Justia Daily Opinion Summaries

Criminal Law
July 5, 2024

Table of Contents

Fischer v. United States

Business Law, Criminal Law, Securities Law

US Supreme Court

Trump v. United States

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Supreme Court

United States v. Vinas

Construction Law, Criminal Law, Real Estate & Property Law

US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

United States v. Pica

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Feyijinmi v. State of Maryland Central Collection Unit

Bankruptcy, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Bowman

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Slocum

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

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

US v. Whitley

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States v. Neal

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

United States v. Brasher

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Ford

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Huazhi Han

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Plancarte

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Townsend

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Day

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Marzette

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

USA v. Williams

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

United States v. Jackson

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Nelson

Agriculture Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Pinto

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

United States v. Wings

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Garding v. Montana Department of Corrections

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

GUTIERREZ v. GARLAND

Criminal Law, Immigration Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

United States v. Atherton

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

United States v. Hernandez

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. v. Salas

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

United States v. Hess

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

United States v. Williams

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

USA v. Stevens

Criminal Law

US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Needham v. Superior Court

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Supreme Court of California

Molina v. Superior Court

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

P. v. Gonzalez

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Bolourchi

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Cofer

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Ramos

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Rodriguez

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

People v. Williams

Criminal Law

California Courts of Appeal

Herard v. State of Florida

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Florida Supreme Court

GRANT v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

SMITH v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

TAVAREZ v. THE STATE

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Georgia

State v. Sing

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Hawaii

Hollis v. State

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

State v. Bujak

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

State v. Ish

Criminal Law

Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Olsen v. State of Iowa

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Iowa Supreme Court

State of Iowa v. Bauler

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Iowa Supreme Court

City of Kalispell v. Olds

Criminal Law

Montana Supreme Court

State v. Santoro

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Montana Supreme Court

State v. King

Criminal Law

Nebraska Supreme Court

Rodriguez v. State

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of Nevada

State v. Niebling

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

New Hampshire Supreme Court

In the Matter of Registrant R.S.

Criminal Law

Supreme Court of New Jersey

Neves v. State of Rhode Island

Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

Rhode Island Supreme Court

Rivera v. State of Rhode Island

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Rhode Island Supreme Court

State v. Alicea

Criminal Law

Rhode Island Supreme Court

State v. Finnigan

Criminal Law

Rhode Island Supreme Court

State v. Garcia

Criminal Law

Rhode Island Supreme Court

State v. Mather

Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Rhode Island Supreme Court

State v. Pires

Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Rhode Island Supreme Court

State v. Ironheart

Criminal Law

South Dakota Supreme Court

Keller v. The State of Wyoming

Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics

Wyoming Supreme Court

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Criminal Law Opinions

Fischer v. United States

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 23-5572

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: John G. Roberts, Jr.

Areas of Law: Business Law, Criminal Law, Securities Law

The case revolves around the interpretation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, specifically 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2), which imposes criminal liability on anyone who corruptly obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so. The petitioner, Joseph Fischer, was charged with violating this provision for his actions during the Capitol breach on January 6, 2021. Fischer moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the provision only criminalizes attempts to impair the availability or integrity of evidence. The District Court granted his motion, but a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that to prove a violation of §1512(c)(2), the Government must establish that the defendant impaired the availability or integrity for use in an official proceeding of records, documents, objects, or other things used in an official proceeding, or attempted to do so. The Court reasoned that the "otherwise" provision of §1512(c)(2) is limited by the list of specific criminal violations that precede it in (c)(1). The Court also considered the broader context of §1512 in the criminal code and found that an unbounded interpretation of subsection (c)(2) would render superfluous the careful delineation of different types of obstructive conduct in §1512 itself. The Court vacated the judgment of the D.C. Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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Trump v. United States

Court: US Supreme Court

Docket: 23-939

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: John G. Roberts, Jr.

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves former President Donald Trump, who was indicted on four counts for conduct that occurred during his presidency following the November 2020 election. The indictment alleged that Trump conspired to overturn the election by spreading knowingly false claims of election fraud. Trump moved to dismiss the indictment based on Presidential immunity, arguing that a President has absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions performed within his official responsibilities. The District Court denied Trump’s motion to dismiss, holding that former Presidents do not possess federal criminal immunity for any acts. The D.C. Circuit affirmed this decision.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that under the constitutional structure of separated powers, a former President is entitled to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority. He is also entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts. However, there is no immunity for unofficial acts. The Court vacated the judgment of the D.C. Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court emphasized that the President is not above the law, but under the system of separated powers, the President may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers.

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United States v. Vinas

Court: US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Docket: 23-1446

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: BARRON

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

The case revolves around Agustin Vinas, who was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1958 for attempting to hire a hitman to murder a contractor and his business partner. Vinas, a subcontractor, claimed that the contractor owed him $8,500 for construction work and had threatened to harm him and his family when he tried to collect the debt. Vinas was arrested after a series of meetings with an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a hitman. He pleaded guilty to using facilities of interstate commerce in the commission of murder-for-hire, and the government agreed to dismiss the second count related to interstate travel in the commission of murder-for-hire.

The District Court for the District of Rhode Island sentenced Vinas to time served, which amounted to nearly two years in pretrial detention. The government had recommended a sentence of ten years' imprisonment, arguing that a substantial sentence was necessary for specific and general deterrence. However, the defense argued for a sentence of time served, citing Vinas's attempts to peacefully collect the debt, the threats he received from the contractor, his mental health issues, and his efforts towards rehabilitation while in pretrial custody.

The government appealed the sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, arguing that the sentence was substantively unreasonable given the seriousness of the crime. The government also contended that the District Court had categorically refused to consider general deterrence and had created a disparity with defendants in other cases who were given longer sentences for the same statutory violation. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision, finding that the sentence was within the expansive universe of reasonable sentences and that the District Court had adequately considered the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). The Court of Appeals also found that the government had not preserved its arguments regarding general deterrence and sentencing disparity, and that these arguments did not meet the plain error standard.

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United States v. Pica

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Docket: 20-3677

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: LIVINGSTON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Anthony Pica, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery and attempted robbery. Pica, along with Salvatore Maniscalco, Jr., and John Delutro, planned to rob Louis Antonelli, a jeweler. They recruited Christopher Prince and Charles Santiago for the robbery. Despite Pica's instruction that Antonelli was not to be harmed, Santiago shot Antonelli twice during the robbery attempt, leading to Antonelli's death.

Pica was initially sentenced to 360 months' imprisonment by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The court applied U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1, the Sentencing Guideline for first-degree murder, in sentencing him. Pica appealed, arguing that the district court should have sentenced him under U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1, the guideline for robbery. His appeal was unsuccessful.

Later, Pica filed a petition to vacate his convictions based on new precedent from the United States Supreme Court. The district court granted his petition, vacating his convictions for using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and causing the death of another during the commission of a violation. The court ordered a resentencing hearing.

At the resentencing hearing, the district court again applied U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1, sentencing Pica to 264 months' imprisonment. Pica appealed again, arguing that Antonelli's murder was not relevant conduct under U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3(a)(1)(B) and that the district court should not have applied U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Antonelli's murder was within the scope of Pica's jointly undertaken criminal activity and was reasonably foreseeable. Therefore, the district court correctly applied U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1 in sentencing Pica.

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Feyijinmi v. State of Maryland Central Collection Unit

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 22-2252

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Diaz

Areas of Law: Bankruptcy, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Dedre Feyijinmi, who filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and sought to discharge a restitution debt. In 2006, Feyijinmi was found guilty of welfare fraud in Maryland state court and was sentenced to three years' probation. The court also ordered $14,487 in restitution, which was recorded as a civil judgment. After Feyijinmi's probation ended, the outstanding balance was transferred to the State's Central Collection Unit. Later, Feyijinmi's criminal records were expunged, but her restitution obligation remained, leading to the garnishment of her wages.

The bankruptcy court and the district court both rejected Feyijinmi's arguments that her restitution debt was dischargeable. Feyijinmi argued that the Bankruptcy Code's provision excluding a debt "for restitution...included in a sentence on the debtor's conviction of a crime" did not apply to her because she was not formally convicted under Maryland law. She also contended that the debt was discharged because the state of Maryland identified the debt as dischargeable court fees on its proof of claim.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that Feyijinmi's probation before judgment qualified as a conviction under federal law, as it was based on a finding of guilt. The court also ruled that the restitution was part of a sentence, even without a formal judgment. The court rejected Feyijinmi's claim that the State waived its right to collect the debt post-discharge by labeling it as "Court Ordered Fees" on its proof of claim. The court also dismissed Feyijinmi's claim of prejudice, finding no evidence of bad faith or unreasonable delay in filing the amendment, impact on other claimants, reliance by the debtor or creditors, or change of the debtor's position.

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United States v. Bowman

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 22-4680

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: RICHARDSON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In this case, the defendant, Guy Bowman, was convicted of distributing methamphetamine and conspiring to do so. Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on Bowman's property, where they found evidence of drug distribution. Bowman was later located and arrested at a hotel, where he made incriminating statements to officers. He was subsequently indicted on two counts related to drug distribution.

Prior to his trial, Bowman filed a motion to suppress his initial statements to the officers, arguing that they were made before he was read his Miranda rights. The district court denied the motion without holding an evidentiary hearing, determining that Bowman had not been interrogated before making the statements in question. Bowman also objected to the jury selection process, arguing that the district court had refused to ask his proposed questions and had provided him with less information about the jurors than was provided to the government.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Bowman's convictions. The court found that the district court had not erred in denying Bowman's motion to suppress without an evidentiary hearing, as there were no material factual disputes warranting a hearing. The court also found that the district court had not violated Bowman's Sixth Amendment rights during jury selection, as it had asked sufficient questions to uncover bias and had not denied Bowman his peremptory strikes. Finally, the court found that the district court had not abused its discretion in refusing to play the entirety of Bowman's jail calls with a co-defendant during closing arguments.

