkey's guilt during the questioning of a witness, violating Georgia law. The court found no error, as the judge's questions focused on the witness's methodology and did not express an opinion on the credibility of the witness or the facts of the case.

Sturkey's second claim was that the trial court erred in its statements about the potential admissibility of polygraph evidence. The court found no error, as the trial court had not made a definitive ruling on the admissibility of the polygraph evidence, and the evidence was not admitted at trial.

Finally, Sturkey argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for discontinuing cross-examination of a principal investigator and for failing to present the testimony of a witness who could provide evidence of additional suspects. The court found no merit in these claims, as Sturkey failed to demonstrate that his counsel's performance was deficient or that he was prejudiced as a result. The court affirmed Sturkey's conviction.

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TARVER v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0521

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: McMillian

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Ricquavious Tarver was convicted of murder and other crimes related to the shooting death of Roosevelt Demmons. The incident occurred in August 2016 at a car wash owned by Alton Tucker. Tarver and Demmons had a prior confrontation, and on the day of the shooting, Tarver confronted Demmons again. Tarver testified that he felt threatened by Demmons, who was walking towards him, so he shot Demmons eight times. Tarver was charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, plus five years to be served consecutively.

Tarver appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of his knowledge of Demmons's previous violent acts and a video-recorded interview of him by the police. The trial court denied his motion for a new trial, and Tarver appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that even if the trial court erred in excluding the evidence, any such error was harmless. The court noted that Tarver's claim of self-defense was weak and that there was strong evidence undercutting his defense. Furthermore, the court found that the evidence of Tarver's cooperation with the police from the video-recorded interview would be largely cumulative of the other evidence presented at trial, and therefore it was highly probable that the exclusion of the video did not contribute to the verdict.

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THOMAS v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0174

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Bethel

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Tyler Jarel Thomas was indicted for the murder of Ashley Brown in February 2014. Prior to his indictment, law enforcement obtained Thomas's phone records, including cell site location information (CSLI), through a court order. At the time, no appellate precedent in Georgia required a warrant for such records. However, Thomas moved to suppress the CSLI, arguing it was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court granted his motion, relying partly on an Eleventh Circuit decision that later reversed its stance on the necessity of a warrant for CSLI.

The State asked the trial court to reconsider its suppression order in light of the Eleventh Circuit's reconsideration. Thomas argued that the end-of-term rule prohibited the trial court's reconsideration. The trial court agreed with Thomas, stating that the end-of-term rule divested it of the authority to reconsider its own prior interlocutory ruling. Thomas was found guilty of malice murder and related crimes, but a new trial was granted due to a Brady violation by the State.

Upon remand to the trial court, the State again moved for reconsideration of the CSLI suppression order. This time, the trial court agreed with the State, vacated the earlier suppression order, and held that the CSLI could be tendered at trial. Thomas appealed this decision.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the trial court's decision. The court held that when a new trial has been granted, trial courts are not prohibited from reconsidering their previous orders. Therefore, because the final judgment in this case was vacated by the grant of a new trial, the trial court could reconsider rulings from earlier terms.

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ZAYAS v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0025

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Colvin

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Family Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

The case involves Christopher Vargas Zayas, who was convicted for malice murder and a related crime in connection with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Carly Andrews. The shooting occurred in September 2018, and Zayas was indicted for multiple charges, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, family violence, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and three counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Zayas was found guilty on all five counts and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. He filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial court.

Zayas appealed his convictions, arguing that the circumstantial evidence at trial was insufficient to exclude the alternative hypothesis that the pistol discharged accidentally as Andrews grabbed it. He also argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress statements he made to investigators at the police station before he received Miranda warnings. The Supreme Court of Georgia, however, affirmed the convictions, concluding that the circumstantial evidence authorized the jury to reject Zayas's alternative hypothesis as unreasonable, that trial counsel was not deficient for failing to seek to suppress Zayas's statements, and that Zayas suffered no prejudice from any instructional error.

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State v. Hawking

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 50927

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: MEYER

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Real Estate & Property Law

In July 2018, Heather Lee Hawking rented a room at a Super 8 hotel in Boise, Idaho, where she housed approximately fifty cats. Over five days, the cats caused extensive damage to the room. Hawking was subsequently charged with and convicted of misdemeanor malicious injury to property. After the incident, the hotel was sold to a new owner. Following Hawking's conviction, the magistrate court conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine restitution owed to the victim. Hawking appealed the Order for Restitution and Judgment.

