Justia Daily Opinion Summaries

Criminal Law
June 7, 2024

Table of Contents

United States v. Mojica-Ramos

Contracts, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

US v. Carmona

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

US v. Polaco-Hance

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Stankiewicz v. Garland

Criminal Law, Immigration Law

US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Nazario v. Gutierrez

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Sutherland

Criminal Law, Tax Law, White Collar Crime

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

US v. Canada

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

US v. McCabe

Contracts, Criminal Law, Government Contracts, White Collar Crime

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Stanton

Criminal Law, Health Law

US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Lewicki v. Emerson

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Dameron

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Kowalski

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

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Hancock

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Jackson

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

U.S. v. Lukassen

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Ahmed

Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Health Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Fleming

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Walker

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Betschart v. Washington County Circuit Court Judges

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

USA V. FARIAS-CONTRERAS

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

United States v. Diamond

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

State v. Perez-Gutierrez

Criminal Law

Arizona Supreme Court

P. v. Burgos

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of California

In re A.M.

Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

California Courts of Appeal

P. v. Mayberry

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

P. v. Rounds

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Gefrerer

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Austin

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Colorado Supreme Court

People v. Honstein

Criminal Law

Colorado Supreme Court

People v. Johnson

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Colorado Supreme Court

Tarr v. People

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Colorado Supreme Court

Carney v. State

Criminal Law

Delaware Supreme Court

State v. Browder

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Supreme Court of Hawaii

State v. Tran

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Hawaii

State v. Barr

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

State v. Goullette

Criminal Law, Family Law

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

People v. Jefferson

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Illinois

Russell v. State of Indiana

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Indiana

State v. Johnson

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Iowa Supreme Court

State v. Wade

Criminal Law

Iowa Supreme Court

State of Maine v. Judkins

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Maine Supreme Judicial Court

Commonwealth v. Barros

Criminal Law, Immigration Law

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

People Of Michigan v. Scott

Criminal Law

Michigan Supreme Court

State v. Amador

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

New Mexico Supreme Court

State v. Lobato-Rodriguez

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

New Mexico Supreme Court

State v. Lorenzo

Criminal Law

New Mexico Supreme Court

State v. Phillips

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

New Mexico Supreme Court

State v. Rael

Criminal Law

New Mexico Supreme Court

State v. Taylor

Criminal Law, Family Law

New Mexico Supreme Court

City of Grand Forks v. Riemers

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Anderson

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Camperud

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Doyle

Criminal Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Goodale

Criminal Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Jelinek

Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Massey

Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Sargent

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

State v. Studhorse

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

Chung v. Rosenblum

Criminal Law, Election Law

Oregon Supreme Court

State v. Aranda

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Oregon Supreme Court

Commonwealth v. Dowling

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Commonwealth v. Greer

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Commonwealth v. Torsilieri

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Commonwealth v. Womack

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

The State v. English

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

South Carolina Supreme Court

Acosta v. State

Criminal Law

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

State of West Virginia v. Juan McMutary

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

State v. Lyon

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

Said v. State

Criminal Law

Wyoming Supreme Court

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Criminal Law Opinions

United States v. Mojica-Ramos

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Dockets: 22-1204, 22-1205

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: MONTECALVO

Areas of Law: Contracts, Criminal Law

The defendant, Yavier Mojica-Ramos, was on supervised release after serving a five-year sentence for possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. In 2020, he was arrested for unlawfully possessing two modified machine guns, discovered when police officers were enforcing a COVID-19 mask mandate. Mojica entered into a plea agreement in 2021, promising to plead guilty to the unlawful possession charge. The agreement required both parties to request a sentence within the guidelines range, later calculated as thirty-seven to forty-six months.

The government filed a sentencing memorandum requesting an upper-end guidelines sentence of forty-six months, attaching photos and a video from Mojica's cellphone as evidence of his involvement in other criminal behavior. Mojica filed a motion to compel specific performance of the plea agreement, alleging that the government breached the agreement by advocating for an upwardly variant sentence. The district court denied Mojica's motion.

The district court imposed an upwardly variant seventy-two-month sentence for the unlawful possession charge, rejecting the parties' recommendations for a guidelines sentence. Immediately following this, the court held a supervised release revocation hearing and issued a sixty-month statutory maximum revocation sentence to run consecutively to Mojica's unlawful possession sentence.

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that the prosecutor's sentencing advocacy did not conform to the meticulous standards of performance required by Mojica's entrance into the plea agreement. The court vacated Mojica's sentences for unlawful possession and revocation, remanding the cases for resentencing before a different judge.

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US v. Carmona

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Docket: 22-1947

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Selya

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The defendant, Ronald Yoel Marte Carmona, was convicted on charges related to multiple fentanyl sales. He appealed, challenging the district court's denial of his motions to suppress the fruits of a Terry stop and arguing that the evidence supporting his six convictions was insufficient.

Previously, the defendant had been indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 400 grams or more of fentanyl, and five counts of distribution and possession with intent to distribute forty grams or more of fentanyl. Each of the distribution counts corresponded with a particular controlled buy. The defendant moved to suppress the fruits of a traffic stop and the fruits of a search of an apartment, arguing that the stop was unconstitutional because it was not supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The district court denied the motions, finding that the agents possessed reasonable suspicion to effectuate the stop.

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the Terry stop was reasonable, grounded in articulable suspicion, and that the verdicts were supported by the record evidence. The court also found that the agents who stopped the defendant possessed a reasonable, articulable suspicion that he was involved in past criminal conduct, making the Terry stop permissible. The court further held that the evidence presented at trial established that a rational factfinder could conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was guilty of the charges.

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US v. Polaco-Hance

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Docket: 21-1942

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Rikelman

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Jean Carlos Polaco-Hance, was convicted of being a felon in unlawful possession of a machinegun. He was sentenced to seventy-two months in prison, a sentence that was forty percent higher than the upper end of the range recommended under the federal sentencing guidelines. Polaco appealed his sentence, arguing that it was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable.

In the lower courts, Polaco had pled guilty to attempting to smuggle about $100,000 in cash from the United States to the Dominican Republic and making a false statement to a United States agency. He was sentenced to fifteen months of imprisonment for each offense, to be served concurrently, and three years of supervised release. He began his supervised release term on May 29, 2020. About three months later, Polaco was arrested for the offenses that form the basis of this appeal. A federal grand jury indicted Polaco on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and one count of unlawfully possessing a machinegun. The case proceeded to trial, after which a jury found Polaco guilty on both counts.

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the district court had provided sufficient reasons to justify its higher sentence, including the large amount of ammunition in Polaco's possession. The court also found that the sentence was both procedurally and substantively reasonable. The court noted that the district court had considered Polaco's machinegun possession alongside other case-specific factors, including the large cache of ammunition and the high-capacity magazines Polaco had when he was arrested, as well as what the district court viewed as a heightened need for deterrence.

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Stankiewicz v. Garland

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Docket: 21-6265

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: ROBINSON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Immigration Law

The case revolves around Aleksandra Malgorzata Stankiewicz, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, who was convicted in 2003 for violating a New Jersey statute that criminalizes distributing a controlled substance on or near school property. In 2018, removal proceedings were initiated against her, with the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) concluding that her conviction was an aggravated felony, making her both removable and ineligible to apply for cancellation of removal.

The BIA dismissed Stankiewicz's appeal, maintaining its reasoning that her conviction was an aggravated felony. Stankiewicz then petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for review of the BIA's decision.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that Stankiewicz's conviction under the New Jersey statute is not an "aggravated felony" under federal law. The court applied the "categorical approach," comparing the state law to any federal controlled substance offense that is a felony subject to a prison sentence greater than one year. The court found that neither of the parties' proposed federal analogs categorically matches the New Jersey statute. The court therefore granted Stankiewicz's petition for review, vacated the agency’s ruling, and remanded the case to the BIA for further proceedings.

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Nazario v. Gutierrez

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 23-1620

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: KING

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The case involves an appeal by Caron Nazario, an Army officer, against a judgment following a jury trial in the Eastern District of Virginia. Nazario claimed he was mistreated by police officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker during a traffic stop. The district court ruled that the officers had probable cause to arrest Nazario for three Virginia misdemeanor offenses, which Nazario contends was an error. This error, according to Nazario, resulted in the court incorrectly awarding the officers qualified immunity on three of his constitutional claims and improperly instructing the jury on probable cause.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed most of the judgment but reversed the court’s award of qualified immunity to defendant Gutierrez on Nazario’s Fourth Amendment claim for an unreasonable seizure. The court found that the officers had probable cause for a traffic infraction and a misdemeanor obstruction of justice, but not for the misdemeanor offenses of “eluding” or “failure to obey a conservator of the peace.” The court also ruled that Gutierrez's death threats against Nazario were a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, and thus, he was not entitled to qualified immunity on the unreasonable seizure claim. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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United States v. Sutherland

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 21-7566

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: AGEE

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Tax Law, White Collar Crime

Patrick Sutherland was convicted of three counts of filing false tax returns and one count of obstructing an official proceeding. He managed several insurance businesses and routed his international transactions through a Bermuda company, Stewart Technology Services (STS), which he claimed was owned and controlled by his sister. However, evidence showed that Sutherland managed all its day-to-day affairs. Between 2007 and 2011, STS sent Sutherland, his wife, or companies that he owned more than $2.1 million in wire transfers. Sutherland treated these transfers as loans or capital contributions, which are not taxable income, while STS treated them as expenses paid to Sutherland. Sutherland did not report the $2.1 million as income on his tax returns. In 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Sutherland for filing false returns and for obstructing the 2012 grand jury investigation. The jury found Sutherland guilty on all charges.

Sutherland appealed his convictions, but the Court of Appeals affirmed them. He then filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition to vacate his obstruction conviction and a petition for a writ of error coram nobis to vacate his tax fraud convictions. The district court denied both petitions without holding an evidentiary hearing. Sutherland appealed this decision.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Sutherland failed to show how the proffered testimony from his brother and a tax expert would have undermined his obstruction conviction. The court also found that Sutherland had not demonstrated ineffective assistance of counsel and thus could not show an error of the most fundamental character warranting coram nobis relief.

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US v. Canada

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 22-4519

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Heytens

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Zavien Lenoy Canada, was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), commonly known as the "felon-in-possession" offense. On appeal, Canada made two arguments: (1) that Section 922(g)(1) is facially unconstitutional, and (2) that the district court erred in imposing an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).

The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina had previously convicted Canada and imposed an enhanced sentence under the ACCA. The district court identified three previous convictions, one of which was for criminal domestic violence under South Carolina law, as the basis for the enhanced sentence.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected Canada's assertion that Section 922(g)(1) is facially unconstitutional. The court stated that the law has a "plainly legitimate sweep" and can be constitutionally applied in some circumstances. However, the court agreed with Canada's second argument, ruling that the district court erred in sentencing Canada under the ACCA. The court noted that one of the three convictions identified by the district court, criminal domestic violence, does not constitute a violent felony under the ACCA according to recent decisions. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case for resentencing.

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US v. McCabe

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 22-4309

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: KING

Areas of Law: Contracts, Criminal Law, Government Contracts, White Collar Crime

The case involves Robert James McCabe, a former sheriff of the City of Norfolk, Virginia, who was convicted of carrying out fraud and bribery schemes with contractors concerning medical and food services for prisoners in the Norfolk Jail. Over 20 years, McCabe provided favored contractors with inside information about competing bids for the Jail’s contracts, altered and extended contracts for their benefit, and received various things of substantial value in return. McCabe was convicted of 11 federal offenses, including charges of conspiracy, honest services mail fraud, Hobbs Act extortion, and money laundering. He was sentenced to 144 months in prison, plus supervised release.