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United States v. Slocum

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 21-7283

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: QUATTLEBAUM

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

Willie Slocum, Jr. appealed the denial of his motion to correct, vacate, or set aside his convictions and sentences based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Slocum was indicted on two counts of drug conspiracy under 21 U.S.C. § 846, but argued that the two charged conspiracies were actually one. He claimed that he was punished twice for the same conspiracy in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause, and that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to raise a double jeopardy challenge before the trial court. The district court denied his motion without ordering a response from the government or holding an evidentiary hearing.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the district court erred in its decision. The appellate court determined that Slocum was indeed punished twice for a single conspiracy in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. However, the court noted that it was unclear whether trial counsel had a strategic reason for failing to raise a double jeopardy challenge. The court concluded that Slocum was entitled to an evidentiary hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b) where the performance of his trial counsel could be assessed. Therefore, the court vacated the district court’s denial of Slocum’s § 2255 motion and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on Slocum’s ineffective assistance claim.

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US v. Whitley

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Docket: 23-4285

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Quattlebaum

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Douglas Damon Whitley, who was convicted of Hobbs Act robbery, federal carjacking, and a firearm offense in connection with his theft of a Peloton delivery van and its contents. Whitley was sentenced to concurrent 84-month prison terms for the robbery and carjacking convictions. On appeal, Whitley argued that his convictions and sentences for both offenses violated the Double Jeopardy Clause, as he believed Hobbs Act robbery to be a lesser included offense of carjacking. He also contended that there was insufficient evidence of the specific intent needed to convict him of federal carjacking.

The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Whitley and his co-defendant, Kindal Robinson, pleaded not guilty and proceeded to a joint jury trial. The jury found them both guilty of all charges. Whitley then filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, arguing that his convictions for both Hobbs Act robbery and federal carjacking violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. He also argued that the government failed to produce sufficient evidence of his specific intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, an essential element of federal carjacking. The district court denied Whitley’s motion, determining that Hobbs Act robbery is not a lesser included offense of carjacking and that a reasonable jury could have found that Whitley had the specific intent to kill or seriously injure the van driver.

The case was then reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The court disagreed with Whitley's arguments and affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court found that the jurisdictional elements of Hobbs Act robbery and federal carjacking differed, meaning that the two offenses were not the same under the Blockburger test. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that Whitley had the specific intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, thus rejecting Whitley's sufficiency challenge.

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United States v. Neal

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Docket: 23-5299

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around Corey Neal, who was charged with federal gun possession after Shelby County officers, armed with a warrant, discovered three firearms at his residence. Neal challenged the validity of the search under the Fourth Amendment, but his plea was rejected, leading him to plead guilty to the charges. The case was then brought to appeal, where Neal reiterated his Fourth Amendment claim.

The District Court for the Western District of Tennessee had previously denied Neal's motion to suppress the evidence found at his residence. The court agreed that the warrant lacked probable cause but invoked the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule from United States v. Leon, which allows evidence obtained in good faith reliance on a search warrant later found to be deficient. Neal pleaded guilty to the second count in the indictment, reserving his right to appeal the ruling, and was sentenced to 92 months' imprisonment.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the affidavit supporting the search warrant established a "minimally sufficient nexus" between the items sought and the place to be searched. The court reasoned that the affidavit provided more than a naked guess that contraband might be found at Neal's residence. It established recent drug trafficking by Neal and evidence of Neal's residency. The court concluded that the affidavit was not so bare bones as to necessitate the application of the exclusionary rule, thereby upholding the lower court's application of the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

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United States v. Brasher

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1180

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: St. Eve

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Bernell Brasher, who was convicted for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The case began when a confidential source informed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that Bacaree Oaks had a pound of meth for sale. The source suggested he would sell the meth on credit and pay Oaks and Brasher $5,000 afterward. Instead, the source turned the meth over to law enforcement. The meth was tested and found to be 99% pure methamphetamine. Brasher and Oaks were later arrested. During his arrest, Brasher admitted to owing money to his supplier in Mexico for about 100 pounds of meth he had on the street.

Brasher was indicted for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and pleaded guilty. The presentence investigation report (PSR) concluded that Brasher's relevant conduct included four instances of past drug distribution activity. Brasher objected to the PSR's findings, but his objections are not part of this appeal. The district court sentenced Brasher to 200 months’ imprisonment, which fell within his Guidelines range.

On appeal, Brasher argued that his past conduct was too dissimilar from his offense of conviction—and too long before it—to factor into his Guidelines calculation. The court disagreed, finding sufficient similarity between the offense of conviction and the uncharged conduct to satisfy the plain error standard. The court also rejected Brasher's argument that the district court failed to explain why the past conduct was relevant. The court affirmed the district court's judgment.

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United States v. Ford

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1830

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: EASTERBROOK

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Jerome Ford was sentenced to 96 months in prison for possessing a firearm despite his felony conviction, followed by three years of supervised release. The judgment included a condition that Ford must pay a fine of $250 immediately, even though this condition was not mentioned during sentencing or in the presentence report.

Ford appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, arguing that the payment condition was unauthorized because it was not mentioned during sentencing or in the presentence report. He requested that the payment condition be removed from the judgment. The court noted that when there is a conflict between the oral pronouncement and the written judgment in a criminal case, the oral pronouncement usually prevails. However, there is an exception for conditions of supervision required by law, which do not need to be announced orally.

The court found that the payment condition was not required by law, but was included in a list of mandatory conditions in the Sentencing Guidelines. Ford argued that these guidelines ceased being mandatory after a previous case, United States v. Booker, declared them to be advisory. The court noted that this argument was not necessarily true, as the conditions of supervised release were not affected by the Booker decision.

However, the court accepted the prosecutor's implied concession that the payment condition may not be mandatory. As a result, the court decided that the payment condition must be vacated. The court noted that this decision may not benefit Ford, as a statute provides that people who do not pay their fines may be returned to prison. The court also noted that the district judge could add the payment condition to the judgment at any time. The court modified the district court's judgment to delete the payment condition.

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United States v. Huazhi Han

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1020

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: FLAUM

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case revolves around Huazhi Han, who was convicted on charges of money laundering and related offenses. Han used his electronic goods business to launder drug proceeds for Mexican drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Chicago Police Department (CPD) began investigating a money laundering organization in Chicago, in which Han played a key role. Han received cash proceeds from a drug trafficker, Rafiq Roman, on multiple occasions. After Roman's arrest, he cooperated with the authorities, leading to Han's arrest. The officers found a loaded firearm, approximately $200,000 in cash, and lookalike currency in Han's car. They also searched Han's home, where they found nearly $1.3 million in cash, a money counter, rubber bands, and firearms.

Han was indicted on four charges, including conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. Before trial, Han moved to suppress the evidence seized from his home, arguing that the officers searched his home without a warrant or consent. The district court denied the motion, finding that Han's wife had voluntarily consented to the search. The case proceeded to a jury trial, where Han was convicted on all counts.

On appeal, Han argued that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress, admitting threat evidence, and denying his motion for a mistrial based on the government’s closing argument. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found no error and affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that Han's wife had voluntarily consented to the search of their home, the threat evidence was admissible as it was directly related to Han's crimes, and the prosecutor's remarks during closing arguments did not result in an unfair trial.

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United States v. Plancarte

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-2224

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: FLAUM

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case revolves around a traffic stop in Wisconsin where police officers used a K-9 unit to sniff a car they suspected was involved in drug trafficking. The dog signaled the presence of drugs, leading to a search of the car and the discovery of almost eleven pounds of methamphetamine. The defendant, Juventino Plancarte, who was in the car during the stop, challenged the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the evidence.

The lower courts had indicted Plancarte on two counts related to methamphetamine distribution. He moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the dog's sniff, arguing that the dog could identify both illegal marijuana products and legal products that come from cannabis plants. Therefore, he contended that the sniff violated the Fourth Amendment as it was a warrantless search unsupported by probable cause. However, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's recommendations denying Plancarte's suppression motion, leading to his guilty plea to both drug charges.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the dog sniff did not constitute a Fourth Amendment search as it did not disrupt any reasonable expectation of privacy. The court noted that the dog sniff occurred outside the home, in a public area, and during a lawful traffic stop, which generally does not implicate legitimate privacy interests. The court also pointed out that the dog's sniff was not designed to disclose any information other than the presence or absence of narcotics. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court appropriately denied Plancarte's motion to suppress.

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United States v. Townsend

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-2875

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: EASTERBROOK

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Robert Townsend was convicted for attempted enticement of a minor, under 18 U.S.C. §2422(b), and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, followed by 10 years of supervised release. Townsend argued that the district judge erred by allowing the seriousness of his crime to influence the length of his supervised release.

The district court had considered the seriousness of Townsend's crime in determining the length of his supervised release. Townsend argued that this was an error, citing United States v. Wilcher, a Seventh Circuit case that held the duration of supervised release cannot rest solely on the seriousness of the crime. Townsend sought to extend this ruling to argue that the seriousness of an offense should not be considered at all in determining the length of supervised release.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed with Townsend's interpretation of the Wilcher ruling. The court noted that while the seriousness of the crime cannot be the sole factor in determining the length of supervised release, it can be one of several factors considered. The court pointed out that the nature of the offense, the need for deterrence, and the need to protect the public all correlate with the seriousness of the offense. The district judge had considered these factors, emphasizing the danger Townsend posed to the public and the nature and circumstances of his offense.

The court held that the district judge had not erred in considering the seriousness of Townsend's crime as one of several factors in determining the length of his supervised release. The court affirmed the district court's decision, upholding Townsend's sentence of 10 years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release.

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USA v. Day

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-2311

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: ST. EVE

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Anthony Day and Omarr Williams were charged with robbing a bank in Hammond, Indiana. Day was identified as the man who brandished a silver revolver during the robbery. After the robbery, the police tracked Day down using a GPS tracker embedded in the stolen cash. They found him in a wooded area, along with cash, an OGIO bag, parts of the robbers' disguises, and two firearms: a silver Smith & Wesson revolver and an American Tactical assault rifle. The police arrested Day and Williams, and a grand jury charged Day with bank robbery, brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

In the district court, Day moved to exclude reference to the American Tactical assault rifle, arguing that there was no evidence he used it during the robbery. He also requested a unanimity instruction, meaning the jurors would have to agree on which gun he possessed for the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court denied both requests, citing a previous decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The jury found Day guilty on all counts, and he was sentenced to 292 months in prison. Day appealed his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, challenging the district court's failure to give his requested jury instruction.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed Day's argument de novo. The court noted that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to trial by an impartial jury, which requires jury unanimity for convictions for serious crimes. However, this requirement only applies to the elements of the offense, not the means used to commit an element of the crime. The court explained that the particular firearm possessed is not an element of the crime, but rather the means used to satisfy the element of "any firearm." Therefore, jurors do not need to agree on which weapon the defendant possessed. The court also noted that where a defendant possessed multiple firearms, the government may only bring one charge if the defendant's possession of the firearms was "simultaneous and undifferentiated." The court found that the evidence supported a single course of possession of the firearms, not two distinct instances of possession. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that no unanimity instruction was required.

