Justia Daily Opinion Summaries

Criminal Law
June 28, 2024

Table of Contents

Erlinger v. United States

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Supreme Court

Smith v. Arizona

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Supreme Court

Snyder v. United States

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Supreme Court

United States v. Rahimi

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Family Law

US Supreme Court

United States v. Candelario

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

US v. Abreu

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

US v. Tilley

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

United States v. McGrain

Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

United States v. D’Ambrosio

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

USA v. Davis

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

USA v. Dorsey

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

USA v. Sahbree Hurtt

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership v. Beaufort County

Criminal Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

US v. Horsley

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

US v. Melvin

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

In re Sealed Petitioner

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Paxton v. Dettelbach

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

U.S. v. Boukamp

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Lass v. Wells

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Echols

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Hofschulz

Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Health Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Montgomery

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Clayborne

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Sutton

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Grimes v. Phillips

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

USA V. STACKHOUSE

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

United States v. Landa-Arevalo

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

United States v. Tyree-Peppers

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

In re Harris

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of California

P. v. Morales

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Ackerman

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Boyd

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Gonzalez

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Superior Court

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

State v. Bember

Criminal Law

Connecticut Supreme Court

State v. Campbell

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Grimes v. State of Indiana

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Indiana

Hancz-Barron v. State

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Indiana

State of Iowa v. Hightower

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Iowa Supreme Court

State v. Bennett

Criminal Law

Kansas Supreme Court

State v. Harris

Criminal Law

Kansas Supreme Court

Commonwealth v. Lora

Criminal Law

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Harris v. State of Mississippi

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Supreme Court of Mississippi

Flaherty v. State

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Supreme Court of Missouri

State ex rel. Bailey v. Pierce

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Missouri

State v. Hesser

Criminal Law, Transportation Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. McElroy

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. Rodriguez

Criminal Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. Evans

Criminal Law

Nebraska Supreme Court

Mariscal-Ochoa v. State

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Nevada

The State v. Gabrielle Oliva Lashane Davis-Kocsis

Criminal Law

South Carolina Supreme Court

Evans v. Sullivan

Criminal Law

South Dakota Supreme Court

Clardy v. State

Criminal Law

Tennessee Supreme Court

EX PARTE MICHELLE LEE HAYES

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

EX PARTE SHANEA LYNN REEDER

Criminal Law

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

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Criminal Law Opinions

Erlinger v. United States

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 23-370

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Neil M. Gorsuch

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Paul Erlinger pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, a violation of 18 U.S.C. §922(g). At sentencing, the judge found Erlinger eligible for an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), which increases the penalty for a §922(g) conviction from a maximum of 10 years to a mandatory minimum of 15 years when the defendant has three or more qualifying convictions for offenses committed on different occasions. The Seventh Circuit later ruled that two of the offenses used for Erlinger’s sentence enhancement no longer qualified as ACCA predicate offenses. The District Court vacated Erlinger’s sentence and scheduled resentencing. At the resentencing hearing, prosecutors pursued an ACCA sentence enhancement based on a new set of 26-year-old convictions for burglaries committed by Erlinger over several days. Erlinger argued that the burglaries were part of a single criminal episode and did not occur on separate occasions, as required by ACCA. He also argued that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments required that a jury make that assessment. The District Court rejected Erlinger’s request for a jury and issued a 15-year enhanced sentence. On appeal, the government confessed error, admitting that the Constitution requires a jury to decide unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt whether Erlinger’s prior offenses were committed on different occasions.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require a unanimous jury to make the determination beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant’s past offenses were committed on separate occasions for ACCA purposes. The Court noted that the Sixth Amendment promises that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused has the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury. The Fifth Amendment further promises that the government may not deprive individuals of their liberty without due process of law. The Court has repeatedly cautioned that trial and sentencing practices must remain within the guardrails provided by these two Amendments. The Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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Smith v. Arizona

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 22-899

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Elena Kagan

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause, which guarantees a criminal defendant the right to confront the witnesses against him. The defendant, Jason Smith, was charged with various drug offenses after law enforcement officers found him with a large quantity of what appeared to be drugs and drug-related items. The seized items were sent to a crime lab for scientific analysis. Analyst Elizabeth Rast ran forensic tests on the items and concluded that they contained usable quantities of methamphetamine, marijuana, and cannabis. Rast prepared a set of typed notes and a signed report about the testing. However, Rast stopped working at the lab prior to trial, so the State substituted another analyst, Greggory Longoni, to provide an independent opinion on the drug testing performed by Rast. At trial, Longoni conveyed to the jury what Rast’s records revealed about her testing, before offering his “independent opinion” of each item’s identity. Smith was convicted. On appeal, he argued that the State’s use of a substitute expert to convey the substance of Rast’s materials violated his Confrontation Clause rights. The Arizona Court of Appeals rejected Smith’s challenge.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that when an expert conveys an absent analyst’s statements in support of the expert’s opinion, and the statements provide that support only if true, then the statements come into evidence for their truth. The Court vacated the judgment of the Arizona Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court clarified that the Confrontation Clause still allows forensic experts to play a useful role in criminal trials. However, a state may not introduce the testimonial out-of-court statements of a forensic analyst at trial, unless she is unavailable and the defendant has had a prior chance to cross-examine her. The Court concluded that the State used Longoni to relay what Rast wrote down about how she identified the seized substances, and thus Longoni effectively became Rast’s mouthpiece. If the out-of-court statements were also testimonial, their admission violated the Confrontation Clause.

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Snyder v. United States

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 23-108

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Brett M. Kavanaugh

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case involves James Snyder, the former mayor of Portage, Indiana, who was convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity in violation of 18 U.S.C. §666(a)(1)(B). In 2013, while Snyder was mayor, Portage awarded two contracts to a local truck company, Great Lakes Peterbilt, and purchased five trash trucks from the company for about $1.1 million. In 2014, Peterbilt paid Snyder $13,000. The FBI and federal prosecutors suspected that the payment was a gratuity for the City’s trash truck contracts, but Snyder claimed that the payment was for his consulting services as a contractor for Peterbilt. A federal jury convicted Snyder, and the District Court sentenced him to 1 year and 9 months in prison. On appeal, Snyder argued that §666 criminalizes only bribes, not gratuities. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Snyder’s conviction.

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the Seventh Circuit's decision. The Court held that 18 U.S.C. §666 proscribes bribes to state and local officials but does not make it a crime for those officials to accept gratuities for their past acts. The Court reasoned that the statutory text, history, structure, punishments, federalism principles, and fair notice considerations all support the conclusion that §666 is a bribery statute and not a gratuities statute. The Court concluded that a state or local official does not violate §666 if the official has taken the official act before any reward is agreed to, much less given. Although a gratuity offered and accepted after the official act may be unethical or illegal under other federal, state, or local laws, the gratuity does not violate §666. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion.

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United States v. Rahimi

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 22-915

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: John G. Roberts, Jr.

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

In December 2019, Zackey Rahimi, the respondent, had a violent altercation with his girlfriend, C. M., who is also the mother of his child. Rahimi grabbed C. M., dragged her back to his car, and shoved her in, causing her to hit her head. When a bystander witnessed the incident, Rahimi retrieved a gun from his car. C. M. managed to escape, and Rahimi fired his gun, though it is unclear whether he was aiming at C. M. or the witness. Following this incident, C. M. sought a restraining order against Rahimi, which was granted by a state court in Texas. The order included a finding that Rahimi had committed “family violence” and posed “a credible threat” to the “physical safety” of C. M. or their child. The order also suspended Rahimi’s gun license for two years. Despite the order, Rahimi violated it by approaching C. M.’s home and contacting her through social media. He was later charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for threatening another woman with a gun.

Rahimi was indicted for possessing a firearm while subject to a domestic violence restraining order, in violation of 18 U. S. C. §922(g)(8). Rahimi moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that Section 922(g)(8) violated his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The District Court denied his motion, and Rahimi pleaded guilty. On appeal, he again raised his Second Amendment challenge, which was denied. Rahimi petitioned for rehearing en banc.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that when a restraining order contains a finding that an individual poses a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner, that individual may—consistent with the Second Amendment—be banned from possessing firearms while the order is in effect. The Court found that since the founding, the nation's firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms. As applied to the facts of this case, Section 922(g)(8) fits comfortably within this tradition. The Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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United States v. Candelario

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Docket: 23-1329

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: SELYA

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In 2019, Jason Candelario and three co-defendants conspired to rob a Maine resident of drugs and money. During the robbery, one of the co-defendants shot the victim, who survived. Two years later, a federal grand jury indicted the four defendants. In 2022, Candelario pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act robbery, interference with commerce by violence, and illegal possession of a firearm. His co-defendants also pleaded guilty to various charges.

The district court calculated a guideline sentencing range of 140 to 175 months for Candelario. Despite Candelario's request for a 120-month sentence citing mitigating factors such as a difficult childhood and genuine remorse, the court imposed a 175-month sentence. The court found this sentence appropriate due to the seriousness of the crime, Candelario's criminal history, the risk of recidivism, and the need for deterrence.

Candelario appealed his sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, arguing that it was substantively unreasonable and created an unwarranted disparity with the sentences imposed on his co-defendants. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision, finding that Candelario's sentence was both reasonable and proportionate. The court noted that the co-defendants had lower guideline sentencing ranges, played different roles in the robbery, and cooperated with the government, which justified their lower sentences. The court also found that the district court had provided a plausible sentencing rationale and a defensible result.