McCabe appealed his convictions and sentences, raising four contentions of error. He argued that his trial was unfairly conducted before a trial of a co-defendant, that the trial court erred by admitting hearsay statements, that the jury instructions were incorrect, and that the court wrongly applied an 18-level sentencing enhancement. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected all of McCabe’s contentions and affirmed his convictions and sentences.

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United States v. Stanton

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Docket: 23-5394

Opinion Date: June 5, 2024

Judge: Sutton

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Health Law

The case involves Dr. John Stanton, who served as the medical director for a pain clinic in Tennessee. The federal government alleged that the clinic operated as a pill mill, and charged Dr. Stanton with conspiring to violate federal drug laws. Despite numerous red flags indicating the clinic's operation as a pill mill, Dr. Stanton continued to sign off on state compliance reports and prescribe narcotics to patients who failed drug screens. The government indicted Dr. Stanton, along with the clinic's owner and two patient sponsors, for conspiring to distribute controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.

The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, where Dr. Stanton was found guilty by a jury. At sentencing, the court concluded that Dr. Stanton had prescribed a converted drug weight of at least 21,524 kilograms, leading to a recommended minimum sentence of 188 months. The trial court, however, varied downward to 120 months.

Upon appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Dr. Stanton challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict and several rulings by the trial court. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that Dr. Stanton knowingly agreed to help the clinic and its owner illegally distribute controlled substances. The court also found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decisions, including the allowance of a new expert witness for the government, the instruction to the jury on deliberate ignorance, and the response to the jury’s questions about the jury instructions. The court also upheld the drug weight calculation at sentencing.

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Lewicki v. Emerson

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-3030

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: EASTERBROOK

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

David Lewicki was part of a group that attempted to rob Humberto Pelayo, resulting in Pelayo suffering permanent injuries. Lewicki claimed he did not inflict the injuries and had tried to protect Pelayo. However, the jury found him guilty of attempted robbery causing serious bodily injury, and he was sentenced to 65 years in prison as a habitual offender. Lewicki's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the state courts.

Lewicki then sought federal relief, arguing that his appellate lawyer had been ineffective for not arguing that his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated. The district court agreed, issuing a conditional writ of habeas corpus. The court found that Lewicki's lawyer's failure to raise the speedy trial argument amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. However, the court did not find that Indiana had violated the Speedy Trial Clause. Instead, it ordered Indiana to release Lewicki unless it provided him with a new appeal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that the district court had erred in granting relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel without finding that Lewicki had been prejudiced by his lawyer's failure to raise the speedy trial argument. The court explained that ineffective assistance of counsel requires both deficient performance and prejudice. The court also found that Lewicki did not have a strong speedy-trial claim. Despite a nearly three-year delay between his charge and trial, the court found that Lewicki had not shown prejudice from the delay. The court noted that Lewicki's own lawyer had proposed multiple continuances, and Lewicki had not shown that evidence was lost or memories faded due to the delay. The court also noted that little of Lewicki's time in custody could be attributed to the delayed trial of the attempted-robbery charge. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's decision and upheld Lewicki's conviction and sentence.

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United States v. Dameron

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 22-3291

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: SCUDDER

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Emanuel Dameron was charged with possessing a firearm as a felon after police officers spotted him on a live video feed from a pole camera, observed an "L-shaped object" resembling a gun in his waistband, and subsequently found a gun on him during a frisk search on a public bus in Chicago. Dameron moved to suppress the firearm and other evidence gathered during the stop, arguing that the police's search violated the Fourth Amendment and the standards set in Terry v. Ohio. The district court denied Dameron's motion, and he was found guilty at trial.

The district court held an evidentiary hearing, during which the officer operating the pole camera testified about his familiarity with the neighborhood, its history of gang and narcotic activity, and his observation of the "L-shaped object" in Dameron's waistband. The court concluded that the visible bulge in Dameron's waistband and his presence in a high-crime area generated reasonable suspicion to justify the Terry stop. Dameron was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to 110 months' imprisonment.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Dameron renewed his contention that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. He argued that Illinois permits the concealed carrying of firearms and that the police had no way of knowing whether he was an authorized license holder. The court declined to address this argument as it was not presented to the district court. Instead, the court focused on the fact that Dameron was on a public bus when the search occurred, noting that the Illinois Concealed Carry Act prohibits carrying a firearm on public transportation. The court concluded that the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe Dameron had violated the law and that their pat-down search did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court affirmed the lower court's decision.

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United States v. Kowalski

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-2374

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: ST. EVE

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

Jan Kowalski, an attorney, was accused of using her position to hide her brother's assets during his bankruptcy proceedings. She allegedly concealed around $357,000 in her attorney trust account and made false statements under oath to cover up the concealment. Kowalski was charged with four counts of bankruptcy fraud and one count of concealing assets from the bankruptcy trustee. She pleaded guilty to the charge of concealing assets.

Prior to her trial, Kowalski had been involved in her brother's bankruptcy proceedings, where she used her attorney trust account to hide her brother's assets from his creditors and the bankruptcy trustee. She also made false statements under oath and fabricated documents to cover up her actions. The bankruptcy trustee confronted Kowalski with inconsistencies between her personal bank records and her earlier testimony, but she continued to lie under oath.

Kowalski was sentenced to 37 months' imprisonment by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The court applied two sentencing enhancements: the § 2B1.1(b)(10)(C) sophisticated-means enhancement, and the § 3B1.3 abuse of position of trust enhancement. Kowalski appealed her sentence, arguing that the district court erred in applying these enhancements and that her sentence was substantively unreasonable.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Kowalski had indeed used sophisticated means to commit the offense and had abused her position of trust. The court also found her sentence to be substantively reasonable.

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USA v. Hancock

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 22-2614

Opinion Date: June 5, 2024

Judge: HAMILTON

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Patrick Hancock, who pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. His federal sentence was enhanced on the grounds that he also violated Indiana Code § 35-44.1-2-6, which makes it a felony for a civilian to impersonate a law enforcement officer. Hancock appealed his sentence, challenging the Sentencing Guidelines enhancement. The evidence supported the district court’s findings that Hancock represented himself as a police officer by wearing various law enforcement paraphernalia.

The district court applied a four-level sentencing enhancement, finding that Hancock's attire was sufficient to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that § 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) applied. The court sentenced Hancock to 48 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. The district court varied upward from the Sentencing Guidelines range because it found that Hancock’s crime involved “extreme conduct” and that greater punishment was needed to deter future criminal conduct.

In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit, the court affirmed the district court’s decision. The court rejected Hancock’s argument that he did not intend to deceive anyone at Costco into thinking he was a law enforcement officer. The court also rejected Hancock’s argument that Indiana’s false impersonation statute violates the First Amendment. The court held that the statute was narrowly tailored to serve the government’s compelling public interest in preserving public safety and protecting the reputation of law enforcement.

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USA v. Jackson

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1721

Opinion Date: June 4, 2024

Judge: Brennan

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around a traffic stop in Urbana, Illinois, where a police officer pulled over a car driven by Prentiss Jackson due to unlit head and taillights. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer smelled unburnt marijuana. Jackson was asked to exit the car and was informed that he and the vehicle would be searched. However, Jackson fled the scene, and during his escape, a gun fell from his waistband. Jackson, a felon, was subsequently indicted for possessing a firearm. He moved to suppress the evidence of the gun, arguing that it was the product of an unlawful search.

The district court denied Jackson's motion to suppress the evidence. Jackson had conditionally pleaded guilty, preserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. He was convicted and sentenced to 72 months' imprisonment. In another case, his supervised release was revoked for unlawfully possessing a firearm, among other things.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Jackson argued that the officer did not have probable cause to search him or the car, contending that the smell of unburnt marijuana does not provide probable cause under Illinois law. The court disagreed, affirming the district court's decision. It held that the officer had probable cause to search Jackson and the vehicle, based on the totality of the circumstances, including the smell of unburnt marijuana. The court also noted that while possession of marijuana is legal in Illinois under certain circumstances, the state retains laws restricting the packaging and use of marijuana. The smell of unburnt marijuana, therefore, provided probable cause for a violation of state law.

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U.S. v. Lukassen

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-1047

Opinion Date: June 4, 2024

Judge: Steven M. Colloton

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Gregory Lukassen, was found guilty of child pornography offenses by a jury and sentenced to 240 months' imprisonment by the district court. The charges stemmed from several cyber tips received by law enforcement officers regarding Lukassen's suspicious internet activity in 2015, 2017, and 2019. In January 2020, Lukassen admitted to engaging in online chats about sexual fantasies involving minors and receiving explicit images of children. A search warrant was obtained for Lukassen's truck, where several electronic devices were seized. Child pornography was found on a computer and a MicroSD card. Lukassen was charged with receipt and distribution of child pornography and possession of child pornography. His motions to suppress evidence and for judgment of acquittal were denied.

The district court denied Lukassen's motion to suppress evidence, ruling that the issuance of the search warrant for his electronic devices was supported by probable cause as required by the Fourth Amendment. The court also denied Lukassen's motion for judgment of acquittal, finding that a rational jury could have found the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. At sentencing, the court vacated Lukassen's conviction for possession of child pornography, agreeing with the government's suggestion that convictions and sentences for both distribution and possession of the same images could violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. The court imposed a term of 240 months' imprisonment and ordered restitution in the amount of $3,000 to each victim who requested restitution.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions. The appellate court found that the district court did not err in denying Lukassen's motions to suppress evidence and for judgment of acquittal. The court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Lukassen to the maximum statutory sentence and ordering restitution. The court rejected Lukassen's argument that the district court erred in applying the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018 (AVAA) instead of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 (MVRA), finding that Lukassen did not show an obvious error that affected his substantial rights.

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United States v. Ahmed

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-2716

Opinion Date: June 4, 2024

Judge: SHEPHERD

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

Mohamed Gamar Ahmed was charged with possession of cocaine and fentanyl with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The charges stemmed from a search warrant executed at Ahmed's residence in Nebraska, where law enforcement officers discovered loaded handguns, ammunition, drug paraphernalia, marijuana, cocaine, and counterfeit Percocet pills containing fentanyl. Ahmed pleaded guilty to the charges. The United States Probation Office prepared a presentence investigation report (PSR), which alleged that Ahmed had supplied one of the fentanyl-laced pills to a minor female, who overdosed after ingesting it. The Government filed a motion for an upward departure or variance on the drug-possession count, arguing that the United States Sentencing Guidelines range of 15-21 months’ imprisonment failed to adequately account for the extent of the harm caused by Ahmed’s drug-dealing.

The District Court for the District of Nebraska conducted an evidentiary hearing at sentencing that involved testimony from two witnesses. After hearing the direct- and cross-examinations of both witnesses, the district court overruled Ahmed’s objection to the PSR, finding that the testimony was consistent with the allegation that Ahmed supplied the pill that caused the minor to overdose. The district court then proceeded to sentencing, stating that it had considered all the federal sentencing factors enumerated in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), including the serious nature of the offense and Ahmed’s history and characteristics. The district court varied upward on the drug-possession count to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment, ultimately sentencing Ahmed to 48 months’ imprisonment. Ahmed also received a mandatory minimum term of 60 months’ imprisonment on the firearm-possession count, to be served consecutively, for a total of 108 months’ imprisonment.