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USA v. Marzette

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 23-1646

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: Scudder

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Zebulon Marzette, who was convicted for possessing a firearm as a felon. The incident occurred on September 20, 2019, when a 911 call reported people pounding on a door and waving guns at an apartment complex in South Bend, Indiana. Responding officers encountered a chaotic scene and eventually pulled over a car leaving the area. Marzette, who had walked to the location of the car stop, was handcuffed and placed in a squad car. A gun was found in a purse in the back seat of the stopped car, and subsequent DNA testing revealed Marzette's DNA on the trigger. Marzette was charged with felony possession of a firearm.

The case was tried in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. Marzette objected to the introduction of the DNA evidence, arguing that each custodian in the gun’s chain of custody needed to testify to prove that the gun and the DNA evidence were authentic and reliable. The district court disagreed and overruled Marzette’s objection, admitting the DNA-related testimony and testing results into evidence. The jury returned a guilty verdict and Marzette was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Marzette challenged the district court’s admission of the DNA evidence and the hearsay testimony about the 911 call. The appellate court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the DNA evidence, as the government had provided a substantially complete chain of custody. Regarding the 911 call, the court concluded that even if it was an error to admit the dispatch call, the government could have presented effectively the same case with its exclusion. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's decision.

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USA v. Williams

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Docket: 22-3179

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: St. Eve

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Millard Williams, who was convicted for orchestrating the shipment of a package containing furanyl fentanyl, a Schedule I controlled substance, while in a Georgia jail. Williams was found guilty of conspiring to possess and possessing at least 100 grams of furanyl fentanyl. The jury also determined that furanyl fentanyl is an “analogue of fentanyl,” triggering a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(vi). Williams appealed, arguing that furanyl fentanyl is not an “analogue of fentanyl” as defined in the statute, and that the district court’s definition of “analogue” renders the provision unconstitutionally vague.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed with Williams. The court held that the term “controlled substance analogue” is distinct from the term “analogue of fentanyl,” and therefore, the court must look to the ordinary meaning of the word “analogue.” The court found nothing problematically vague about the definition that emerges as applied to furanyl fentanyl. The court also rejected Williams’s other challenges to his conviction and sentence, including his argument that the district court should have suppressed the evidence found inside the intercepted package. The court concluded that the district court made no errors requiring resentencing.

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United States v. Jackson

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-2879

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: SHEPHERD

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Ashena Laquita Tucker Jackson was convicted for possessing a firearm as an unlawful user of a controlled substance. The investigation began after law enforcement received information that she and her husband were distributing drugs from their home. A search warrant executed on her residence revealed firearms, drugs, and evidence of drug sales. Tucker Jackson pled guilty and was sentenced to 120 months in prison. She appealed her sentence, arguing that the district court miscalculated her United States Sentencing Guidelines range and imposed an unreasonable sentence.

The district court calculated Tucker Jackson's base offense level based on her previous felony controlled substance conviction and assessed several enhancements, including a four-level enhancement for possessing a firearm in connection with felony drug trafficking. Tucker Jackson challenged these calculations, arguing that she was a mere drug user rather than a drug trafficker and that she did not write the letters attempting to obtain synthetic marijuana while in custody. The district court rejected her arguments and imposed a 120-month sentence.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the district court did not err in calculating Tucker Jackson's base offense level and that sufficient evidence existed to support the four-level enhancement for possessing a firearm in connection with felony drug trafficking. The court also found no error in the district court's decision to deny a reduction for acceptance of responsibility. Finally, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court's imposition of a 120-month sentence.

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United States v. Nelson

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-2207

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: Kelly

Areas of Law: Agriculture Law, Criminal Law

Garland Joseph Nelson was convicted of mail fraud and being a felon in possession of a firearm, following a cattle fraud scheme he operated in Missouri. Nelson received cattle from Diemel’s Livestock, a company owned by brothers Justin and Nicholas Diemel, with the agreement to feed and sell the cattle after they had grown. However, Nelson failed to properly care for the cattle, resulting in many deaths. Instead of disclosing the loss, Nelson continued to accept more cattle and sell them under the pretense of the original agreement. Nelson also engaged in similar fraudulent conduct with farmer David Foster in Kansas and farm owner John Gingerich in Missouri.

Nelson was sentenced to 360 months of imprisonment and 36 months of supervised release, and ordered to pay $260,925.07 in restitution by the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Nelson appealed the restitution order, arguing that the district court erred by not requiring the government to prove loss amounts by a preponderance of the evidence and that the restitution award to Diemel’s Livestock would result in double recovery.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's restitution order. The court found that Nelson failed to object to the factual allegations regarding the loss amounts outlined in the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), and thus the district court did not err in accepting the unobjected-to loss amounts. The court also disagreed with Nelson's argument that the restitution order amounted to an impermissible double recovery, as the settlement agreement expressly stated that Diemel’s Livestock would not recover damages under the settlement, and Nelson did not present evidence that Diemel’s Livestock received any other compensation in connection with the fraud alleged in this case.

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United States v. Pinto

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 21-3461

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: Kelly

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Steven Barros Pinto was convicted on multiple counts related to the importation and distribution of drugs, following a nineteen-day trial. The evidence presented at trial established a drug distribution and importation conspiracy led by Jason Berry and Daniel Ceron, who operated a drug-trafficking operation via the dark web from a Canadian prison. They recruited distributors online, including Anthony Gomes and Brandon Hubbard, who distributed fentanyl shipped from China. Pinto, a childhood friend of Gomes, initially declined to join the operation but later contacted Gomes to distribute pills supplied by Ceron. Pinto became an integral part of the fentanyl pill production and distribution network, utilizing others to assist in distribution and financial transactions in multiple states.

Pinto was charged in the district of North Dakota on multiple counts, including conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to import controlled substances, participation in a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE), obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to launder money. Pinto appealed, arguing that venue was improper on the drug conspiracy counts and challenging his conviction on the money laundering conspiracy count. He also raised a Double Jeopardy argument as to the drug conspiracy counts and the CCE count.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding of a single conspiracy, making venue proper in North Dakota. The court also found no grounds for reversal in Pinto’s challenge to the credibility of the government’s cooperating witnesses. Regarding Pinto’s challenge to his conviction on the money laundering conspiracy count, the court found that the indictment provided Pinto with sufficient notice of the charge. Finally, the court agreed with Pinto that his separate convictions and sentences on the drug conspiracy count and the CCE count violated the prohibition against Double Jeopardy. The court remanded to the district court to vacate Pinto’s conviction on either the drug conspiracy count or the CCE count and proceed to resentencing. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects.

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United States v. Wings

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Docket: 23-2866

Opinion Date: July 3, 2024

Judge: COLLOTON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Anthony Wings, a convicted felon, pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing a firearm and ammunition. During sentencing, the district court determined that Wings's base offense level was twenty due to a prior felony conviction for a crime of violence. This prior conviction was for a second-degree domestic assault in Missouri in 2011. The presentence report stated that Wings had attempted to cause physical injury by choking a woman, D.G. Wings did not object to this characterization of his prior offense.

The district court adopted the presentence report's recommendation, which led to a higher advisory guideline range for sentencing. Wings appealed, arguing that the record did not establish that his prior offense constituted a crime of violence. He claimed that the district court erred by relying on the presentence report's reference to allegations in "court records," as the report did not specify that these records were the type a court could rely on in determining whether the prior conviction satisfies the relevant definition.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the case for plain error, as Wings had not objected to the prior felony determination at the district court level. The government moved the court to take judicial notice of the charging document, guilty plea, and state-court judgment that established Wings's domestic assault conviction. The court agreed to take judicial notice, as Wings did not dispute the authenticity of the documents and there was no reason to doubt their accuracy.

The court concluded that Wings's prior offense was indeed a crime of violence under the applicable sentencing guideline. The court affirmed the district court's determination of Wings's base offense level and the judgment of the district court. The court granted the motion to take judicial notice and denied as moot the alternative motion to supplement the record.

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Garding v. Montana Department of Corrections

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 23-35272

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Nelson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Katie Garding, who was convicted by a Montana jury of vehicular homicide while under the influence, failure to stop immediately at the scene of an accident involving an injured person, and driving without a valid driver’s license. Garding filed a habeas petition, arguing that her counsel was ineffective for not hiring an accident reconstruction expert and that the prosecution violated her rights by not disclosing certain evidence.

The Montana Supreme Court rejected Garding's arguments. It held that her counsel's decision not to hire an accident reconstruction expert was within the wide range of professionally competent assistance. The court also found that the state had not suppressed evidence concerning x-rays of the victim and that Garding did not show that the non-disclosure of photos from a different car crash was material.

Garding then sought federal habeas relief. The United States District Court for the District of Montana partially granted and partially denied her petition. It held that there was ineffective assistance of counsel but denied the Brady claims.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order denying Garding’s Brady claims and reversed its grant of Garding’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. The court held that the Montana Supreme Court reasonably determined that Garding’s trial counsel was not constitutionally deficient and that her Brady claims lacked merit.

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GUTIERREZ v. GARLAND

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 22-554

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Clifton

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Immigration Law

The case involves Sergio Manrique Gutierrez, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, who was convicted of carjacking under California law. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld an Immigration Judge's (IJ) decision that Gutierrez was removable for having been convicted of an aggravated felony crime of violence and for having been convicted of two crimes of moral turpitude.

