Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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In 1985, Alabama charged McWilliams with rape and murder, one month after the Supreme Court’s decision in Ake v. Oklahoma. Finding McWilliams indigent, the court ordered a psychiatric evaluation. The state convened a commission, which concluded that McWilliams was competent and had not been suffering from mental illness at the time of the offense. A jury convicted McWilliams and recommended a death sentence. Before sentencing, defense counsel successfully requested neurological and neuropsychological testing. McWilliams was examined by a neuropsychologist employed by the state, who concluded that McWilliams was likely exaggerating his symptoms, but apparently had genuine neuropsychological problems. Counsel then received updated records from the commission and Department of Corrections mental health records. At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel unsuccessfully requested a continuance to evaluate the new material and assistance by someone with expertise in psychological matters. The court sentenced McWilliams to death. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the Eleventh Circuit's denial of habeas relief. The Alabama courts’ determination that McWilliams received all the assistance to which Ake entitled him was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. Ake requires the state to provide an indigent defendant with “access to a competent psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.” Even if Alabama met the examination requirement, it did not meet any of the other three. The Eleventh Circuit should determine on remand whether the error had the “substantial and injurious effect or influence” required to warrant a grant of habeas relief. View "McWilliams v. Dunn" on Justia Law

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Hutton accused Mitchell and Simmons of stealing a sewing machine in which he had hidden $750. On September 16, 1985, Hutton drove the two around, pointing a gun. Hutton recovered the machine. Simmons survived two gunshot wounds to the head. Mitchell was found dead. An Ohio jury convicted Hutton of aggravated murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping, finding that Hutton engaged in “a course of conduct involving the . . . attempt to kill two or more persons,” and that Hutton murdered Mitchell while “committing, attempting to commit, or fleeing immediately after . . . kidnapping” as “aggravating circumstances.” The court instructed the jury that it could recommend a death sentence only if it unanimously found that the state “prove[d] beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating circumstances, of which the Defendant was found guilty, outweigh[ed] the [mitigating factors].” The jury recommended death. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that sentence. Hutton sought habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254, arguing that the court failed to tell jurors that they could consider only the aggravating factors they had found during the guilt phase. Hutton had not objected to the instruction or raised this argument on direct appeal. The Supreme Court held that the Sixth Circuit erred in reviewing Hutton’s claim under the miscarriage of justice exception to procedural default. Assuming that the alleged error could provide a basis for excusing default, the Sixth Circuit should have considered whether a properly instructed jury could have recommended death. Instead, it considered whether the alleged error might have affected the jury’s verdict. It was not shown by clear and convincing evidence that no properly instructed reasonable juror would have concluded that the aggravating circumstances in Hutton’s case outweigh the mitigating circumstances. Ohio courts weighed those factors and concluded that the death penalty was justified. View "Jenkins v. Hutton" on Justia Law

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North Carolina law made it a felony for a registered sex offender “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” N.C. Gen. Stat. 14–202.5(a), (e). The state has prosecuted over 1,000 people under that law. Petitioner was indicted after posting a statement on his personal Facebook profile about a positive traffic court experience. State courts upheld the law. The Supreme Court reversed. The statute impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment. Today, one of the most important places to exchange views is cyberspace, particularly social media. Even if the statute is content-neutral and subject to intermediate scrutiny, the provision is not “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” While social media will be exploited by criminals and sexual abuse of a child is a most serious crime, the assertion of a valid governmental interest “cannot, in every context, be insulated from all constitutional protections.” The statute “enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens…. With one broad stroke, North Carolina bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge.” The state did not establish that this sweeping law is necessary to keep convicted sex offenders away from vulnerable victims. View "Packingham v. North Carolina" on Justia Law

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In 1999, LeBlanc, then age 16, raped a 62- year-old woman. In 2003, a state trial court sentenced him to life in prison. Virginia had abolished traditional “parole” for felony offenders and enacted its “geriatric release” program, which allows older inmates to receive conditional release under some circumstances. In 2010, the Supreme Court held, in Graham v. Florida, that the Eighth Amendment prohibits juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide offenses from being sentenced to life without parole and that states must give defendants “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” LeBlanc sought to vacate his sentence in light of Graham. The state court denied the motion, citing the Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision in Angel v. Commonwealth, that Virginia’s geriatric release program satisfies Graham’s requirement of parole for juvenile offenders: “The regulations for conditional release under this statute provide that if the prisoner meets the qualifications for consideration contained in the statute, the factors used in the normal parole consideration process apply to conditional release decisions under this statute.” LeBlanc filed a federal habeas petition, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit’s grant of relief. The Virginia trial court’s ruling, resting on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Angel, was not objectively unreasonable in light of existing Supreme Court authority. View "Virginia v. LeBlanc" on Justia Law