Ahmed appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, alleging that the district court committed procedural error and imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision, finding no procedural error and concluding that the district court imposed a substantively reasonable sentence.

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United States v. Fleming

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-2589

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: MELLOY

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Ryan Fleming was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm after a high-speed chase in Missouri. The chase began when an officer attempted to stop Fleming's vehicle, which matched the description of a vehicle involved in a shooting in Illinois. Fleming crashed his vehicle, fled on foot, and left a semiautomatic rifle on the ground outside the driver’s door. Fleming challenged the denial of a motion for a new trial and the application of offense-level adjustments under the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The district court denied Fleming's motion for a new trial, which was based on the argument that he did not knowingly possess the semiautomatic rifle. Fleming claimed that the rifle was in the vehicle and fell out when he opened the door after the crash. The court found no abuse of discretion in the denial of the motion, as the jury had considered the officer's testimony alongside the balance of the evidence, including unclear video evidence.

At sentencing, the district court applied two enhancements: one for recklessly creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury during flight, and another for using or possessing a firearm in connection with another felony offense. Fleming argued that he did not exit his vehicle with the rifle and that the high-speed chase was not separate from his later flight on foot. The court found no clear error in its conclusion that possession or use of the rifle emboldened Fleming to flee on foot, and that the flight on foot was separate in time and different in nature from the preceding high-speed chase.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, rejecting Fleming's factual challenges and finding no clear error in the district court's conclusions.

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United States v. Walker

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-1558

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Kelly

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Robert Lance Walker was convicted on five counts related to drug and firearm offenses after a jury trial. He was sentenced to 80 months of imprisonment and 5 years of supervised release. Walker appealed three of his convictions and his sentence.

Prior to the appeal, Walker had argued in the district court that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support three of his convictions. The district court rejected this argument. The three convictions in question related to separate incidents involving possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony, and possession of ammunition after being convicted of a felony.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed Walker's appeal. The court applied a de novo standard of review, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and giving the verdict the benefit of all reasonable inferences. The court found that a reasonable jury could have found Walker guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on all three counts. The court noted that possession can be actual or constructive, and that the government had established some nexus between Walker and the contraband in each case.

Walker also challenged his sentence, arguing procedural error and substantive unreasonableness. He claimed that the district court relied on a misunderstanding of the Guidelines’ grouping rules and failed to adequately explain its decision to vary upwards. The appellate court found no plain error, stating that the district court provided sufficient explanation for the sentence imposed and did not rely on a misunderstanding of the Guidelines’ grouping rules. The court also found Walker's sentence to be substantively reasonable, noting that the district court had considered the relevant factors and had not committed a clear error of judgment in weighing those factors.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed.

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Betschart v. Washington County Circuit Court Judges

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 23-2270

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: Owens

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

A class of indigent criminal defendants in Oregon, who were incarcerated and awaiting trial without legal representation, filed a federal habeas corpus petition. They argued that the state's failure to provide them with counsel violated their Sixth Amendment rights. The district court issued a preliminary injunction requiring that counsel be provided within seven days of the initial appearance, and if this did not occur, the defendants must be released from custody subject to reasonable conditions imposed by Oregon Circuit Court judges.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the petitioners were likely to succeed on the merits of their Sixth Amendment claim. The court reasoned that without counsel, the petitioners could not understand, prepare for, or progress to critical stages of their cases. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the petitioners were suffering and would continue to suffer irreparable harm. The court found that the public has an interest in a functioning criminal justice system and the protection of fundamental rights.

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USA V. FARIAS-CONTRERAS

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 21-30055

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Smith

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case involves Gerardo Farias-Contreras, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and heroin. As part of the plea agreement, the government agreed to dismiss two other charges and not to recommend a sentence exceeding the low-end of the guideline range. Farias-Contreras argued for a six-level reduction in the base offense level, resulting in a guidelines range of 108–135 months, citing his many physical disabilities. The government, after reducing the base offense level by three levels, calculated a guidelines range of 151–188 months and recommended a 151-month term.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington sentenced Farias-Contreras to 188 months' imprisonment, citing substantially the facts and argument presented by the government. Farias-Contreras appealed, arguing that the government implicitly breached its promise under the plea agreement not to recommend a sentence in excess of the low-end of the sentencing guidelines range when the government implicitly urged the district court to impose a harsher sentence.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the sentence. The court found that the government's conduct crossed the line from permissible advocacy to an improper end-run of the plea agreement, thus implicitly breaching its promise not to recommend a sentence in excess of the low-end of the calculated guideline range. However, the court concluded that the error was not plain because the court's precedent does not make sufficiently clear to what extent the government may respond to a defendant’s request for a downward departure without implicitly breaching the plea agreement. The court took the opportunity to clarify its law on the subject.

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United States v. Diamond

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Docket: 21-13528

Opinion Date: June 4, 2024

Judge: HULL

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case involves Jay Diamond, who was convicted of impersonating a federal officer in an attempt to avoid a speeding ticket and to avoid being arrested for falsely impersonating a federal officer. The incidents occurred when Diamond was pulled over for speeding and he told the officer that he was an air marshal. He presented a badge that read "United States Federal Air Marshal." However, upon investigation, it was found that Diamond was never employed as a federal air marshal or through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

In the lower courts, Diamond argued that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that he acted as a federal officer and that the district court erred in admitting evidence of his alleged prior bad acts and in instructing the jury. The district court denied Diamond's motion to exclude his ex-wife's testimony about his prior instances of impersonating a federal officer or military member. The court also denied Diamond's request for a jury instruction on the misdemeanor offense in 18 U.S.C. § 701, which Diamond argued was a lesser included offense of his alleged § 912 crime.

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Diamond's convictions were affirmed. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support Diamond’s § 912 convictions. The court also ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Diamond's ex-wife's testimony. Furthermore, the court found that 18 U.S.C. § 701 is not a lesser included offense of § 912, and therefore the district court did not err in refusing to give Diamond's requested § 701 instruction.

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State v. Perez-Gutierrez

Court: Arizona Supreme Court

Docket: CR-23-0137-PR

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: BEENE

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Manuel Perez-Gutierrez, who was convicted on eight counts of sexual conduct with a minor. The trial court sentenced Perez-Gutierrez to two twenty-year terms of imprisonment for the first two counts and one-year sentences for the remaining six counts, all to be served consecutively. The court had discretion to impose the remaining sentences consecutively or concurrently but failed to state on record the reason for its determination, as required by A.R.S. § 13-711(A). Perez-Gutierrez appealed this omission.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Perez-Gutierrez and remanded the case, instructing the trial court to record the reasons for its sentencing determination. The court of appeals' decision was based on the precedent set in cases like State v. Anzivino and State v. Harrison, which established a limited-remand practice for such violations. However, a dissenting judge argued that the violation should be reviewed for fundamental error, not requiring a remand.

The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona held that a violation of A.R.S. § 13-711(A) is neither a structural error nor a trial error. Instead, it is akin to an administrative error that a trial court can correct without affecting the disposition. Therefore, the court concluded that a remand for the limited purpose of statutory compliance is appropriate. The court also clarified that the remedy for such a violation does not require resentencing but merely a statement on record explaining the sentencing determination. The court vacated the Court of Appeals' opinion and remanded the case with instructions to suspend the appeal and revest jurisdiction in the trial court to comply with § 13-711(A).

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P. v. Burgos

Court: Supreme Court of California

Docket: S274743

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Guerrero

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In 2021, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 333, known as the STEP Forward Act of 2021. This bill amended Penal Code section 186.22, imposing new requirements relating to gang enhancements and the criminal offense of gang participation. It also added section 1109, which provides that, if requested by the defense, a trial court must try a gang enhancement charge separately from the underlying offense. The Supreme Court of California was asked to determine whether section 1109’s provisions governing bifurcation apply retroactively to cases in which the judgment is not yet final.

The lower courts were divided on this issue. Some courts concluded that section 1109 applies retroactively, while others concluded that it does not. The Supreme Court of California held that the Estrada inference of retroactivity does not extend to section 1109. The court reasoned that Estrada’s principle of statutory interpretation infers retroactivity from statutory reductions in punishment, not from the type of prophylactic rules of criminal procedure embodied in section 1109’s bifurcation provisions. Accordingly, the general presumption of prospective-only application applies to section 1109. The court also held that equal protection principles do not require section 1109 to be applied retroactively. The court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remanded the matter for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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In re A.M.

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: B329999(Second Appellate District)

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: BALTODANO

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

In 2013, a minor identified as A.M. was tried as an adult and convicted for first-degree murder of a rival gang member, which he committed at the age of 14. He was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. In 2021, the superior court conditionally reversed the judgment and ordered a transfer hearing under Proposition 57, which prohibits trying a minor as an adult without a judicial determination of their fitness for juvenile court. The juvenile court conducted the hearing, granted the district attorney’s motion to transfer A.M.’s case to criminal court, and reinstated the judgment.

A.M. appealed, arguing that his case should not have been transferred because he was 14 years old when he committed his crime. He also contended that Assembly Bill 333, which amended various provisions of Penal section 186.22, required striking the gang-murder special circumstance. The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District agreed with both of A.M.’s contentions.

The court held that Senate Bill 1391, which amended Proposition 57 to prohibit the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds to adult criminal court, applied to A.M.'s case. The court reasoned that when the superior court conditionally reversed A.M.'s conviction and sentence, his case became nonfinal, and thus, Senate Bill 1391 applied. The court also held that Assembly Bill 333 applied retroactively to A.M.'s case, requiring the vacating of the jury's gang-murder special circumstance finding. The court reversed the order granting the district attorney’s motion to transfer A.M.’s case to criminal court, vacated the true finding on the gang-murder special circumstance, and struck the requirement for A.M. to register as a gang offender. The case was remanded to the juvenile court for further proceedings.

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P. v. Mayberry

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: F085869(Fifth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 4, 2024

Judge: DETJEN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around the defendant, Darryn Mayberry, who was found ineligible for resentencing under Penal Code section 1172.75 by the trial court. Mayberry was initially charged with second-degree robbery and had previously suffered a juvenile adjudication and a serious felony conviction, both of which qualified as strike convictions under the Three Strikes law. He also served two separate prison terms. Mayberry pled nolo contendere to the robbery charge and admitted both strike priors and both prior prison term enhancements. The sentencing court struck one strike prior and imposed a doubled upper term of 10 years. The court also pronounced that it was exercising discretion and staying imposition of the two one-year prison priors, making the total term 10 years in the Department of Corrections.

The trial court reasoned that the original sentence was "illegal" due to the section 667.5, former subdivision (b) enhancements being imposed but stayed, the sentence was not appealed, and the court therefore did not have the "ability" to "go back in time and do anything about those illegal sentences." Mayberry appealed from that ruling.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fifth Appellate District disagreed with the trial court's interpretation of Penal Code section 1172.75. The appellate court concluded that section 1172.75 applies to prior prison term enhancements that have been imposed and stayed. The court reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case for the trial court to recall Mayberry's sentence and resentence him in compliance with section 1172.75. The appellate court found that the trial court had erred in staying the two prior prison term enhancements, and that section 1172.75 statutorily conferred jurisdiction on the trial court to resentence Mayberry.

