Justia Daily Opinion Summaries

Criminal Law
June 21, 2024

Table of Contents

Chiaverini v. City of Napoleon

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

US Supreme Court

Diaz v. United States

Criminal Law

US Supreme Court

Garland v. Cargill

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Supreme Court

US v. Aponte-Colon

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

United States v. Bradley

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Johnson v. Robinette

Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Dunlap

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Carpenter

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Giannini

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Black

Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Government & Administrative Law, Health Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Johnson

Banking, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Sach

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Austin

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Cullar

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Deng

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Buntyn

Civil Rights, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

United States v. Alfonso

Admiralty & Maritime Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

United States v. Harding

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

USA v. Harden

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

United States v. Smith

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

STATE OF ARIZONA v DUNBAR

Criminal Law

Arizona Supreme Court

P. v. Nadey

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of California

In re A.M.

Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Meno

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

Dhyne v. People

Communications Law, Criminal Law, Internet Law

Colorado Supreme Court

People v. Howell

Criminal Law, Real Estate & Property Law

Colorado Supreme Court

People v. Johnson

Criminal Law

Colorado Supreme Court

State v. C.

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Connecticut Supreme Court

DeSantis v. Dream Defenders

Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Florida Supreme Court

State v. Fay

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Supreme Court of Hawaii

State v. Shackelford

Criminal Law

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

State v. Lamia-Beck

Criminal Law

Kansas Supreme Court

People v. Burkman

Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Michigan Supreme Court

Phillips v. State

Criminal Law

Minnesota Supreme Court

State v. Sardina-Padilla

Criminal Law

Minnesota Supreme Court

Morris v. State

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Mississippi

Smith v. State

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Mississippi

Turner v. State

Criminal Law, Family Law

Supreme Court of Mississippi

State v. Lanchantin

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. German

Criminal Law

Nebraska Supreme Court

People v Corr

Criminal Law

New York Court of Appeals

People v King

Criminal Law

New York Court of Appeals

People v Thomas

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

New York Court of Appeals

People v Wright

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

New York Court of Appeals

State v. Vervalen

Criminal Law

North Dakota Supreme Court

Commonwealth v. Parrish

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

State v. Hahn

Criminal Law, Real Estate & Property Law

South Dakota Supreme Court

MCCUMBER v. STATE OF TEXAS

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Bland-Henderson v. Commonwealth

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Virginia

State v. Wiskowski

Criminal Law

Wisconsin Supreme Court

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Criminal Law Opinions

Chiaverini v. City of Napoleon

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 23-50

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Elena Kagan

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

This case involves a dispute between Jascha Chiaverini, a jewelry store owner, and police officers from Napoleon, Ohio. The officers charged Chiaverini with three crimes: receiving stolen property, dealing in precious metals without a license, both misdemeanors, and money laundering, a felony. After obtaining a warrant, the police arrested Chiaverini and detained him for three days. However, county prosecutors later dropped the case. Chiaverini, believing that his arrest and detention were unjustified, sued the officers, alleging a Fourth Amendment malicious-prosecution claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983. To win this claim, he had to show that the officers brought criminal charges against him without probable cause, leading to an unreasonable seizure of his person.

The District Court granted summary judgment to the officers, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Court of Appeals held that Chiaverini’s prosecution was supported by probable cause. In its decision, the court did not address whether the officers had probable cause to bring the money-laundering charge. The court believed that there was clearly probable cause to charge Chiaverini with the two misdemeanors. As long as one charge was supported by probable cause, it thought, a malicious-prosecution claim based on any other charge must fail.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the presence of probable cause for one charge in a criminal proceeding does not categorically defeat a Fourth Amendment malicious-prosecution claim relating to another, baseless charge. The parties, and the United States as amicus curiae, all agreed with this conclusion, which follows from both the Fourth Amendment and traditional common-law practice. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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Diaz v. United States

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 23-14

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Clarence Thomas

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Delilah Diaz was stopped at a U.S.-Mexico border port of entry, where border patrol officers discovered over 54 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in the car she was driving. Diaz was charged with importing methamphetamine, a charge that required the government to prove that Diaz knowingly transported the drugs. Diaz claimed she was unaware of the drugs in the car. To counter this claim, the government planned to call an expert witness, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Andrew Flood, to testify that drug traffickers generally do not entrust large quantities of drugs to people who are unaware they are transporting them. Diaz objected to this testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 704(b), which prohibits an expert witness from stating an opinion about whether the defendant did or did not have a mental state or condition that constitutes an element of the crime charged or of a defense. The court ruled that Agent Flood could testify that most couriers know they are transporting drugs. Diaz was found guilty and appealed, challenging Agent Flood’s testimony under Rule 704(b).

The Court of Appeals held that because Agent Flood did not explicitly opine that Diaz knowingly transported methamphetamine, his testimony did not violate Rule 704(b). Diaz appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The Court held that expert testimony that "most people" in a group have a particular mental state is not an opinion about "the defendant" and thus does not violate Rule 704(b). The Court reasoned that Agent Flood did not express an opinion about whether Diaz herself knowingly transported methamphetamine. Instead, he testified about the knowledge of most drug couriers, which does not necessarily describe Diaz’s mental state. The Court concluded that because Agent Flood did not express an opinion about whether Diaz herself knowingly transported methamphetamine, his testimony did not violate Rule 704(b).

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Garland v. Cargill

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 22-976

Opinion Date: June 14, 2024

Judge: Clarence Thomas

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case revolves around the legality of bump stocks, accessories that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire at a rate similar to machine guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had long held that semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump stocks were not machine guns under the statute. However, following a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the shooter used bump stocks, the ATF reversed its position and issued a rule classifying bump stocks as machine guns.

The case was first heard in the District Court, where Michael Cargill, who had surrendered two bump stocks to the ATF under protest, challenged the rule. Cargill argued that the ATF lacked statutory authority to classify bump stocks as machine guns because they did not meet the definition of a machine gun under §5845(b). The District Court ruled in favor of the ATF, concluding that a bump stock fits the statutory definition of a machine gun.

The case was then taken to the Court of Appeals, which initially affirmed the District Court's decision but later reversed it after rehearing en banc. The majority of the Court of Appeals agreed that §5845(b) was ambiguous as to whether a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a bump stock fits the statutory definition of a machine gun. They concluded that the rule of lenity required resolving that ambiguity in Cargill's favor.

The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The Court held that a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a machine gun because it cannot fire more than one shot by a single function of the trigger. Furthermore, even if it could, it would not do so automatically. Therefore, the ATF exceeded its statutory authority by issuing a rule that classifies bump stocks as machine guns.

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US v. Aponte-Colon

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Docket: 22-1422

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: Rikelman

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Jean Carlos Aponte-Colón ("Aponte") who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment longer than the range recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Aponte had pleaded guilty to possessing with intent to distribute marijuana and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Under his plea agreement, Aponte committed to request an upwardly variant sentence on the firearm charge due to the "nature and quantity of evidence seized" during his arrest. Despite Aponte and the government requesting an aggregate imprisonment sentence of ninety-four months and 100 months respectively, the district court sentenced him to an upwardly variant sentence of 120 months.

The district court's decision was appealed on the grounds that the government materially breached the plea agreement, the district court improperly based its sentence on Aponte's national origin, and the district court's sentence was procedurally unreasonable. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit concluded that the law and the record did not support Aponte's arguments and affirmed the district court's decision. The court found no breach of the plea agreement, no evidence that the district court based its sentence on Aponte's national origin, and no procedural unreasonableness in the district court's sentence.

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United States v. Bradley

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Docket: 22-1207

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: SACK

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves defendants Dennis A. Bradley, Jr., and Jessica Martinez, who were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in relation to Bradley’s 2018 campaign for Connecticut state senator. The government obtained two videos from videographers hired by Bradley, one 13-minute video and a 28-minute video, both of which were recorded at an event where Bradley announced his campaign. The government only became aware of the existence of the 28-minute video a week before the trial and promptly provided it to the defendants. Bradley moved to preclude the 28-minute video, arguing that the government had violated Rule 16(a)(1)(E) by not obtaining and producing the video earlier.