The magistrate court awarded the new owner of the Super 8 hotel $3,708.40 in restitution, reasoning that the new owner took the property in a damaged condition due to the real estate contract and "stepped into the shoes of the previous owners" through that contract. Hawking appealed this decision to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate court's order. Hawking then appealed to the Idaho Court of Appeals, which also affirmed the district court's decision. Hawking subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho for review.

The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho reversed the district court's order affirming the magistrate court's restitution award. The court found that the State failed to establish that Super 8 was an entity or an assumed business name of a person or entity, and that Super 8 suffered economic loss or injury as a result of Hawking's criminal conduct. The court concluded that the State's failure to establish these elements was fatal to its restitution claim. The court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to vacate the Order for Restitution and Judgment and remand the matter to the magistrate court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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State of Iowa v. Rasmussen

Court: Iowa Supreme Court

Docket: 22-1144

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: Christensen

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Amy Lois Rasmussen, who was charged with two counts of assault causing bodily injury and one count of simple assault following a confrontation with three women outside Boone City Hall. The confrontation turned physical, resulting in injuries to all three women. Rasmussen entered an Alford guilty plea to the two counts of assault causing bodily injury, and in exchange, the State dismissed a related simple misdemeanor charge involving the third victim. The district court rejected both parties’ sentencing recommendations and sentenced Rasmussen to consecutive one-year sentences for each count. It also issued no-contact orders prohibiting Rasmussen's contact with the two victims of assault causing bodily injury and the victim in the dismissed simple misdemeanor case.

The case was initially reviewed by the Iowa Court of Appeals, which affirmed Rasmussen's sentence and the no-contact orders. Rasmussen appealed, arguing that the district court considered improper factors in determining her sentence and lacked jurisdiction to issue a no-contact order regarding the victim in the dismissed simple misdemeanor case.

The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed Rasmussen's conviction and sentence concerning the consecutive one-year sentences and the no-contact orders involving the two victims of assault causing bodily injury. However, it found that the no-contact order in the dismissed case was void. The court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter a no-contact order after it dismissed the charge related to the third victim. The court remanded the issue to the district court for a hearing solely on whether a no-contact order involving the third victim should be entered in the serious misdemeanor case.

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State v. Medina

Court: Iowa Supreme Court

Docket: 22-0199

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: McDermott

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Family Law

The case revolves around Abel Gomez Medina, who was convicted of sexual abuse and indecent contact with a minor. The minor, identified as Dorothy, was his stepdaughter. She reported the abuse to her school counselor, stating that it had been ongoing since she was eleven years old. Dorothy's stepbrother, Frank, also testified that he had witnessed inappropriate behavior between Medina and Dorothy. The defense presented witnesses who claimed they had never seen anything inappropriate between Medina and Dorothy.

Prior to the trial, the State moved to permit Dorothy and Frank to testify via closed-circuit television, citing the potential trauma caused by in-person testimony. The district court granted this for Dorothy but denied it for Frank. During the trial, Dorothy turned eighteen and Medina objected to her continuing to testify via closed-circuit television, arguing that the statute permitting such testimony only applied to minors. The district court overruled this objection, citing a different paragraph of the statute that allowed for closed-circuit testimony for victims or witnesses with mental illnesses, regardless of age.

Medina appealed his conviction, arguing that allowing Dorothy to testify via closed-circuit television violated both the Iowa Code and the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. The court of appeals affirmed Medina's convictions, holding that permitting Dorothy’s closed-circuit testimony satisfied constitutional requirements while she was a minor, and that by meeting the requirements under Iowa Code after she turned eighteen, Medina’s claim of a Confrontation Clause violation similarly failed. Medina then filed an application for further review of the court of appeals ruling, which was granted by the Supreme Court of Iowa.

The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the decisions of the lower courts. It concluded that Medina had failed to preserve error on his Confrontation Clause argument concerning Dorothy’s testimony after she turned eighteen. The court also found that the district court had properly applied the statute to permit Dorothy’s closed-circuit testimony, based on the evidence presented at the pretrial hearing. The court let the court of appeals decision stand on Medina's arguments that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the prosecutor to comment during closing argument and by excluding 911 call logs.