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US v. Abreu

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Docket: 23-1339

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Rikelman

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Irvin Abreu, who pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child. The district court sentenced him to 315 months in prison, applying an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence of 300 months due to his prior state-law conviction for enticement of a child under the age of sixteen. Abreu appealed, arguing that his prior state-law conviction should not trigger the twenty-five-year minimum for his federal crime.

Previously, the district court had determined during pre-trial proceedings that Abreu's prior conviction did trigger the twenty-five-year mandatory minimum under § 2251(e). Abreu subsequently changed his plea to guilty, and at sentencing, the district court considered a U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range of 300 to 327 months due to the mandatory minimum sentence.

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court agreed with the district court's ruling that the enhancement does apply, concluding that the Massachusetts child-enticement statute is divisible and that Abreu's prior offense is related to the generic crimes listed in § 2251(e). The court also rejected Abreu's argument that § 2251(e) is unconstitutionally vague under the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

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US v. Tilley

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Docket: 23-1494

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Selya

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Ronald Tilley, the appellant, was convicted for robbing a credit union in Bangor, Maine, in 2019. His pre-sentence investigation report (PSI Report) revealed two prior convictions involving potential sexual misconduct, leading to a suggestion for special conditions of supervised release requiring Tilley to participate in sex-offender treatment. The first conviction in 2005 involved an incident where Tilley's then-wife accused him of choking and sexually assaulting her. The second conviction in 2008 was for violating a protective order and involved sexually explicit text messages allegedly exchanged between Tilley and his underage niece. Tilley objected to the sex-offender treatment conditions, leading to a compromise requiring him to undergo a Sexual Offense Assessment and Treatment Evaluation (SOATE).

The SOATE, conducted by a licensed clinical social worker, placed Tilley in the "well below average risk" category for sexual recidivism due to the time elapsed since his last sexual misconduct. However, the assessment recommended caution due to a deceptive response in a sexual history polygraph. The SOATE also diagnosed Tilley with antisocial personality disorder and opioid use disorder, and recommended that he have no unsupervised contact with minors and participate in weekly group therapy for sexually problematic behavior.

Based on the SOATE report, the government petitioned to add several special conditions to Tilley's supervised release terms, including participation in sex-offender treatment and restrictions on associating with minors. Tilley objected to these conditions, arguing that they were not supported by his previous convictions and that the relevance of these convictions was significantly mitigated by the time elapsed without any sexual misconduct incidents.

The United States District Court for the District of Maine granted the government's petition, finding that the proposed modifications promoted the goals of supervised release. The court also found the conditions restricting Tilley's association with minors to be proportionate and reasonably related to the goals of supervised release and his history and characteristics.

Tilley appealed, arguing that the district court relied on "clearly erroneous facts" in imposing the modified conditions. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the case for abuse of discretion and found no clear error. The court upheld the district court's decision, concluding that the modified conditions were reasonable and supported by the record.

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United States v. McGrain

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Docket: 22-661

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: PARK

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Juvenile Law

Joseph McGrain was sentenced to 264 months in prison for sexually abusing his then-girlfriend’s fourteen-year-old daughter and obstructing the investigation into the abuse. The district court applied a two-offense-level enhancement under section 2G2.1(b)(5) of the Sentencing Guidelines because the victim was in McGrain’s “custody, care, or supervisory control” when he abused her. The court also denied McGrain an offense-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility because he merited an enhancement for obstruction of justice and continued to deny his sexual relationship with the victim and that he convinced her to send him sexually explicit images.

McGrain appealed the district court's decisions, arguing that each was reversible error and that his sentence should be vacated. He also requested that his case be assigned to a different judge on remand.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court rejected McGrain's arguments, stating that the "custody, care, or supervisory control" enhancement was correctly applied given McGrain's relationship with the victim. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of a reduction for acceptance of responsibility, stating that McGrain had not demonstrated acceptance of responsibility for his actions. Finally, the court found no error in the district court's determination that McGrain was dangerous, which factored into his sentencing.

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United States v. D’Ambrosio

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Docket: 23-1310

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: RESTREPO

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Between 2012 and 2015, Anthony D’Ambrosio and Armando Delgado were involved in a sex trafficking ring that operated across several states. They were responsible for transporting victims, collecting money, providing security, and supplying drugs to the victims. In 2015, a federal grand jury indicted them, and in 2017, a jury convicted them of several crimes, including sex trafficking of children and transportation of an individual to engage in prostitution. As part of their sentences, the District Court required them to comply with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) as a condition of their supervised release.

Delgado objected to the SORNA registration requirement at his sentencing, arguing that his offenses did not require SORNA registration. The District Court acknowledged that it was unclear whether the SORNA requirement applied to Delgado’s offenses and delegated the determination to the Probation office. Delgado appealed this decision, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision, stating that the District Court did not impose any SORNA requirement. However, following his direct appeal, Probation required Delgado to register under SORNA. Delgado challenged this condition, but the District Court denied his motion, stating that it lacked jurisdiction to consider his legal challenge.

D’Ambrosio, on the other hand, did not object to the SORNA registration requirement at his sentencing. The District Court required D’Ambrosio to comply with SORNA as a condition of his supervised release. D’Ambrosio first challenged the SORNA requirement in a motion to modify, which the District Court also denied on the grounds of lacking jurisdiction.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the District Court's decisions. The Court of Appeals held that the District Court erred in delegating its responsibility to determine the applicability of SORNA to the Probation office and in concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the defendants' motions to modify the conditions of their supervised release. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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USA v. Davis

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Docket: 23-1327

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: Hardiman

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In September 2017, Luis Davis, Joel Rivera, and Chriss Cepeda broke into the home of Stephen O’Dea and Kathryn Duncan on the island of Saint Croix. The intruders physically assaulted the couple, threatened them with a gun, and stole their money and vehicle. Davis was later indicted on twelve counts, including brandishing a firearm during a violent crime, carjacking, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Davis pleaded guilty to these three counts in exchange for the Government dismissing the remaining counts and recommending a sentence at the low end of the Sentencing Guidelines range (87 to 108 months).

The District Court determined the applicable Guidelines sentence for brandishing a firearm was the statutory minimum of 84 months’ imprisonment and the Guidelines range for the carjacking and felon-in-possession counts was 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment. At sentencing, Davis’s counsel presented mitigating evidence regarding his client’s abusive childhood, intellectual disabilities, drug addiction, and the negative influence of his adopted brother. The Government, however, emphasized the heinous nature of Davis’s crimes and the harm suffered by the victims. Davis’s counsel objected, claiming that the Government’s position sounded like a breach of the plea agreement. The District Court sentenced Davis to 102 months’ imprisonment on the carjacking and felon-in-possession counts, in addition to the statutory minimum of 84 months’ imprisonment for brandishing a firearm. Davis appealed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with Davis that the Government breached the plea agreement. The court found that the Government's emphasis on the heinous nature of Davis's crimes and the harm suffered by the victims effectively advocated for a sentence higher than the one it promised to recommend. The court vacated the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.

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USA v. Dorsey

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Docket: 23-2125

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: SMITH

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Tahjair Dorsey, who was convicted for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Dorsey had previously pleaded guilty to carrying a firearm without a license, a felony under Pennsylvania law. He was paroled in June 2021. In August 2021, during an investigation into suspected gang activity, Dorsey was observed leaving a residence under surveillance and was apprehended after fleeing a vehicle stop. A stolen handgun was recovered nearby, and Dorsey's DNA was found on it. He was subsequently indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Dorsey pleaded guilty but later appealed his conviction, arguing that § 922(g)(1) was unconstitutional as applied to him under the Second Amendment. However, he had not raised this objection at any stage of the District Court proceedings. The District Court sentenced Dorsey to time served and three years of supervised release.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reviewed the case for plain error. The court referred to its en banc decision in Range v. Attorney General, which held that disarming an individual with a single, almost-thirty-year-old criminal conviction for food stamp fraud was not consistent with the Second Amendment. The court found that Dorsey could not show that he was similarly situated to the appellant in Range for Second Amendment purposes. The court noted that Dorsey's prior conviction was for a state firearm law violation, was more recent, and he was on state parole at the time of the offense. The court concluded that any Second Amendment error inherent in Dorsey’s conviction was not plain and affirmed the lower court's decision.

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USA v. Sahbree Hurtt

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Docket: 23-1961

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: Porter

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Sahbree Hurtt was convicted of possession of heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine with intent to distribute. The District Court determined that his prior convictions for aggravated assault and drug trafficking qualified him as a "career offender" under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (USSG), leading to sentencing enhancements. Hurtt objected to his status as a career offender, arguing that neither conviction constituted a career-offender predicate.

The District Court reviewed judicial records from Hurtt's prior convictions and determined that he had prior convictions under specific sections of Pennsylvania's aggravated-assault and drug-trafficking statutes. The court concluded that these convictions qualified as a "crime of violence" and "controlled substance offense," respectively, under the USSG. Consequently, the court imposed corresponding enhancements and sentenced Hurtt to 120 months' imprisonment. Hurtt appealed this decision, challenging his status as a career offender.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The court found that Hurtt's conviction for aggravated assault under a specific subsection of Pennsylvania's aggravated-assault statute constituted a "crime of violence" under the USSG. The court also determined that Hurtt's conviction for drug trafficking under a specific section of Pennsylvania's drug-trafficking statute constituted a "controlled substance offense" under the USSG. Therefore, the court concluded that Hurtt qualifies as a career offender under the USSG, affirming the District Court's judgment.