The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut granted Bradley's motion, ruling that the government had violated its disclosure obligations by not obtaining and producing the 28-minute video at an earlier date. The government appealed this decision, arguing that it did not have the video in its possession, custody, or control until the eve of the trial.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the district court's order. The court held that neither Rule 16(a)(1)(E) nor the Connecticut District Court’s Standing Order imposed a requirement on the government to discover and turn over to a criminal defendant evidence that the government did not have in its physical possession, custody, or control, or that it did not have a duty to obtain from a third party. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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Johnson v. Robinette

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 22-7305

Opinion Date: June 14, 2024

Judge: TRAXLER

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

The case involves Earl Johnson, a former inmate of the Maryland Correctional Training Center, who alleged that corrections officer Chad Zimmerman sexually harassed and abused him during strip searches, in violation of his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights. Johnson also sued Zimmerman’s supervisor, Lt. Richard Robinette, alleging supervisory and bystander liability. The district court dismissed Johnson’s claims against Robinette due to failure to exhaust administrative remedies but held that Johnson’s claims against Zimmerman were exempt from this requirement. The court also granted summary judgment to Zimmerman and Robinette on the merits of Johnson’s claims.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in concluding that Johnson’s claims against Robinette were subject to exhaustion requirements. However, the court affirmed the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment to both defendants. The court found that the strip searches, including those involving momentary touchings of Johnson’s genitalia or buttocks, did not rise to the level of an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The court also found that Johnson failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that Zimmerman had the requisite malicious intent to sexually abuse him, sexually arouse him or himself, or otherwise gratify sexual desire. Furthermore, the court found that Johnson’s evidence fell short of establishing supervisory or bystander liability against Robinette.

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United States v. Dunlap

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 22-4625

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: GREGORY

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Vera and Trecika Dunlap, a mother and daughter who pleaded guilty to jury tampering. The Dunlaps had followed a juror from a separate criminal trial involving their family members and offered him money in exchange for a not-guilty vote. They entered into plea agreements under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), agreeing to serve twelve months and one day of incarceration. However, they argue that the district court accepted the plea agreements but then imposed a higher sentence than that stipulated in the plea agreements.

The district court, which had presided over the trial during which the jury tampering occurred, expressed hesitation about imposing the stipulated sentence due to the seriousness of the offense. The court determined that it would reject the plea agreement provision that required a sentence of a year and a day, believing it was not a sufficient sentence for the offense under the circumstances. The court then informed the Dunlaps that they had the right to withdraw their plea and calculated the applicable guidelines range to be 46 to 57 months. The court eventually sentenced each of the Dunlaps to 36 months.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that when the record is ambiguous as to whether a district court accepted or rejected a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement, such ambiguity must be construed in the defendant’s favor. The court concluded that the record in this case was ambiguous and thus construed it in the manner urged by the Dunlaps. Accordingly, the court deemed the district court to have accepted (and been bound by) the terms of the plea agreements between the Dunlaps and the government. The court vacated the judgments and remanded the case with instructions to reenter the judgments consistent with the terms of the plea agreements and this opinion.

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United States v. Carpenter

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-3295

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: SCUDDER

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Seldrick Carpenter, who was serving a six-year term of supervised release after completing a federal sentence for distributing fentanyl. After the death of his mother, Carpenter began using drugs and acting out against his probation officer. When behavioral therapy failed to address these issues, his probation officer petitioned to revoke his supervised release. Carpenter was then suspected of setting a car on fire. The Probation Office alleged that Carpenter committed several supervised release violations, including arson, criminal damage to property, intimidation, and aggravated battery. Before the revocation hearing, Carpenter requested a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment and Article III, § 2, cl. 3. The district court denied the motion and presided over Carpenter’s revocation hearing without a jury. The court found Carpenter guilty of several violations and revoked his supervised release, imposing a revocation sentence of 30 months’ imprisonment.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether a supervised release revocation proceeding held under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3) constitutes the “trial of [a] crime” or a “criminal prosecution” within the meaning of either clause. The court agreed with the district court's decision that it does not. The court concluded that neither the Sixth Amendment nor Section 2 of Article III of the U.S. Constitution guarantee a jury trial in a revocation hearing like Carpenter’s. A defendant in Carpenter's situation is entitled only to those procedures dictated by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court also rejected Carpenter's argument that Article III, § 2 can apply to proceedings outside the scope of the Sixth Amendment. The court affirmed the district court's decision.

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United States v. Giannini

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 22-3139

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: KIRSCH

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Mario Giannini and Robert Czernek were involved in a series of fraudulent schemes in Bloomingdale Township, Illinois. Giannini worked for Bulldog Earth Movers, a contractor owned by his girlfriend, Debra Fazio. Czernek, the Township's Highway Commissioner, approved inflated invoices from Bulldog, and the excess funds were split between Czernek and Bulldog. Giannini, Czernek, and Fazio were indicted on counts of wire and honest services fraud. Czernek cooperated with the government and pleaded guilty, while Giannini and Fazio proceeded to trial. However, Fazio was acquitted on all counts after the government's case-in-chief.

The district court had previously denied Giannini's motion for a mistrial based on the government's late disclosure of investigating agents' notes regarding an inculpatory statement he made to Czernek. Giannini also argued that the court erred in allowing the prosecutors to discuss Fazio's conduct in closing arguments, despite her acquittal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for a mistrial, as the late disclosure of the agents' notes did not sufficiently prejudice Giannini. The court also found no error in allowing the prosecutors to discuss Fazio's conduct, as it was highly relevant to the charges against Giannini. The court concluded that even if it was error to allow the comments, it was harmless given the overwhelming evidence against Giannini.

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USA v. Black

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 22-2659

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Kirsch

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

The case involves Roland Black, who was convicted of attempting to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, specifically furanyl fentanyl. Law enforcement intercepted a package addressed to Black, believing it contained narcotics. After obtaining a warrant, they found the substance, replaced it with sham narcotics, and delivered the package to Black's residence. Black was arrested after the package was opened and he was found with luminescent powder from the sham narcotics on his hands.

Prior to his trial, Black had unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictment and suppress all evidence derived from the seizure of the package. He argued that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to seize the package and requested an evidentiary hearing to resolve related factual disputes. The district court denied these motions, ruling that the totality of the circumstances supported the officers' reasonable suspicion determination.

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Black appealed his conviction, raising four arguments. He contended that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to seize the package, the jury instruction about his requisite mens rea was erroneous, the jury’s verdict was not supported by sufficient evidence, and the court erred in denying his motion to dismiss based on the court’s treatment of furanyl fentanyl as an analogue of fentanyl.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision. It found that the officers had reasonable suspicion to seize the package, the jury instruction accurately stated the law, the jury’s verdict was supported by more than sufficient evidence, and Black's motion to dismiss argument was foreclosed by precedent.

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USA v. Johnson

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 22-3221

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Areas of Law: Banking, Criminal Law

The defendant, Christopher Johnson, was indicted and pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft after purchasing stolen credit card data and using it to produce counterfeit cards. The district court, when calculating the loss under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1, deferred to the guidelines commentary and assessed a $500 minimum loss for each card. Johnson argued that the guidelines commentary was not entitled to deference as an interpretation of § 2B1.1, citing the Supreme Court's decision in Kisor v. Wilkie.

The district court denied Johnson's objection, holding that the term "loss" in the context of § 2B1.1 was genuinely ambiguous and that the minimum loss amount was a reasonable interpretation of that term. The court also stated that even without deferring to the guidelines commentary, it would still have assessed a loss of $500 per card. Johnson was sentenced to 58 months' imprisonment: 34 months for wire fraud and the mandatory 24 months for aggravated identity theft.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Johnson challenged the district court's deference to the guidelines commentary. The court, however, affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court held that the Supreme Court's decision in Kisor v. Wilkie did not disturb the Supreme Court’s holding in Stinson v. United States that guidelines commentary is “authoritative unless it violates the Constitution or a federal statute, or is inconsistent with, or a plainly erroneous reading of” the guideline it interprets. The court concluded that the guidelines commentary assessing $500 minimum loss per credit card therefore remains binding under Stinson.

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USA v. Sach

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1367

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Joseph Van Sach, a federal prison inmate, was sentenced to 87 months for assaulting a correctional officer. The incident occurred when Van Sach refused to comply with orders to submit to hand restraints, leading to the use of pepper spray and physical restraint by officers. Later, Van Sach punched a correctional officer in the eye, causing severe swelling, sharp pain, and bruising. He was subsequently convicted by a jury of one count of forcible assault on a federal officer.