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P. v. Rounds

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: G063593(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 5, 2024

Judge: GOODING

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves George Dennis Rounds, Jr., who appealed against the trial court's denial of his petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon. In 1983, Rounds pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He was sentenced to an indefinite term of 15 years to life, plus a concurrent definite term of seven years. In 2010, Rounds was found suitable for parole and was discharged from parole in 2014. Seven years after being discharged from parole, Rounds filed a petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon.

The trial court denied Rounds's petition, citing multiple factors that were not relevant to the statutory criteria for evaluating a petition for a certificate of rehabilitation. These factors included the nature of the underlying crime, the perceived unfairness to the victims of granting the petition, and Rounds's failure to plead guilty to a more serious charge. The court also claimed that Rounds had not taken responsibility for his conduct, based on an alleged inconsistency between his statements to the Board of Parole Hearings and those in his petition and at the hearing.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three found that the trial court had abused its discretion. The appellate court concluded that the trial court had relied on factors not properly part of the statutory analysis, resulting in a miscarriage of justice. The appellate court reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case with directions to grant the petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon.

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People v. Gefrerer

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: D082223(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: HUFFMAN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Aaron Sterling Gefrerer, was charged with two counts of robbery after he handed notes to bank tellers demanding $5,000. The notes read, “Don’t play.” Both tellers testified that they were afraid and complied with the demand. Gefrerer's defense strategy was to argue that he was not the perpetrator of the robberies, rather than disputing the nature of the crimes. Consequently, he did not request an instruction on the lesser included offense of grand theft, as it conflicted with his defense. The jury convicted Gefrerer on both counts.

The Superior Court of Riverside County had previously heard the case, where Gefrerer was found guilty of both counts of robbery. His defense had conceded that the robberies took place but argued that the prosecution failed to prove that Gefrerer was the perpetrator.

In the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One, Gefrerer appealed his conviction, arguing that the court erred by not instructing the jury on grand theft as a lesser included offense of robbery. He contended that the bank's policies instructing tellers to comply with demands during robberies, along with his nonaggressive demeanor during the robberies, provided substantial evidence that required the court to instruct the jury on theft. The court disagreed, stating that substantial evidence did not exist to support a theft instruction. Furthermore, the court concluded that even if such evidence existed, the doctrine of invited error would bar Gefrerer’s argument that the court erred by not providing the theft instruction. The court affirmed the lower court's decision.

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People v. Austin

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 36

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: HOOD

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The case revolves around a defendant, Sterling Dwayne Austin, who was convicted of first-degree murder. Austin's first trial ended in a mistrial due to the jury's inability to reach a unanimous verdict. During the second trial, the prosecutor used a peremptory strike to excuse a potential juror, Juror 32, due to her activism to reform the Denver Police Department. Austin challenged this strike under Batson v. Kentucky, arguing that the strike was racially motivated. The trial court denied Austin's challenge, and Juror 32 was excused.

On appeal, the appellate court only addressed one of Austin's four issues, concluding that the trial court's denial of Austin's Batson challenge entitled him to a new trial. The appellate court held that the prosecutor's reason for striking Juror 32 was not race-neutral, as it was based on Juror 32's negative experiences with law enforcement, which were racially charged.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado reversed the appellate court's decision. The Supreme Court found that the prosecutor's reason for striking Juror 32 was race-neutral, as it was based on Juror 32's potential bias against law enforcement, not her race. However, the Supreme Court also found that the trial court's findings were insufficient for an appellate court to review whether the trial court had considered all the pertinent circumstances in concluding that the strike was not made with a discriminatory purpose. Therefore, the Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings.

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People v. Honstein

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 34

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: BOATRIGHT

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Harold Lloyd Honstein, was charged with third-degree assault following an incident with his roommate, V.S. Initially, V.S. reported that Honstein had punched her and thrown a soda can at her head. However, ten months later, V.S. partially recanted her accusation, stating that Honstein had not punched her but had thrown a soda can at her head. This recantation was made in a conversation with the prosecutor and a victim advocate. The prosecutor immediately informed the defense counsel and offered to stipulate via a jury instruction that V.S. had recanted. The defense counsel, however, subpoenaed the prosecutor to testify at trial, arguing that the prosecutor was the only witness to V.S.'s first recantation. The trial court denied the prosecution's motion to quash the subpoena, ruling that there was a "compelling and legitimate need" to call the prosecutor for impeachment purposes.

The prosecution appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado, arguing that the trial court had erred in ordering the prosecutor to testify. The Supreme Court agreed with the prosecution, holding that a defendant who wishes to call a participating prosecutor as a witness must demonstrate a compelling and legitimate reason to do so. The court found that the defense had not demonstrated such a reason, as the material substance of the prosecutor's testimony was available from an alternative source, namely, the investigator who had spoken with V.S. after her conversation with the prosecutor. The court concluded that the trial court had erred in ordering the prosecutor to testify and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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People v. Johnson

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 35

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: HOOD

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The case involves a defendant, Raeaje Resshaud Johnson, who was charged with multiple counts related to a domestic violence incident. During jury selection, the prosecutor used a peremptory strike against a Black potential juror, Juror M, who had indicated in a questionnaire that law enforcement had been disrespectful to her or those close to her based on race. The defense challenged this strike under Batson v. Kentucky, alleging it violated equal protection.

The trial court sustained the strike, finding that the prosecutor had provided a race-neutral reason for the strike and that the defense had not proven purposeful racial discrimination. Johnson was subsequently convicted on most counts. On appeal, Johnson argued that the trial court had erred in denying his Batson challenge. The appellate court agreed, concluding that the prosecutor's reliance on Juror M's past experiences with law enforcement was a race-based reason for the strike. The court reversed Johnson's convictions and remanded for a new trial.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado disagreed with the appellate court's conclusion. It held that the prosecutor's reliance on Juror M's past experiences with law enforcement was a race-neutral reason for the strike. However, the Supreme Court found that the trial court had not made sufficient findings to indicate that it had considered all the pertinent circumstances in concluding that the strike was not made with a discriminatory purpose. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Tarr v. People

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 37

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Hart

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Christopher Oneil Tarr, who struck a pedestrian with his car while allegedly intoxicated. At the hospital, Tarr refused to have his blood drawn for alcohol testing, despite being informed that under Colorado’s Expressed Consent Statute, he had already consented to such a test by driving. The police proceeded with the blood draw without a warrant, and the results were used to charge Tarr with several crimes, including vehicular homicide—DUI. Tarr moved to suppress the results of the blood draws, arguing they were unconstitutional as he had clearly revoked his consent and the police did not yet have a warrant when his blood was drawn. The trial court denied the motion, and Tarr was found guilty.

The trial court's decision was based on a previous case, People v. Hyde, which held that there is no constitutional right to refuse a blood-alcohol test. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, agreeing with its interpretation of Hyde. Tarr then petitioned the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado for certiorari review.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado reversed the lower courts' decisions. It held that a conscious driver can revoke their statutory consent to a blood draw. Once consent has been revoked, the police are generally required to obtain a warrant before trying to conduct a blood draw. Otherwise, any evidence obtained from the blood draw should be excluded from trial unless one of the recognized exceptions to the exclusionary rule applies. The case was remanded for consideration of any outstanding arguments concerning the admissibility of the evidence.

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Carney v. State

Court: Delaware Supreme Court

Docket: 28, 2023

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Seitz

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Deonta Carney, who was indicted for crimes stemming from three separate incidents. In one of these incidents, Carney and an accomplice allegedly robbed a man named Angelo Flores of his dirt bikes. Although Carney did not physically hold the firearm used in the robbery, he was charged with possession of a firearm by a person prohibited due to his involvement in the crime. Initially, Carney rejected a plea offer from the State, but he changed his mind and accepted a revised plea offer on the morning of the trial when he learned that the victim had appeared to testify. However, before sentencing, Carney attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he was "legally innocent" of the firearm possession charge because he did not physically hold the gun during the robbery.

The Superior Court of the State of Delaware denied Carney's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The court found no procedural defects in the plea colloquy and determined that Carney's plea was entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. The court also concluded that Carney had effective legal counsel throughout the proceedings and that granting the motion would prejudice the State. Regarding Carney's claim of innocence, the court found that Carney's plea colloquy statements were inconsistent with his later innocence assertion. The court also determined that there was sufficient factual basis to convict Carney of the firearms charge because he had constructive possession of the firearm during the robbery.

Carney appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware, arguing that the Superior Court exceeded its discretion when it denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. However, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment, concluding that the lower court did not exceed its discretion when it found that Carney did not present a fair and just reason to withdraw his guilty plea. The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court's assessment that Carney's claim of innocence was weak and that his involvement in the robbery was sufficient to establish constructive possession of the firearm.

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State v. Browder

Court: Supreme Court of Hawaii

Docket: SCWC-22-0000267

Opinion Date: June 5, 2024

Judge: Eddins

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

The case involves Zeth Browder, who was charged with first-degree sexual assault, third-degree sexual assault, first-degree burglary, kidnapping, and evidence tampering. The charges stemmed from an incident where Browder allegedly sexually assaulted an elderly woman while she was camping in a county park. The jury found Browder guilty of all charges.

The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) reviewed the case and vacated Browder's conviction, ordering a new trial based on inappropriate comments made by the prosecutor during closing arguments. However, the ICA was divided on whether the prosecutor's comment that the witness' testimony was "consistent with someone who's been traumatized" constituted prosecutorial misconduct. The majority held that the statement was not misconduct, while Judge Leonard disagreed, arguing that the remark mirrored one that the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i found improper in a previous case, State v. Hirata.

The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i disagreed with the ICA's majority, holding that the prosecutor's comment was indeed prosecutorial misconduct. The court found that the prosecutor expressed a personal belief about the witness' credibility and introduced new evidence during closing arguments, thereby undermining Browder's right to a fair trial. The court noted that the prosecutor's comment suggested that the witness had been traumatized, a conclusion that was not supported by any expert testimony. The court vacated the part of the ICA's opinion that allowed the prosecutor's comment and remanded the case to the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit.

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State v. Tran

Court: Supreme Court of Hawaii

Docket: SCAP-23-0000063

Opinion Date: June 4, 2024

Judge: RECKTENWALD

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

This case involves a challenge to a statute and a constitutional provision in Hawaii that relate to the prosecution of continuous sexual assault of a minor under the age of fourteen. The defendant, Alvin Tran, was charged with violating this statute. After a trial, a jury found him guilty. Tran then filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the statute and the constitutional provision violated the U.S. Constitution because they did not require the jury to unanimously agree on the specific acts that constituted the continuous sexual assault. The trial court denied this motion. Tran also filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against him, arguing that it was not specific enough. The trial court granted this motion in part and denied it in part, dismissing the case but allowing the state to refile the charges.

The Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii held that the statute and the constitutional provision did not violate the U.S. Constitution. The court reasoned that these provisions did not authorize non-unanimous jury verdicts, which would be unconstitutional. Instead, they allowed a unanimous jury to find a defendant guilty even if the jurors did not agree on which specific acts constituted the continuous sexual assault. The court also held that the indictment against Tran was sufficient. Therefore, the court vacated the trial court's order dismissing the case and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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State v. Barr

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 49376

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: Zahn

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The defendant, Britian Lee Barr, was charged with eleven counts of sexual exploitation of a child for possessing child pornography. Barr had previously been convicted of felony possession of sexually exploitative material in 2011. On the second day of trial, Barr pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual exploitation of a child for possessing child pornography and admitted to being a repeat offender. In exchange for his guilty pleas, the other counts were dismissed. Barr was sentenced to five, fifteen-year fixed sentences to run consecutively, resulting in an aggregate seventy-five-year fixed sentence. The consecutive nature of the sentences was mandated by Idaho Code section 19-2520G(3).