The BIA held that Gutierrez's conviction for carjacking under California law is a categorical crime of violence. The BIA did not address the second ground for removal, concluding that Gutierrez waived his challenge to the moral turpitude removal charge. Gutierrez separately petitioned for review of the BIA’s denial of his motion to reopen his appeal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that California carjacking under Cal. Penal Code § 215(a) is not a categorical crime of violence. The court also concluded that the BIA erroneously determined that Gutierrez waived his challenge to the moral turpitude removal charge. The court remanded the case to the BIA to decide, in the first instance, whether Gutierrez is removable for having been convicted of two crimes of moral turpitude. The court dismissed Gutierrez’s petition for review of the IJ’s sua sponte reopening of his case to consider a change in the law. The court denied Gutierrez’s petition as to his remaining claims concerning the IJ’s adverse credibility finding, the discretionary denial of his application for waiver of admissibility, the denial of protection under the Convention Against Torture, and the BIA’s denial of his motion to reopen his case to consider new evidence that he was incompetent and to consider his ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

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United States v. Atherton

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 21-30266

Opinion Date: July 3, 2024

Judge: Berzon

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Keith Atherton, who pleaded guilty to one count of using or attempting to use a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct. His plea agreement contained an appeal waiver with certain exceptions. Atherton was sentenced to the statutory maximum of 30 years. He appealed, arguing that the district court violated his due process rights during sentencing by relying on false or unreliable information.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the sentence. The court held that a due process challenge to sentencing, like Atherton’s, falls within the appeal waiver limitation set forth in United States v. Wells, for “a challenge that the sentence violates the Constitution.” The court rejected the government’s contention that the Wells exception is limited to constitutional claims targeting the substantive terms of the sentence.

Reviewing for plain error, the court held that Atherton’s due process rights were not violated. The court concluded that Atherton did not demonstrate that it is clear or obvious that the challenged information was patently false or unreliable or that the court relied upon the information in imposing sentence.

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United States v. Hernandez

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Docket: 22-50134

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Lee

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Vladimir Hernandez, who pleaded guilty to felony meth distribution charges. As part of his plea, Hernandez agreed to provide the government with all the information he knew about the crime in exchange for a potential lower sentence under the safety-valve sentencing provision. However, after entering his plea, Hernandez learned that other inmates might retaliate against him for his cooperation with the government. He then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he would not have agreed to the plea deal if he had known about the potential danger in prison.

The district court denied Hernandez's motion to withdraw his plea. The court accepted that Hernandez did not know about the potential danger at the time of his plea and that his request to withdraw was made in good faith. However, the court concluded that Hernandez could avoid the consequences of the safety-valve proffer by not proffering, and thus his concerns were not "fair and just" reasons for withdrawal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order and remanded the case. The appellate court held that a defendant must first offer in good faith a "new" basis for seeking to withdraw his plea, meaning that he subjectively did not know this "new" reason for withdrawal at the time of his plea. He then must show that objectively he could not have known or anticipated this "new" material reason. The appellate court found that the district court did not err in concluding that Hernandez offered in good faith a subjectively new basis for withdrawing his plea. However, the district court did not decide whether objectively Hernandez could have known about or anticipated this new and material reason for withdrawing the plea. The appellate court remanded the case for the district court to decide that issue.

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U.S. v. Salas

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Docket: 23-8027

Opinion Date: July 3, 2024

Judge: Stephanie Kulp Seymour

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

In February 2021, Salvador Salas, Jr. was accused of giving methamphetamine to a 13-year-old girl, sexually abusing her, and photographing the incident. The police obtained a warrant to search Salas's home and vehicle for drugs and related evidence. During the search, they seized Salas's iPhone and a hard drive. Suspecting Salas of producing or possessing child pornography, the officers obtained a second warrant to search for such evidence. They seized a laptop and another hard drive from Salas's residence. A digital forensic analyst found child pornography on Salas's iPhone and on the laptop and hard drive. Salas was charged with six federal counts of possessing and producing child pornography.

Salas argued that the second warrant lacked probable cause and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. He also argued that the child pornography on his iPhone, seized under the first warrant, would not have been inevitably discovered because the first warrant only authorized the seizure, not the search, of his iPhone. The district court agreed that the second warrant lacked probable cause but declined to suppress the child pornography evidence. It found that the first warrant allowed for both the seizure and search of Salas's iPhone and therefore child pornography would have been inevitably discovered by the officers as part of their investigation into Salas's drug activities. Salas was convicted on all counts and appealed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the first warrant was sufficiently particular to justify a search of Salas's iPhone and the search would have been conducted reasonably. The court also held that the child pornography on Salas's iPhone would have been inevitably discovered because the first warrant allowed for both the seizure and search of Salas's iPhone. The court concluded that Salas's child pornography would not have indefinitely stayed hidden behind his iPhone's locked passcode. It would have inevitably been discovered.

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United States v. Hess

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Docket: 23-1008

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: PHILLIPS

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Megan Hess and Shirley Koch, who were convicted of mail fraud for fraudulently obtaining, selling, and shipping dead bodies and body parts to medical research and body-broker companies. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado sentenced Hess to the statutory maximum of 20 years and Koch to 180 months. Both defendants appealed their sentences, arguing that the district court erred in its loss calculations and in applying sentencing enhancements.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with some of their arguments. The court found that the district court erred in calculating the loss suffered by the body-parts purchasers and in refusing to offset the actual loss suffered by the next-of-kin victims with the value of legitimate goods and services provided to them. The court also found that the district court erred in applying the large-number-of-vulnerable-victims enhancement and the sophisticated-means enhancement to Koch's sentence.

The court vacated the sentences of both defendants and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court declined to reassign the case to a different judge on remand.

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United States v. Williams

Court: US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Docket: 23-3170

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Hartz

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case revolves around the defendant, Maurice Williams, whose supervised release was revoked after evidence was presented that he sold fentanyl to a confidential informant (CI) during a controlled buy. Williams had previously pleaded guilty to charges of distributing crack cocaine and unlawful possession of a firearm. His supervised release was revoked in 2020 due to violation of his release conditions, and he was sentenced to an additional 18 months’ imprisonment, followed by two years of supervised release. In 2023, his supervised release was recommended for revocation again due to alleged violations including unlawful possession of a controlled substance and committing another crime.

The United States District Court for the District of Kansas held a revocation hearing where the government introduced evidence of the controlled buy, including testimony from Kansas City Police Officers and a video of the controlled buy. The court found that Williams sold fentanyl and therefore committed a Grade A violation, but did not find a violation related to the firearm. The court revoked his term of supervised release and sentenced him to 24 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Williams argued that the district court erred by admitting evidence of the controlled buy without conducting an interest-of-justice balancing test under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(b)(2)(C) to determine whether the CI should have been required to be available for cross-examination at the hearing, and that the evidence was insufficient to show that he sold fentanyl. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, stating that no balancing test was required because the court did not rely on any hearsay statements by the CI, and the evidence was sufficient to establish guilt by a preponderance of the evidence.

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USA v. Stevens

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

Docket: 23-3046

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: HENDERSON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Tristan Stevens, who participated in an attack on police officers at the United States Capitol’s Lower West Terrace on January 6, 2021. The district court convicted him of four counts of feloniously assaulting and impeding police officers and one count of committing civil disorder. At sentencing, the court concluded that Stevens committed the offenses with an intent to commit another felony: civil disorder. Stevens appealed his sentence, arguing that the court should have applied a different sentencing guideline to his offenses.

The district court had previously determined that Stevens committed felonies because he acted with the intent to commit another felony—civil disorder. The court applied the sentencing guideline for aggravated assault to Stevens' offenses, which Stevens disputed. He argued that his conduct did not constitute "aggravated assault" even under the commentary definition.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed with Stevens. The court held that "aggravated assault" unambiguously includes assault with intent to commit another felony. Therefore, the court properly applied the sentencing guideline for aggravated assault to Stevens’ offenses because his conduct constituted “felonious assault” and he acted with the “intent to commit another felony.” The court affirmed his sentence.

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Needham v. Superior Court

Court: Supreme Court of California

Docket: S276395

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: CORRIGAN

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The case involves Nicholas Needham, who was referred for evaluation as a possible Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) after serving his prison term for certain sex offenses. Two evaluators initially determined that Needham had a mental disorder making him likely to engage in sexual violence unless civilly committed. However, before the probable cause hearing, one evaluator changed his opinion, leading to the appointment of two other evaluators. One of these evaluators concluded that Needham qualified as an SVP, while the other did not. The trial court found probable cause to believe Needham was an SVP and ordered a trial.

The People retained Dr. Craig King as an expert and sought discovery of Needham's evaluations and records. The trial court granted the request and ruled that Dr. King could interview and test Needham. Needham filed motions to preclude Dr. King from testifying at trial, which were denied. Needham sought a writ of mandate/prohibition to prevent Dr. King from conducting any further interviewing or testing and from testifying at trial. The Court of Appeal granted Needham's writ petition and directed the trial court to exclude Dr. King's testimony. The People petitioned for review from that ruling.

The Supreme Court of California held that, under the SVPA, the People may call their retained expert to testify at trial, both to contest the testimony of other witnesses and to offer an independent opinion as to whether the defendant qualifies as an SVP. However, the People's retained expert may not compel a defendant to be interviewed or participate in testing before trial. The court reversed the Court of Appeal's contrary judgment and remanded the case for trial.

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Molina v. Superior Court

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: H050669(Sixth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: WILSON

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

The petitioner, Milton Jonas Arias Molina, was charged with special circumstances murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and street terrorism. During the preliminary examination, Molina and his two co-defendants were required to share a single Spanish-language interpreter. Molina sought relief after the trial court denied his motion to dismiss based on the failure to provide him with his own interpreter throughout the preliminary examination.

The charges arose from a homicide that occurred in October 2018. The Santa Cruz County District Attorney charged Molina and his two co-defendants with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and street terrorism. The complaint also alleged two special circumstances—that the murder was committed by means of lying in wait and that the murder was committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang—along with various other firearm and gang sentencing enhancements.

The preliminary examination was conducted in 13 sessions over the course of 15 months. During the first day of the preliminary examination, Molina’s counsel objected that the hearing would be conducted with a single interpreter for all three defendants. The prosecutor also voiced her concerns about the lack of interpreters. The magistrate stated that he intended to proceed with the hearing, with the understanding that if any of the defendants needed to speak with counsel, he would interrupt the proceedings to permit that.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District concluded that the failure to provide an individual interpreter for Molina at his preliminary examination reasonably might have affected the outcome. The court issued the writ of mandate instructing the trial court to vacate its order denying Molina’s motion to dismiss and enter a new order granting that motion, without prejudice to the Santa Cruz County District Attorney refiling the charges and conducting a new preliminary examination.