The probation officer prepared a presentence report recommending the base offense level for aggravated assault, along with several enhancements, resulting in a total offense level of 25 and a criminal history category of III. This calculation yielded a guidelines range of 70 to 87 months in prison. The government objected to the report, seeking a higher sentence due to the officer's persistent headaches and extreme physical pain. However, the district court overruled the government's objection and adopted the guidelines calculation as set forth in the report, sentencing Van Sach to 87 months in prison.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, both Van Sach and the government agreed that the district court erred in applying the guideline provision for aggravated assault, as the correctional officer did not suffer serious bodily injury. They argued that the court should have used a different guideline provision, which would have resulted in a lower guidelines range of 24 to 30 months. The government conceded the error but argued it was harmless because the district court considered other factors in sentencing. However, the appellate court found the error was not harmless and vacated Van Sach's sentence, remanding the case for resentencing using the correct guideline provision.

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United States v. Austin

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-2570

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: Erickson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Reginald Austin was convicted of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person after law enforcement found a loaded handgun in his pants during a traffic stop. Austin moved to suppress the firearm, arguing that the officers unreasonably prolonged the traffic stop and lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the pat-down searches. The district court denied his motion and sentenced him to a 51-month term of imprisonment. The court added two points to his criminal history score pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 4A1.1(e), based on his two prior qualifying convictions for crimes of violence. Austin appealed, challenging the denial of his motion to suppress, the government's comments during closing argument, and the court's application of § 4A1.1.

The district court had denied Austin's motion to suppress the firearm, arguing that the traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged and the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a protective pat-down. Austin represented himself at trial, and a jury convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm. At sentencing, the district court determined Austin’s advisory Sentencing Guidelines range was 51 to 63 months, based on a total offense level of 20 and criminal history category IV. The district court calculated a total of eight criminal history points arising from two Missouri Circuit Court cases. Austin now appeals.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the traffic stop was not unreasonably prolonged and the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a protective pat-down. The court also found that the prosecutor's remarks during closing arguments were not improper and did not deprive Austin of a fair trial. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err in its application of the Sentencing Guidelines, rejecting Austin's argument that his prior convictions for crimes of violence occurred on the same occasion and therefore § 4A1.1(e) was inapplicable.

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United States v. Cullar

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-1091

Opinion Date: June 14, 2024

Judge: KOBES

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Corey Lamar Cullar pleaded guilty to maintaining a home for the purpose of distributing controlled substances. The district court imposed a sentence of 240 months in prison, the maximum under the Guidelines. The court calculated Cullar's base offense level at 22, added levels for possessing a dangerous weapon, maintaining a drug premises, having an aggravating role in the offense, and using a minor or obstructing justice. The court then increased his offense level to 32 due to his status as a career offender and declined to give him a reduction for accepting responsibility.

Cullar appealed, challenging the court's Guidelines calculation and the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. He disputed the court's drug quantity finding, most of its sentencing enhancements, and its denial of a reduction for accepting responsibility. He also argued that the court did not sufficiently consider his mitigating circumstances, making his sentence substantively unreasonable.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that any error in the district court's drug quantity finding and sentencing enhancements did not affect Cullar's Guidelines range and was therefore harmless. The court also upheld the district court's denial of a reduction for accepting responsibility, finding that Cullar had obstructed justice after pleading guilty by leaking documents that identified a cooperator. Finally, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the substantive reasonableness of Cullar's sentence, as it had considered all relevant factors and had not given undue weight to any improper or irrelevant factors.

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United States v. Deng

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-3545

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Kobes

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Mani Panoam Deng was charged with being an unlawful drug user in possession of a firearm, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). Deng moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the statute violated the Second Amendment and was void for vagueness. He pleaded guilty unconditionally, but appealed, renewing his constitutional challenges and arguing that the court erred by deferring a complete decision on his motion to dismiss.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa denied Deng's facial Second Amendment challenge and deferred ruling on his other claims, as they were tied to facts about his offense conduct that a jury needed to find. After Deng pleaded guilty, he appealed, renewing his constitutional challenges and arguing that the court erred by deferring a complete decision on his motion to dismiss.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that § 922(g)(3) is facially constitutional, citing a previous decision in United States v. Veasley. Deng's as-applied challenge was deemed waived due to his unconditional guilty plea. The court also rejected Deng's vagueness challenge, stating that a criminal statute is void for vagueness under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause only if it fails to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes or is so standardless that it invites arbitrary enforcement. The court found that § 922(g)(3) was not vague as applied to Deng's conduct. Deng's argument that the district court erred by deferring a ruling on his vagueness and as-applied Second Amendment challenges was also dismissed as he had waived this claim by pleading guilty.

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United States v. Buntyn

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Docket: 23-2007

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: BACHARACH

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

Anthony Buntyn, an employee of a private company that transported detainees for law enforcement agencies, was charged with willfully violating the detainees' rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause due to inhumane conditions of confinement. The conditions developed while Buntyn transported the detainees in a van to various detention facilities. The government alleged that Buntyn had violated the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause through deliberate indifference to intolerable conditions of confinement and that this indifference had resulted in bodily injury to three detainees. The jury found Buntyn guilty of depriving the detainees of humane conditions, acting willfully and with deliberate indifference, and causing bodily injury to one detainee.

Buntyn appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, arguing that the evidence was insufficient for a finding of guilt, that the district court erred in preventing his attorney from using the term malice in closing argument, and that the court coerced the jury to reach a verdict. The Tenth Circuit rejected Buntyn's arguments and affirmed his conviction. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's findings of inhumane conditions, deliberate indifference, and willfulness. The court also found that the district court did not err in prohibiting the use of the term malice in closing argument, and that Buntyn had waived his challenge to the district court's instruction for the jury to continue deliberating.

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United States v. Alfonso

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Dockets: 22-10576, 22-10589, 22-10590

Opinion Date: June 14, 2024

Judge: BRANCH

Areas of Law: Admiralty & Maritime Law, Criminal Law

The United States Coast Guard seized a vessel in the Dominican Republic's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that bore no nationality indicators. The crew claimed Colombian nationality for the vessel, but Colombia could not confirm or deny the vessel's registry, rendering it stateless under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (MDLEA). The vessel was found to contain drugs, leading to the arrest and prosecution of the crew members, Jhonathan Alfonso, Jose Jorge Kohen, and Jose Miguel Rosario-Rojas, under the MDLEA.

The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the MDLEA was unconstitutional as applied to them because they were arrested in the EEZ, which they asserted is not part of the "high seas" as defined by customary international law. The district court denied the motion, concluding that it had subject matter jurisdiction under the MDLEA. The defendants subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the EEZ is part of the "high seas" and thus within Congress’s authority under the Felonies Clause. The court also concluded that the defendants could not show any plain error with regard to the MDLEA’s definition of a vessel without nationality as including vessels where registry is asserted but cannot be confirmed or denied by the foreign country.

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United States v. Harding

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Docket: 23-10479

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: PRYOR

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

James Harding was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin. The charges stemmed from a conspiracy that allegedly took place in the Southern District of Alabama between early 2018 and April 2019. During the trial, the United States introduced evidence from a separate investigation that took place over two years after the alleged end of the charged conspiracy. This evidence, which was found at Harding's home in the Northern District of Alabama, included multiple firearms and almost two kilograms of heroin. The district court admitted this evidence as intrinsic to the charged conspiracy and, alternatively, as admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Harding was found guilty of both charges.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence from the separate investigation as intrinsic to the charged conspiracy. The court reasoned that the evidence did not arise from the same transactions, was not necessary to complete the story of the charged crime, and was not inextricably intertwined with the charged crime. The court also found that the district court abused its discretion by failing to provide a limiting instruction regarding the evidence from the separate investigation. The court concluded that the errors were not harmless and could have influenced the jury's verdict. As a result, the court vacated Harding's convictions and sentence and remanded the case for a new trial.

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USA v. Harden

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Docket: 20-14004

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Luck

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around a warrantless search of a probationer's home, which was also occupied by a non-probationer. The probationer, Tremayne Linder, was on probation for burglary and attempted armed robbery. His probation conditions included a clause that allowed for warrantless searches of his residence. The non-probationer, Lakesia Harden, was Linder's girlfriend and was aware of his probation status. The police, suspecting marijuana use, conducted a warrantless search of Linder's home and found drugs in a shared closet. Harden was subsequently arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. Harden moved to suppress the drugs and her post-arrest statements as fruits of the allegedly unlawful search. However, the district court denied the suppression motions. At trial, the government admitted the drugs and Harden's statements into evidence, and the jury found her guilty as charged in the indictment. Harden appealed the denial of her suppression motions.