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State v. Green

Court: Maine Supreme Judicial Court

Citation: 2024 ME 44

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: STANFILL

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, James A. Green, was convicted of operating under the influence (OUI) after being found slumped over in his vehicle at a green traffic light. The arresting officer noticed signs of impairment, conducted field sobriety tests, and arrested Green. Another officer, trained as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), evaluated Green and found evidence of drug use. Green was charged and pleaded not guilty.

Prior to the trial, Green filed a motion to limit the DRE's testimony, arguing that the DRE should not be qualified as an expert under Maine Rule of Evidence 702. He also claimed that the State violated discovery rules by not providing an additional expert witness report from the DRE. The trial court reserved ruling on the DRE's opinions and stated that it would address the issues during the trial if necessary. During the trial, the DRE testified extensively about his background, credentials, and experience, and gave his opinion as a DRE. Green did not object to the DRE's qualifications or opinions during the trial.

The jury found Green guilty, and he appealed, arguing that the State violated discovery rules and that the DRE should have been qualified as an expert witness before offering his opinion. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, affirming the conviction. The court found that the State had provided the DRE's report as part of automatic discovery, fulfilling its obligations under the Maine Rules of Unified Criminal Procedure 16. The court also found that the DRE's testimony went beyond lay opinion testimony and was informed by his training and certification as a drug recognition expert. However, since Green did not object to the DRE's qualifications or opinions during the trial, his objection was unpreserved and was reviewed for obvious error. The court found no error that deprived Green of a fair trial or resulted in a serious injustice.

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Gonzalez v. State

Court: Maryland Supreme Court

Docket: 23/23

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Watts

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Immigration Law

In the case of Antonio E. Gonzalez v. State of Maryland, the defendant, Antonio E. Gonzalez, was charged with assaulting his then-wife, M., and their son, F. During the trial, Gonzalez's counsel attempted to cross-examine M. about her application for a U visa, which is a visa for noncitizens who are victims of certain crimes and are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. The trial court ruled that it would not permit cross-examination of M. concerning her immigration status because Gonzalez's counsel had not established an adequate foundation for such inquiry.

The Supreme Court of Maryland held that the trial court erred in precluding Gonzalez's counsel from cross-examining M. about her U visa application. The Supreme Court concluded that, given the nature of the requirement that, for a U visa to be approved, an applicant must be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity and provide a certification from a law enforcement or government official to that effect, a sufficient factual foundation for impeachment of a witness concerning a U visa application is established under Maryland Rule 5-616(a)(4) where there has been a showing that a U visa application, based on the witness being a victim of a crime that the defendant is charged with, has been submitted to the government for approval.

However, the Supreme Court also concluded that, because any error in precluding cross-examination concerning U visa application was harmless, it was not necessary to deviate from general practice of refraining from addressing issue not decided by the trial court or raised in petition for writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court concluded that trial court’s error was harmless beyond reasonable doubt as defendant testified to committing acts that formed basis of offenses for which he was convicted, witness’s testimony was consistent with another witness’s testimony who was not applicant for U visa, witness’s testimony was consistent with initial description of incident, and other evidence corroborated that both witnesses had been assaulted by defendant.

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Mason v. State

Court: Maryland Supreme Court

Docket: 21/23

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: Hotten

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Troy Mason, who was charged with second-degree assault. During the trial, it was discovered that a "strangulation form" provided through discovery was not the original form completed at the scene. Mason requested a curative instruction, but the circuit court offered him an opportunity to question the officer outside the presence of the jury, which he agreed to. After learning details about the alleged original strangulation form, Mason decided to proceed with the trial. The next day, he moved for a mistrial and requested a curative instruction, both of which were denied. Mason was convicted and sentenced to ten years of incarceration with all but seven years suspended and a period of supervised probation for five years.

The Appellate Court of Maryland affirmed the conviction and the denial of a mistrial. The court found that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying the request for a mistrial, where Mason chose to elicit testimony regarding an item not disclosed in discovery, yet later argued he was prejudiced by this testimony. The Supreme Court of Maryland also held that the circuit court did not err in denying the request by Mason for a curative instruction.

The Supreme Court of Maryland affirmed the decision of the Appellate Court, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mason's requests for a mistrial or curative instruction. The court concluded that Mason was not prejudiced by the discovery of the undisclosed strangulation form because the form provided in discovery was helpful to him and because the two testifying officers gave conflicting testimony about the form.