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P. v. Gonzalez

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: C099813(Third Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Robie

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around the defendant, Benito Gonzalez, who was convicted for continuous sexual abuse of a child. The defendant, who is terminally ill, applied for compassionate release under Penal Code section 1172.2, which creates a presumption in favor of recalling sentences for medically incapacitated or terminally ill inmates unless they pose an unreasonable risk of committing a super strike based on their current physical and mental condition. The trial court denied the defendant's request for compassionate release, finding that he posed an unreasonable risk due to lack of evidence of rehabilitation from his prior super strike offense.

The trial court's decision was based on the defendant's past crime and lack of rehabilitation. The court did not consider the defendant's current physical and mental condition, which is a requirement under section 1172.2. The court also did not place the burden on the prosecution to prove that the defendant posed an unreasonable risk, which is contrary to the presumption in favor of recall under section 1172.2.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District reversed the trial court's decision. The appellate court found that the trial court did not properly apply section 1172.2. The court held that the trial court abused its discretion by requiring the defendant to show he had rehabilitated himself and by not considering the defendant's current physical and mental condition. The appellate court also held that the victim proximity restriction under section 3003, subdivision (f) does not apply to the defendant because he will not be released under state jurisdiction. The court directed the trial court to recall the defendant's sentence in accordance with section 1172.2.

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People v. Bolourchi

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: A167289(First Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: STREETER

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves a defendant, Haadi Bolourchi, who was convicted of driving under the influence of a drug and bribing an executive officer. The defendant was pulled over by Officer Kevin Finerty for vehicle code violations. The officer noticed signs of intoxication and conducted several field sobriety tests, which Bolourchi failed. Bolourchi admitted to smoking cannabis the day before and was arrested. Officer Finerty requested Bolourchi to submit to a blood test, but Bolourchi insisted that a warrant be obtained first. Bolourchi also offered Officer Finerty $1,000 to let him go, which was interpreted as a bribe.

In the trial court, Bolourchi was convicted of driving under the influence of a drug and bribing an executive officer. The court suspended the imposition of sentence, placed Bolourchi on three years’ probation, and ordered a jail term of 180 days. Bolourchi appealed, arguing that the court erred by instructing the jury with CALCRIM No. 2130, an instruction that states a defendant’s refusal to submit to a chemical test as required by California’s implied consent statute may show consciousness of guilt.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that a motorist's refusal to cooperate in the taking of a blood test unless a warrant is first obtained can be used as an adverse inference of consciousness of guilt in a DUI trial. The court found no instructional error in the use of CALCRIM No. 2130 and rejected Bolourchi's argument that he had a constitutional right to demand a warrant before submitting to a blood draw. The court concluded that while the Fourth Amendment required police to obtain a warrant to conduct a blood draw, Bolourchi could still face an adverse inference at his trial on a DUI charge as a cost of refusing a blood test.

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People v. Cofer

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: H050122(Sixth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Grover

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around Christopher Lee Cofer, who was sentenced concurrently in five separate cases as part of a negotiated disposition. The trial court did not award presentence custody credits in all the cases for all the days Cofer was in actual custody, citing a previous decision in People v. Jacobs.

The trial court proceedings involved five criminal cases that were resolved together. Cofer was charged with various crimes including vehicle burglary, possession of burglar's tools, driving without a license, and grand theft of personal property. He resolved all five cases by plea agreement and was sentenced to a six-year term in one case and concurrent terms in the other cases. Cofer filed a timely notice of appeal, challenging the calculation of presentence custody credits.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District disagreed with the trial court's reliance on the Jacobs decision. The appellate court concluded that when a defendant is sentenced concurrently at a single hearing to resolve multiple cases that were not previously the subject of a judgment of conviction or probationary disposition, Penal Code section 2900.5 requires the trial court to apply presentence credits for all periods of actual custody toward all of those concurrent sentences. The judgment was reversed and the matter was remanded for the limited purpose of recalculating defendant’s presentence custody credits.

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People v. Ramos

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: G062801(Fourth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: DELANEY

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In 2018, Josue Ramos pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting attempted murder, carjacking, and criminal street gang activity. In 2023, he filed a petition for resentencing of his attempted murder conviction, arguing that he was charged under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, which had since been changed. He claimed that he accepted a plea offer instead of going to trial, where he could have been convicted of attempted murder, and that he could not presently be convicted of attempted murder due to changes in the law.

The trial court denied Ramos's petition at the prima facie stage, concluding that he was statutorily ineligible for resentencing relief because he admitted to aiding and abetting the attempted murder with specific intent to kill. Ramos appealed, arguing that the factual admissions in his guilty plea did not conclusively establish he was statutorily ineligible for resentencing relief.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three affirmed the trial court's decision. The court found that Ramos had not made a prima facie case for resentencing relief under Penal Code section 1172.6. The court concluded that Ramos's admission that he aided and abetted the attempted murder with specific intent to kill conclusively established all of the elements for attempted murder under a direct aiding and abetting theory of liability. Therefore, the court held that Ramos was statutorily ineligible for resentencing relief on his attempted murder conviction.

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People v. Rodriguez

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: B328179(Second Appellate District)

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: CODY

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In 2016, Richard Anthony Rodriguez pleaded guilty to attempted murder and admitted a prior strike for assault with a deadly weapon with great bodily injury. The incident involved Rodriguez firing a shot at a car containing his ex-girlfriend and another individual, though no one was injured. In 2021, Rodriguez petitioned for resentencing under section 1172.6, arguing that he lacked specific intent to kill. His petition was denied after an evidentiary hearing.

Rodriguez's petition for resentencing was based on the argument that the trial court failed to act as an independent fact finder, applied the wrong burden of proof, and violated his federal constitutional due process rights. He contended that if the trial court had properly weighed the evidence and held the prosecution to the correct standard of proof, there is a reasonable probability he would be found not guilty of attempted murder because he lacked specific intent to kill.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, disagreed with Rodriguez's arguments. The court noted that Rodriguez's guilty plea admitted every element of attempted murder, making any evidence contradicting his admission irrelevant. The only issue to be determined was whether intent was imputed to him because he aided and abetted an accomplice in a different crime, or whether he was the sole perpetrator whose intent was personal to him. Once it was shown Rodriguez was the undisputed sole perpetrator, the trial court correctly found his intent to kill was personal and denied relief. The Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court's decision.

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People v. Williams

Court: California Courts of Appeal

Docket: F085868(Fifth Appellate District)

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: Detjen

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Kyle Andrew Williams, who was convicted for attempted murder and sought resentencing under Penal Code section 1172.6. Williams argued that he was ineligible for resentencing as he was prosecuted and convicted as the direct perpetrator of the attempted murder. The trial court denied his petition, basing its decision partly on transcripts from Williams' preliminary hearing and plea colloquy.

On appeal, Williams contended that the court erred in denying his petition at the prima facie stage by engaging in impermissible factfinding based on the preliminary hearing transcript and change of plea. He further argued that neither his plea nor his counsel’s stipulation to a factual basis for the plea rendered him ineligible for resentencing.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fifth Appellate District reversed the trial court's decision. The appellate court concluded that the record of conviction did not establish Williams' ineligibility for resentencing as a matter of law. The court found that the trial court had engaged in premature judicial factfinding based on the preliminary hearing transcript and change of plea colloquy. The court held that neither the information nor Williams' plea established his ineligibility for resentencing as a matter of law. The court also held that the preliminary hearing transcript did not establish Williams' resentencing ineligibility. The court concluded that the preliminary hearing transcript did not conclusively establish that Williams was convicted of attempted murder under a valid theory.

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Herard v. State of Florida

Court: Florida Supreme Court

Docket: SC2015-0391

Opinion Date: July 3, 2024

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves James Herard, a member of the "BACC Street Crips," a branch of the national Crips gang. Herard was found guilty of 18 gang-related felonies, including the first-degree murders of Eric Jean-Pierre and Kiem Huynh. The crimes were committed as part of a body-count competition within the gang. Herard was sentenced to death for the murder of Jean-Pierre and life without parole for the murder of Huynh. He appealed his convictions and death sentence.

Herard's trial was held in May 2014, where the prosecution presented evidence of incriminating statements made by Herard to law enforcement following his arrest for stealing a pit bull. The defense argued that Herard's statements were inconsistent, unreliable, and involuntary. The jury found Herard guilty on 18 counts and not guilty on a robbery count.

In the penalty phase, the jury recommended a death sentence for the murder of Jean-Pierre by a vote of 8 to 4. The trial court found that the State had proven three aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and sentenced Herard to death for the Jean-Pierre murder and to life without the possibility of parole for the Huynh murder.

The Supreme Court of Florida affirmed the lower court's decision. The court rejected Herard's arguments that the trial court erred in denying his due process-based motion to dismiss, denying his motions to suppress incriminating statements, admitting physical evidence he claimed was unrelated to the crimes charged, excluding his expert witness testimony about false confessions, and sentencing him in a manner that violated the Sixth and Eighth Amendments. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to sustain Herard’s conviction for the murder of Eric Jean-Pierre.

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GRANT v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0843

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Bethel

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

In January 2020, Nelaunte Grant was convicted of felony murder related to the shooting death of Shawntray Grant in June 2018. Nelaunte Grant, along with several co-indictees, was charged in a 108-count indictment for crimes related to Shawntray’s death and other unrelated crimes. However, Nelaunte Grant was only charged with felony murder predicated on armed robbery and armed robbery, not the additional crimes. After a joint trial, she was found guilty of felony murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison. She filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the evidence presented was insufficient to support her conviction for felony murder.

The trial court denied the motion for a new trial. Nelaunte Grant appealed, contending that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction for felony murder, both as a matter of constitutional due process and under Georgia statutory law. She argued that the State failed to prove she was a party to the crimes and that the evidence showed only her mere association with a co-defendant, Osha Dunham, who was directly responsible for Shawntray’s death.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence, while not overwhelming, was sufficient to support Nelaunte Grant’s conviction. The court noted that the jury could reasonably infer that Nelaunte Grant advised Dunham about Shawntray’s winnings and whereabouts, hatched a plan with Dunham to rob Shawntray, and then attempted to conceal any evidence of her participation in the crimes. The court also rejected Nelaunte Grant’s argument that the State failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than her guilt, finding that the jury was authorized to reject as unreasonable the hypothesis that she "innocently" communicated information about Shawntray’s winnings and whereabouts to Dunham and later made false statements to investigators out of fear.