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Terry managed sales and inventory for a Tennessee hardware store owned by his brother, Tony. They were indicted for federal drug crimes including conspiracy to distribute a product used in methamphetamine production. The government sought judgments of $269,751 against each brother, under the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act, which mandates forfeiture of “any property constituting, or derived from, any proceeds the person obtained, directly or indirectly, as the result of” certain drug crimes, 21 U.S.C. 853(a)(1). Tony pleaded guilty and agreed to forfeit $200,000. Terry was convicted. Despite conceding that Terry had no controlling interest in the store and did not stand to benefit personally from sales of the product, the government asked the court to hold him jointly and severally liable for the profits from the illegal sales and sought a judgment of $69,751.98, the outstanding conspiracy profits. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the brothers, as co-conspirators, were jointly and severally liable. The Supreme Court reversed. Forfeiture under section 853(a)(1) is limited to property the defendant himself actually acquired as the result of the crime; the provision does not permit forfeiture with regard to Terry. Use of the adverbs “directly” and “indirectly” to refer to how a defendant obtains the property does not negate the requirement that he “obtain” it. Congress did not incorporate into the section the principle that conspirators are legally responsible for each other’s foreseeable actions in furtherance of their common plan. View "Honeycutt v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Petitioner, a Mexican citizen and lawful permanent resident of the U.S., pleaded no contest in a California court under a statute criminalizing “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator,” defining “minor” as “a person under the age of 18.” He was ordered removed under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(3), as an “alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony,” including “sexual abuse of a minor.” The Supreme Court reversed. Under the categorical approach employed to determine whether an alien’s conviction qualifies as an aggravated felony, the court asks whether the state statute defining the crime of conviction categorically fits within the "generic" federal definition of a corresponding aggravated felony. Petitioner’s state conviction would be an “aggravated felony” only if the least of the acts criminalized by the state statute falls within the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor, regardless of the actual facts of the case. The least of the acts criminalized by the California law would be consensual sexual intercourse between a victim who is almost 18 and a perpetrator who just turned 21. The generic federal definition of “sexual abuse of a minor” requires that the victim be younger than 16 and a significant majority of state criminal codes set the age of consent at 16 for statutory rape offenses predicated exclusively on the age of the participants. View "Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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After agents found child pornography on petitioner’s computer, he pleaded guilty to possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct (18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B) and (b)(2)), an offense requiring restitution to the victim. The district court imposed a prison sentence and acknowledged that restitution was mandatory but deferred determination of the amount. Petitioner filed a notice of appeal. Months later, the court entered an amended judgment, ordering petitioner to pay restitution to one victim. Petitioner did not file a second notice of appeal, but challenged the restitution amount before the Eleventh Circuit, which held that he had forfeited any such challenge. The Supreme Court affirmed. A defendant wishing to appeal an order imposing restitution in a deferred restitution case must file a notice of appeal from that order. If he fails to do so and the government objects, he may not challenge the restitution order on appeal. Both 18 U.S.C. 3742(a), governing criminal appeals, and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(a)(1) contemplate that a defendant will file a notice of appeal after the court has decided the issue sought to be appealed. The requirement is a mandatory claim-processing rule, which is “unalterable” if raised properly by the party asserting its violation. Deferred restitution cases involve two appealable judgments, not one; the notice of appeal did not “spring forward” to become effective on the date the court entered its amended restitution judgment. Even if the court’s acknowledgment in the initial judgment that restitution was mandatory could qualify as a “sentence” that the court “announced” under Rule 4(b)(2), petitioner has never disputed that restitution is mandatory. A court of appeals may not overlook the failure to file a notice of appeal. View "Manrique v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Nelson, convicted of felonies and misdemeanors arising from the alleged abuse of her children, was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay $8,192.50 in court costs, fees, and restitution. Nelson’s conviction was