The case was then reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The court held that a warrantless search of a probationer's home, based on reasonable suspicion and a probation condition allowing warrantless searches, is not rendered unreasonable because the home was occupied by another person who knew about the probation. The court affirmed the district court's decision, ruling that the search was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

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United States v. Smith

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

Docket: 22-3033

Opinion Date: June 14, 2024

Judge: MILLETT

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

In this case, the defendant, Gerald Smith, was convicted of murder, kidnapping, and drug trafficking charges three decades ago. He was sentenced to multiple life sentences under the then-mandatory sentencing guidelines. In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, which allows courts to resentence defendants convicted for certain drug crimes that carry lighter sentences today than at the time of sentencing. In 2019, the Supreme Court held unconstitutionally vague one aspect of the “crime-of-violence” definition set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3). Smith sought vacatur of his crime-of-violence convictions and for First Step Act resentencing for other convictions. The district court denied both forms of relief.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Smith's convictions for Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE) murder involved the intentional use of force against others, qualifying them as crimes of violence under Section 924(c)’s elements clause. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of resentencing under the First Step Act, as Smith was not eligible for resentencing on most counts, and the district court reasonably explained its denial of resentencing on the eligible counts. The court remanded to the district court for the limited purpose of entering a revised judgment and conviction order that reflects this court’s prior vacatur of Smith’s felony-murder and attempted-armed-robbery convictions.

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STATE OF ARIZONA v DUNBAR

Court: Arizona Supreme Court

Docket: CR-23-0029-PR

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Beene

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Kevin Dunbar, who was convicted of multiple felonies. Dunbar requested to represent himself during the final stages of his resentencing, but the trial court denied his request. Dunbar appealed this decision, arguing that his right to self-representation had been violated. The court of appeals agreed with Dunbar, concluding that the trial court's denial constituted structural error and remanded the case back to the trial court for reconsideration of Dunbar's request.

Previously, the court of appeals had upheld Dunbar's convictions but remanded for resentencing on different grounds. The court had found that Dunbar had forfeited his right to self-representation due to his inconsistent positions and his signed waiver of the right to self-representation.

The Supreme Court of Arizona was tasked with deciding whether the denial of the right to self-representation at sentencing is subject to harmless error or structural error review. The court held that erroneous denials of the right to self-representation at sentencing constitute structural error. However, the court also clarified that not all denials of self-representation requests are erroneous and provided guidance on the analysis a trial court must employ in determining whether it should grant a defendant’s untimely self-representation request.

The court vacated parts of the court of appeals’ decision and remanded the case back to the trial court for reconsideration of Dunbar's request to represent himself. The trial court was instructed to consider whether denying Dunbar's request would substantially undermine his right to present his case at sentencing. If the trial court determines Dunbar's motion should have been granted, structural error has occurred, and Dunbar is entitled to resentencing. If the trial court again determines that Dunbar's motion should not have been granted, Dunbar's sentences stand.

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P. v. Nadey

Court: Supreme Court of California

Docket: S087560

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: Carol Corrigan

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In the case of The People v. Giles Albert Nadey, Jr., the defendant was convicted of one count of unlawful sodomy and one count of first-degree murder for the killing of Terena Fermenick. The jury found that both offenses were committed with the use of a knife and the murder occurred during the commission of unlawful sodomy. After the first jury deadlocked on penalty, a second jury returned a verdict of death. The Supreme Court of California affirmed the judgment.

The case revolved around the murder of Terena Fermenick, who was sexually assaulted and killed. The defendant, Giles Albert Nadey, Jr., was a carpet cleaner who had been assigned to clean the carpets at the Fermenick's new home on the day of the murder. The prosecution's evidence included DNA evidence linking Nadey to the crime, as well as testimony from various witnesses.

In the lower courts, Nadey was convicted of the charges and sentenced to death. His appeal to the Supreme Court of California was automatic due to the death sentence.

In the Supreme Court of California, Nadey's conviction and sentence were affirmed. The court found that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury's verdict. The court also rejected Nadey's claims of legal error and prosecutorial misconduct. The court held that the prosecutor's comments during closing arguments were not improper and did not prejudice Nadey's right to a fair trial. The court also found that the trial court did not err in admitting certain evidence or in its handling of jury instructions.

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In re A.M.

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: B329999M(Second Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: BALTODANO

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

The case involves a minor, A.M., who was convicted as an adult for a murder committed when he was 14 years old. A.M. was a member of a local gang and was convicted of first-degree murder for killing a rival gang member, S.S. The jury found that A.M. had used a deadly weapon and committed the crime for the benefit of his gang. He was sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison.

Years later, the superior court conditionally reversed the judgment and ordered a transfer hearing pursuant to Proposition 57, which prohibits trying a minor as an adult without a judicial determination of their fitness for juvenile court law. 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. contended that his case should not have been transferred because he was 14 years old when he committed his crime.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Six, found that A.M.'s case was nonfinal when the superior court conditionally reversed the judgment. Therefore, Proposition 57 and Senate Bill 1391, which bars a juvenile court from transferring a 14- or 15-year-old to adult criminal court, applied. The court also agreed with A.M.'s contention that Assembly Bill 333 required striking the gang-murder special circumstance. The court reversed the order granting the district attorney’s motion to transfer A.M.’s case to criminal court and vacated the true finding on the gang-murder special circumstance. The court remanded the matter to the juvenile court with directions to enter a new order denying the district attorney’s motion and to hold a dispositional hearing treating A.M.’s murder conviction as a juvenile adjudication.

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People v. Meno

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: D081878(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: KELETY

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Peter J. Meno was convicted of two counts of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence, one count of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) causing bodily injury, and one count of driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more causing injury. The jury also found that Meno inflicted great bodily injury upon two separate victims. The trial court found that the convictions on the DUI counts were necessarily included offenses of the manslaughter counts. However, due to the associated enhancements, the potential sentence for the DUI counts was greater than that for the manslaughter counts. The court decided to dismiss the manslaughter counts and sentenced Meno to a combined term of eight years in prison.

The Superior Court of San Diego County had previously heard the case. The trial court found that the DUI counts were necessarily included offenses of the manslaughter counts. However, due to the associated enhancements, the potential sentence for the DUI counts was greater than that for the manslaughter counts. The court decided to dismiss the manslaughter counts and sentenced Meno to a combined term of eight years in prison.

The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One State of California reviewed the case. The court held that the trial court did not err by dismissing the manslaughter counts and sentencing Meno on the DUI counts. The court also held that the trial court did not err by including additional terms for two great bodily injury enhancements on one of the DUI counts. The court affirmed the judgment and directed the trial court to prepare a new abstract of judgment to reflect its oral pronouncement of judgment.

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Dhyne v. People

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 45

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: Hart

Areas of Law: Communications Law, Criminal Law, Internet Law

This case revolves around the question of whether a search for internet-related evidence that extended to a previously unknown basement apartment was reasonable, even though the apartment was not specified in the warrant. The police had obtained a warrant to search a property after receiving information that child pornography had been downloaded to a particular IP address associated with that address. The property appeared to be a single-family home. However, during the execution of the warrant, the police encountered Kevin Matthew Dhyne, who lived in a basement apartment on the property and used the same internet access as the rest of the house. The police searched Dhyne’s apartment and found sexually explicit material involving children on his laptop.

The trial court agreed with Dhyne's argument that the search violated the U.S. and Colorado constitutions because the warrant was not specific to his basement apartment. However, the court denied Dhyne’s motion to suppress the evidence, reasoning that even if the officers had not searched his apartment in conjunction with the original warrant, they would have executed the same search later that day under a warrant specific to the basement apartment, and the evidence would therefore have inevitably been discovered. Dhyne was convicted of two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.

The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the suppression motion, though it did so by upholding the search rather than by applying the inevitable discovery exception. The court of appeals agreed that for a multi-dwelling unit, separate dwellings normally require separate, specific warrants. However, the court justified the search of Dhyne’s apartment based on the shared use of the IP address.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado affirmed the outcome, holding that the warrant's reference to the property's "[h]ouse, garage, and any outbuildings" was sufficiently specific because there were no outward indicators that the basement apartment existed. The court also held that the execution of the warrant was reasonable in this specific scenario, where the warrant was for all buildings on the property and the defendant told the police that he lived in the basement and used the IP address that provided grounds for the search.