Barr appealed the sentence, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by failing to perceive that it had discretion to designate indeterminate portions for the mandatory fifteen-year sentences and that it had discretion to order the sentences be served concurrently. The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the decision of the district court because Barr had not preserved his arguments for appeal. Barr returned to the district court and filed a Rule 35(a) motion to correct an illegal sentence. Barr argued that the consecutive sentence requirement in Idaho Code section 19-2520G(3) is unconstitutional because it violates the doctrine of separation of powers by usurping the judiciary’s inherent power to determine whether a sentence runs consecutively or concurrently. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the legislature is empowered to designate mandatory consecutive sentences under the plain language of Article V, section 13 of the Idaho Constitution. Barr timely appealed.

The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho held that determining whether a sentence is to be served consecutively or concurrently is not a power reserved exclusively to the judiciary. As a result, section 19-2520G(3) does not violate the separation of powers provision of the Idaho Constitution. The court affirmed the district court's decision denying Barr's Rule 35(a) motion.

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State v. Goullette

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 50538

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: Zahn

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Family Law

In June 2016, Peter Franklin Goullette was driving with his child in the backseat when he struck and killed Kathy Stelzer and severely injured Zualita Updike, who were walking on the road. Goullette admitted to officers that he was attempting to buckle his son back in when he struck the victims. He was charged with vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving. Goullette entered a guilty plea while maintaining his innocence, known as an Alford plea. He later appealed his conviction, arguing that the district court abused its discretion when it accepted his guilty plea because it failed to inquire into the factual basis of his guilty plea.

The case was first heard in the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bonner County, where Goullette was convicted. He then appealed to the Idaho Court of Appeals, which affirmed his conviction. Goullette subsequently filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho.

The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed Goullette's conviction. The court held that the district court did not err in accepting Goullette’s Alford plea because the record as a whole demonstrated that Goullette entered a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent plea. The court also held that the district court did not err by failing to revisit the validity of Goullette’s plea at sentencing because the district court was not presented with evidence raising an obvious doubt as to Goullette’s guilt.

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People v. Jefferson

Court: Supreme Court of Illinois

Citation: 2024 IL 128676

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: Cunningham

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Trenton Jefferson was tried for first degree murder in the circuit court of St. Clair County. The jury found him guilty but answered negatively to a special interrogatory asking if the State had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Jefferson personally discharged a firearm causing the victim’s death. The appellate court reversed Jefferson’s conviction for unrelated reasons and ordered a new trial. Jefferson then argued that the jury’s answer to the special interrogatory, under the doctrine of issue preclusion as embodied in the double jeopardy clause of the federal constitution, barred the State from arguing or presenting evidence in his retrial that he personally discharged a firearm causing the victim’s death. The trial court granted the motion, but the appellate court reversed the judgment, holding that the jury’s answer to the special interrogatory did not bar the State from arguing or presenting evidence that Jefferson discharged the firearm.

The Supreme Court of the State of Illinois affirmed the judgment of the appellate court. The court concluded that the jury’s answer to the special interrogatory and general verdict could be understood as an indication that the jury was unable to determine whether Jefferson or another individual shot the victim, but that it had determined, beyond a reasonable doubt, that either one or the other did. Because a rational jury could have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which Jefferson sought to foreclose from consideration, Jefferson failed to establish that the doctrine of issue preclusion applied. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting Jefferson’s motion to suppress evidence. The State, on retrial, is not barred from again arguing that either Jefferson or the other individual shot the victim. However, the State is barred from seeking a sentence enhancement on remand, as the State conceded that Jefferson cannot get the enhancement ever again.

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Russell v. State of Indiana

Court: Supreme Court of Indiana

Docket: 21S-LW-00451

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Molter

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

In 1995, Jerry E. Russell Sr. was convicted of the murder of Pamela Foddrill, along with other crimes, and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole (LWOP) plus 120 years. Russell appealed his sentence, which resulted in a modification of his sentences for criminal confinement and criminal deviate conduct, reducing his total sentence to LWOP plus 73 years. In 2003, Russell filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief (PCR), which was dismissed in 2019 in exchange for a resentencing hearing. The resentencing court upheld Russell's original sentence of LWOP plus 73 years.

Russell appealed the resentencing order, arguing that he was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for an LWOP sentence, that his convictions violated double jeopardy protections, and that his sentence was inappropriate given the nature of the offenses and his character. The Indiana Supreme Court rejected all of Russell's arguments and affirmed the resentencing court's order. The court found that Russell had not proven that he was intellectually disabled, that his convictions did not violate double jeopardy protections, and that his sentence was not inappropriate given the nature of the offenses and his character. The court also found that Russell had not been denied due process during his resentencing hearing.

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State v. Johnson

Court: Iowa Supreme Court

Docket: 21-1891

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: McDERMOTT

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Lasondra Johnson, who was charged with first-degree murder following a series of events that led to her shooting and killing Jada YoungMills. Johnson claimed she acted in self-defense, invoking Iowa's "stand your ground" law, which negates the requirement to retreat before using force if one is lawfully present and not engaged in illegal activity. The jury acquitted Johnson of first-degree murder but found her guilty of the lesser charge of assault causing serious injury. Johnson appealed, arguing that the district court incorrectly instructed the jury on the stand-your-ground defense and a related instruction on the presumed reasonableness of using deadly force.

The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed Johnson's conviction but reversed the restitution order. Johnson sought further review, arguing that the jury instructions were misleading and confusing because there was no evidence to support an instruction to the jury that she was engaged in a separate illegal activity—assault—at the time of the shooting. She also argued that the district court imposed an unconstitutional restitution award against her and erred in relying on improper considerations and by applying a fixed sentencing policy.

The Supreme Court of Iowa found that the jury instructions were indeed misleading and confusing. The court noted that the instructions allowed the jury to consider the shooting itself as an assault, which would defeat Johnson's justification defense. This interpretation would effectively nullify the stand-your-ground statute, as every use of deadly force could be considered an assault. The court concluded that the jury instructions failed to convey the law in such a way that the jury had a clear understanding of Johnson's justification defense. As a result, the court reversed Johnson's conviction, vacated the sentence, and remanded the case for a new trial.

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State v. Wade

Court: Iowa Supreme Court

Docket: 22-1650

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: MCDERMOTT

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Darius Wade was pulled over for speeding, and the officer detected the smell of marijuana. A search of Wade's truck revealed a 9mm handgun in a backpack. Wade was charged and convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon as a habitual offender and operating while intoxicated, second offense. For the firearm conviction, the district court sentenced him to an indeterminate term of incarceration not to exceed fifteen years with a three-year mandatory minimum, but then suspended the prison sentence and imposed formal probation “for a period of 2 - 5 years.”

The case was appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals, where Wade argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his firearm conviction and that his term of probation constituted an illegal sentence because it failed to specify the length of his probation. The court of appeals upheld Wade's firearm conviction and ruled that the district court was authorized to impose a period of probation not less than two years and not more than five years. Wade sought further review from the Supreme Court of Iowa.

The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the court of appeals' decision regarding the sufficiency of evidence for the firearm conviction. However, it disagreed with the court of appeals' interpretation of the probation statute. The Supreme Court of Iowa interpreted the word "fix" in the statute to mean that the court must establish a specific length for the term of probation, not a range. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Iowa ruled that the district court imposed an illegal sentence by setting Wade's probation period as a range of 2-5 years. The court affirmed the court of appeals decision in part, vacated it in part, and remanded the case for a new sentencing consistent with its interpretation of the probation statute.

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State of Maine v. Judkins

Court: Maine Supreme Judicial Court

Citation: 2024 ME 45

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: Horton

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Corydon Judkins was convicted of domestic violence assault after a jury trial. The case revolved around an incident where the police were called to Judkins' apartment, and the victim alleged that Judkins had assaulted her. The victim's statements were recorded by the responding officer's body camera. However, the victim did not testify at the trial. The State introduced the body camera footage, including the victim's statements, as evidence. Judkins objected, arguing that his constitutional right to confront witnesses was violated as he could not cross-examine the victim. The trial court admitted the footage, citing the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the case. The State conceded that the victim's statements were testimonial and should not have been admitted. The court agreed, stating that once Judkins was removed from the apartment, there was no ongoing emergency that would support the admission of the victim's answers as non-testimonial statements. The court found that the victim's testimonial statements were inadmissible as she did not testify at trial and Judkins had no prior opportunity to cross-examine her.

The court then considered whether the error was harmless. It noted that the State relied heavily on the victim's statements in the video to prove its case, and the evidence of Judkins's guilt was not overwhelming. The court also noted that the jury had asked to review the body camera footage during its deliberations. The court concluded that it could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim's statements on the body camera recording did not affect the verdict. Therefore, the court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Commonwealth v. Barros

Court: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Docket: SJC-13506

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: DEWAR

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Immigration Law

The case revolves around a defendant, Nelson Barros, who was charged with one count of assault and battery on a household member. Barros, a noncitizen, chose to represent himself during his arraignment and plea hearing. He signed a form acknowledging he had waived his right to counsel. The judge informed him of his right to counsel and confirmed that Barros wished to represent himself. However, the judge did not conduct any further inquiry to determine whether Barros' waiver of counsel was made knowingly and intelligently. Barros admitted to sufficient facts to warrant finding him guilty and was placed on one year of probation. Later, Barros was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers due to his admission to sufficient facts to find him guilty of assault and battery on a household member.

The lower courts denied Barros' motions to withdraw his plea. The motion judge, who was not the plea judge, found that Barros' waiver of the right to counsel was knowing and voluntary. Barros appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court granted his application for direct appellate review.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the lower court's decision but on alternate grounds. The court held that Barros' waiver of counsel was invalid, in violation of his right to counsel under art. 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The judge did not conduct an adequate inquiry to determine whether Barros' waiver of counsel was made knowingly and intelligently. However, Barros did not challenge this waiver of counsel in his first motion to withdraw his admission to sufficient facts. Therefore, he must establish a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice to prevail on appeal. The court concluded that Barros did not raise a serious doubt that the result of the proceeding might have been different had his waiver of counsel been adequately informed.

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People Of Michigan v. Scott

Court: Michigan Supreme Court

Docket: 164790

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: ZAHRA

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In 2012, Ronald Scott was arrested and charged with various crimes. After a jury trial, he was convicted of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and acquitted of other charges. Before trial, the prosecution sought to admit certain other-acts evidence, which the trial court ruled inadmissible. The prosecution appealed this decision, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case. Scott's trial began while his application for leave to appeal was still pending, and the other-acts evidence was admitted at trial. Scott was convicted and sentenced, and he appealed his convictions and sentences.