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Pittman v. State of Mississippi

Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi

Citation: 2023-KA-00367-SCT

Opinion Date: May 23, 2024

Judge: KING

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Jerry Pittman and Brianna Pierce were indicted for burglary of a dwelling after they broke into a trailer owned by David Parker and stole several items. Pierce took a plea deal and testified against Pittman, who was subsequently convicted. Pittman appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial was constitutionally infirm because evidence of a prior bad act, specifically the theft of power tools in a separate incident, was improperly admitted.

Prior to Pittman's trial, the Neshoba County Circuit Court heard a proffer from the State arguing that the evidence of the separate theft was admissible to show absence of mistake under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 404(b). The trial court agreed, noting that it could also show intent to steal, and decided to admit the evidence with a limiting jury instruction.

In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, Pittman argued that the admission of evidence of the prior bad act was error and made his trial constitutionally unfair. The court, however, determined that even if the admission of the evidence was an error, it would be harmless. The court noted that the evidence against Pittman was overwhelming, including his own admission of breaking into the trailer and taking items, Pierce's testimony, his written confession, and the stolen items being located in his vehicle. The court concluded that any alleged error did not contribute to the verdict and affirmed Pittman's conviction.

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Ramsey v. Yellowstone County Justice Court

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 116

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Gustafson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

The case involves Clark Ryan Ramsey, an attorney who represented Justin Kalina in a felony assault case. Jessica Foote, a witness in the assault case, was investigated for alleged theft from Kalina's Uber Eats account, but no charges were brought against her. Ramsey sought information from the prosecutor in the assault case that had been gathered in the theft investigation, which he believed could be used to impeach Foote. He submitted a modified form to the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) requesting copies of the Confidential Criminal Justice Information (CCJI) in the theft case, noting he sought copies of CCJI regarding Foote. The YCSO disseminated the CCJI to Ramsey.

The State filed a motion in the Justice Court, seeking to charge Ramsey with misdemeanor forgery and misdemeanor solicitation of the misuse of confidential criminal justice information, stemming from Ramsey’s submission of the form to the YCSO and subsequent receipt of CCJI from that agency. Ramsey filed a Motion to Dismiss, asserting the matter must be dismissed due to a lack of probable cause because, as a matter of law, the State could not prove the elements of forgery or solicitation. The Justice Court denied Ramsey’s motion to dismiss.

Ramsey then petitioned the Supreme Court of the State of Montana for a writ of supervisory control directing the Yellowstone County Justice Court to reverse its order denying Ramsey’s motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court found that there was not probable cause to believe Ramsey committed either offense charged in this case and the Justice Court should not have granted the State’s motion for leave to file a complaint. The Supreme Court accepted and granted Ramsey’s petition, reversed the Justice Court’s finding of probable cause and accompanying order allowing filing of amended complaint, and remanded the matter to the Justice Court with instructions to dismiss.

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State v. Arellano

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 108

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Laurie McKinnon

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Robert Michael Arellano was charged with multiple counts of sexual intercourse without consent, sexual abuse of children, and tampering with a witness, all involving a minor under 12 years of age. The State and Arellano entered into a plea agreement, which the District Court later deemed illegal. Arellano was subsequently tried by a jury and convicted on all counts, receiving a total sentence of 210 years, with 100 years suspended.

The District Court initially accepted a plea agreement between Arellano and the State. However, the court later determined the agreement to be illegal due to the proposed sentence not being authorized by law. The State had incorrectly advised the penalty for the charges, leading to the plea agreement proposing a sentence not in line with the statutory requirements for the offenses committed. When the court pointed out the discrepancy, the State withdrew from the plea agreement and the case proceeded to trial.

In the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, Arellano appealed the District Court's denial of his motion for specific performance of his plea agreement. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that the plea agreement was unlawful. The court found that the plea agreement proposed a penalty not authorized by law and also proposed that Arellano plead to a fictitious offense not recognized under Montana law. The court concluded that Arellano was not entitled to the enforcement of a plea agreement which proposed a penalty not authorized by law and proposed a plea to a fictitious offense.

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State v. James

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 109

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Mike McGrath

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around the defendant, Johnathan James, who was convicted of felony Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Driving While Suspended. The charges stemmed from an incident where James was found asleep in his running vehicle at a gas station, surrounded by empty alcohol containers. The arresting officer, Deputy Sheriff Derek Breiland, testified that James exhibited signs of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and inability to maintain balance during a field sobriety test. James' blood alcohol concentration was later determined to be 0.322 percent.