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Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership v. Beaufort County

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 23-1242

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: WILKINSON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Real Estate & Property Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use

Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership, a company that constructs, manages, designs, and repairs billboards, clashed with Beaufort County over the county's billboard policy. The county sought to phase out billboards within its borders by prohibiting the construction of new billboards and restricting structural repairs of old ones. Adams was issued a criminal citation for performing structural repairs on two old billboards without seeking authorization. Additionally, Adams filed eleven applications requesting permits to construct new commercial billboards with digital displays, each of which was denied. Adams sought to challenge Beaufort County’s local ordinance regulating billboards, along with several other local sign regulations.

The district court dismissed all of Adams’s claims with prejudice. The claims related to the criminal citation were dismissed under the Younger abstention doctrine, and those related to the permit denials were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Adams appealed the decision.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with each of the district court’s dismissal determinations. However, it noted that the claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction should have been dismissed without prejudice. The court remanded those claims with the instruction that their dismissal be amended to dismissal without prejudice. The court also found that Adams did not have standing to challenge certain provisions of the county's sign ordinance, as it had not demonstrated that it had been adversely affected by those provisions. The court concluded that the case belongs in state court due to the state's interest in land-use planning and development, the ongoing state court proceedings, and the jurisdictional hurdles faced by Adams.

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US v. Horsley

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 22-4671

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: THACKER

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Quentin Lowell Horsley, who was convicted of conspiring to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine base, as well as three counts of distributing cocaine. The evidence against Horsley included witness testimony, text messages, evidence of controlled buys, and drugs and cash seized during searches. Horsley challenged the admission of several items of evidence, including a cellphone seized without a warrant and the search of a car tied to him. He also challenged the testimony of an officer who interpreted text messages and the handling of the verdict form by the district court.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia denied Horsley's motion to suppress the cellphone and the fruits of the car search. The court also allowed the officer's testimony and handled the verdict form in a way that Horsley contested.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred in failing to suppress the evidence from the cellphone seized at the time of Horsley's arrest, but given the weight of the evidence against Horsley, the error was harmless. The court also held that the search of the car and its contents was proper, and that the district court did not plainly err in allowing the officer's testimony. The court found no error in connection with the district court’s handling of the verdict form. Therefore, the court affirmed the conviction.

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US v. Melvin

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 23-4618

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Motz

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Gilbert Devon Melvin, after serving over 20 years in federal prison for drug and firearm offenses, was released in March 2021 and began a five-year term of supervised release. In August 2023, Melvin's mental health deteriorated, and he was arrested for trespassing. At the revocation hearing, the district court initially agreed to terminate Melvin's supervised release and enter a time-served sentence. However, Melvin had an outburst in court, which led the court to conclude that he posed a danger to the public and his probation officers. As a result, the court withdrew its initial agreement to a time-served sentence and instead decided to maintain Melvin's supervised release with an additional mental health condition.

The district court's decision was based on Melvin's behavior during the revocation hearing. The court initially agreed to terminate Melvin's supervised release and enter a time-served sentence. However, after Melvin's outburst, the court concluded that he posed a danger to the public and his probation officers. The court then withdrew its initial agreement and decided to maintain Melvin's supervised release with an additional mental health condition.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Melvin argued that the district court lacked the authority to withdraw or modify the time-served sentence it had initially agreed to impose. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, affirming the district court's decision. The court held that a sentence is not imposed until it has been unequivocally pronounced during the sentencing hearing, and there has been a formal break in the proceedings from which to logically and reasonably conclude that sentencing had finished. The court found that the district court's initial acceptance of a time-served sentence was tentative and that the court had the authority to modify that sentence when Melvin addressed the bench only moments later, during the course of the same sentencing hearing.

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In re Sealed Petitioner

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Docket: 24-50415

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Wilson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

A state agency (the Agency) is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) for alleged criminal wrongdoing by senior Agency personnel. The DOJ requested the district court to determine that certain Agency communications were not protected by the attorney-client privilege. The district court agreed, ruling that the Agency could not invoke the attorney-client privilege to avoid producing evidence and witness testimony regarding four general categories of information. The Agency did not challenge the district court’s ruling as to the first three categories, but disputed the fourth category, which pertained to any actions or communications contemplated or undertaken by the Agency to interfere in or obstruct the current Federal investigation.

The district court had previously granted the DOJ's application, ruling that the Agency could not invoke the attorney-client privilege to avoid producing evidence and witness testimony regarding four general categories of information. The Agency sought to modify or rescind this order, but the district court only partially granted the Agency's motion. In April 2024, DOJ served grand jury subpoenas on two senior Agency employees. The Agency moved to quash the subpoenas, but the district court denied the motion.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the Agency's petition for a writ of mandamus, which sought to override the district court's order allowing grand jury testimony to proceed. The court found that the Agency failed to show a clear and indisputable right to relief. The court also denied the Agency's emergency motion to stay grand jury proceedings. The court clarified that government attorneys may assert the attorney-client privilege as to state agency communications that were conducted in confidence and for the purpose of providing legal advice. However, the court also noted that the crime-fraud exception to the privilege may apply, and left this determination to the discretion of the district court.

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Paxton v. Dettelbach

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Docket: 23-10802

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Clement

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Three individuals and the State of Texas filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin federal statutes that criminalize the creation of silencers for personal use without paying a $200 excise tax, applying for permission from the federal government, and, if permission is granted, registering the silencer in a federal database and labeling the silencer with a serial number. The plaintiffs argued that these federal regulations violated their Second Amendment rights. In 2021, Texas had enacted a law stating that a firearm suppressor manufactured in Texas and remaining in Texas is not subject to federal law or regulation.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted summary judgment in favor of the federal government, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their claims. The court did not address the merits of the plaintiffs' Second Amendment claims.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the individual plaintiffs failed to demonstrate an injury in fact, a requirement for standing, because they did not express a serious intention to engage in conduct proscribed by law. The court also found that Texas did not have standing to bring the lawsuit. The state's claim that it had a quasi-sovereign interest in its citizens' health and well-being was found to be wholly derivative of the personal Second Amendment interests of its citizens. Furthermore, the court found that Texas's claim that it had a sovereign interest in the power to create and enforce a legal code was not implicated in this case. The court concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the federal statutes.

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U.S. v. Boukamp

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Docket: 22-11035

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: Edith Brown Clement

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Thomas John Boukamp, a 19-year-old Michigan State University student, who was found guilty on sixteen counts related to a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl, identified as M. The relationship began online and became physical when Boukamp picked up M. from her middle school in Texas and drove her to his house in Michigan. The government described Boukamp as a dangerous sexual predator who psychologically and emotionally tortured M., while Boukamp portrayed the relationship as a mutual bond between two emotionally immature individuals.

The case was tried in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where Boukamp represented himself. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Boukamp appealed his conviction and sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, raising nine issues, including the lower court's finding of his competency to stand trial, the court's comments on his decision not to testify, the reasonableness of his life sentence, and the court's denial of his motion to continue the trial date.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decisions. It found no error in the lower court's determination of Boukamp's competency to stand trial, its comments on his decision not to testify, or its denial of his motion to continue the trial date. The court also found that Boukamp's life sentence was not substantively unreasonable given the severity of his crimes. The court rejected Boukamp's other arguments, including his claim that the lower court erred in its jury instructions and its limitation on his ability to cross-examine witnesses.

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Lass v. Wells

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-2880

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: SCUDDER

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Rodney Lass was initially charged with misdemeanor domestic abuse. However, the case ended in a mistrial due to the alleged victim's disregard of a court order. Subsequently, the prosecutors recharged the case, adding multiple felony counts. Lass was found guilty on all but one charge and was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment. Lass contended that the second set of charges were the product of an unconstitutional vindictive prosecution. He argued that the prosecutors leveled the expanded charges against him in retaliation for his seeking and receiving a mistrial in the misdemeanor case.

Lass sought post-conviction relief in Wisconsin state court and later in federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision, determining that Lass failed to allege facts that would establish a presumption of vindictiveness or actual vindictiveness. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined review.

Lass's application for relief in federal district court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 also fell short. The district court found that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not apply a presumption of vindictiveness and that its declining to do so was neither contrary to nor reflected an unreasonable application of clearly established U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The district court also declined to consider Lass's two remaining claims, finding both procedurally defaulted.

In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit, Lass's contentions were seen as procedurally defaulted. The court affirmed the district court's disposition of these two claims. The court also found no basis for federal habeas relief under § 2254(d) on Lass's vindictive prosecution claim. The court concluded that no aspect of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals' rationale was contrary to or reflected an unreasonable application of clearly established U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

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United States v. Echols

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1667

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: HAMILTON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Delon Echols, was convicted of attempting to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute it. The case revolved around two packages containing illegal drugs that were sent to the home of Renita Burns, where Echols was temporarily residing. Burns testified that she suspected Echols was responsible for the packages. During the trial, the prosecution introduced testimony from a DEA agent about a prior consistent statement made by Burns. The defense objected, arguing that the testimony was merely bolstering Burns' credibility.

The district court in Illinois admitted the testimony, citing Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B), which allows for the admission of prior consistent statements to rebut charges of fabrication. Echols was found guilty and sentenced to 70 months in prison and three years of supervised release. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the district court erred in admitting the prior consistent statement.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed that the district court erred in admitting the prior consistent statement. The court noted that under Rule 801(d)(1)(B) and Tome v. United States, a prior consistent statement offered to rebut charges of fabrication must have been made before the motive to fabricate arose. In this case, Burns' statement was made after her alleged motive to fabricate had arisen. However, the court found that Echols had not raised this specific objection at trial, thus forfeiting it on appeal.