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People v. Howell

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 42

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: Brian D. Boatright

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

The case revolves around a dispute over the definition of a "dwelling" in the context of Colorado's "force-against-intruders" statute. The defendant, Joseph Howell, was involved in a physical altercation with J.M. outside his mother's apartment. At some point, Howell went inside the apartment, leaving J.M. outside on the doorstep. Howell fired a shot from inside the apartment, hitting J.M. in the face. Howell was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, among other crimes. He moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the "force-against-intruders" statute immunized him from prosecution.

The district court denied Howell's motion to dismiss, finding that because J.M. never entered inside the threshold of the doorway, there was never an "unlawful entry into a dwelling," and thus, the statute does not apply. Howell appealed this decision, leading to the case being reviewed by the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado held that an uncovered, unenclosed, and unsecured doorstep is not part of a “dwelling” for the purposes of the "force-against-intruders" statute. The court reasoned that a “dwelling” must be a “building,” and a “building” is “a structure which has the capacity to contain.” Since the doorstep has no roof, walls, or gate, it does not have the capacity to contain, and therefore, it is not a “building.” The court concluded that Howell's use of force against J.M., who was standing on the doorstep and was a “non-entrant,” was not shielded by immunity under the "force-against-intruders" statute. Therefore, the court discharged the rule to show cause.

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People v. Johnson

Court: Colorado Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 CO 47

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: Berkenkotter

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around a traffic stop that led to the discovery of drug paraphernalia and illegal substances. The defendant, Sean Terrance Johnson, was pulled over by police officers for two traffic violations. During the stop, officers noticed an empty shell casing in Johnson's vehicle and a bag frequently used to carry concealed weapons. Johnson admitted to having a shotgun in the trunk. The officers also found a pipe in Johnson's pocket, which he admitted to using the previous night. Based on these findings, the officers arrested Johnson.

The district court initially suppressed the evidence found in Johnson's vehicle, ruling that the officers had unlawfully prolonged their investigatory stop by waiting for a drug-detection dog to arrive. The court reasoned that once the officers had found the pipe and confirmed there were no outstanding warrants for Johnson's arrest, the investigation had effectively concluded. Therefore, the officers needed additional reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop for the dog's sniff.

The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado disagreed with the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court found that the officers had probable cause to arrest Johnson for possession of drug paraphernalia, and thus, his continued detention was justified as an arrest, not an investigatory stop. The court concluded that the officers did not unlawfully prolong their investigatory stop of Johnson. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's order suppressing the evidence discovered in Johnson's vehicle and remanded the case for the court to consider whether that evidence was lawfully discovered following Johnson's arrest.

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State v. C.

Court: Connecticut Supreme Court

Docket: SC20692

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Mullins

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

A man convicted of sexual assault and risk of injury to a child appealed his conviction, arguing that he was entitled to access the content of handwritten journals authored by the complainant. The complainant had revealed the existence of these journals during the trial, stating that they were created as part of her therapy following the abuse and contained details about her relationship with the defendant and the abuse he had inflicted. The defendant claimed that these journals constituted a "statement" under relevant rules of practice and that his rights were violated as the prosecutors did not personally review the journals for exculpatory information.

The Appellate Court affirmed the conviction, concluding that the defendant had waived his claim to the journals and that the prosecutors were not constitutionally required to personally review the journals. The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court of Connecticut, which agreed with the state's alternative argument that the journals were not subject to disclosure because they did not constitute a statement that was adopted or approved by the complainant. The court also concluded that the Brady review of the journals by a nonlawyer member of the state’s attorney’s office was constitutionally adequate. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court.

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DeSantis v. Dream Defenders

Court: Florida Supreme Court

Docket: SC2023-0053

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Couriel

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The Supreme Court of Florida was asked to interpret Florida’s law prohibiting riot, section 870.01(2), Florida Statutes (2021). The question was whether the law applies to a person who is present at a violent protest, but neither engages in, nor intends to assist others in engaging in, violent and disorderly conduct. The court ruled that it does not.

The case originated from a lawsuit filed by a group of plaintiffs against Governor Ron DeSantis, three Florida sheriffs, and Attorney General Ashley Moody in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The plaintiffs argued that the statute was vague and overbroad in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court agreed and enjoined the enforcement of the statute. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that the central constitutional question was the statute’s scope and certified the question to the Supreme Court of Florida.

The Supreme Court of Florida concluded that a "violent public disturbance" under section 870.01(2) is characterized by harm to persons or property, and not by peacefulness. To "willfully participate" in a "violent public disturbance," a defendant must have "intentionally, knowingly, and purposely" chosen to be part of it. Therefore, to be guilty of the crime of riot, one must "engage in," or at least "intend to assist others in engaging in, violent and disorderly conduct." The court found that the statute was not ambiguous and returned the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

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State v. Fay

Court: Supreme Court of Hawaii

Docket: SCWC-22-0000056

Opinion Date: June 17, 2024

Judge: EDDINS

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case revolves around a defendant, Melissa Fay, who was prosecuted for driving under the influence and other related charges. She entered a plea agreement, which did not include imprisonment or probation, but agreed to pay a freestanding order of restitution. The District Court of the Second Circuit followed the plea deal and ordered indefinite compliance hearings to monitor Fay's restitution payments. Fay protested, arguing that Hawai'i's restitution enforcement statute, Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 706-644, limits the court's authority.

Fay's appeal was unsuccessful in the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which agreed with the district court's decision. The Intermediate Court of Appeals held that an independent order of restitution empowers a criminal court to retain jurisdiction over a person who owes restitution. The court ruled that setting recurrent proof of compliance hearings fell within a court's general power to enforce its orders.

The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i, however, concluded that the district court exceeded its statutory authority. The Supreme Court held that HRS § 706-644, the specific law relating to restitution enforcement, controls over the court's general powers to enforce judgments. The court ruled that a compliance hearing regarding restitution payments can only be ordered if a defendant is on probation or the defendant "defaults" on payment per HRS § 706-644(1). The Supreme Court vacated the Intermediate Court of Appeals' judgment on appeal.

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State v. Shackelford

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 49930

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Meyer

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Dale Carter Shackelford was found guilty on six counts, including two counts of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to death for the murder counts and to various terms for the other counts, all to be served concurrently. However, the death sentences were vacated due to a Supreme Court decision, and the case was remanded for resentencing. At the resentencing hearing, Shackelford was given fixed life sentences for the murder counts to be served consecutively, but the court did not address the other counts. The written judgment stated that the murder sentences were to run consecutively with each other and with the sentences for the other counts.

Shackelford, representing himself, filed a motion to correct a clerical error in the judgment, arguing that it did not accurately reflect the court's oral pronouncement of sentence because the court did not mention the other counts at the resentencing hearing. He contended that the judgment should be corrected to order that the consecutive sentences for the murder counts run concurrently with the sentences for the other counts. The district court denied Shackelford’s motion, ruling that the written judgment accurately reflected the oral pronouncement of sentence.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho reversed the district court's decision. The Supreme Court held that when there is a difference between the oral pronouncement of sentence and the written judgment, the oral pronouncement controls. The court found that the district court's oral pronouncement at Shackelford’s resentencing was unambiguous as far as the murder counts were concerned, but did not mention the other counts. Therefore, while the murder sentences run consecutively to each other, because the district court did not state that the other counts were to run consecutively to the murder counts, they will run concurrently with the murder counts. The case was remanded to the district court to correct the judgment to conform to the oral pronouncement of sentence.

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State v. Lamia-Beck

Court: Kansas Supreme Court

Docket: 124433

Opinion Date: June 14, 2024

Judge: ROSEN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Cody Michael Lamia-Beck pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and was sentenced by the district court. However, the court later ruled that the sentence was illegal because it was generated from an incorrect sentencing grid and resentenced Lamia-Beck to a longer sentence. Lamia-Beck appealed, arguing that the original sentence was legal because it fell within the correct sentencing range, and therefore, the district court lacked jurisdiction to impose a new one.