Prior to the Supreme Court of the State of Montana, the case was heard in the District Court of the Nineteenth Judicial District, Lincoln County. During the trial, the defense counsel questioned the arresting officer's observations and suggested that James could have started drinking after he had safely parked his vehicle. The defense also objected to the officer's testimony that James was in "actual physical control" of his vehicle, arguing that it was a legal conclusion that invaded the province of the jury. The District Court overruled the objection, and the jury convicted James on both charges.

Upon review, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that the arresting officer's testimony was admissible as lay opinion testimony under Montana Rule of Evidence 701. The court reasoned that the officer's testimony was based on his perception and was helpful to the jury in determining a fact in issue. The court also noted that the defense had opened the door for clarification about what factors constitute "actual physical control" under State v. Sommers, thus making the officer's testimony properly admitted lay opinion testimony. The court concluded that it was not an abuse of discretion to allow the officer to testify that James was in "actual physical control" of his vehicle.

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State v. Panasuk

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 113

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Laurie McKinnon

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

John David Panasuk was pulled over by Officer Riediger and Lieutenant Frank Martell for towing a trailer without trailer plates. After Panasuk was unable to initially provide his license, registration, and proof of insurance, Riediger asked him to exit his vehicle. The other occupants, Camilla TalksDifferent and Dustin Hickman, were also asked to exit. Riediger and Martell knew TalksDifferent as a drug user, but they did not know Panasuk or Hickman. When Hickman produced a North Dakota driver’s license, Riediger contacted the Williams County Task Force in North Dakota and was told Hickman had a history of being a drug dealer and user. Riediger also recalled a previous incident where Panasuk was suspected of selling methamphetamine. TalksDifferent gave consent to search her purse, where Riediger found two syringes. She also told Riediger there was methamphetamine in Panasuk’s vehicle. Riediger seized the vehicle and applied for a search warrant. Law enforcement recovered 6.4 grams of methamphetamine from the vehicle’s center console after searching the vehicle. Panasuk was charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia.

The District Court denied Panasuk’s motion to suppress the evidence, noting Panasuk’s previous incident and that TalksDifferent had said there was methamphetamine in the vehicle. The court found that law enforcement had sufficient particularized suspicion to expand the scope of a traffic stop to a drug investigation.

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the District Court's decision. The Supreme Court found that the initial detention was unconstitutionally extended beyond what was necessary to effectuate the initial purpose of the stop. The court concluded that there were no articulable facts, other than prior suspected criminal histories, which were offered as justification to expand the search into a drug investigation. The court held that knowledge of a person’s prior criminal involvement is alone insufficient to give rise to the requisite reasonable suspicion. The court remanded the matter for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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State v. Puccinelli

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 114

Opinion Date: May 28, 2024

Judge: Gustafson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, White Collar Crime

The case involves Neldia Marie Puccinelli, who was accused of embezzling funds from her employer, ProMark, between 2006 and 2009. After her employment was terminated, ProMark filed a civil suit against her, which was settled with an agreement that Puccinelli would transfer certain personal property to ProMark and make 84 monthly payments of $350. In 2011, the State filed criminal charges against Puccinelli for theft by embezzlement. She entered a plea agreement, which consolidated the three counts into one and recommended a fully suspended sentence with restitution consistent with the civil settlement agreement.

The District Court rejected the plea agreement, speculating that Puccinelli would stop paying restitution if given a probationary sentence. The court imposed a 10-year commitment to the Montana Women’s Prison, with 5 years suspended, and ordered Puccinelli to pay $67,235 in restitution. Puccinelli's disability payments were suspended during her incarceration, which led to financial instability for her household. Upon release, Puccinelli resumed making regular payments towards restitution.

In 2022, five months before Puccinelli was set to discharge her probation, the State filed a Petition for Revocation of Suspended Sentence, alleging Puccinelli violated the restitution conditions of her sentence. The District Court determined Puccinelli had violated the terms and conditions of her suspended sentence as she had not “completely paid restitution.” The court revoked her suspended sentence and committed her to the Department of Corrections for five years, all suspended, with “the same conditions and restitution requirements as was in the original Judgment with no credit for street time.”

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the District Court's decision, finding that the lower court had abused its discretion when it revoked Puccinelli’s suspended sentence based on her failure to pay full restitution. The Supreme Court concluded that the violation should have been characterized as a compliance violation, which should have been excused pursuant to § 46-18-203(6)(b), MCA. The case was remanded to the District Court to vacate the August 25, 2022 Judgment on Revocation of Suspended Sentence and dismiss the petition for revocation.