The court concluded that while the admission of the prior statement was an error, it did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings. Therefore, the court affirmed Echols' conviction.

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United States v. Hofschulz

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 21-3403

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: SYKES

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

A nurse practitioner, Lisa Hofschulz, and her ex-husband, Robert Hofschulz, were convicted of conspiracy and multiple counts of distributing drugs in an unauthorized manner, including one count resulting in a patient's death. The charges stemmed from their operation of a "pain clinic" that functioned as a front for an opioid mill, dispensing opioid prescriptions for cash-only payments. Robert Hofschulz was also convicted for his role in assisting Lisa Hofschulz in running the opioid mill.

The Hofschulzes were initially tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. They were found guilty on all counts, with Lisa Hofschulz receiving a minimum 20-year prison term for the count of unlawful distribution resulting in death, and Robert Hofschulz receiving concurrent terms of 36 months in prison on each of his five convictions. The Hofschulzes appealed their convictions on three grounds: they claimed the jury instructions were inconsistent with a Supreme Court decision, that the judge wrongly permitted the government’s medical expert to testify about the standard of care, and that the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions.

The case was then reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The court found no instructional error, stating that the district judge had correctly instructed the jury that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Hofschulzes intended to distribute controlled substances and intended to do so in an unauthorized manner. The court also found that the judge had correctly permitted the government’s medical expert to testify about the standard of care in the usual course of professional pain management. Lastly, the court dismissed the Hofschulzes' challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, deeming it frivolous. The court affirmed the convictions of the Hofschulzes.

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United States v. Montgomery

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1976

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Travis Montgomery, pleaded guilty to distributing methamphetamine. The government presented evidence that Montgomery stored the drugs, cash, and drug trafficking paraphernalia in a storage unit leased by his sister. The district court applied a two-level enhancement under § 2D1.1(b)(12) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which requires an increase where a defendant “maintained a premises for the purpose of … distributing a controlled substance.” Montgomery objected to this enhancement, arguing that his use of the storage unit did not meet the requirements of the enhancement.

The district court, however, found that the storage unit qualified as a “premises” under § 2D1.1(b)(12), and that Montgomery had used it primarily for storing and distributing drugs. This enhancement increased Montgomery’s total offense level, leading to a sentence of 235 months of imprisonment and five years of supervised release.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Montgomery challenged the application of the § 2D1.1(b)(12) enhancement. The court agreed with the district court that the storage unit constituted a “premises” under the enhancement. However, the court was uncertain whether Montgomery sufficiently “maintained” the storage unit for the purposes of § 2D1.1(b)(12), given that he did not lease the unit himself and his use of it was for only a short time. The court also found that the record fell short of indicating that Montgomery was using the storage unit primarily for distributing drugs during the month in question. As a result, the court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further fact-finding.

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USA v. Clayborne

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-2370

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: Flaum

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Jack Clayborne, who was convicted for crimes related to an attempted carjacking. Clayborne, along with two other men, attempted to carjack Michael Guster. During the incident, Clayborne fired five shots, one of which hit Guster. Clayborne was charged with attempted motor vehicle robbery, discharge of a firearm during an attempted robbery, and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 234 months' imprisonment.

Clayborne appealed his sentence, and the case was remanded for resentencing after the government agreed to dismiss his conviction for discharging a firearm during an attempted robbery. Before resentencing, Clayborne submitted a letter expressing regret for his actions. However, the district court found the letter insufficient to warrant a reduction in sentence for acceptance of responsibility. Clayborne was resentenced to 223 months in prison and appealed again.

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Clayborne challenged two aspects of his sentence: the district court's decision not to award him an acceptance of responsibility reduction and the district court's comment that his criminal history included "a lot of" robberies when he had no prior robbery convictions. The court found no procedural error in the district court's decision not to award an acceptance of responsibility reduction. It also found no evidence that the district court relied on incorrect information about Clayborne's criminal history when determining his sentence. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's decision.

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United States v. Sutton

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-3214

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Smith

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Jonathan Lee Sutton was convicted for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The case arose from two shooting incidents in Davenport, Iowa, where Sutton was identified as the shooter. Sutton was associated with a Tesla vehicle, which was found abandoned with ammunition visible. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a pistol, ammunition, and receipts for the firearm's recent purchase. Sutton, a previous felon, was indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm and pleaded guilty.

The district court imposed three sex-offender-related special conditions of supervised release based on allegations that Sutton had committed incest, resulting in a child. The government claimed that the presentence investigation report (PSR) omitted this incestuous relationship. The probation office declined to amend the PSR, stating that the government's objections were commentary in nature. The court, however, expressed concern over the allegations and imposed the special conditions, offering Sutton an "escape valve" if he could prove he did not father a child incestuously.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that the district court had abused its discretion. The court had used a probable cause standard instead of the preponderance of the evidence standard for judicial fact-finding at sentencing. The court's factual findings about Sutton's alleged incest and paternity were not supported by the sentencing record. The court also improperly shifted the burden of proof from the government to Sutton. The court vacated the sex-offender-related special conditions and remanded the case.

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Grimes v. Phillips

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 21-56353

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Sanchez

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Christopher Grimes, a California state inmate, was convicted of second-degree murder. The conviction was based, in part, on statements Grimes made to an undercover jailhouse informant after he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. Grimes appealed his conviction, arguing that his statements to the informant should have been suppressed because they were obtained in violation of his right to counsel.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed Grimes' conviction. It held that the statements were admissible because law enforcement is not required to give Miranda warnings to a suspect before placing them in a jail cell with an undercover informant. This decision was based on the U.S. Supreme Court case Illinois v. Perkins, which held that the policy underlying Miranda is not implicated when a suspect makes statements to an individual they believe is a fellow inmate. Grimes' petition for review before the California Supreme Court was denied without comment.

Grimes then filed a federal habeas petition, arguing that the California Court of Appeal misapplied Edwards v. Arizona, which held that law enforcement must cease custodial interrogation when a suspect invokes their right to counsel unless they subsequently waive that right. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Grimes' habeas petition. The court held that because the Supreme Court has never squarely addressed whether the Fifth Amendment precludes an undercover jailhouse informant posing as an inmate to question an incarcerated suspect who has previously invoked his right to counsel, the California Court of Appeal’s decision is not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as defined by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

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USA V. STACKHOUSE

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 22-30177

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: Berzon

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Angelo Corey Stackhouse, who was convicted of kidnapping a minor and transporting a person across state lines with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity. Stackhouse kidnapped a 10-year-old girl, using a cellphone during the crime, and transported a 19-year-old woman from Montana to Denver, where he sexually assaulted her.

Previously, the United States District Court for the District of Montana convicted Stackhouse on all seven charges. He appealed his convictions for kidnapping a person under the age of 18 using a means or instrumentality of interstate commerce, and for the transportation of a person across state lines with intent to engage in illegal sexual activity.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed Stackhouse’s convictions. The court held that the application of the federal kidnapping statute to an intrastate kidnapping is constitutional where the defendant uses a cellphone—an instrumentality of interstate commerce—in furtherance of the offense. The court also held that the government presented sufficient evidence of Stackhouse’s intent to commit sexual assault when he transported the victim of his assault across state lines. The court concluded that the application of the federal kidnapping statute to an intrastate kidnapping is constitutional where the defendant uses a cellphone in furtherance of the offense, and that Stackhouse’s actions leading up to and during the trip to Denver established that he had the intent to commit illegal sexual activity when he transported the victim interstate.

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United States v. Landa-Arevalo

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Docket: 22-3133

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: Carson

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Angel Landa-Arevalo, who was indicted for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of methamphetamine. He was tried alongside nine co-defendants. Landa-Arevalo was in pretrial confinement for 1,196 days, during which he objected to the protracted timeline and moved to sever his trial from his co-defendants to protect his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. He also requested a mental competency hearing, arguing that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated by not providing him with a second, more extensive evaluation.

The district court denied his motions and proceeded with the trial. A forensic psychologist was appointed to examine Landa-Arevalo and concluded that he was competent to stand trial. The court found him competent and proceeded with sentencing.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Landa-Arevalo argued that the district court violated his Fifth Amendment rights by not ordering a second competency evaluation and his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decision. It held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining Landa-Arevalo's competency and denying another evaluation. The court also found that Landa-Arevalo's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was not violated, as the delays were caused by co-defendants and not the government.

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United States v. Tyree-Peppers

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Docket: 23-3171

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: Hartz

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The defendant, Darnell Tyree-Peppers, was on supervised release after pleading guilty to stealing a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. During his supervised release, his probation officer filed a petition to modify the conditions of his supervision due to alleged violations. Later, the probation officer filed a petition for his arrest and revocation of supervision based on three alleged violations of his supervision conditions. The district court issued the requested warrant. The probation officer later submitted an amended petition alleging that Tyree-Peppers had been arrested by state police officers on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery, potentially violating the condition that he not commit another federal, state, or local crime.

The district court for the District of Kansas did not conduct the hearing on the petition until after the expiration of Tyree-Peppers' supervised release term. The court granted the petition in part and ordered an additional one year of supervised release. Tyree-Peppers challenged the district court’s jurisdiction to revoke his supervised release, arguing that the delay in the revocation proceedings was not “reasonably necessary for the adjudication,” as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3583(i).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit disagreed with Tyree-Peppers. The court found that the delay was attributable to an ongoing state prosecution of Tyree-Peppers on the very serious charge of first-degree murder. The outcome of that proceeding was directly related to the question of whether Tyree-Peppers violated the condition of his supervised release forbidding him from committing a state crime. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction.