The Court of Appeals vacated Scott's convictions and sentences, ruling that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to conduct the trial under a precedent case, People v Washington. The Supreme Court later vacated this decision and remanded the case for reconsideration. On remand, the Court of Appeals held that resentencing a defendant whose application for leave was pending was not a structural error but a procedural error. The Court of Appeals then affirmed Scott's convictions but remanded the case for resentencing. Scott sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that a trial court's failure to adhere to court rules staying a proceeding while an interlocutory appeal is pending is a procedural error, and any such error can be remedied through subsequent appellate review after a final judgment is entered. Interlocutory appeals do not divest a trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction over a case. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to assess whether the prosecution presented evidence at Scott's trial that violated the rules of evidence and, if so, whether Scott is entitled to a new trial.

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State v. Amador

Court: New Mexico Supreme Court

Citation: 2024-NMSC-006

Opinion Date: February 19, 2024

Judge: VIGIL

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

The case involves Rudolph Amador, who was convicted of two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and one count of child abuse. The charges stemmed from allegations that Amador sexually abused his friend's eleven-year-old daughter. After the initial trial, the district court ordered a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. However, the court denied Amador's argument that the retrial was barred. Amador was retried and convicted on all three counts.

Amador appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the retrial was barred by double jeopardy and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals rejected Amador's arguments and affirmed his convictions. Amador then petitioned for a writ of certiorari on both issues to the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico.

The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. The court held that Amador's second trial was barred by double jeopardy under Article II, Section 15 of the New Mexico Constitution. The court found that the prosecutor's misconduct, which included misrepresenting Amador's conditional discharge as a felony conviction and repeatedly referring to Amador as a pedophile during closing arguments, demonstrated a willful disregard of the resulting mistrial. The court remanded the case to the district court to vacate Amador's convictions and discharge him from any further prosecution in this matter.

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State v. Lobato-Rodriguez

Court: New Mexico Supreme Court

Citation: 2024-NMSC-014

Opinion Date: January 22, 2024

Judge: Zamora

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around the defendant, Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez, who was convicted of second-degree murder. The victim, Connie Lopez, was found dead in a van that had crashed into a fence along a remote stretch of desert highway. The defendant approached law enforcement at the scene and admitted to killing Lopez, claiming he had to do so because she was going to kill him and kidnap and kill his daughter. During the prosecutor's opening statement, he mentioned that the defendant invoked his right to remain silent after his arrest. The defense counsel objected and requested a mistrial, but the district court denied the motion, stating that the isolated comment was unlikely to be a significant factor in the jury’s verdict given the evidence expected at trial.

The Court of Appeals vacated the defendant's conviction, ruling that the prosecutor's comment on the defendant’s failure to speak to police violated his right to remain silent under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and that such violation was not harmless error. The Court of Appeals did not analyze the comment in the context of all of the evidence presented at trial but concluded that reversal was required because the defendant’s credibility was crucial since he testified at trial and the element of provocation was at issue.

The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico, however, disagreed with the Court of Appeals. While it agreed that the prosecutor’s comment violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, it concluded that the error was harmless in the context of the trial as a whole. The court reasoned that the prosecutor’s comment did not affect the jury’s verdict because the defendant’s testimony—even if fully credited—could not establish sufficient provocation as a matter of law. The court also noted that the prosecutor’s comment was an isolated remark at the beginning of the trial that, after admonishment by the district court, was not repeated or emphasized. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals.

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State v. Lorenzo

Court: New Mexico Supreme Court

Citation: 2024-NMSC-003

Opinion Date: January 16, 2024

Judge: Thomson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In March 2013, Ramon Lorenzo and Leo Galindo, both armed, forced their way into the WOW Diner in Milan, New Mexico, after closing time. They confronted the owner, Richard Rivard, demanding money. During the confrontation, Lorenzo shot Rivard in the face. The intruders fled with approximately $1,800. Rivard survived the shooting. Lorenzo was subsequently indicted on multiple charges, including armed robbery and aggravated battery by a deadly weapon. He was convicted on all counts except tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence, resulting in a sentence of twenty-six and one-half years.

Lorenzo appealed his conviction, raising seven issues. The Court of Appeals rejected six of his arguments but reversed and remanded two of the conspiracy convictions on double jeopardy grounds. Lorenzo then appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico, asserting for the first time that his convictions of aggravated battery and armed robbery violated his right to be free from double jeopardy.

The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico agreed with Lorenzo's double jeopardy claim. The court found that the conduct underlying both the armed robbery and aggravated battery charges was unitary, meaning the same conduct violated both statutes. The court also determined that the State used evidence of the same force—a shooting which occurred during the robbery—to prove both convictions. The court concluded that the Legislature did not intend to allow multiple punishments for the same conduct. Therefore, the court held that Lorenzo's convictions for both armed robbery and aggravated battery violated his right to be free from double jeopardy. The court remanded the case to the district court to vacate Lorenzo's conviction for aggravated battery, as it carried the shorter sentence.

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State v. Phillips

Court: New Mexico Supreme Court

Citation: 2024-NMSC-009

Opinion Date: March 4, 2024

Judge: Thomson

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Clive Phillips, who was convicted of six counts of aggravated battery and pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter. Phillips had attacked Adrian Carriaga and Alexzandria Buhl, killing Adrian and severely injuring Buhl. Phillips challenged his convictions, arguing that double jeopardy bars the multiple convictions except for one count of battery for attacking Buhl and one count of manslaughter for attacking and killing Carriaga.

The lower courts had mixed rulings. The district court disagreed with Phillips' double jeopardy argument and sentenced him to twenty-five years imprisonment, suspending seven years. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed some convictions, reversed others, and concluded that the battery and manslaughter convictions violated double jeopardy because a reasonable jury could have found either unitary conduct or distinct acts.

The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico disagreed with the Court of Appeals' application of the presumption of unitary conduct. The court concluded that the manslaughter conviction and the challenged battery convictions were each based on distinct conduct and therefore did not violate Phillips' right against double jeopardy. The court affirmed Phillips' manslaughter conviction and all five of his aggravated battery convictions. The court also clarified that in conducting a double jeopardy analysis for a conviction rendered by a guilty plea, a reviewing court should examine what the record shows about whether a defendant’s acts are distinct rather than what a reasonable jury could have found.

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State v. Rael

Court: New Mexico Supreme Court

Citation: 2024-NMSC-010

Opinion Date: March 4, 2024

Judge: Barbara J. Vigil

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves the State of New Mexico and David Rael, who was charged with manufacturing, distributing, and possessing child pornography under the Sexual Exploitation of Children Act. Rael was the exclusive user of a computer and an external hard drive, where the incriminating files were found. He admitted to using a file-sharing software, DownloadHQ, for about two and a half years. The software allowed him to select files to download from other users and share files from his computer. The prosecution presented evidence that Rael had downloaded and shared files with names indicative of child pornography. Rael claimed that he deleted any files he discovered contained child pornography.

The district court convicted Rael of one count of possession of child pornography, one count of distribution of child pornography, and three counts of manufacturing child pornography. The court sentenced him to a total of thirty-one and one-half years, with all counts to run concurrently, resulting in an actual sentence of nine years in the Department of Corrections.

Rael appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he knew or had reason to know that the videos he was convicted of possessing, distributing, or manufacturing depicted child pornography. The Court of Appeals agreed with Rael and reversed his convictions.

The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico disagreed with the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the Sexual Exploitation of Children Act and its conclusion about the sufficiency of the evidence. The Supreme Court held that the mens rea for manufacturing child pornography consists of “intentionally” manufacturing pornography that “intentionally” depicts a child under eighteen years of age and that in fact depicts a child that is under eighteen years of age. The Supreme Court found that the evidence was sufficient to support Rael's convictions and reinstated them.

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State v. Taylor

Court: New Mexico Supreme Court

Citation: 2024-NMSC-011

Opinion Date: March 14, 2024

Judge: Barbara J. Vigil

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Family Law

The case involves Sandi Taylor and Mary Taylor, a mother and daughter duo who operated a licensed daycare in Portales, New Mexico. In July 2017, they transported twelve children to a nearby park for lunch and playtime. Upon returning to the daycare, they failed to notice that two children, less than two years old, were still in the vehicle. The children were left in the vehicle for over two-and-a-half hours, resulting in one child's death and severe neurological injuries to the other due to heat exposure. The State charged each defendant with reckless child abuse by endangerment resulting in death and great bodily harm, both first-degree felonies.

The case was initially tried in the district court, where the jury convicted each defendant of reckless child abuse resulting in death and great bodily harm. Each defendant was sentenced to eighteen years for each count, totaling thirty-six years each. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions in a precedential opinion.

The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico. The court found that the jury instructions used at the defendants' joint trial were confusing and misdirected due to the use of an inappropriate conjunctive term in the complex, essential-elements instructions. The court held that the misuse of the term "and/or" in the jury instructions required the reversal of the defendants' reckless child abuse convictions. The court also found that the evidence was sufficient to permit a retrial without violating the defendants' right to be free from double jeopardy. Therefore, the court reversed the convictions and remanded the case for a new trial.

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City of Grand Forks v. Riemers

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 117

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: Tufte

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The defendant, Roland Riemers, was found guilty of disorderly conduct by a jury after he pursued a train that was blocking a street for longer than twenty minutes, a violation of a city ordinance. Riemers parked his car near the tracks, approached the train, informed the employees of the violation, and ignited a road flare. Both Riemers and the train employees called the police, and Riemers was subsequently charged.

Riemers transferred his case from the Grand Forks Municipal Court to the District Court for a jury trial. He was found guilty of disorderly conduct under the Grand Forks City Code. Riemers appealed, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction due to procedural errors, that he should have been prosecuted under state law rather than city ordinance, and that the court erred by not instructing the jury about the right to conduct a citizen's arrest. He also argued that no victim was identified and that there was insufficient evidence for a conviction.

The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the district court did not lack jurisdiction, as the city was not required to serve the criminal information on Riemers. The court also ruled that Riemers could be prosecuted under city ordinance, as the city's disorderly conduct ordinance did not supersede state law. The court rejected Riemers' argument about the right to conduct a citizen's arrest, as he had waived any claim of error by expressing satisfaction with the jury instructions. The court also found that the criminal information was sufficient to protect Riemers from a subsequent prosecution for the same offense. Finally, the court declined to review Riemers' argument about the sufficiency of the evidence, as he had not moved for a judgment of acquittal at trial.

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State v. Anderson

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 115

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: TUFTE

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Richard Dean Anderson, Jr., who was stopped by law enforcement for a broken tail light. During the stop, Anderson was questioned about his activities, to which he responded that he had been grocery shopping in West Fargo and was heading home to Hunter, a location more than 35 miles away. The officers found his story suspicious due to the late hour and the lack of visible groceries in the car. They conducted a background check, revealing Anderson's prior drug convictions. Based on this information, the officers called a K-9 unit, which detected drugs in Anderson's vehicle. Anderson was subsequently charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

Prior to his trial, Anderson moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search, arguing that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to expand the traffic stop into a drug investigation. The district court denied his motion, and Anderson entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the officers did not expand the scope of the traffic stop until after they discovered Anderson's criminal history. Until that point, the officers were diligently pursuing the mission of the traffic stop. After learning of the drug convictions, the officers shifted their focus to a drug investigation. The court found that the officers had reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop and start a new investigation based on the totality of the circumstances, including the late hour, Anderson's vague explanation for his travel, the lack of visible groceries in the car, Anderson's change in demeanor when questioned, and his prior drug convictions.