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SMITH v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S23G0701

Opinion Date: May 29, 2024

Judge: Colvin

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves an appeal from an in rem civil-asset-forfeiture proceeding against over $1 million held in various bank accounts, real property, and other property. The State alleges that the property was used, intended for use, or constituted the proceeds derived from the commission of numerous crimes related to the theft, purchase, and sale of catalytic converters and other regulated metal property. The appellants, Garrett Smith, Stacey Smith, SmithCo Recycling, LLC, and SmithCo Transfer, LLC, claimed to be the owners of the seized property and moved to dismiss the complaint.

The appellants argued that the trial court had failed to timely hold a bench trial or order a continuance, in violation of OCGA § 9-16-12 (f), and that the State had failed to allege the essential elements of a crime, in violation of OCGA § 916-12 (a). The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court of Georgia granted certiorari to address three questions. The court concluded that the appellants are estopped from arguing on appeal that the date SmithCo Transfer filed its answer was not equivalent to the date it was served with the complaint. The court affirmed the trial court’s denial of appellants’ motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to timely hold a bench trial or continue the trial under OCGA § 9-16-12 (f). The court also held that the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the second amended complaint adequately alleged the essential elements of theft by taking, as required by OCGA § 9-16-12 (a). The court reversed the portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion holding otherwise. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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TAVAREZ v. THE STATE

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Docket: S24A0532

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Peterson

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Edward Tavarez was convicted for malice murder and other offenses related to the shooting of Travis Ridley during a supposed drug deal. The indictment charged Tavarez with malice murder, three counts of felony murder, criminal solicitation, two counts of armed robbery, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Tavarez was found guilty of all charges against him and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for malice murder, among other sentences for the remaining charges.

Tavarez appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to hearsay testimony by a detective that bolstered the account of a key witness. He also argued that the trial court erred by conducting the trial while his legs were shackled, forcing him to choose between not participating in bench conferences or the jury seeing him in these restraints.

The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower court's decision. The court concluded that Tavarez failed to show that any deficient performance of counsel in failing to object to the detective’s testimony prejudiced his defense. The court also found that Tavarez failed to preserve his claim about the shackling itself, and he has not shown that he was excluded from any particular bench conference at which he had a right to be present.

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State v. Sing

Court: Supreme Court of Hawaii

Docket: SCWC-22-0000468

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: RECKTENWALD

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

This case involves John Sing, who was charged with Robbery in the Second Degree and convicted of Attempted Robbery in the Second Degree. Sing and Abraham Sionesini approached Wesley Mau in a park. Sionesini demanded Mau's watch and tugged on it, but Mau pulled his arm away. Sing then lightly punched Mau and both men left the scene. Sing was later indicted for Robbery in the Second Degree under Hawai'i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 708-841(1)(a) (2014). At trial, the jury did not convict Sing of Robbery in the Second Degree, but convicted him of Attempted Robbery in the Second Degree.

Sing appealed his conviction to the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA), arguing that the circuit court erred in instructing the jury on Attempted Robbery in the Second Degree and that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. The ICA affirmed his conviction, concluding that there was a rational basis for the Attempted Robbery instruction and sufficient evidence to support his conviction.

The Supreme Court of the State of Hawai'i held that Attempted Robbery in the Second Degree is a crime in Hawai'i, but not under the facts presented in this case. The court found that the circuit court erred by instructing the jury on Attempted Robbery in the Second Degree. The court vacated the ICA’s judgment, the circuit court’s judgment, conviction, and sentence on Attempted Robbery in the Second Degree, and remanded to the circuit court with instructions to dismiss the charges against Sing with prejudice.

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Hollis v. State

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 50971

Opinion Date: July 3, 2024

Judge: Brody

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

In 2018, Brian Hollis pleaded guilty to one count of lewd conduct with a minor under sixteen and four counts of sexual exploitation of a child. He also admitted to being a repeat sexual offender, which mandates a fifteen-year minimum term of confinement. The district court imposed an indeterminate life sentence with twenty-five years determinate on the lewd conduct charge and concurrent determinate sentences of fifteen years for each of the sexual exploitation charges. Hollis appealed his conviction and sentence, but the Idaho Court of Appeals affirmed them.

Hollis then filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The district court appointed the Kootenai County Public Defender to represent him. However, Hollis' conflict counsel filed a motion to withdraw, stating that he was no longer able to "ethically or effectively represent" Hollis due to statements made by the district court judge against conflict counsel in a similar post-conviction case. The district court denied the motion to withdraw and the motion to continue the summary disposition hearing. The district court subsequently granted the State’s motion for summary disposition, holding that Hollis had not supported any of his claims with any admissible evidence.

The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho vacated the judgment of the district court, reversed the decisions on the motion to continue and motion to withdraw, vacated the decision granting summary disposition to the State, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the district court abused its discretion in denying the motion to withdraw and the motion to continue. The court also ordered the assignment of a new district court judge on remand.

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State v. Bujak

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 49921

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: ZAHN

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

The case revolves around John Thomas Bujak, who pleaded guilty to grand theft and was placed on probation with the condition of serving thirty days in jail. Bujak scheduled his jail time on weekends to maintain his employment during the week. After serving his first jail stay from Friday morning to Sunday morning, Bujak learned that he would receive credit for two days of jail time. He then moved the district court for credit for time served, arguing that he should receive three days credit because he served time over the course of three calendar days.

The district court denied Bujak’s motion, interpreting that the terms of its probation order required Bujak to serve thirty, twenty-four-hour periods in jail. Bujak appealed this decision, arguing that Idaho Code section 18-309 required the district court to award him one day of credit for each partial day of jail time he served.

The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the district court’s order. The court concluded that neither section 18-309 nor section 19-2603 applies to the calculation of Bujak’s time served. Instead, the court found that Idaho Code section 19-2601(3) controls, which allows a district court to withhold judgment and impose probation terms it deems necessary and appropriate. The court agreed with the district court's interpretation that Bujak was required to serve thirty, twenty-four-hour days in jail as a term of his probation.

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State v. Ish

Court: Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

Docket: 49412

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Moeller

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Martin Edmo Ish was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 2017 and sentenced to 15 years, with 10 years fixed and five years indeterminate. However, his original conviction was later vacated by the Idaho Supreme Court in 2020. After the court's decision became final, Ish's bail was reinstated. Unable to post a bond, he was returned to jail to await his retrial. His second trial was postponed several times due to public safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ish repeatedly moved for dismissal of his case citing speedy trial concerns, but his requests were denied. He also moved for a change of venue, which was also denied. His second trial commenced in July 2021, and he was again convicted of voluntary manslaughter. This time, he was sentenced to a fifteen-year unified sentence, with the first 14 years fixed and one year indeterminate, resulting in a fixed sentence four years longer than his original sentence. Ish appealed his conviction and sentence.

The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed Ish's judgment of conviction and sentence. The court found that Ish's right to a speedy trial was not violated, as the delays were either neutral or justifiable. The court also found that the district court did not err in denying Ish's motion for a change of venue, as Ish failed to demonstrate that the jury pool was tainted by media coverage. The court further found that Ish did not demonstrate that a juror should have been excused for bias. The court also found that the district court did not err in imposing an unduly harsh sentence, and that the court did not err in denying Ish's Rule 35 motion for leniency following his second sentence.

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Olsen v. State of Iowa

Court: Iowa Supreme Court

Docket: 22-0779

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: McDermott

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Nathan Olsen, convicted of a sex offense in Wisconsin in 2009, moved to Iowa where he was required to register as a sex offender. After serving a prison sentence for an unrelated crime, Olsen moved to Illinois where he was not required to register. He wished to return to Iowa, but doing so would require him to register again. Olsen filed an application in the district court to modify his status as a sex offender and the registration requirements that would apply to him in Iowa before he moved back. The district court dismissed his application, and the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal.

The district court and the court of appeals both concluded that Olsen's claim was not ripe for adjudication because his application sought to modify a "hypothetical" registration requirement predicated on his potential future return to Iowa. Olsen argued that the statute permitting only those who currently live, work, or attend school in Iowa the opportunity to modify their sex offender registration requirements unlawfully discriminates against nonresidents in violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clauses of the Iowa and United States Constitutions.

The Supreme Court of Iowa found that the residency restriction imposed by the statute prohibits nonresidents from seeking the same fundamental privilege to access Iowa’s courts that a resident receives. However, the court was unable to evaluate the State’s justification for treating residents and nonresidents differently due to lack of evidence. Therefore, the court remanded the case for the parties to present evidence and for the district court to rule on Olsen’s constitutional challenge in light of that evidence. The court also rejected the State's argument that Olsen was not eligible for modification because five years hadn’t passed from the date of commencement of his requirement to register.

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State of Iowa v. Bauler

Court: Iowa Supreme Court

Docket: 22-1232

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Mansfield

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves a defendant who appealed the denial of her motion to suppress evidence obtained from a traffic stop, a dog sniff of her vehicle, and a search of her purse. The defendant was driving slower than the speed limit, causing traffic issues, and crossed the centerline multiple times. The officer, suspecting drug-related activity due to the defendant's history of drug offenses, initiated a traffic stop and requested a K-9 unit. The dog sniffed the exterior of the vehicle, occasionally touching it with its paws, and alerted to the presence of drugs. A subsequent search of the vehicle and the defendant's purse revealed methamphetamine and related paraphernalia.

The defendant argued that the traffic stop was unjustified, the dog sniff constituted an unconstitutional search because the dog touched the exterior of her vehicle, and the search of her purse was unlawful. The district court denied the motions to suppress, and the defendant was found guilty on three counts.

The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that the traffic stop was justified due to the defendant's driving behavior. It also ruled that the dog sniff did not violate the Fourth Amendment or the Iowa Constitution, as the dog was in a place where police had a right to be and the sniff only revealed the presence or absence of contraband. The court did not rule on the legality of the purse search, as the defendant failed to properly raise and preserve the issue for appeal.

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City of Kalispell v. Olds

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 138

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: SHEA

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Sarah Taresu Olds, was charged with three misdemeanors, one of which was the offense of Habitual Offender Operating a Motor Vehicle. Olds proposed a jury instruction that the City was required to prove that she knew she was a habitual offender at the time of the traffic stop. The City argued that the offense was an absolute liability offense, meaning that they did not need to prove Olds's knowledge of her status as a habitual offender. The Municipal Court agreed with the City and Olds was found guilty.