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In re Harris

Court: Supreme Court of California

Docket: S272632

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: Guerrero

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves John Harris, Jr., who was charged with attempted first degree murder and aggravated mayhem related to a violent rape committed over 30 years ago. The charges were based on a DNA match between Harris and evidence from the crime scene. The prosecution sought to detain Harris without bail under a provision of the California Constitution (article I, section 12(b)) that allows for pretrial detention without bail for certain violent felonies, if there is clear and convincing evidence that the person's release would result in great bodily harm to others.

The trial court denied Harris's bail, relying on a proffer by the prosecution that included hearsay evidence and documents without the full evidentiary foundation required at trial. Harris challenged this decision, arguing that only evidence admissible at a criminal trial could support pretrial detention without bail.

The Court of Appeal rejected Harris's argument but conditionally vacated the order denying bail and remanded the matter to the trial court for further findings, because the trial court failed to consider less restrictive alternatives to detention.

The Supreme Court of California held that a trial court may consider reliable proffered evidence in making factual findings under article I, section 12(b) without violating due process principles. However, the court remanded the case to the trial court to apply the standards discussed in its opinion and to consider less restrictive alternatives to detention.

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P. v. Morales

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: A166731(First Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Miller

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In 2018, Ivan Morales was found guilty of robbery and attempted premeditated murder, among other offenses. The jury found that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury during the robbery and attempted murder. The crimes occurred in 2016 when Morales and his friend Sergey Gutsu robbed an armored truck and shot an employee, Glenn, multiple times with an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle. Glenn survived the attack. Later that day, the police arrested Gutsu and Morales.

The trial court found Morales guilty of the charges, and the judgment was affirmed in 2020. In 2022, Morales filed a petition to vacate the attempted murder conviction and for resentencing under former Penal Code section 1170.95 (now section 1172.6). The trial court denied the petition, finding that Morales failed to make a prima facie claim for relief.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District affirmed the trial court's decision. The court concluded that the jury's verdicts established all the factual findings necessary to support an attempted murder conviction under current law. The court noted that the jury found that the shooting of Glenn was an attempted premeditated murder and that Morales was the shooter. Therefore, the court held that Morales was not eligible for relief under section 1172.6.

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People v. Ackerman

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: D082208(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: HUFFMAN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In April 2017, Israel Ackerman engaged in a verbal altercation with Anthony K., left, and later returned to stab Anthony four times. Ackerman was found unconscious in the apartment, and Anthony, bleeding profusely, walked to a fire station. At trial, Ackerman argued self-defense. A jury convicted him of attempted voluntary manslaughter, among other crimes, and found true allegations that Ackerman personally inflicted great bodily injury. His sentence included a three-year term for the enhancement. Ackerman appealed, arguing that the law prohibits trial courts from imposing a great bodily injury sentencing enhancement where the crime of conviction is attempted voluntary manslaughter.

Ackerman's original sentence was appealed, and while it was pending, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recommended he be resentenced, citing a case that prohibited application of a great bodily injury enhancement to a charge of manslaughter. The trial court disagreed with the recommendation, finding that the case did not apply to attempted manslaughter. The court reasoned that great bodily injury was not necessarily an element of attempted manslaughter, unlike completed manslaughter. The court then resentenced Ackerman to 15 years in custody.

The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One State of California affirmed the judgment. Ackerman argued that the law does not authorize the addition of a great bodily injury sentencing enhancement when the crime of conviction is attempted voluntary manslaughter. The court disagreed, stating that the interpretation of a statute is a question of law subject to de novo review. The court found that the plain language of the statute exempts only the completed crimes of murder and manslaughter, violations of certain sections, and crimes where infliction of great bodily injury is an element of the offense. The court concluded that actual infliction of great bodily injury is not an element of the crime of attempted voluntary manslaughter, as it is for all other kinds of manslaughter. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment.

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People v. Boyd

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: E081005(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: RAPHAEL

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Tarrell Ivory Boyd, a defendant who was serving a 27-year prison sentence. Nearly 17 years into his sentence, Boyd moved for a new sentencing hearing, arguing that his custody and conduct credits had been miscalculated at his original sentencing. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, awarding Boyd seven more days of credits. Boyd appealed, arguing that the original error warranted a full resentencing to consider the effect of ameliorative sentencing laws passed since his original sentencing hearing.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Two found that the trial court lacked fundamental jurisdiction to consider Boyd’s freestanding motion given that his sentence has long been made final. The court held that in order to establish jurisdiction for a postjudgment claim that credits were improperly calculated at sentencing, an inmate must file a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The court vacated the trial court’s order, which was void from the start. However, given the circumstances, the court treated Boyd’s purported appeal as a petition for writ of habeas corpus, granted the petition, and modified the sentence to reflect the undisputed credits. The court rejected Boyd’s claim that he is entitled to a full resentencing.

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People v. Gonzalez

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: D082058(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: Irion

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves David Gonzalez, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 75 years to life. Gonzalez had used a firearm in the commission of the murder, which added a term of 25 years to life to his sentence under Penal Code section 12022.53, subdivision (d). This was Gonzalez's third appeal, with the previous two resulting in remands to the trial court to consider sentencing issues in light of new statutory provisions.

The trial court had previously declined to dismiss the firearm enhancement, which Gonzalez argued was an error as the court applied an improper legal standard. The court had determined that dismissing the enhancement would "endanger public safety," a decision Gonzalez contended was based on his current danger to society rather than considering the potential danger at the time of his possible release.

The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One, agreed with Gonzalez. It found that the trial court had applied an erroneous legal standard by focusing on Gonzalez's current danger to society rather than the potential danger upon his release. The court held that the trial court should have considered the date on which Gonzalez could be released if the firearm enhancement was dismissed and the fact that the release would be subject to a review by the Board of Parole Hearings and the Governor. The court vacated the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.

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People v. Superior Court

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: H051569(Sixth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: Bamattre-Manoukian

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

In 1999, Sylvester Williams was convicted of indecent exposure with a prior conviction and sentenced to 25 years to life under the Three Strikes law, plus an additional two years for two prior prison term enhancements. In 2012, Williams filed a petition for recall of sentence under the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012. The trial court denied Williams’ petition after finding that he posed an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety. In 2023, Williams sought relief for his newly invalid prior prison term enhancements, arguing that he was entitled to be resentenced to a maximum sentence of six years as a “two-striker” under the revised penalty provisions of the Three Strikes Reform Act. The trial court agreed and resentenced Williams to six years, struck the two prior prison term enhancements, and deemed the sentence satisfied.

The People appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in applying the revised penalty provisions of the Three Strikes Reform Act when resentencing Williams under section 1172.75 due to invalid prior prison term enhancements. They contended that by doing so, the court bypassed the public safety inquiry required by section 1170.126 of the Three Strikes Reform Act, and that section 1172.75 thereby constitutes an improper amendment of the Three Strikes Reform Act.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District agreed with the People. It held that applying the revised penalty provisions of the Three Strikes Reform Act to reduce a defendant’s indeterminate life term to a determinate term when the defendant is being resentenced under section 1172.75 due to an invalid prior prison term enhancement unconstitutionally amends the resentencing procedure and requirements set forth in section 1170.126 of the voter-approved Three Strikes Reform Act. The court issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order resentencing Williams to a six-year term and to hold a new resentencing hearing at which Williams’s sentence of 25 years to life is reinstated.

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State v. Bember

Court: Connecticut Supreme Court

Docket: SC20708

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: Alexander

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Tyhitt Bember, was convicted of felony murder, attempt to commit robbery in the first degree, and carrying a pistol or revolver without a permit in connection with the shooting death of a victim. The defendant, armed with a revolver, had instructed a companion to follow the victim in a car. After confronting the victim on foot, the defendant decided to rob him. When the victim resisted, the defendant shot him five times. The state's case rested almost entirely on the testimony of two witnesses who were facing charges for their involvement in another homicide and had entered into cooperation agreements with the state. The defendant had allegedly confessed his involvement in the victim’s murder to one of these witnesses.

The defense moved to preclude the state from introducing the cooperation agreements during its direct examination of the witnesses. The trial court granted the motion but ruled that the prosecutor would be permitted to use leading questions to flesh out the terms of the agreements. The defense also moved for a pretrial hearing regarding the reliability of the witnesses’ proposed trial testimony. Following a hearing, the trial court found that the witnesses’ proposed trial testimony was sufficiently reliable to be admitted at trial.

The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court had abused its discretion in permitting the prosecutor to question the witnesses during direct examination regarding the specific terms of their cooperation agreements with the state. The defendant also claimed that the prosecutor had impermissibly vouched for the witnesses’ credibility by introducing the truthfulness provisions of their cooperation agreements, eliciting testimony from the witnesses that their attorneys were present in the courtroom, and referencing their prior testimony in other criminal cases on behalf of the state. The defendant further claimed that the trial court had abused its discretion in concluding that the witnesses’ testimony was reliable and admissible.

The Supreme Court of Connecticut affirmed the trial court's decision. The court held that the defendant had waived his claim regarding the prosecutor's questioning of the witnesses about their cooperation agreements. The court also held that the prosecutor's introduction of the truthfulness provisions of the witnesses' cooperation agreements did not constitute improper vouching. The court further held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the witnesses' proposed trial testimony was sufficiently reliable to be admissible at trial.