The district court had initially sentenced Lamia-Beck based on a sentencing range that corresponded with the drug offense grid rather than the nondrug offense grid. The State moved to correct the sentence, arguing that it was illegal because it was not the high number in the correct grid block. The district court agreed with the State and resentenced Lamia-Beck to a longer sentence. Lamia-Beck appealed this decision, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling.

The Supreme Court of the State of Kansas affirmed the decisions of the lower courts. The Supreme Court held that under the Revised Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Act, a sentence is presumptively illegal if it is drawn from an incorrect sentencing grid block. The court found that the original sentence did not conform to the applicable statutory provision in character or punishment, making it illegal. The court rejected Lamia-Beck's argument that the sentence was legal because it fell within the correct sentencing range, stating that a sentence is more than a raw number; it is a number resulting from the exercise of the district court's discretion within the confines of a dictated range. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and the district court.

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People v. Burkman

Court: Michigan Supreme Court

Docket: 164638

Opinion Date: June 13, 2024

Judge: CLEMENT

Areas of Law: Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

John M. Burkman and Jacob A. Wohl were charged with bribing or intimidating voters, conspiracy to bribe or intimidate voters, and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The charges stemmed from a robocall they designed and financed in 2020, which targeted voters in Michigan areas with significant Black populations. The robocall claimed that voting by mail would result in the voter’s personal information becoming part of a public database used by the police to track down old warrants, by credit card companies to collect debt, and potentially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track people for mandatory vaccines. The district court found probable cause to believe that the defendants had committed the charged offenses and bound them over for trial. The defendants moved to quash the bindovers, arguing that the robocall was not a “menace” or “other corrupt means or device” under the relevant statute and that the statute was unconstitutional. The circuit court denied the motions.

The Michigan Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the defendants’ conduct fell within the term “menace” as used in the relevant statute. However, the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the defendants’ conduct fell within the statutory catchall term “other corrupt means or device.” The Supreme Court also held that the defendants’ conduct was not excluded from constitutional free-speech protections under the true-threat exception, but erred by holding that the defendants’ conduct was excluded from constitutional free-speech protections under the speech-integral-to-criminal-conduct exception. The Supreme Court adopted a limiting construction of the statute’s catchall provision and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.

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Phillips v. State

Court: Minnesota Supreme Court

Docket: A22-1372

Opinion Date: June 12, 2024

Judge: MCKEIG

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around the appellant, McKinley Juner Phillips, who was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder for the stabbing death of his wife, Shavon Phillips. The appellant had conceded at trial that he caused the death of his wife but had requested that the jury be given instructions for first-degree heat-of-passion manslaughter in addition to the instructions for first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder. The district court denied the requested instruction, reasoning that the evidence did not support a heat-of-passion instruction.

The appellant appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the court committed reversible error by denying the requested instruction. The appellant's argument was based on the premise that the jury's finding of premeditation does not necessarily preclude a finding of heat-of-passion.

The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, affirmed the district court's decision. The Supreme Court held that the appellant was not prejudiced by the district court’s decision not to instruct the jury on first-degree heat-of-passion manslaughter because the court gave instructions on both first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder and the jury found the appellant guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. The court reasoned that the mental states of premeditation and heat of passion cannot coexist, and since the jury found the appellant guilty of premeditated murder, it would not have found him guilty of heat-of-passion manslaughter.

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State v. Sardina-Padilla

Court: Minnesota Supreme Court

Dockets: A21-1642, A23-0628

Opinion Date: June 12, 2024

Judge: PROCACCINI

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Angel Ignacio Sardina-Padilla, who was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder for the death of Jose Genis Cuate. Sardina-Padilla appealed the conviction, arguing that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrant to search his Facebook accounts. He claimed that the warrant application failed to establish probable cause and did not satisfy minimal constitutional requirements for particularity. He also argued that the district court abused its discretion by summarily denying his petition for postconviction relief, which alleged ineffective assistance of counsel.

The district court had denied Sardina-Padilla's motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the June warrant, concluding that the totality of the circumstances described in the June warrant application suggested that the accounts likely contained relevant evidence. The court also concluded that the June warrant satisfied minimal constitutional requirements for particularity.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Minnesota affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the district court did not err in finding that the warrant application alleged that Sardina-Padilla asked someone to delete his Facebook account during a jail call. The court also concluded that the June warrant was sufficiently particular, considering the circumstances of the case, the nature of the crimes under investigation, and whether the officers could have provided a more precise description of the evidence sought. Finally, the court concluded that there was no reasonable probability that the trial’s outcome would have been different if counsel had successfully challenged the tracking data, and therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by summarily denying Sardina-Padilla’s petition for postconviction relief.

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Morris v. State

Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi

Citation: 2023-KA-00546-SCT

Opinion Date: June 13, 2024

Judge: Griffis

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Lawrence Morris was accused of raping his younger sister's best friend, Taylor, and was subsequently indicted, tried twice, and found guilty on one count of statutory rape. The incident allegedly occurred during a visit to the Morris family home, where Taylor's father was living at the time. Taylor claimed that while she was asleep, she woke up feeling "weird" and found Morris next to her with her leggings pulled down. She later discovered she was bleeding from her rectum. Taylor's mother immediately picked her up and they reported the incident to the police. A sexual assault exam at a local emergency room revealed a small rectal tear, but no seminal fluid or sperm cells were found in the subsequent forensic testing.

The Newton County Circuit Court convicted Morris of statutory rape under Mississippi Code Section 97-3-65(1)(b) for having sexual intercourse with a child under the age of fourteen. Morris was sentenced to eight years, five suspended, three to serve, in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, followed by five years of supervised probation. He was also ordered to pay a fine and court costs and to register as a sex offender upon his release. Morris's first trial resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury, and the same jury instructions were given in both trials. Morris appealed his conviction, claiming the jury's verdict was against the sufficiency of and the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the conviction. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support Morris's conviction for statutory rape. The court also determined that the jury's verdict was not against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The court noted that the jury had the opportunity to weigh the credibility of the witnesses, and their decision to believe Taylor's version of events and deem her more credible could not be reweighed by the court.

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Smith v. State

Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi

Citation: 2021-CT-01003-SCT

Opinion Date: June 13, 2024

Judge: COLEMAN

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Christopher Smith, who was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of Nakisa Benson. Smith was initially deemed incompetent to stand trial but was later found competent. During the jury selection process, Smith's counsel exercised ten peremptory strikes on potential jurors, nine of whom were white. The State raised a reverse-Batson challenge, arguing that the strikes were racially motivated. The circuit judge conducted a Batson hearing and disallowed several of Smith's strikes, finding that the reasons provided were not race-neutral.

Smith appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by admitting certain autopsy photographs and by overruling five of his peremptory strikes. The Court of Appeals found no error and affirmed the conviction. Smith then filed a petition for writ of certiorari, contending that the Court of Appeals erred in its Batson analysis with respect to two jurors. He requested that the case be remanded for a proper Batson hearing.

The Supreme Court of Mississippi reviewed the case and the Batson challenge. The Court gave great deference to the trial court's findings, stating that it would not overrule a trial court on a Batson ruling unless the record indicated that the ruling was clearly erroneous or against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. The Court found that Smith's counsel had shown a clear pattern of striking jurors because of their race, which was evident from his choice of words during the trial court’s Batson hearing. The Court affirmed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and of the Copiah County Circuit Court, denying Smith's request for a Batson hearing on the two jurors.

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Turner v. State

Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi

Citation: 2023-KA-00074-SCT

Opinion Date: June 13, 2024

Judge: RANDOLPH

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Family Law

Arious Turner, the biological mother of a four-year-old girl (AT), was convicted of kidnapping her daughter. In June 2019, the Bolivar County chancery court had awarded Turner’s former step-mother, Sharetha Kimber, primary physical custody of AT, granting Turner limited visitation rights. In September 2020, Turner failed to return AT to Kimber after the court-ordered visitation period, and AT's whereabouts were unknown for forty-four days. U.S. Marshals located AT in Greenwood, Mississippi, with the help of an informant.

The case was initially tried in the Bolivar County Circuit Court, where Turner was indicted for felony kidnapping under Mississippi Code Section 97-3-53. Turner sought a directed verdict after the State rested its case, but the trial judge denied her motion. After deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict. The trial judge sentenced Turner to a term of one year in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, suspended Turner’s incarceration, and reduced her sentence to one year of nonreporting probation. Turner filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or in the alternative, for a new trial, which were denied.