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In re Interest of Jeovani H.

Court: Nebraska Supreme Court

Citation: 316 Neb. 723

Opinion Date: May 24, 2024

Judge: Stacy

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

The case involves a juvenile, Jeovani H., who was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution as a term and condition of his probation. Jeovani was charged with an act that would constitute the felony of first-degree assault, which was later amended to a misdemeanor of attempted third-degree assault. The incident involved Jeovani shoving another youth, causing the youth to fall and fracture his arm. As part of a plea agreement, Jeovani admitted to the amended petition and agreed that the amount of restitution owed to his victim for medical expenses was $2,553.05. However, he disputed his ability to pay that amount.

The Hall County Court, sitting as a juvenile court, accepted Jeovani’s admission to the amended petition and ordered a predisposition investigation. At the disposition and restitution hearing, Jeovani’s mother testified about the family's financial situation and work schedules, arguing that Jeovani did not have the ability to pay the restitution amount. The State called Jeovani and a juvenile probation officer as witnesses, who testified about Jeovani's ability to work and earn money to pay the restitution.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the juvenile court's decision. The court found that Jeovani had the ability to pay the restitution within the 12-month period of his probationary term. The court also rejected Jeovani’s claim that he was not allowed an opportunity to present or cross-examine witnesses on the issue of restitution. The court concluded that the restitution order was consistent with Jeovani’s reformation and rehabilitation and was supported by the record.

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Harris v. Warden

Court: Supreme Court of Nevada

Citation: 140 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 35

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: Herndon

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The appellant, Barry Rashad Harris, was convicted of first-degree kidnapping resulting in substantial bodily harm, battery constituting domestic violence, misdemeanor assault, and battery resulting in substantial bodily harm constituting domestic violence, following a physical altercation with his girlfriend. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of 15 years to life. Harris filed a pro se petition for a postconviction writ of habeas corpus, alleging ineffective assistance of pretrial, trial, and appellate counsel. The district court appointed postconviction counsel, who supplemented the petition with additional claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court set the matter for an evidentiary hearing.

Due to a communication error, Harris, who was incarcerated, was not transported to attend the hearing. The district court proceeded with the hearing in Harris's absence, without a waiver from him of his statutory right to be present. The district court concluded that Harris had not shown ineffective assistance of counsel and denied the petition.

The Supreme Court of Nevada found that the district court violated Harris's statutory right to be present at the hearing. The court clarified that counsel may not waive a petitioner’s right to be present at an evidentiary hearing on a postconviction habeas petition where the record does not indicate that the petitioner personally waived the right to be present. Because the record did not support a valid waiver of the statutory right to be present at the evidentiary hearing, the court concluded that the district court violated Harris’s statutory right to be present at the hearing. The court could not say that this error was harmless given the circumstances presented, and therefore reversed the district court’s order and remanded for a new evidentiary hearing.

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State v. Liverpool

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 22-298

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Long

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Anton Liverpool, was convicted for violating the terms of his probation following a hearing in the Superior Court of Rhode Island. The violation was based on an incident where Liverpool was accused of disorderly conduct. A woman reported to the Providence police that she encountered Liverpool exposing himself and engaging in masturbation while she was walking to work. She also reported that he followed her and continued to expose himself. The police apprehended Liverpool less than an hour later and conducted a show-up identification procedure, where the woman identified Liverpool as the man from her encounter.

The Superior Court conducted a two-day violation hearing based on Liverpool's two prior convictions. The state presented evidence from the woman and a police officer. The woman testified about her interaction with Liverpool, described his appearance, and made an in-court identification of him. She also reviewed two surveillance videos of her interaction with Liverpool. The police officer testified about his response to the woman's 911 call, his review of the footage, and his apprehension of Liverpool. Liverpool did not present any evidence. The trial justice found that the state had demonstrated that Liverpool failed to keep the peace and maintain good behavior, thereby violating the terms of his probation.

Liverpool appealed the decision, arguing that the trial justice erred in admitting video footage that lacked the required foundation and violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. He also argued that the trial justice erred in relying on a suggestive show-up identification conducted by the Providence police. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, concluding that the trial justice did not err in his determination. The court found that there was ample credible evidence upon which the trial justice based his finding, and that the trial justice properly considered the record evidence in determining that Liverpool violated the terms of his probation.