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State v. Campbell

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 49269

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: Moeller

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Benny Dean Campbell was detained by law enforcement while they were investigating a stolen motorcycle. During the detention, a police trooper discovered heroin and methamphetamine in Campbell's backpack. Campbell was charged with two felony counts for drug trafficking and possession of a controlled substance, and two misdemeanor counts for possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Campbell filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that by initially placing him in handcuffs, the trooper converted his detention into an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The district court agreed that Campbell’s detention was a de facto arrest; however, the court also determined that the evidence was admissible under the attenuation doctrine. After the court denied his motion, Campbell entered into a conditional plea agreement that preserved his right to appeal the denied motion. On appeal, he asked the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho to reject the federal attenuation doctrine because Article I, section 17 of the Idaho Constitution affords him greater protections than the federal standard and is incompatible with Idaho’s more expansive exclusionary rule.

The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the order of the district court. The court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the State failed to establish that the use of handcuffs on Campbell was a reasonable precaution for the trooper’s safety. However, the court concluded that while the seizure of Campbell was unreasonable, the inevitable discovery exception to the Fourth Amendment makes suppression improper. The court found that even if handcuffs had never been used, the evidence would have been inevitably discovered whether the trooper had followed either parallel path once the trooper walked into the convenience store. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s order denying Campbell’s suppression motion on the alternate theory of inevitable discovery.

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Grimes v. State of Indiana

Court: Supreme Court of Indiana

Docket: 24S-CR-00217

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Slaughter

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, William R. Grimes, was charged with multiple crimes following a violent altercation with Matthew Pirtle. Grimes requested a speedy trial under Criminal Rule 4, which was granted by the court. However, due to a series of events including the addition of new charges, a conflict of interest with the trial judge, and court congestion, the trial was postponed beyond the 70-day limit stipulated by Rule 4. Grimes objected to this delay and filed a motion for discharge, arguing that the court's claim of congestion was inaccurate. His motion was denied without explanation by the trial court.

The case was initially heard in the Sullivan Superior Court, where Grimes' motion for discharge was denied. Grimes appealed this decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court's ruling. The appellate panel held that Grimes failed to show he was entitled to discharge because he presented no evidence that the trial court’s congestion finding was clearly erroneous on the date it continued the trial.

The case was then reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court. The court held that Grimes had met his burden to show a prima facie case of no court congestion when he submitted the court’s docket showing no other scheduling conflicts with priority over his criminal trial. This shifted the burden to the trial court to explain the postponement. However, the trial court failed to meet this burden as it gave no explanation when it denied the defendant’s motion for discharge. As a result, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the lower courts' decisions and remanded the case with instructions to discharge Grimes.

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Hancz-Barron v. State

Court: Supreme Court of Indiana

Docket: 22S-LW-00310

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Loretta H. Rush

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In June 2021, Cohen Hancz-Barron was living with his on-and-off girlfriend, Sarah Zent, and her three young children in Fort Wayne, Indiana. On the morning of June 2, Hancz-Barron drove away in a neighbor's truck, and Sarah and her children were later found dead in their home. The victims had been stabbed multiple times, with wounds severing their jugular veins and carotid arteries. Hancz-Barron quickly became the primary suspect, and he was arrested later that day in Lafayette, Indiana. The State charged Hancz-Barron with four counts of murder and sought a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

At trial, the State presented photographic, DNA, video, and physical evidence, as well as testimony from family members, friends, law enforcement, a forensic pathologist, and a forensic biologist. The jury found Hancz-Barron guilty as charged. At sentencing, the State incorporated the evidence presented during the guilt phase to support the two statutory aggravators. The defense presented mitigating evidence through testimony from both Hancz-Barron’s mother and a forensic psychologist who examined Hancz-Barron after his arrest. The jury found the State proved both statutory aggravators beyond a reasonable doubt, found the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances, and recommended “a sentence of life imprisonment without parole.” The trial court then found “more than sufficient evidence to support” the jury’s decision, and sentenced Hancz-Barron to four consecutive life sentences.

In the Indiana Supreme Court, Hancz-Barron challenged the sufficiency of evidence to sustain his convictions, the trial court’s decision allowing the State to recall a witness, and his sentence on both statutory and constitutional grounds. The court rejected each challenge and affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that sufficient evidence supported Hancz-Barron’s convictions and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the State to recall a witness. The court also held that it could not review the jury’s weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, Hancz-Barron had not shown that his sentence was inappropriate, and his sentence was not unconstitutional.

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State of Iowa v. Hightower

Court: Iowa Supreme Court

Docket: 22-1920

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: May

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Shannon Hightower pleaded guilty to dependent adult abuse and theft in the second degree. She later appealed, arguing that there were defects in her guilty plea, her sentencing, and the conditions set for her appeal bond. Hightower also contended that Iowa Code section 814.29, which regulates judicial review of challenges to a guilty plea, was unconstitutional.

The district court had found Hightower guilty based on her plea and sentenced her to concurrent prison terms. One of the court's reasons for the sentence was Hightower's failure to pay restitution prior to sentencing. After sentencing, Hightower filed a motion asking the court to order a stay of the sentence and to set a hearing to review concerns about her guilty plea. Alternatively, she asked the court to set an appropriate appeal bond. The court denied Hightower's request for a hearing about her guilty plea and set an appeal bond in the amount of $17,000 cash only.

The Supreme Court of Iowa found that Hightower's guilty plea was defective due to the absence of an accurate advisory as to the maximum punishment she faced by pleading guilty. However, the court concluded that section 814.29 prevented it from vacating Hightower's plea. The court also agreed with Hightower that resentencing was required because the district court relied on an improper sentencing factor. Furthermore, the court agreed with Hightower that the district court erred by ordering unauthorized forfeiture requirements for Hightower’s appeal bond. The court affirmed Hightower’s conviction, vacated her sentence, and reversed the forfeiture requirements. The case was remanded for resentencing and for lawful disbursement of funds paid for Hightower’s release during the appeal.

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State v. Bennett

Court: Kansas Supreme Court

Docket: 125535

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Stegall

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

David Cornell Bennett Jr. pleaded guilty to one count of capital murder and three counts of premeditated first-degree murder in December 2017. As part of the plea agreement, Bennett waived his appellate rights. In June 2020, Bennett filed a pro se motion requesting a hearing under State v. Ortiz, alleging that his appointed counsel failed to file an appeal as requested following his sentencing hearing. The State argued that Bennett had already waived his appellate rights under the plea agreement. The district court denied Bennett's motion, finding that Bennett had knowingly waived his appellate rights.

The district court's decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas. Bennett argued that his waiver of appellate rights was ambiguous and that he was entitled to a late appeal under the criteria set forth in Ortiz. The Supreme Court reviewed the facts underlying the district court's ruling for substantial competent evidence and the legal conclusion made by the district court on those facts as to whether the exception applies was reviewed de novo.

The Supreme Court found that Bennett was properly informed of his rights and what he was waiving. The court noted that Bennett received the sentence contemplated in the plea agreement and filed no timely appeal. The court also found that Bennett had not explained why he should be allowed to appeal on any grounds two and a half years out of time. The court concluded that Bennett had not shown that he could qualify for a late appeal under the Ortiz criteria. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court, denying Bennett's motion for a late appeal.

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State v. Harris

Court: Kansas Supreme Court

Docket: 124844

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Stegall

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Darrick S. Harris, serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and aggravated battery committed during a prison riot in 1993, petitioned the district court for forensic testing of objects used in the murder under K.S.A. 21-2512. Harris hoped to find unknown biological material on these objects that could be subject to DNA testing. However, the State claimed it no longer had possession of the items. The district court ruled Harris' motions moot as the items he sought to test were no longer in the State's possession. Harris then filed a motion requesting discharge from incarceration, alleging that the State's inability to comply with his request for DNA testing created an adverse inference that his DNA was not present, which should be deemed sufficient to constitute exoneration. The district court denied this motion, holding there was no evidence the State acted in bad faith in failing to preserve the evidence.

Harris appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas, arguing that the State's failure to retain physical evidence violated his due process rights. He also argued that the district court erred by not ordering the DNA testing of the biological material that was in the State's possession. The Supreme Court dismissed the second issue, stating that Harris had explicitly informed the court he was not seeking testing of the swabs.

Regarding Harris' spoliation claim, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision, but for different reasons. The court held that K.S.A. 21-2512 does not provide a vehicle for a claim on the facts presented by Harris. The court also noted that Harris' claim, even if construed as a motion under K.S.A. 60-1507, was procedurally barred by the one-year time limitation of K.S.A. 2023 Supp. 60-1507(f), and Harris had presented no argument for an exception. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's denial of Harris' motion.

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Commonwealth v. Lora

Court: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Docket: SJC-12887

Opinion Date: June 24, 2024

Judge: Wendlandt

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In June 2015, Jose Lora, a member of the Kilby Street Posse (KSP), a Worcester-based gang, shot and killed David Luyando, an innocent bystander, at a cemetery. Lora was targeting Kevin Parker, a member of a rival gang, the Providence Street Posse (PSP), who had shot Lora six days earlier. After the shooting, Lora disposed of the murder weapon, cleaned his car, and fled to the Dominican Republic. He was later returned to the Commonwealth and convicted of first-degree murder on a theory of deliberate premeditation.