Olds appealed her conviction to the Eleventh Judicial District Court, arguing that the offense required proof of a culpable mental state. She also contended that her right to due process was violated because the trial court failed to instruct the jury on this element of the offense. The District Court affirmed Olds's conviction, concluding that the Municipal Court's interpretation of the law was correct and that the offense was an absolute liability offense.

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that the offense of Habitual Offender Operating a Motor Vehicle is an absolute liability offense, meaning that the City did not need to prove a culpable mental state. The court also found that Olds was not denied due process because the jury was properly instructed. The court concluded that the Municipal Court did not err in declining to give Olds's proposed jury instruction.

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State v. Santoro

Court: Montana Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 MT 136

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Gustafson

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

The defendant, Charles Geoffrey Santoro, was convicted of negligent homicide after a retrial. The case stemmed from an incident at a bar where Santoro and another patron, Levi, had a confrontation. Santoro claimed that Levi choked him, leading him to reverse his truck in an attempt to escape, which resulted in Levi being run over and killed.

In the first trial, Santoro was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison, with five years suspended and no parole restriction. However, this conviction was reversed by the Supreme Court of the State of Montana due to ineffective assistance of counsel.

In the retrial, the District Court granted the State's motion to exclude expert testimony on the effects of strangulation, which had been admitted in the first trial. Santoro was again convicted and this time sentenced to 20 years in prison with a full 20-year parole restriction.

The Supreme Court of the State of Montana found that the District Court abused its discretion by excluding the expert testimony on strangulation. The court held that this testimony was relevant and could have assisted the jury in determining whether Santoro's actions were a "gross deviation" from that of a reasonable person in Santoro's situation. The court also found that the State's enhanced sentencing recommendation after retrial was vindictive and that the District Court erred by failing to allow Santoro the opportunity to speak prior to sentencing. The court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.

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State v. King

Court: Nebraska Supreme Court

Citation: 316 Neb. 991

Opinion Date: June 28, 2024

Judge: Papik

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Nolan M. King, who was convicted and sentenced for manslaughter and use of a deadly weapon other than a firearm to commit a felony. The incident occurred in a bar in Omaha, Nebraska, where King attacked Rodney Pettit II, causing fatal head injuries. The altercation was triggered by Pettit's interaction with King's girlfriend, Wynter Knight.

The case was initially heard in the District Court for Douglas County, where King was found guilty of manslaughter and use of a deadly weapon other than a firearm to commit a felony. The court sentenced King to imprisonment for 19 years 364 days to 20 years on the manslaughter conviction and for 19 to 20 years on the use of a deadly weapon conviction, with the sentences to run consecutively.

The case was then appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court. King argued that the district court erred by allowing the testimony of witnesses the State endorsed 2 weeks prior to trial, by prohibiting King from questioning the State’s witnesses about the victim’s toxicology report, and by imposing improper and excessive sentences. King also argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for use of a deadly weapon other than a firearm to commit a felony.

The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found no merit in King's arguments, stating that the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the endorsement of additional witnesses, and that the evidence was sufficient to support King's conviction for use of a deadly weapon other than a firearm to commit a felony. The court also found that King's sentences were not inconsistent with recent amendments to Nebraska law and were not excessive.

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Rodriguez v. State

Court: Supreme Court of Nevada

Citation: 140 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 47

Opinion Date: July 3, 2024

Judge: HERNDON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Isaac Antonio Rodriguez was convicted of five counts of sexual assault of a child under the age of 14, lewdness with a child under the age of 14, and possession of visual presentation depicting sexual conduct of a person under 16 years of age. The conviction was based on his sexual relationship with a minor, A.F., from 2017 to 2019. Rodriguez appealed the conviction on three grounds: the district court's admission of text messages over his objection, alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the closing argument, and the district court's denial of his request for a jury instruction regarding the edited nature of the admitted text messages.

The district court had admitted the text messages as evidence, despite Rodriguez's objections. During the trial, the State argued that gaps in time with no text messages supported the inference that Rodriguez and A.F. had indeed met in person. Rodriguez objected to this argument, but the district court overruled the objection. Rodriguez also sought a jury instruction explaining that the text messages were only a sampling of the full conversations between A.F. and him, but the district court declined to instruct the jury on the matter.

The Supreme Court of Nevada affirmed the conviction. The court concluded that the district court properly admitted the text messages and clarified that the rule of completeness is a rule of admission, not of exclusion. The court also found that the prosecution did not commit misconduct in its closing argument. Finally, the court ruled that the district court did not err in failing to instruct the jury regarding the edited nature of the text messages.

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State v. Niebling

Court: New Hampshire Supreme Court

Docket: 2022-0425

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: MacDonald

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The defendant, Avram M. Niebling, was arrested for driving under the influence. During the arrest, the officer conducted a pat-down search and removed a wallet from the defendant's pocket. The wallet was not searched at the scene but was placed in an evidence bag and taken to the police station. At the station, during the booking process, the officers counted the cash in the wallet and looked inside for the defendant's driver's license. In doing so, they discovered two white pills identified as oxycodone. The defendant was subsequently charged with possession of a controlled drug.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the wallet, arguing that there was no applicable exception to a warrantless search of the wallet during the booking process. The Superior Court denied the motion, finding that the search of the wallet constituted a search incident to arrest. The defendant appealed, arguing that the warrantless search of his wallet was neither conducted incident to arrest nor conducted pursuant to a neutral inventory policy, and was therefore unreasonable and unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that a search that may be made at the time and place of arrest also may be legally conducted when the arrested individual later arrives at a place of detention. The court found that because the defendant's wallet was seized during a lawful arrest, the officer was permitted to search it at the police station during the booking process without a warrant. The court distinguished this case from others where the property was searched at the officer's convenience after passage of appreciable time and was at all times under the exclusive control of the arresting officer. In this case, the arresting officer obtained possession of the defendant's wallet during a lawful arrest and looked inside it at the time of the defendant's booking at the police station while the defendant was present. Therefore, the court held that the trial court did not err in determining that the search of the wallet fell within the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement.

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In the Matter of Registrant R.S.

Court: Supreme Court of New Jersey

Docket: A-23-23

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: FASCIALE

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case revolves around a Megan's Law registrant, R.S., who was convicted of sexually molesting his granddaughter. R.S. was sentenced to four years at the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center at Avenel (Avenel) after a psychological examination concluded that his criminal sexual behavior was performed compulsively. In 2022, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office sought to classify R.S. as a Tier Two offender (moderate risk of reoffense) and sought community notification with additional internet publication. R.S. challenged this proposal, arguing that he was never found to have engaged in “repetitive and compulsive” behavior by clear and convincing evidence as required for inclusion on the internet registry.

The Megan’s Law judge ordered Tier Two community notification, including internet publication, stating that R.S. would not have been eligible to serve his sentence at Avenel if he was not found to be repetitive and compulsive. The Appellate Division affirmed this decision, determining that the Megan’s Law judge correctly found, based on clear and convincing evidence, that R.S.’s conduct was compulsive and repetitive.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-13(b)(2), a Megan’s Law registrant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing if the registrant demonstrates that there exists a genuine issue of material fact about whether the registrant’s conduct is characterized by a pattern of repetitive and compulsive behavior. The State may rely on an earlier psychological report that had been prepared pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:47-3, but the independent findings by a Megan’s Law judge as to compulsivity and repetitiveness must be based on clear and convincing evidence. The judgment of the Appellate Division was vacated as to the single issue before the Court and the matter was remanded for further proceedings.

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Neves v. State of Rhode Island

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 22-92

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Maureen McKenna Goldberg

Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law

This case involves four individuals, Joao Neves, Keith Nunes, Pablo Ortega, and Mario Monteiro, who were convicted of various crimes in Rhode Island and were serving multiple sentences, including life sentences. The issue at hand is the interpretation of a Rhode Island statute, G.L. 1956 § 13-8-13(e), which was enacted in 2021 and provides that any person sentenced for any offense committed prior to their twenty-second birthday, other than a person serving life without parole, shall be eligible for parole review after serving no fewer than twenty years' imprisonment.

The state argued that the statute applies only to individuals serving a single sentence and does not require the aggregation of multiple sentences for parole eligibility. The respondents, on the other hand, argued that the statute applies to "any offense," and thus requires the aggregation of multiple sentences, including consecutive sentences, for parole eligibility.

The trial justice agreed with the respondents and ordered that each respondent be immediately released on parole. The state appealed, arguing that the trial justice's interpretation of the statute violated the separation-of-powers doctrine by modifying judicial sentences.

The Supreme Court of Rhode Island held that the statute mandates the aggregation of a qualified offender’s sentences, including consecutive sentences, for parole eligibility. The court also concluded that the statute, as interpreted, does not violate the separation-of-powers doctrine. However, the court found that the trial justice erred in ordering each respondent to be immediately released on parole, as the statute only provides a qualified offender the opportunity to appear before the parole board, not the right to be paroled. The court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgments of the lower court, and remanded the cases to the parole board for further proceedings.

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Rivera v. State of Rhode Island

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 21-76

Opinion Date: June 25, 2024

Judge: Suttell

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

The case involves Miguel Tebalan Rivera who was convicted of second-degree murder and commission of a crime of violence while in possession of a knife with a blade longer than three inches. Rivera filed an application for postconviction relief, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him that if he did not testify, he would be convicted of second-degree murder.

The trial court granted Rivera's application for postconviction relief, finding that his trial counsel's performance was deficient and that this deficiency prejudiced Rivera's defense. The court found that Rivera's trial counsel failed to advise him that if he did not testify, he would be convicted of second-degree murder. The court also found that Rivera's trial counsel failed to recognize and explain to Rivera that if he did not testify, he would be waiving his right to present his claim of self-defense.

The State of Rhode Island appealed the trial court's decision, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that Rivera's trial counsel was ineffective. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the trial court's decision, holding that Rivera's trial counsel's performance was deficient and that this deficiency prejudiced Rivera's defense. The court found that Rivera's trial counsel failed to advise him that if he did not testify, he would be convicted of second-degree murder. The court also found that Rivera's trial counsel failed to recognize and explain to Rivera that if he did not testify, he would be waiving his right to present his claim of self-defense.