reversed; on retrial, she was acquitted. Madden was also convicted by a Colorado jury. The court imposed a prison sentence and ordered him to pay $4,413.00 in costs, fees, and restitution. Madden’s convictions were reversed and vacated; the state did not appeal or retry the case. The Colorado Department of Corrections withheld $702.10 from Nelson’s inmate account between her conviction and acquittal. Madden paid the state $1,977.75 after his conviction. Once their convictions were invalidated, they sought refunds. The Colorado Supreme Court reasoned that Colorado’s Exoneration Act provided the exclusive authority for refunds and that neither petitioner had filed a claim under that Act; the court also upheld the constitutionality of the Act, which permits Colorado to retain conviction-related assessments until the prevailing defendant institutes a discrete civil proceeding and proves her innocence by clear and convincing evidence. The Supreme Court reversed. The Act’s scheme violates the guarantee of due process. Petitioners have an obvious interest in regaining the money. The state may not retain these funds simply because their convictions were in place when the funds were taken; once the convictions were erased, the presumption of innocence was restored. Colorado may not presume a person, adjudged guilty of no crime, guilty enough for monetary exactions. Colorado’s scheme creates an unacceptable risk of the erroneous deprivation of defendants’ property, conditioning refunds on proof of innocence by clear and convincing evidence, while defendants in petitioners’ position are presumed innocent. When the amount sought is not large, the cost of pursuing a claim under the Act would be prohibitive. Colorado has no equitable interest in withholding petitioners’ money. View "Nelson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Dean and his brother committed two robberies; Dean’s brother threatened and assaulted the victim with a gun, while Dean searched for valuables. Dean was convicted of multiple robbery and firearms counts, and two counts under 18 U.S.C. 924(c), which criminalizes using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of such an underlying crime. The section mandates a penalty “in addition to the punishment provided for [the predicate] crime,” to run consecutively to any sentence for the predicate crime. A first 924(c) conviction carries a five-year minimum penalty; a second conviction carries an additional 25-year mandatory minimum. For Dean, that meant 30 years, to be served after his sentence for other counts of conviction. The court concluded that it could not vary from the Guidelines range based on the sentences imposed under section 924(c). The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. Section 924(c) does not prevent a sentencing court from considering a mandatory minimum imposed under that provision when calculating an appropriate sentence for the predicate offense. Guidelines section 3553(a) specifies the factors courts are to consider when imposing a sentence. The sentencing provisions permit a court imposing a sentence on one count to consider sentences imposed on other counts. The 3553(a) factors may be considered when determining a prison sentence for each individual offense in a multicount case. Section 924(c) says nothing about the length of a non-924(c) sentence, nor about what information a court may consider in determining that sentence. Nothing in the requirement of consecutive sentences prevents a court from imposing a 30-year sentence under section 924(c) and a one-day sentence for the predicate crime, provided those terms run consecutively. View "Dean v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Moore was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for shooting a clerk during a robbery that occurred when Moore was 20 years old. A state habeas court determined that, under Supreme Court precedent, Moore was intellectually disabled and that his death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. The court consulted the 11th edition of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities clinical manual (AAIDD–11) and the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and followed the generally accepted intellectual-disability definition, considering: intellectual-functioning deficits, adaptive deficits, and the onset of these deficits while a minor. The court credited six IQ scores, the average of which (70.66) indicated mild intellectual disability. Based on testimony from mental-health professionals, the court found significant adaptive deficits in all three skill sets (conceptual, social, and practical). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) declined the recommendation, concluding that the habeas court should have used standards for assessing intellectual disability contained in AAMR–9 and its requirement that adaptive deficits be “related” to intellectual-functioning deficits. The Supreme Court vacated. While precedent leaves to the states “the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce” the restriction on executing the intellectually disabled, that discretion is not “unfettered,” and must be “informed by the medical community’s diagnostic framework.” When an IQ score is close to, but above, 70, courts must account for the “standard error of measurement.” The CCA overemphasized Moore’s perceived adaptive strengths—living on the streets, mowing lawns, and playing pool for money—when the medical community focuses on adaptive deficits. The CCA stressed Moore’s improved behavior in prison; clinicians caution against reliance on adaptive strengths developed in controlled settings. The CCA concluded that Moore’s record of academic failure, with a history of childhood abuse and suffering, detracted from a determination that his intellectual and adaptive deficits were related; the medical community counts traumatic experiences as risk factors for intellectual disability. The CCA also departed from clinical practice by requiring Moore to show that his adaptive deficits were not related to “a personality disorder.” View "Moore v. Texas" on Justia Law