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State v. Camperud

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 103

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: Daniel J. Crothers

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

The case revolves around Justin Lee Camperud, who was accused of sexually abusing a child in 2016. The child's mother reported the incident to the Fargo police department in July 2021. The child was later interviewed by the Red River Children's Advocacy Center, a non-governmental organization. In October 2021, Dr. Anna Schimmelpfennig, the director of mental health services at the Center, participated in a mental health assessment for the child. The State notified Camperud in November 2022 that it intended to call Schimmelpfennig as an expert witness. However, the State failed to disclose that Schimmelpfennig was married to a Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney and that she had participated in the child's mental health assessment.

The case was initially heard in the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District. On the day before the trial was to start, Camperud learned about Schimmelpfennig's marriage and her participation in the child's assessment. He moved to exclude Schimmelpfennig’s testimony due to the State's failure to provide him with this information. The district court allowed Camperud to question Schimmelpfennig about her relationship with the Assistant State’s Attorney and her involvement in the child's assessment. The court also delayed the start of the trial by a day. Despite Camperud's attempts to impeach Schimmelpfennig over her marriage, a jury found him guilty of gross sexual imposition.

The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of North Dakota. Camperud argued that the district court abused its discretion by not granting a continuance after he and the court learned about the undisclosed evidence. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the State had committed discovery violations. However, it ruled that the district court had chosen the least severe sanctions to rectify the non-disclosure, including requiring the production of the assessment, limiting the expert’s testimony, permitting two voir dire sessions of the expert, and delaying the start of trial. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that it did not abuse its discretion by denying Camperud’s motion for a continuance.

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State v. Doyle

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 108

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: BAHR

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Rolanda Doyle, was charged with murder in the course of a felony and child abuse of a victim under six years old, following the death of a child at her home. The State presented testimony from two doctors, one of whom conducted the autopsy of the child. Doyle objected to portions of their testimony, arguing that they constituted expert testimony and the State had not provided the required expert witness summaries.

The district court overruled Doyle's objections and the jury found her guilty on both counts. Doyle appealed, arguing that the doctors had testified as expert witnesses and the State had not complied with the requirements for expert witness summaries.

The Supreme Court of North Dakota agreed with Doyle. It found that the State had introduced expert testimony and had not complied with the requirements for expert witness summaries. The court also found that the district court had abused its discretion by allowing the State's expert to testify without the required summaries. The court concluded that this error was not harmless and reversed the judgment, remanding the case for further proceedings.

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State v. Goodale

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 120

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: Jensen

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Regina Goodale was found guilty of accomplice to murder—extreme indifference for the murder of her husband. The State alleged that Goodale had conspired with Mathew Anderson, who was believed to have committed the murder. The State's evidence included testimony from several witnesses, including acquaintances of Goodale, the investigating officer, and her co-defendant, Whitney Racine. Goodale did not present any additional evidence and was convicted by a jury.

Prior to the trial, the State had moved to join Anderson’s and Goodale’s cases, to which Goodale did not respond. The district court permitted the joinder. During the trial, Goodale moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the district court denied. The jury found Goodale guilty, and she appealed the decision.

In the Supreme Court of North Dakota, Goodale argued that the jury instructions were improper, there was insufficient evidence to support the guilty verdict, the district court erred in allowing the State to join her and Anderson’s cases for trial, and that the court imposed an illegal sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the jury instructions, while containing an error, did not prejudice Goodale. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to convict Goodale and that the district court did not err in permitting the joinder of the defendants or in sentencing Goodale.

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State v. Jelinek

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 114

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: Jensen

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case involves Jay Jelinek, who was appealing an order denying his motion to suppress evidence and challenging evidentiary rulings made by the district court during his trial. Jelinek was found by a North Dakota Game and Fish Department Warden in a field during deer hunting season. The Warden recognized Jelinek from previous encounters and knew that his hunting privileges were suspended. Jelinek was replacing batteries in a trail camera and stated that he had been sitting in a deer stand with his wife, who had a deer tag, earlier that day. Jelinek moved to suppress evidence gathered during his encounter with the Warden, arguing that he was unlawfully seized and that the Warden did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

The District Court of Grand Forks County denied Jelinek's motion to suppress, finding that he was not subject to an improper seizure prior to his arrest and that the Warden had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Jelinek also argued that the court erred in denying his motion for acquittal on one count, as the State's only evidence of guilt was his own statements. He further argued that the court erred in allowing evidence of his criminal history to go to the jury and that his 6th Amendment rights were violated.

The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court found that the district court did not err in denying Jelinek's motion to suppress, as there was sufficient evidence supporting the district court's findings that Jelinek was not unlawfully seized. The court also found that the district court did not err in denying Jelinek's motion for acquittal, as there was substantial independent evidence establishing the trustworthiness of Jelinek's statements to law enforcement. However, the court found that the district court erred in allowing Jelinek's criminal history to be considered by the jury after one count was dismissed. The case was remanded for a new trial.

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State v. Massey

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 118

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: JENSEN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

James Massey was charged with gross sexual imposition, a class AA felony, and child abuse, a class C felony. The charges stemmed from an incident involving a minor, identified as T.T. During the trial, the State presented testimonies from T.T., law enforcement, medical staff, and a psychologist. Massey, in his defense, testified on his own behalf. The jury found Massey guilty of both charges.

The case was first heard in the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District. At the close of the State's case, Massey moved for a judgment of acquittal under N.D.R.Crim.P. 29, which the court denied. The jury found Massey guilty of both charges, and he subsequently appealed the convictions.

The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of North Dakota. Massey argued that the jury instruction for gross sexual imposition was improper and that the State's closing arguments constituted prosecutorial misconduct. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found no error in the use of "willfully" as the required mens rea in the jury instructions. Although the court acknowledged that the State made an improper "golden rule" argument during closing arguments, it concluded that Massey failed to demonstrate how he was prejudiced by these comments. The court affirmed the judgment of conviction.

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State v. Sargent

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 121

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: BAHR

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Richard Sargent, who was charged with 17 counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, 17 counts of theft of a firearm, and one count of theft of $500-$1000. The charges were based on evidence obtained during a traffic stop, where law enforcement officers found firearms in a vehicle being towed by Sargent. The stop was initiated based on an anonymous tip and a traffic violation committed by Sargent. Sargent filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the traffic stop and subsequent search were unlawful.

The District Court of Williams County denied Sargent's motion to suppress the evidence. The court found that the traffic stop was valid due to a traffic violation committed by Sargent. It also ruled that the officers had reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop and call in a K-9 unit, based on Sargent's extreme nervousness, his criminal history, his probation status, and the inconsistencies in his travel plans. The court further held that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement allowed the officers to search the vehicle being towed by Sargent.

Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court agreed that the traffic stop was valid and that the officers had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop. It also held that the automobile exception permitted the officers to search the towed vehicle. The court concluded that the district court did not err in denying Sargent's motion to suppress evidence, thereby affirming the lower court's decision.

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State v. Studhorse

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 110

Opinion Date: May 30, 2024

Judge: TUFTE

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Howard Studhorse, who was charged with five counts of gross sexual imposition and one count of contributing to the deprivation or delinquency of minors. The charges were based on allegations involving three victims, identified as Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2, and Jane Doe 3. After a jury trial, Studhorse was found guilty on all six charges. He appealed, raising several issues including the district court's application of the North Dakota Rules of Evidence, the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, and potential violations of his right to remain silent and his protection against double jeopardy.

Studhorse argued that the district court misapplied the North Dakota Rules of Evidence by allowing Jane Doe 3 to testify without taking an oath or affirmation to tell the truth. The Supreme Court of North Dakota found that the district court's discussion with Jane Doe 3 impressed upon her the duty to tell the truth, which complied with the rules. Therefore, this was not an obvious error.

Studhorse also claimed that the State improperly elicited testimony about his silence, implying his guilt. The court found that any error in this regard was harmless and did not require reversal of Studhorse's convictions.

Studhorse further argued that he was convicted of non-cognizable offenses on counts IV and V because the jury instructions did not require that he touched the victims on "sexual or other intimate parts," as required by the statute. The court found that the lack of specificity in the jury instructions did not create a non-cognizable crime.

Studhorse also claimed that his convictions on counts II and V violated his right against double jeopardy. The court found that the jury instructions for counts IV and V permitted a conviction for both counts on the basis of the same conduct, which was an obvious error. Therefore, the court reversed Studhorse's conviction on count V as duplicative to count IV.

Finally, Studhorse argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of counts I and II. The court found that the evidence was insufficient to prove a sexual act in count I, and reversed Studhorse's conviction on that count. However, the court affirmed the conviction on count II.

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Chung v. Rosenblum

Court: Oregon Supreme Court

Docket: S070965

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: DeHoog

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Election Law

The case involves a review of the Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition 54 (2024) (IP 54), which was challenged by the petitioners, Sandy Chung and Yvonne Garcia. IP 54, also known as the "Oregon Crimefighting Act," proposes significant changes to the pretrial release system for individuals charged with felonies and Class A misdemeanors in Oregon. The Act also empowers local governments to pass ordinances to fight local crime and requires the state to pay for jail space for those charged with felonies and Class A misdemeanors who need to be held until trial.

The Attorney General prepared a draft ballot title for IP 54 and, after considering public comments, modified the draft and certified the final ballot title. The petitioners, who had submitted comments on the draft, challenged the certified ballot title, arguing that the summary did not comply with the requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2)(d).

The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon reviewed the ballot title to determine whether it substantially complied with the requirements. The court agreed with the petitioners that the summary was deficient. It found that the summary did not adequately convey the breadth of the changes that IP 54 would effectuate, particularly in relation to pretrial release decisions at arraignment. The court concluded that the summary must be modified to clarify that IP 54 would override existing law and to provide a more accurate description of the changes that IP 54 would make to the current law governing pretrial release at arraignment. The court referred the ballot title back to the Attorney General for modification.

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State v. Aranda

Court: Oregon Supreme Court

Docket: S069641

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: DEHOOG

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves the State of Oregon and Stephen Andrew Aranda. Aranda was charged with first-degree rape and chose to testify in his own defense. The state sought to impeach his testimony with evidence of his prior felony convictions, including two counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of second-degree assault. Aranda argued that the court should weigh the probative value of his conviction history against its potential for unfair prejudice before admitting it as evidence. The trial court denied his motion, and Aranda was subsequently convicted.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with Aranda's argument and reversed his conviction, holding that due process required the trial court to conduct a balancing test before admitting his prior convictions as impeachment evidence. The state appealed to the Supreme Court of Oregon.

The Supreme Court of Oregon reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. The court held that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that due process required a balancing test before admitting a defendant's prior convictions as impeachment evidence. The court found that neither historical practice nor principles of fundamental fairness required such a balancing test. The court noted that while the admission of prior convictions could be prejudicial, it was also highly relevant to a defendant's credibility as a witness. The court concluded that due process did not require a balancing test under Oregon Evidence Code 403 before admitting a defendant's prior convictions as impeachment evidence under Oregon Evidence Code 609.

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Commonwealth v. Dowling

Court: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Docket: 795 CAP

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: Wecht

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

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reviewed a case involving Kevin Dowling, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Dowling was initially charged with robbery, indecent assault, and attempted rape of Jennifer Myers, who identified him as her assailant. Two days before his trial, Myers was found dead in her art gallery. Dowling was subsequently charged with her murder. At trial, the prosecution argued that Dowling killed Myers to prevent her from testifying against him. The prosecution presented evidence including a video of Dowling’s fabricated alibi, a letter in which he confessed to attacking Myers, and testimony from several witnesses. Dowling was convicted and sentenced to death.