The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of Mississippi. The main issue on appeal was whether the State presented sufficient evidence to convict Turner of kidnapping. The court affirmed the lower court's decision, ruling that a rational juror could reasonably find each element of kidnapping beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence presented. The court rejected Turner's argument that the legislature did not intend for Section 97-3-53 to apply to her because she is AT’s natural parent, citing a precedent that a natural parent may be criminally liable for kidnapping their own child when a court decree denies them custody.

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State v. Lanchantin

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 129

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Shea

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Neil Lanchantin, who was charged with felony DUI and four misdemeanor offenses after being pursued and arrested by a Montana Highway Patrol Trooper on private property. The property, where Lanchantin was residing with his girlfriend, was marked with a "No Trespassing" sign. Lanchantin appealed the First Judicial District Court's order denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained when law enforcement officers entered the private property without a warrant.

The District Court denied Lanchantin's motion to suppress on the basis that he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy at the location of the stop. Lanchantin pled guilty to the DUI charge but reserved his right to appeal the District Court’s order. The State argued that Lanchantin had no privacy interest in the property because he did not live there, and that the "No Trespassing" signs were inadequate to convey an expectation of privacy because they were tacked to trees along the side of the road.

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the District Court's decision, holding that Lanchantin had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the driveway of the property where he was residing with his girlfriend. The court found that the "No Trespassing" signs were sufficient to manifest an actual expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable. The court concluded that law enforcement cannot enter onto private property without a warrant, even in the case of a misdemeanant fleeing, unless there are exigent circumstances. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the court's opinion.

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State v. German

Court: Nebraska Supreme Court

Citation: 316 Neb. 841

Opinion Date: June 14, 2024

Judge: Cassel

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Kevin S. German, who was convicted of second-degree murder, kidnapping, and first-degree false imprisonment. The crimes were based on two separate incidents that occurred over a two-day period in November 2019. German and his girlfriend, Keonna Carter, abducted and assaulted E.A. In the second incident, they abducted, assaulted, and killed Annika Swanson.

The District Court for Chase County, Nebraska, heard the case. The court admitted photographic evidence of Swanson's child, gave instructions on aiding and abetting a crime, and refused to give German's tendered instructions. The court also imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for kidnapping.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court found no abuse of discretion in the receipt of photographic evidence and no reversible error related to the jury instructions or kidnapping sentence. With regard to German's ineffective assistance of counsel claims, they either lacked merit, could not be resolved on the existing record, or were not sufficiently alleged.

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People v Corr

Court: New York Court of Appeals

Citation: 2024 NY Slip Op 03379

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Troutman

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves two defendants, Matthew Corr and Bryan McDonald, who were convicted of sex offenses in other states and were required to register as sex offenders under the laws of those states. After relocating to New York, they were required to register as level-one risk under the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). Both defendants requested that the Supreme Court order them registered nunc pro tunc to the date when they registered as sex offenders in the state where they were convicted, effectively giving them credit for the time registered in the foreign jurisdiction against the 20-year registration period.

The Supreme Court denied their requests, and the Appellate Division affirmed the decisions. The defendants argued that the phrase "initial date of registration" in SORA refers to the date they initially registered in the state of conviction, not the date of subsequent registration in New York. The People countered that SORA's use of the phrase "initial date of registration" refers to the date when an offender first registers under SORA.

The Court of Appeals of New York held that the phrase "initial date of registration" refers to the date when an offender first registers under SORA, not the date an offender is required to register under the laws of another jurisdiction. The court found that the defendants' interpretation of the statute would award sex offenders credit for time spent registered under the laws of another state, which is not provided for in SORA. The court affirmed the decisions of the lower courts, ruling that the defendants were not entitled to credit for their time registered as sex offenders under the laws of other states.

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People v King

Court: New York Court of Appeals

Citation: 2024 NY Slip Op 03322

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Singas

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around a defendant who was charged with attempted second-degree murder, second-degree assault, and other charges. The defendant threatened his children with a knife and stabbed his pregnant wife multiple times. In 2019, the defendant was indicted, and the prosecution declared readiness for trial. However, on January 1, 2020, amendments to New York's discovery and statutory speedy trial rules went into effect. On the first day of trial, the defendant moved to dismiss the indictment on statutory speedy trial grounds, arguing that the prosecution had become unready for trial when the amendments came into effect and had failed to file a certificate of compliance with the new discovery rules.

The Supreme Court denied the motion, holding that the amendments do not apply to cases arraigned before January 1, 2020. The jury acquitted the defendant of attempted second-degree murder but convicted him of the remaining counts. The Appellate Division, however, reversed the judgment, granted the defendant's motion, and dismissed the indictment. The Appellate Division held that the prosecution was placed in a state of unreadiness on January 1, 2020, and were required to file a certificate of compliance to become ready thereafter.

The Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division order. The court held that the amendments did not vitiate the prosecution's prior readiness statement. The court found that the amendments specifically tie the certificate of compliance requirement to the prosecution's ability to state ready and be deemed ready. Because the legislature established the certificate of compliance requirement as a condition precedent to declaring ready for trial and did not indicate an intent to undo the prosecution's prior readiness statements, there is no basis to apply that requirement prospectively to a case where the prosecution was in a trial-ready posture when it went into effect. Therefore, the prosecution is not chargeable for any delay after January 1, 2020, and thus remained within the applicable 181-day statutory speedy trial limit.

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People v Thomas

Court: New York Court of Appeals

Citation: 2024 NY Slip Op 03319

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Cannataro

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The defendant, Kevin L. Thomas, was on lifetime parole for prior narcotics offenses. An off-duty police officer, familiar with Thomas, observed him driving outside his county of residence, which was a violation of his parole conditions. The officer contacted an on-duty officer who initiated a traffic stop after observing Thomas commit a traffic infraction. During the stop, Thomas provided inconsistent responses and refused to consent to a search of his vehicle. The police contacted Thomas's parole officer, who arrived at the scene and conducted a warrantless search of Thomas's vehicle, discovering a large quantity of heroin.

The County Court denied Thomas's motion to suppress the evidence, finding that the initial stop was justified and that the police had a founded suspicion of criminality justifying the continued detention of Thomas to contact his parole officer. The court also found that the parole officer's search was rationally and reasonably related to his parole duties. Thomas was convicted of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision, with two Justices dissenting, arguing that Thomas was detained beyond what was reasonable under the circumstances.

The Court of Appeals reversed the decision, stating that the lower courts applied an incorrect legal standard in analyzing whether the traffic stop was unreasonably prolonged. The court held that the proper standard for detaining an individual beyond the time reasonably required to complete a traffic stop is reasonable suspicion. The court found that the traffic stop was justified at its inception, but the courts below evaluated whether the traffic stop was prolonged beyond the time reasonably required for its completion under the founded suspicion standard, a lesser standard than the reasonable suspicion necessary to prolong a traffic stop. The case was remitted to the County Court for further proceedings under the correct standard.

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People v Wright

Court: New York Court of Appeals

Citation: 2024 NY Slip Op 03320

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Cannataro

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

On March 26, 2017, two men robbed a restaurant in Queens. One of the robbers, a Black man wearing a red hoodie, black jacket, and a bandana over his face, approached the Assistant Manager, Sumintra Ramsahoye, and demanded she open the safe. When she couldn't, she handed over the contents of the cash register drawers. Meanwhile, the other perpetrator stood next to another employee, Jordan Guzman. After the robbers fled, Guzman called the police. Police Officer Bryce Blake and his partner arrived at the restaurant within minutes and observed the defendant, Freddie T. Wright, standing in the parking lot dressed in a black jacket and red hoodie. Wright fled upon seeing the patrol car, but was eventually arrested. Guzman and Ramsahoye were brought to the house where Wright was arrested to identify him.

Wright moved to suppress the identification testimony, arguing that the identification procedures were unduly suggestive. The court denied the motion, finding that the identifications were not "overly suggestive and improper" because they were made in a "very short spatial and temporal time between the incident and arrest." During jury selection, Wright raised a Batson challenge to the People's use of peremptory strikes on two prospective jurors—C.C. and K.C. The court found that the reasons proffered by the People for their strike of C.C. and K.C. were not pretextual. Wright was ultimately convicted of second-degree robbery and second-degree criminal trespass.