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State v. Alicea

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 23-43

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: Maureen McKenna Goldberg

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Lydia Alicea, was charged with violating a law between February 18, 2017, and August 1, 2017. On June 19, 2020, she pleaded nolo contendere and was given a two-year deferred sentence and ordered to pay $1,800 in restitution. Alicea entered into a deferred-sentence agreement with the Office of the Attorney General, agreeing to the terms of her sentence, including the payment of restitution. However, she failed to pay the court-ordered restitution in accordance with the agreement. Almost two years later, the state filed a notice of violation and Alicea appeared before a Superior Court magistrate.

The magistrate inquired whether Alicea had the ability to pay the outstanding balance before the expiration of her sentence. Alicea represented that she could satisfy the outstanding amount before the deferred-sentence agreement expired, as she had recently become employed. However, she failed to make any payments towards her outstanding balance. The court scheduled a violation hearing based on Alicea’s failure to comply with the restitution obligation of her deferred-sentence agreement. At the hearing, Alicea submitted a hand-written financial statement in support of her argument that she was unable to pay restitution. The court found Alicea in violation of the deferred-sentence agreement and imposed a sentence of three years of probation and ordered her to pay $36.15 in monthly installments toward the outstanding restitution amount.

Alicea appealed the magistrate’s decision to a justice of the Superior Court. The trial justice denied the appeal and the restitution payments were set to resume. Alicea then appealed to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court and remanded for further proceedings, stating that Alicea was entitled to an evidentiary hearing regarding her ability to pay before a sentence could be imposed.

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State v. Finnigan

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 22-136

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: Long

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The case involves Nicholas Finnigan, who was convicted of one count of second-degree child molestation following a jury-waived trial in the Superior Court. The incident allegedly occurred in February 2012, when the victim, R.B., was under fourteen years old. Finnigan was sentenced to ten years, with fifty-four months to serve and the remainder suspended, and ten years of probation. Finnigan appealed the conviction, arguing that the trial justice overlooked or misconceived material evidence.

The Superior Court heard testimonies from several witnesses, including the victim, R.B., who testified that Finnigan touched her inappropriately while she was sleeping in her bedroom. Other witnesses corroborated aspects of R.B.'s account, including her mother and aunt who testified that they saw Finnigan leaving R.B.'s room on the night of the incident. Finnigan denied the allegations and claimed he never entered R.B.'s bedroom on the night in question. The trial justice found R.B. to be a credible witness and concluded that Finnigan was guilty of second-degree child molestation.

The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. Finnigan argued that the trial justice overlooked or misconceived material testimony about the night of the alleged incident and failed to properly weigh the conflicting testimony regarding the actual date of the alleged incident. The Supreme Court, after reviewing the record, concluded that sufficient competent evidence existed to support the trial justice’s general finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on the charge of second-degree child molestation. The court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, stating that the trial justice did not misconceive or overlook the inconsistent testimony about the date of the incident. The court also noted that there is no requirement of independent corroboration for sex-offense cases.

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State v. Garcia

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 19-205

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: ROBINSON

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

The defendant, Dari Garcia, was charged with fifteen counts related to a series of events that occurred on August 17, 2014, at a home in North Providence, Rhode Island. These events resulted in the death of Richard Catalano and injuries to Lorie Catalano and Christopher Tamelleo. The charges included first-degree murder, discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, conspiracy, burglary, felony assault, using a firearm during a crime of violence, carrying a firearm without a license, possession of a firearm after conviction of a crime of violence, alteration of marks of identification on a firearm, and committing a crime of violence when possessing a stolen firearm.

The case was tried in the Superior Court for Providence County. During the trial, the defendant moved to suppress his verbal statements made to a Rhode Island Deputy Sheriff while he was undergoing treatment at a hospital, arguing that the inquiry constituted custodial interrogation. The trial justice denied the motion. The defendant also filed a motion to dismiss one of the counts on double jeopardy grounds, but the trial justice did not rule on this motion at that time. After a trial, the jury found the defendant guilty on thirteen of the fifteen counts. The defendant subsequently filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the trial justice. The defendant was sentenced to multiple terms of imprisonment, including three life sentences.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, the defendant raised several issues, including whether the trial justice erred in allowing the state to strike a prospective juror, whether the trial justice erred in allowing certain testimony, whether the trial justice erred in limiting the cross-examination of a witness, whether the trial justice erred in allowing two brothers to testify in the presence of the jury, whether the trial justice impermissibly aided the prosecution, whether the defendant's convictions violated the double jeopardy clause, whether certain statements made by the prosecutor in her closing argument were unduly prejudicial, and whether the trial justice's sentencing of the defendant resulted in a "de facto life without parole sentence."

The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. The court held that the trial justice did not err in her handling of the various issues raised by the defendant. The court also held that the defendant's sentence did not violate the double jeopardy clause and that the prosecutor's statements in her closing argument were not unduly prejudicial. The court further held that the defendant's argument that he received a "de facto life without parole sentence" was not properly preserved for appeal.

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State v. Mather

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 21-109

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Long

Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Criminal Law

Edward Mather, the defendant, was charged with multiple counts of domestic assault, vandalism, and violation of a no-contact order. Following his arraignment, he was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial. The evaluation concluded that Mather was incompetent to stand trial and required hospitalization. Subsequently, he was committed to an outpatient facility, LaBelle House Group Home, under the custody of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The Superior Court held a commitment hearing and based on a report from BHDDH, found Mather remained incompetent to stand trial. The court ordered Mather to remain committed to BHDDH's custody but allowed him to be placed in an outpatient facility without endangering himself or others. The court also ordered that if Mather violated the conditions of the order, engaged in threatening or aggressive behavior, or required hospitalization, he should be immediately returned to Eleanor Slater Hospital.

Mather filed a petition to discharge from the detention order of commitment in both of his pending criminal matters. He argued that his continued institutionalization at the outpatient facility restricted his liberty and violated due process. The trial justice denied Mather's petitions, reasoning that his commitment to the outpatient facility did not constitute "detention" pursuant to the relevant statute. Mather sought review of the decision, and the Supreme Court of Rhode Island granted the petitions, consolidated the cases for review, and issued the writ.

The Supreme Court of Rhode Island quashed the orders of the Superior Court and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court held that the trial justice committed a reversible error of law when he denied the petitions to discharge from detention orders of commitment. The court concluded that Mather's continued commitment no longer bore a reasonable relationship to the purpose of his commitment under the relevant statute. The court held that where a defendant is found to be incompetent to stand trial and competency is nonrestorable prior to the statutory dismissal period, the defendant is entitled to be discharged from detention under the order of commitment thirty days thereafter.

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State v. Pires

Court: Rhode Island Supreme Court

Docket: 21-34

Opinion Date: June 26, 2024

Judge: Paul A. Suttell

Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

The case involves Napoleao Pires, who was convicted for carrying a firearm without a license and possession of a controlled substance. The conviction was based on evidence obtained when a police officer, responding to a dispatch, stopped and searched Pires. The dispatch reported a man matching Pires' description walking around with a gun. Upon arrival, the officer did not observe any criminal activity or see a gun, but stopped Pires based on the dispatch information. Pires challenged the trial justice’s decision to deny his motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the seizure violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The Superior Court held a hearing on the motion to suppress and concluded that the gun and cocaine had been lawfully seized. The court found that the officer's thirty years of experience, the dispatch sending him to a high-crime area, Pires' match to the dispatch description, Pires' noncompliance to the officer’s commands, and Pires' pivot to reach for his waistband amounted to the level of reasonable suspicion required to justify the warrantless stop.

The Supreme Court of Rhode Island reversed the decision on the motion to suppress and vacated the judgment of conviction. The court held that Pires was seized the moment he complied with the officer’s order to raise his hands. The court found that the state failed to submit adequate evidence to show that reasonable suspicion existed at the inception of Pires' encounter with the officer. The court concluded that Pires' Fourth Amendment rights were violated because the state failed to submit adequate evidence to show that reasonable suspicion existed at the inception of his encounter with the officer.

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State v. Ironheart

Court: South Dakota Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 S.D. 37

Opinion Date: July 2, 2024

Judge: Jensen

Areas of Law: Criminal Law

Kaleb Ironheart was charged with first-degree robbery and aggravated assault after stealing a bottle of liquor from a grocery store. The store manager, Francis Gergen, noticed Ironheart acting suspiciously, saw him grab a bottle of whiskey, and then watched as Ironheart ran out of the store without paying. Gergen chased Ironheart, who then pulled out a knife and threatened Gergen before escaping in a car. Ironheart was later identified and charged.

Ironheart was tried in the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit, Minnehaha County, South Dakota. He moved for a judgment of acquittal on both counts, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support either charge. The circuit court denied the motion, and the jury found Ironheart guilty on both counts. Ironheart appealed the robbery conviction, arguing that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal.

The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota reviewed the case. The court noted that under South Dakota law, robbery is defined as the intentional taking of personal property from another person's possession or immediate presence, against their will, accomplished by means of force or fear of force. The court found that a reasonable jury could have concluded that Ironheart used his knife with force or fear of force to retain possession of the liquor or to prevent Gergen’s resistance to the taking. The court also found that the jury could have concluded that the force or fear of force was not used solely as a means of escape. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, upholding Ironheart's robbery conviction.

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Keller v. The State of Wyoming

Court: Wyoming Supreme Court

Citation: 2024 WY 71

Opinion Date: July 1, 2024

Judge: JAROSH

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

The case involves Andrew James Keller, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine. Keller, representing himself, argued that the district court erred by denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea under Wyoming Rule of Criminal Procedure (W.R.Cr.P.) 32(d) and his subsequent Wyoming Rule of Appellate Procedure (W.R.A.P.) 21 motion to withdraw his guilty plea and for a new trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel. He claimed that his public defenders had conflicts of interest and did not provide reasonably competent assistance.

The district court denied Keller's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, concluding that he did not establish a fair and just reason to withdraw his guilty plea under Rule 32(d). Keller then filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and for a new trial under W.R.A.P. 21, claiming he received ineffective assistance from his three defense attorneys. The district court denied Keller's Rule 21 motion and issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its decision.

The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Keller failed to establish that his attorneys' performance was deficient, and thus, he did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. The court also found that Keller failed to present a fair and just reason to withdraw his guilty plea under W.R.Cr.P. 32(d).

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