Dowling later filed a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the accuracy of a receipt from a store where a witness claimed to have seen him on the day of the murder. He also claimed that the prosecution violated his due process rights by not disclosing cash register journals from the store, which would have shown that the time on the receipt was correct. The PCRA court granted Dowling a new trial, but the Commonwealth appealed.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the PCRA court's decision, concluding that Dowling failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability that the outcome of his trial would have been different had his counsel conducted further investigation or had the prosecution disclosed the register journals. The court also found that the false testimony of a police officer about the time on the receipt could not have affected the judgment of the jury, given the substantial independent evidence incriminating Dowling in Myers’ murder.

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Commonwealth v. Greer

Court: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Docket: 87 MAP 2023

Opinion Date: June 6, 2024

Judge: McCAFFERY

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Rashaan Londale Greer, who was convicted of first-degree murder and carrying a firearm without a license. After his conviction was affirmed by the Superior Court and his appeal denied by the Supreme Court, Greer filed a Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition. The PCRA court appointed counsel, who filed several amended petitions before withdrawing her appearance. Greer's second PCRA counsel, Anthony J. Tambourino, filed another amended PCRA petition. After a hearing, the PCRA court denied the amended petition. Tambourino filed a timely notice of appeal and complied with the PCRA court’s order to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal.

Before the establishment of a briefing schedule, Tambourino filed an application for remand, asserting that Greer had sent him a letter requesting a remand to allow Greer to raise claims of Tambourino’s ineffectiveness. The Superior Court deferred the application for remand to the merits panel and directed Tambourino to file a brief. The Superior Court, in an unpublished memorandum opinion, vacated the PCRA court’s order and remanded the case to the PCRA court. The Superior Court directed the PCRA court to appoint new counsel to develop a record and address any issues Greer had with Tambourino’s stewardship.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the Superior Court's order and remanded to that Court for proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Supreme Court held that when a represented petitioner seeks to raise claims against his current counsel while his petition is pending on appeal, an appellate court must remand the case to the PCRA court to have an on-the-record colloquy with the petitioner about his right to counsel, his inability to proceed through hybrid representation, and how he wishes to proceed. The Supreme Court found that the Superior Court erred in ordering a remand without directing the PCRA court to have such an on-the-record discussion.

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Commonwealth v. Torsilieri

Court: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Docket: 97 MAP 2022

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: TODD

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

In the case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, challenged the Chester County Court of Common Pleas' ruling that the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) was unconstitutional. The appellee, George Torsilieri, had been convicted of sexual offenses and was subject to SORNA's registration and notification requirements. Torsilieri argued that SORNA's presumption that individuals who commit sexual offenses pose a high risk of committing additional sexual offenses was an unconstitutional irrebuttable presumption violating due process. He also contended that SORNA's requirements constituted criminal punishment, which served as the basis for various constitutional challenges.

The lower court agreed with Torsilieri, finding that the presumption was not universally true and that the registration and notification requirements were punitive. The court declared Subchapter H of SORNA unconstitutional, and the Commonwealth appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the lower court's decision. The court held that Torsilieri failed to establish that SORNA's irrebuttable presumption was constitutionally infirm. The court also concluded that Torsilieri failed to demonstrate that SORNA constituted criminal punishment. Therefore, the court rejected Torsilieri's subsidiary constitutional challenges and reinstated his duty to comply with SORNA.

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Commonwealth v. Womack

Court: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Docket: 110 MAP 2022

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: Mundy

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case involves Marcus Womack, who was arrested in 2017 following a search warrant executed at a residence in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. The search revealed that Womack had been selling drugs from the location, and he was found in possession of a large sum of money, drugs, and a stolen firearm. On the same day, a criminal complaint was filed against Womack, charging him with nine offenses. Unable to post bail, Womack remained in custody. Subsequent investigations revealed that Womack's drug enterprise extended beyond Huntingdon County, leading to the involvement of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and a statewide investigating grand jury. In 2018, a second criminal complaint was filed against Womack, charging him with twenty-eight offenses based on evidence gathered during the grand jury investigation.

The trial court denied Womack's motion to dismiss the second complaint under Pa.R.Crim.P. 600(D)(1), which requires a trial to commence within 365 days from the date the complaint is filed. Womack's motion to dismiss the first complaint on the same grounds was granted. Womack was found guilty of several offenses in a bench trial on the second complaint and was sentenced to an aggregate term of 39 to 90 years’ imprisonment. He appealed to the Superior Court, arguing that the computation of time for Rule 600 purposes should have been based on the filing date of the first complaint. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Superior Court’s order denying relief. The court applied the test from Commonwealth v. Meadius, which requires the Commonwealth to demonstrate due diligence between the period in which the complaints were filed, establish that the filing of the second complaint was necessitated by factors beyond its control, and show that its actions were not an attempt to circumvent or manipulate the speedy trial requirements. The court found that the Commonwealth met these requirements, and therefore, the Rule 600 clock began when the second complaint was filed.

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The State v. English

Court: South Carolina Supreme Court

Docket: 28206

Opinion Date: June 5, 2024

Judge: JAMES

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Eric English was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, his biological daughter. The victim, who was six or seven years old at the time of the abuse, tested positive for gonorrhea. English and Jamie Stroman, the victim's mother's boyfriend, also underwent STD testing. English tested positive for gonorrhea, while Stroman tested negative. The trial court admitted the STD test reports as evidence under the business records exception to the rule against hearsay, despite English's objections.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, arguing that the test reports were admissible under the business records exception and were not testimonial under the United States Supreme Court's holding in Davis v. Washington. English appealed, arguing that the test reports were inadmissible without the testimony of the individuals who performed the tests, citing State v. James.

The Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed the lower courts' decisions in part and vacated in part. The court overruled James, stating that it had been abrogated by subsequent decisions interpreting the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause. The court held that the STD test reports were nontestimonial and did not implicate English's Sixth Amendment right of confrontation. Therefore, the trial court did not err in admitting the reports without requiring the testimony of the individuals who authored the reports. However, the court vacated the court of appeals' holding that the requirements of Rule 803(6) were satisfied, as English did not argue that the reports did not meet these requirements.

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Acosta v. State

Court: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Docket: AP-77,092

Opinion Date: June 5, 2024

Judge: Per Curiam

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In this case, Hector Acosta was convicted of capital murder for fatally shooting Erick Zelaya and Iris Chirinos in the same criminal transaction. The trial court sentenced Acosta to death based on the jury’s answers to special issues set forth in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071, Sections 2(b) and 2(e). Acosta appealed, raising seventeen points of error.

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas affirmed the trial court’s judgment of conviction and sentence of death. The court found that the trial court did not err in denying Acosta's motions for continuance, motions to suppress, and in admitting certain evidence. The court also found that Acosta's statements to the police were voluntary and that he had knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights. The court further found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting surveillance video footage, as it was properly authenticated.

The court also rejected Acosta's arguments that the State improperly highlighted his Mexican nationality as evidence of future dangerousness, finding that the State did not offer specific evidence of Acosta’s Mexican nationality as evidence of future dangerousness, nor did the State argue that Acosta was a future danger because he is Mexican or from Mexico. The court concluded that Acosta failed to preserve these claims at trial, and therefore, the court could not review them on appeal.

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State of West Virginia v. Juan McMutary

Court: Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

Docket: 22-0252

Opinion Date: June 3, 2024

Judge: Armstead

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reviewed a case involving a man, Juan McMutary, who was stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation. During the stop, the officer conducted a search of McMutary's vehicle with his permission, uncovering a firearm and four bags later determined to contain illegal drugs. As a result, McMutary was indicted, tried, and convicted by a jury of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and felony possession of a controlled substance, fentanyl, with intent to deliver in an amount more than one gram but less than five grams.

The Circuit Court of Wood County had previously denied McMutary's motion to suppress the evidence collected by the police officer during the search of his vehicle, and his motion for judgment of acquittal pursuant to the sentence enhancement imposed under West Virginia Code § 60A-4415(b)(2). McMutary appealed these decisions to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed the lower court's decision to deny McMutary's motion to suppress the evidence, ruling that the officer had probable cause to conduct a traffic stop when she witnessed McMutary commit a traffic infraction. However, the court reversed the conviction and sentencing order which enhanced McMutary's sentence under West Virginia Code § 60A-4-415(b)(2), as the evidence presented at trial did not support the conviction and subsequent sentencing enhancement. The court remanded the case for resentencing under West Virginia Code § 60A-4-415(b)(1).

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State v. Lyon

Court: Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

Docket: 22-0042

Opinion Date: June 5, 2024

Judge: Walker

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Brian E. Lyon, II, who was convicted of eight felonies, including first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault, and attempted first-degree murder. The trial court imposed the maximum penalty for each offense. On appeal, Lyon argued that unpreserved trial errors affected the fairness of the proceedings. He claimed that the trial court delivered a defective jury instruction on first-degree sexual assault because it failed to include an element of the crime, lack of consent. He also claimed that the assistant prosecuting attorney made improper comments to the jury when he referred to Lyon as a “monster” and “evil” during his opening statement and closing argument.

The Circuit Court of Marion County conducted Lyon’s jury trial in September 2021. The State introduced evidence showing that Lyon’s cell phone’s geo-location data placed him at the crime scene on the night of the crimes. Lyon’s DNA was found on a beer can recovered from the home, and his seminal fluid and skin cells were found on a piece of paper towel there. Lyon’s girlfriend testified about meeting him after he committed the crimes and traveling with him to Pennsylvania where he was eventually apprehended by authorities.

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed the convictions, finding no merit to Lyon's assignments of error. The court concluded that the trial court's jury instruction on first-degree sexual assault, although it erroneously omitted the lack of consent element, did not impair the truth-finding function of the trial or affect the outcome of the court proceedings. The court also found that while the prosecutor's remarks referring to Lyon as a "monster" and "evil" were improper, they did not unfairly mislead the jury or prejudice Lyon considering the strength of the State’s evidence establishing his guilt.

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Said v. State

Court: Wyoming Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 WY 58

Opinion Date: May 31, 2024

Judge: FENN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Hassan Ahmed Said, who was sentenced to two to four years in prison for three separate counts in three different dockets. The district court awarded credit for time served as follows: 115 days against the sentence in one docket, 100 days against the sentence in the second docket, and 153 days against the sentence in the third docket. Said argued that the district court erred by not awarding the 153 days credited in the third docket against his sentences in the first and second dockets.

Previously, the district court had denied Said's motion to correct an illegal sentence in the first and second dockets. Said claimed that the district court erred by awarding the 153 days credit from his third arrest only to the third docket. He argued that the 153 days of presentence confinement should have been credited to all three dockets. The district court held that Said was awarded proper credit for time served and found that he was entitled to nothing more.

In the Supreme Court of Wyoming, Said contended that his sentence was illegal because the district court declined to award credit for the 153 days he spent in presentence confinement from his third arrest against his concurrent sentences in the first and second dockets. The State argued that the 153 days Said spent incarcerated from his third arrest is directly related to separate criminal charges, so Said is not entitled to the additional credit in the first and second dockets. The Supreme Court agreed with the State and affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Said received credit for the actual time served against his total term of imprisonment, and therefore his sentence is legal.

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