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Hines v. State

Court: South Carolina Supreme Court

Docket: 28205

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: HILL

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Travis Hines, who was indicted for the distribution of heroin after selling the drug to a confidential informant. Hines initially had a public defender, then hired a private attorney, Christopher Wellborn. The State offered Hines a plea deal of ten years, which was later withdrawn and replaced with an eighteen-year offer. Wellborn requested the video of the drug buy, which the State refused to provide unless Hines rejected the plea offer and proceeded to trial. After viewing the video, Wellborn advised Hines to accept a fifteen-year plea deal. However, Hines discharged Wellborn and began negotiating directly with the State. He eventually pleaded guilty in exchange for a fourteen-year sentence, representing himself in the process.

The lower courts dismissed Hines' post-conviction relief (PCR) petition, where he sought to set aside his guilty plea on the grounds that he was not adequately warned about the dangers of self-representation and that the State violated discovery rules by refusing to let him watch the video. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal, ruling that the warnings Hines received about self-representation satisfied the Sixth Amendment and that there was no discovery violation.

The Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that Hines had competently and intelligently waived his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The court found that Hines, a twenty-nine-year-old college student with previous experience in the criminal justice system, understood the nuances of having legal representation. The court also noted that Hines had been advised by Wellborn to plead guilty, and the nature of the charges and the scope of the punishments he faced were clear to him. The court concluded that Hines had not met his burden of proving his waiver was involuntary.

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State v. Henry

Court: South Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 S.D. 30

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Per Curiam

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Miranda Ann Henry, also known as Crystal Trinity Pumpkinseed, was sentenced to 75 years for first-degree manslaughter for the death of her boyfriend, Christopher Mexican. Henry had been released from prison on parole after serving 13 months for her fourth DUI conviction. She returned to Pierre to continue her relationship with Mexican and began using alcohol and methamphetamine. On February 8, 2022, after a week of heavy drinking, Henry decided to stop drinking. However, she began experiencing hallucinations, a condition she had suffered from since 2014. On February 9, 2022, Henry woke up next to Mexican's lifeless body, covered in blood. Law enforcement found a bloody box cutter in Henry's pocket and her blood alcohol content was 0.227%.

Henry was indicted for second-degree murder. However, she entered into a plea agreement, pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter involving domestic abuse. The State dismissed the second-degree murder charge. At the sentencing hearing, the court considered Henry's character and history, including her age, previous felony convictions, problems with alcohol abuse, and mental health issues. The court also considered the gruesome nature of the crime and the fact that Henry did not attempt to hide from law enforcement. The court sentenced Henry to 75 years with credit for time served.

Henry appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion in sentencing. She claimed that the court failed to properly weigh certain circumstances, including her unstable history, nonviolent criminal history, history with alcohol abuse, her intoxication at the time of the offense, and her mental state at the time of the offense. The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that the court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Henry. The court had considered an extensive presentence investigation report and determined that, based on the heinousness of the offense, her prior opportunities for treatment, and her demonstrated tendency to keep committing crimes, she deserved a 75-year sentence.

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Thomas v. Commonwealth

Court: Supreme Court of Virginia

Docket: 230403

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: MANN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around a defendant, Tony Thomas, who was indicted for aggravated malicious wounding following a physical altercation that resulted in permanent injuries to the victim. The parties initially reached a plea agreement, which was presented to the trial court but not immediately accepted. The court indicated it would review the agreement and make a decision at a later date. However, due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in the circumstances of the case, the parties renegotiated and entered into a second plea agreement, which was presented to a different judge and accepted.

The original judge, upon learning of the second plea agreement, insisted on enforcing the first agreement, despite the parties having withdrawn their assent to it. The defendant and the Commonwealth both objected to this decision, arguing that they were free to renegotiate the plea agreement as it had not been accepted by the court. The trial court rejected these arguments and convicted the defendant based on the first plea agreement.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision, relying on the doctrine of approbate and reprobate and the court's inherent authority to take a matter under advisement for a later decision. The Court of Appeals held that the defendant was required to either present a new plea agreement to the original judge or inform the original judge that he wished to withdraw his guilty plea.

The Supreme Court of Virginia, however, reversed the decisions of the lower courts. The court held that parties are free to modify or renegotiate plea agreements when a trial court has not yet accepted the agreement. The court found that the trial court's insistence upon and implementation of a plea agreement that the parties had revoked was reversible error. The court vacated the judgment of conviction and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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