The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction, holding that Wright had "failed to satisfy his burden of demonstrating, under the third prong of the Batson test, that the facially race-neutral explanation given by the prosecutor was a pretext for racial discrimination." The Court of Appeals granted Wright leave to appeal.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court found that there was record support for the determinations that the People had valid, race-neutral reasons for striking the two prospective jurors. The court also found record support for the conclusions of the courts below that the show-up procedure used by police was not unduly suggestive. The court concluded that the order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed.

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State v. Vervalen

Court: North Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 ND 124

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: McEvers

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Bradley Vervalen, who was charged with burglary and attempted murder. The charges stemmed from an incident where Vervalen unlawfully entered the home of his children's mother and attacked her boyfriend, stabbing him multiple times with a knife. A jury found Vervalen guilty of both charges, and the court subsequently sentenced him.

Vervalen appealed the decision, arguing that the district court erred in two ways. First, he claimed the court failed to instruct the jury on his voluntary intoxication. However, he conceded that he did not object to the proposed instructions or request an intoxication instruction be given to the jury. Second, he argued that the court provided attempted murder instructions that deviated from the murder statute, thereby creating a nonexistent crime.

The Supreme Court of North Dakota reviewed the case for obvious error under N.D.R.Crim.P. 52(b). The court found that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a criminal charge, and while Vervalen was allowed to present evidence of his intoxication, he did not request an instruction on voluntary intoxication. The court concluded that Vervalen was not prejudiced by the lack of an intoxication instruction as he was not prevented from presenting evidence of his intoxication or arguing that he did not form the requisite culpability due to being intoxicated.

Regarding the attempted murder instructions, the court found that Vervalen failed to preserve the issue for appellate review. His counsel had objected to the proposed final jury instructions because they contained a "knowing" culpability—in addition to the "intentional" culpability—citing a previous case, Pemberton. The district court agreed to omit the "knowingly" language from the jury instructions. When asked if he had any other objections to these instructions, Vervalen's counsel stated, "No, Your Honor. That was it." The court concluded that Vervalen had waived this issue.

The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the criminal judgment against Vervalen.

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Commonwealth v. Parrish

Court: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Docket: 803 CAP

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Brobson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The appellant, Michael John Parrish, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and received two death sentences. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed his judgment of sentence in 2013. In 2014, Parrish filed a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) in the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County. The PCRA court denied Parrish’s petition twice, and on both occasions, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania remanded the case back to the PCRA court for further proceedings.

The PCRA court denied Parrish's petition for a third time. Parrish appealed again, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania remanded the case back to the PCRA court once more. Parrish then decided to withdraw his claim that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to consult with him about his direct appeal rights. The PCRA court granted Parrish's request to withdraw the claim and dismissed it. Parrish appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found that the PCRA court's directive to Parrish to file another Rule 1925(b) statement was superfluous. The court also found that the Commonwealth and the court itself were significantly hampered in their ability to assess Parrish’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel due to the lack of a PCRA court record or ruling on these claims. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania remanded the case back to the PCRA court to further develop the record and consider Parrish’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

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State v. Hahn

Court: South Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 S.D. 33

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Salter

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

Brandon Hahn was convicted by a jury for intentional damage to property, with the damage amount totaling more than $1,000 but less than $2,500. The property in question was the front door of 88-year-old Delores Moen's home, which Hahn was accused of damaging. Hahn was also charged with obstructing a public officer and disorderly conduct, the latter of which was later dismissed. The State presented multiple witnesses, including Delores' neighbors and the responding police officers, who testified about Hahn's aggressive conduct and their interactions with him. Hahn himself denied any responsibility for damaging the door.

In the Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Pennington County, South Dakota, Hahn moved for judgment of acquittal on the intentional damage to property charge, arguing that the State had not established the fair market value of the door, which he claimed included depreciation. The court denied his motion, concluding that the State could prove the damage amount element through evidence of the cost of reasonable repairs. Hahn was found guilty on both counts and was sentenced to an enhanced 15-year prison sentence on Count 1 with ten years suspended and a 30-day jail sentence on Count 2.

In the Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota, Hahn appealed, claiming that the circuit court erred when it denied his motion for judgment of acquittal on the intentional damage to property charge. He argued that the jury could not properly apply the damage element without first establishing the fair market value of the property. The Supreme Court disagreed, stating that the current version of the intentional damage to property statute focuses on the "damage to property" and not the value of the property. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that the damage Hahn caused to Delores’ door was at least $1,000 but less than $2,500, and affirmed the circuit court's decision.

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MCCUMBER v. STATE OF TEXAS

Court: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Docket: PD-0467-23

Opinion Date: June 19, 2024

Judge: Keel

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The case revolves around a defendant who was convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child and sentenced to sixty years in prison. The defendant was the victim's mother's boyfriend, and they lived together for about five years. The victim testified that the defendant sexually abused her when she was six or seven years old. The abuse was reported to the Polk County Sheriff’s Department by Alyssa Crawford, who learned about it from the victim. Two years later, during the trial, the State moved to present Crawford’s testimony via Zoom due to her fear of retaliation, her responsibility of caring for her husband with a broken back, and a conflicting court appearance in Colorado. The defendant objected, arguing that allowing Crawford to testify remotely would violate his right to confront her face to face.

The trial court overruled the defendant's objection and allowed Crawford to testify via Zoom. The court of appeals, however, reversed the conviction, holding that the trial court’s necessity finding in support of its ruling was too general and unjustified by any public-policy interest.

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas disagreed with the court of appeals. It held that the trial court’s necessity finding was sufficient and justified by the witness’s fear of retaliation. The court noted that retaliation is a crime and protecting witnesses from retaliation is an important public-policy interest. The court also pointed out that Crawford had provided a basis for her fear—death threats and break-ins at her home soon after her report to the sheriff. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Bland-Henderson v. Commonwealth

Court: Supreme Court of Virginia

Docket: 230327

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: S. Bernard Goodwyn

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Travis Alexander Bland-Henderson was charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a violent felony. He was to be tried by a jury and filed a “Notice of Demand for Jury Sentencing” pursuant to Code § 19.2-295. However, Bland-Henderson missed the statutory deadline to file his request for jury sentencing, filing his notice only 13 days before trial. The Commonwealth objected to Bland-Henderson’s request for jury sentencing as untimely. Bland-Henderson acknowledged that he had filed the request late, but argued that his untimeliness did not eliminate his statutory right to be sentenced by the jury. The circuit court denied Bland-Henderson’s request for jury sentencing.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's decision, ruling that the circuit court had “correctly concluded that Bland-Henderson waived his request for jury sentencing by failing to submit his demand at least 30 days before trial.” The Court of Appeals also held that if the jury would not be sentencing the defendant, voir dire on sentencing ranges is not permitted, since that line of questioning would be irrelevant and would only encourage jury nullification.

The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. The court held that the “shall” command in Code § 19.2-295, that instructs a defendant to file a request for jury sentencing at least 30 days prior to trial, is mandatory. Therefore, Bland-Henderson had waived his statutory right to jury sentencing by missing the statutory deadline to file his request. The court also held that there is no absolute right to voir dire jurors regarding potential sentencing ranges, since this line of questioning remains irrelevant and improper when the jury will not be sentencing the defendant.

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State v. Wiskowski

Court: Wisconsin Supreme Court

Docket: 2021AP002105-CR

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: HAGEDORN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around a defendant who fell asleep in a McDonald's drive-thru lane. An employee woke him up and called the police. The responding officer observed the defendant driving normally and without any signs of impairment. However, the officer decided to pull the defendant over due to the report of him falling asleep. The defendant explained that he was tired from a 24-hour shift. Despite not observing any signs of impairment, the officer prolonged the stop to investigate further. The officer eventually ordered the defendant out of his truck, at which point the defendant showed signs of intoxication, leading to his arrest and charges.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence discovered during the stop. The circuit court denied the motion, concluding that the stop and further investigation were justified as a permissible "community caretaking function." The court of appeals agreed with the lower court's decision.

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin reversed the lower courts' decisions. The court found that the traffic stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion. Furthermore, even if the traffic stop was permissible as a community caretaking activity, the court held that the stop was unreasonably prolonged when it transformed into an unjustified criminal investigation. The court stated that the scope of caretaking stops should be guided and limited by the justification for the stop. This means that, absent another permissible reason to detain someone, the detention must end when the original community caretaking justification is resolved. The court remanded the case to the circuit court with instructions to vacate the judgment of conviction and grant the motion to suppress.

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