The Superior Court Department found and returned an indictment against Lora on May 20, 2016. After a jury trial, Lora was convicted of first-degree murder. He filed a motion for a new trial on September 10, 2021, which was considered and denied by the same judge who presided over his trial.

In his appeal, Lora argued that the trial judge erred by not instructing the jury to consider Parker's known history of violence in assessing whether Lora had a reasonable apprehension of Parker at the time of the killing. He also claimed that the judge abused his discretion in denying his motion for a new trial because the prosecutor delayed disclosure of material evidence, and because he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the conviction and the denial of the motion for a new trial. The court found no error in the trial judge's actions and no reason to exercise its extraordinary authority to order a new trial or to reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree to a lesser degree of guilt. The court concluded that the evidence presented at trial supported the jury's finding of deliberate premeditation and rejected Lora's claims of error and ineffective assistance of counsel.

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Harris v. State of Mississippi

Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi

Citation: 2023-KA-00038-SCT

Opinion Date: June 20, 2024

Judge: Maxwell

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case revolves around Katherine Harris, who was convicted for aggravated DUI. While driving with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) twice the legal limit, Harris crashed into a deputy sheriff and his patrol vehicle, causing severe injuries to the deputy. Before trial, Harris requested public funds to hire her own experts, a toxicologist and an accident reconstructionist, to counter the State’s evidence. However, her blood sample, which she had not requested to be preserved, had been destroyed according to routine procedure nine months after testing. The judge denied her requests for expert funding, finding them broad and theoretical, and Harris failed to articulate concrete reasons how these proposed independent experts would specifically assist her defense.

In Mississippi, the discretion to grant or deny an indigent defendant funds to retain an independent expert lies with the trial court. The court found that Harris failed to articulate how her own experts would actually assist her defense. Furthermore, the State’s case did not rely exclusively on these two experts and her BAC. The State called additional witnesses who established the patrol car was clearly visible with its blue lights flashing, and multiple other vehicles successfully passed the patrol car before Harris slammed into it. Witnesses also testified Harris smelled like alcohol, failed a field sobriety test, admitted she had been drinking, and tested positive for alcohol on a portable breathalyzer at the scene.

The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed Harris’s conviction and sentence, discerning no abuse of discretion in the judge’s denial of Harris’s request for expert funds. Based on the overwhelming evidence supporting Harris’s aggravated DUI conviction, the judge’s discretionary denial, even if erroneous, was not so prejudicial as to render her trial fundamentally unfair.

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Flaherty v. State

Court: Supreme Court of Missouri

Docket: SC100292

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Paul C. Wilson

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

Shawn Flaherty was convicted of second-degree domestic assault and armed criminal action following a violent altercation with his wife, during which he brandished a revolver and a bullet from the weapon struck his wife in the knee. Flaherty's defense at trial was that the shooting was accidental, and his counsel requested an instruction for the lesser-included offense of second-degree domestic assault, which the jury ultimately found him guilty of. Flaherty was sentenced to seven years for the assault count and three years for the armed criminal action count, to be served consecutively. His convictions were affirmed on direct appeal.

Flaherty subsequently filed a motion for postconviction relief, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a lesser-included instruction for fourth-degree domestic assault. The motion court overruled Flaherty’s motion after an evidentiary hearing, finding that while his trial counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient for failing to request the instruction for fourth-degree domestic assault, this did not prejudice Flaherty.

The Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the motion court's judgment. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the motion court’s finding that counsel’s failure to request the lesser-included instruction for fourth-degree assault did not prejudice Flaherty. The court also noted that the motion court judge, who had also presided over Flaherty's criminal trial, was in a better position to assess the impact of the evidence on the jury and whether it was reasonably likely the jury would have been persuaded by arguments that Flaherty's acts were merely criminally negligent.

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State ex rel. Bailey v. Pierce

Court: Supreme Court of Missouri

Docket: SC100509

Opinion Date: June 18, 2024

Judge: Fischer

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around a dispute over a change of judge in a criminal proceeding. The defendant was charged with a felony, and the original judge recused himself. A new judge was assigned, but the defendant and the prosecutor jointly stipulated to a change of venue and judge. The case was transferred to Butler County and assigned to Judge Pritchett. After Judge Pritchett's retirement, the case was reassigned to Judge Proctor. The defendant then filed a motion for a change of judge, which Judge Proctor sustained. The Attorney General of Missouri, acting as the special prosecutor, filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandamus, arguing that the circuit court lacked the authority to sustain the defendant's motion for a change of judge.

The court of appeals issued a permanent writ of prohibition and transferred the case to the Supreme Court of Missouri. The defendant did not file a brief but conceded to the Attorney General's writ of prohibition, requesting the case to be reassigned to Judge Proctor for final disposition.

The Supreme Court of Missouri found that the defendant's stipulation to a change of venue and judge precluded the circuit court from sustaining the defendant's subsequent motion for a change of judge. The defendant did not allege or show a change of judge was required due to "fundamental fairness" or because Judge Proctor was related to the defendant, had an interest in the case, had been counsel in the proceedings, or disqualified for any other reason. The court concluded that Judge Proctor lacked the authority to sustain the defendant's motion for a change of judge. The court issued a permanent writ of prohibition barring the circuit court from enforcing the order sustaining the defendant's second change of judge. The case remains assigned to Judge Proctor.

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State v. Hesser

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 134

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: Laurie McKinnon

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Transportation Law

The case involves Donald Aaron Hesser, who was charged with felony driving under the influence (DUI) after a motorcycle accident. Hesser was found unconscious at the scene and was taken to the hospital for treatment. Upon learning of Hesser's four previous DUI convictions, Montana State Trooper Daniel Arnold requested that the hospital retain a blood sample taken from Hesser. An investigative subpoena was later issued for Hesser's medical records and blood sample, which revealed a blood alcohol content of .208. Hesser pleaded guilty but reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress the blood sample evidence.

The District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, Cascade County, denied Hesser's motion to suppress the blood sample evidence. Hesser argued that Trooper Arnold lacked the authority to apply for an investigative subpoena, as only a prosecutor could do so under § 46-4-301(3), MCA. He also contended that there was insufficient probable cause for the subpoena. The District Court found that a prosecutor had sought the subpoena and that it was supported by probable cause, given Hesser's serious accident, the unexplained nature of the accident, and his prior DUI convictions.

Upon review, the Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that there was sufficient probable cause for the issuance of the investigative subpoena. The court also determined that Trooper Arnold was authorized to request a blood draw under § 61-8-402(2)(a), MCA (2019), and Hesser, being unconscious, was considered statutorily not to have withdrawn his consent under § 61-8-402(3), MCA (2019).

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State v. McElroy

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 133

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: Gustafson

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

The case revolves around Joseph Brian McElroy, who was charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute, a felony. The charge stemmed from a traffic stop initiated by Trooper Adams for speeding. During the stop, Trooper Adams noticed the smell of marijuana from the vehicle and observed signs of "hard travel." After verifying the driver's information and concluding that the driver was not under the influence, Trooper Adams questioned the occupants about the smell of marijuana. When they denied consent to search the vehicle, Trooper Adams deployed a canine for a sniff test, which led to the discovery of drugs and other items. McElroy filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the traffic stop was unlawfully extended without sufficient particularized suspicion.

The District Court denied McElroy's motion to suppress the evidence. The court found that Trooper Adams had sufficient particularized suspicion to conduct the canine sniff based on the smell of marijuana, signs of hard travel, the occupants' nervousness, and their somewhat differing backstories. McElroy then entered a plea agreement, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the District Court's decision. The court found that Trooper Adams did not have sufficient particularized suspicion to expand the traffic stop into a drug possession investigation. The court held that factors such as signs of hard travel, traveling from a known drug center in a third-party vehicle, and nervous demeanor, even when considered together, do not constitute particularized suspicion. The court also noted that the smell of marijuana itself does not constitute particularized suspicion sufficient to conclude there could be drugs in the vehicle. Therefore, the court concluded that Trooper Adams's further questioning about the marijuana smell and subsequent use of the canine sniff were unlawful. The court reversed the District Court's order denying McElroy's motion to suppress evidence and the resulting judgment of conviction and sentence.

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State v. Rodriguez

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 132

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: Rice

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Esandro Rodriguez was convicted by a jury of aggravated kidnapping, accountability for aggravated burglary, and two separate counts of accountability for assault with a weapon. The charges stemmed from an incident where Rodriguez, along with Jesse Daniels and Lauren Aviles, sought to collect money from Michael Crawford for a past drug transaction. During the incident, Rodriguez and Daniels held Amanda and Junior, Michael's girlfriend and mother's partner respectively, at gunpoint and forced them into a car. They then drove to Michael's mobile home, where they confronted Michael's mother, Leah. Daniels entered the home with a gun, causing chaos and fear among the occupants. Rodriguez was later charged with several offenses related to the incident.

The District Court of the Eighth Judicial District convicted Rodriguez on four of the six counts he was charged with, including aggravated kidnapping of Amanda, accountability for assault with a deadly weapon against Junior, accountability for aggravated burglary, and accountability for assault with a weapon against Leah. Rodriguez appealed his convictions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of aggravated burglary by accountability and that his convictions for aggravated burglary by accountability and assault with a weapon by accountability violated the multiple conviction statute.

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed Rodriguez's conviction for aggravated burglary by accountability, finding that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that Daniels committed assault with a weapon inside the home, thus supporting Rodriguez's conviction for aggravated burglary by accountability. However, the court reversed Rodriguez's conviction for assault with a weapon by accountability against Leah, ruling that the State had prosecuted the aggravated burglary charge in a manner that required proof that Daniels committed the assault inside the home. As such, the assault with a weapon charge merged, as a predicate offense, with aggravated burglary, and Rodriguez's conviction of both violated the multiple conviction statute. The court remanded the case for entry of an amended judgment consistent with its opinion.

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State v. Evans

Court: Nebraska Supreme Court

Citation: 316 Neb. 943

Opinion Date: June 21, 2024

Judge: Freudenberg

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Allen Evans, was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a protected individual. The charges were brought after a resident of the Beatrice State Development Center reported that Evans had sexually assaulted her while he was employed with the Department of Health and Human Services. Evans pleaded no contest to both counts. The district court sentenced him to 18 to 20 years’ imprisonment for each conviction, resulting in an aggregate term of imprisonment of 36 to 40 years. The court ordered the sentences to run consecutively.

Evans appealed his sentences, arguing that they were invalid because, under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-1,110 (Supp. 2023), he may be eligible for parole before serving his minimum term of 36 years. He contended that under the parole eligibility criteria of a recent amendment to § 83-1,110(3)(c)(iii), the maximum sentence for an aggregate sentence of 40 years cannot exceed 32 years, because 80 percent of a maximum term of 40 years is 32 years.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that § 83-1,110 concerns parole eligibility calculations and not the permissible sentencing range of the underlying sentence imposed by the trial court. The court's aggregate sentence of 36 to 40 years was valid, and the court did not need to address the correctness of the court's truth-in-sentencing advisement in light of the amendments to § 83-1,110(3)(c)(iii). The court concluded that a truth-in-sentencing advisement containing a miscalculation as to the expected parole eligibility or mandatory release date does not affect the validity of either the sentence or the plea.

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Mariscal-Ochoa v. State

Court: Supreme Court of Nevada

Citation: 140 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 42

Opinion Date: June 27, 2024

Judge: Stiglich

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Manuel Mariscal-Ochoa, who was convicted of sexual assault against a child under the age of 14 years and lewdness with a child under the same age. The 9-year-old victim, L.N.C., alleged four instances of abuse, claiming that Mariscal-Ochoa had penetrated her with his fingers or penis on each instance. Mariscal-Ochoa pleaded not guilty, and the case went to trial. During voir dire, a prospective juror stated that she might recognize the defendant because he may have abused her niece or nephew. The defense moved for a mistrial.

The district court denied the motion for a mistrial, reasoning that the prospective juror's statements were not so prejudicial as to require disqualification of the venire. The court found that the prospective juror's statement was equivocal and vague, and any prejudice could be neutralized by a curative admonition, which the district court administered. The jury found Mariscal-Ochoa guilty of one count of sexual assault and the single charged count of lewdness. The jury acquitted Mariscal-Ochoa on the three remaining sexual assault counts.

On appeal, Mariscal-Ochoa raised several issues, including the district court’s denial of his motion for a mistrial after the prospective juror’s statements, arguing that the statements so prejudiced the venire that he could not have received a fair trial. The Supreme Court of Nevada concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by issuing a curative admonition rather than dismissing the venire. The court affirmed the judgment of conviction.

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The State v. Gabrielle Oliva Lashane Davis-Kocsis

Court: South Carolina Supreme Court

Docket: 28213

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Few

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Gabrielle Davis-Kocsis, who was convicted of murder, two counts of kidnapping, first-degree burglary, and criminal conspiracy, all stemming from a dispute between drug dealers. Davis-Kocsis had offered methamphetamine as a reward for information about Mark Connor, who had stolen cash and a motorcycle from her. After learning of Connor's location, Davis-Kocsis and her accomplices broke into the house, sprayed bear mace, and held the occupants at gunpoint. During the confrontation, one of Davis-Kocsis's accomplices shot and killed Connor.

The case was initially tried in a lower court where Davis-Kocsis was found guilty on all charges. She appealed the decision, arguing that the South Carolina Code prohibits sentencing a defendant for both kidnapping and murder when the victims are different. She also contested the trial court's decision to admit a 911 call recording as evidence, claiming it was more prejudicial than probative.

The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that a defendant could be sentenced for both murder and kidnapping when the victims are different, overruling Davis-Kocsis's interpretation of the South Carolina Code. The court also found no error in the trial court's decision to admit the 911 call recording, stating that its probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The court dismissed Davis-Kocsis's other arguments regarding the recording as they were not raised at the trial court level and were therefore unpreserved for appellate review.

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Evans v. Sullivan

Court: South Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 S.D. 36

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Salter

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Harry David Evans, serving a life sentence for six criminal offenses including kidnapping, rape, burglary, assault, stalking, and violating a protection order, filed a writ of habeas corpus alleging ineffective assistance of counsel and violations of his rights to due process and to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The habeas court dismissed three of Evans' claims on the basis of res judicata as they were resolved in Evans' direct appeal. After an evidentiary hearing, the court denied the remaining claims and dismissed Evans' request for habeas relief.

The Circuit Court of the Seventh Judicial Circuit in South Dakota had previously convicted Evans and his appeal was denied. Evans then filed a habeas corpus petition alleging nine claims, most of which alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. The habeas court granted the State’s motion to dismiss three of Evans’ claims on the basis of res judicata because they were effectively resolved in Evans’ direct appeal. After an evidentiary hearing, the court denied the remaining claims and dismissed Evans’ request for habeas relief.

The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that Evans' claims were resolved in his direct appeal and are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Furthermore, Evans failed to establish that his counsel was ineffective for not calling a particular witness, not seeking to introduce cell phone records, and for not calling him to testify in his own defense.

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Clardy v. State

Court: Tennessee Supreme Court

Docket: M2021-00566-SC-R11-ECN

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: KIRBY

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

A prisoner filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, a legal order allowing a court to correct its original judgment, long after the one-year limitations period had expired. The petition was based on new evidence that the prisoner claimed demonstrated his actual innocence. The coram nobis court held a hearing and determined that the new evidence did not show that the prisoner was actually innocent of the crimes of which he was convicted. As a result, the court dismissed the petition as untimely.

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the coram nobis court's decision, arguing that the prisoner had met the requirements for tolling, or delaying, the statute of limitations. The appellate court remanded the case for a hearing on the allegations in the petition.

The Supreme Court of Tennessee disagreed with the appellate court's decision. The Supreme Court held that if a petition for a writ of error coram nobis is not timely filed and seeks tolling of the statute of limitations, it must be based on new evidence that clearly and convincingly shows that the petitioner is actually innocent of the underlying crime. The court found that the prisoner's new evidence did not meet this standard. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and affirmed the decision of the coram nobis court, dismissing the petition as untimely.

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EX PARTE MICHELLE LEE HAYES

Court: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Docket: WR-94,423-01

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Keel

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

The case revolves around an applicant who pleaded guilty to causing serious bodily injury to a child. The trial court deferred finding her guilty and placed her on community supervision. However, two months later, she was adjudicated guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The applicant raised two claims in her habeas application. First, she argued that her guilty plea was involuntary because her attorney did not inform her that the victim had not suffered serious bodily injury. Second, she claimed that her attorney was ineffective at the adjudication stage for not offering evidence in support of a conviction for the lesser-included offense of causing bodily injury to a child.

The trial court had recommended denying relief, but the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas found the trial court's findings to be faulty. The primary issue was whether the applicant pleaded guilty without knowing that the medical expert believed there was no serious bodily injury. The trial court found otherwise, but the Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, finding that the defense attorney did not inform the applicant about the medical expert's opinion.

The secondary issue was whether the applicant would have insisted on trial if she had known about the true state of the evidence of serious bodily injury. The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the record supported the applicant's claim that she would have insisted on trial, as she had a good chance of an acquittal of the serious bodily injury element and would have faced much less punishment without it.

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas granted relief, setting aside the judgment in the case and remanding the applicant to the custody of the Sheriff of Harrison County to face the charges against her.

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EX PARTE SHANEA LYNN REEDER

Court: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Docket: WR-93,824-01

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Hervey

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Shanea Lynn Reeder, who was convicted for Unlawful Possession of Firearm and sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment. At the time of his arrest, Reeder was serving deferred-adjudication community supervision for a felony offense of distributing a controlled substance. Reeder, representing himself, argued that his conviction was improper as he had not been convicted of a felony at the time of his arrest.

Prior to the current review, two hearings were held on the same day. In the first, Reeder pled guilty to Unlawful Possession of Firearm and was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment. In the second, the State alleged Reeder violated conditions of his deferred-adjudication community supervision for the controlled-substance offense. Reeder pled true to the violations, and the court found him guilty, sentencing him to a concurrent term of 5 years' imprisonment. Later, Reeder filed a post-conviction application for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that his conviction was improper because he was not a convicted felon at the time he was arrested for Unlawful Possession of Firearm.

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas reviewed the case and had to decide whether serving deferred-adjudication community supervision constitutes being convicted of a felony for the purpose of Unlawful Possession of Firearm. The court concluded that it does not. Therefore, the court agreed that Reeder was not convicted of a felony at the time of his arrest for Unlawful Possession of Firearm. The court also held that Reeder's plea was involuntary due to a fundamental misunderstanding by all parties of the law in relation to the facts at the time the plea was made. As a result, the court set aside the judgment of conviction for Unlawful Possession of Firearm, and Reeder was allowed to withdraw his plea. The judgment on the motion to adjudicate the underlying offense of distributing a controlled substance remained undisturbed, with Reeder serving 5 years' imprisonment for that violation.

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