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Criminal Law Blog

CRIMINAL LAW: Due Process Demands Return of Court Costs, Fees, and Restitution

Posted by Suzanne L. Bailey on Thu, Jul 20, 2017 @ 11:07 AM

Suzanne Bailey, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      Following the exhilaration accompanying a reversal of a criminal conviction, the former defendant must begin efforts to mitigate the damage, not the least of which may be repairing the financial harm of participating in the criminal justice system. In a seven to one decision (Justice Gorsuch did not participate), the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the Colorado statutory scheme for the refund of costs, fees, and restitution paid pursuant to the invalid conviction and concluded that the Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons Act (Exoneration Act), Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 13-65-101 to 13-65-103 (2016), violated due process by requiring defendants whose convictions have been reversed or vacated to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in order to obtain a refund.  Nelson v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 1249, 197 L. Ed. 2d 611 (2017).  

      There were two petitioners in Nelson:  (1) Shannon Nelson sought a refund of $702.10 withheld from her inmate account with the Colorado Department of Corrections toward an assessment of $8,192.50 in court costs, fees, and restitution following a reversal of her conviction for sexual and physical abuse of her four children and acquittal after retrial; and (2) Louis Alonzo Madden asked for a refund of $1,977.75 he paid toward assessed court costs, fees, and restitution totaling $4,413.00 after his conviction for patronizing a prostituted child was reversed on direct appeal, his conviction for attempted third-degree sexual assault by force was vacated on postconviction relief, and the State elected not to appeal or retry the case. Neither petitioner proceeded under the Exoneration Act.  The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Exoneration Act was the sole means of seeking a refund and, thus, the courts were without authority to refund the money paid.  Moreover, the Colorado court found no due process problem because the Act provided sufficient process to defendants seeking refunds. Justice Ginsberg, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court, disagreed.

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Topics: criminal law, due process, refund of court costs, fees, and restitution

CRIMINAL LAW: Texas Good-Faith Exception to Exclusionary Rule Applied to Illegal Drug Sniff

Posted by Mark Rieber on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 @ 10:06 AM

Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Generally, a lawful search warrant may not be procured by the use of illegally obtained information.  E.g., State v. Cuong Phu Le, 463 S.W.3d 872, 877 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 819 (2016).  As a matter of first impression, however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Texas good-faith exception to the statutory exclusionary rule applied to a search executed pursuant to a search warrant that was based on information obtained from an illegal drug sniff.  McClintock v. State, No. PD-1641-15,2017 WL 1076289 (Tex. Crim. App. Mar. 22, 2017).  The drug-sniffing dog had been brougcrimcht by police to the door of the defendant's upstairs residence, where the dog alerted police to the presence of drugs.  This information was used as the basis for a search warrant for the residence, and there would have been no probable cause without the information.  Execution of the warrant resulted in the seizure of marijuana.  While the case was pending on appeal, the United States Supreme Court held that such dog sniffs constituted an unconstitutional search under the Fourth Amendment.  See Florida v. Jardines, 133 S. Ct. 1409 (2013).  Prior to the holding in Jardines, according to McClintock, it was not clear that the dog sniff used in McClintock was illegal. 

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Topics: criminal law, good-faith exception to exclusionary rule, illegal drug sniff

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE: Ninth Circuit Adopts "Plain Hearing" Doctrine

Posted by Jason Holder on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 @ 17:02 PM

Jason Holder, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      In United States v. Carey, 836 F.3d 1092, 1093 (9th Cir. 2016), federal agents secured a wiretap order under the Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2522. The order was based upon evidence that Ignacio Escamilla Estrada ("Escamilla") used the number to smuggle and distribute drugs. Carey, 836 F.3d at 1093. During the seven-day wiretap, the agents realized that Escamilla was not the one using the phone. Id. Nevertheless, believing that those on the phone may be connected to Escamilla, the agents continued listening. Id. Authorities ultimately identified Michael Carey as the unknown speaker. Id. The investigation revealed that Carey was not involved with Escamilla. Id. at 1094.

     Carey moved to suppress all of the evidence derived from the use of the wiretaps, arguing that the government had unlawfully relied on the Escamilla order to justify the independent and unrelated use of wiretap surveillance against Carey. Id. The district court denied Carey's motion, explaining that (1) the government had complied with the statute for the wiretap order against Escamilla, and (2) that there was no requirement for a separate showing of necessity once the agents concluded that T-14 was not used by Escamilla because the agents reasonably believed that the callers and calls might be affiliated with Escamilla or other offenses. Id. at 1095.

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Topics: Ninth Circuit, "plain hearing" doctrine, criminal procedure

CRIMINAL LAW: Sentencing—New Rule in Johnson Was Substantive as Applied to Advisory Sentencing Guidelines

Posted by Mark Rieber on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 @ 11:02 AM

The Lawletter Vol 42 No 1

Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

      In Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA"), which defines a "violent felony" to include a felony that "involves conduct that presents a serious potential physical injury to another," 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), was unconstitutionally vague. The Supreme Court subsequently announced that the rule in Johnson was "a new substantive rule that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review." Welch v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1257, 1268 (2016).

      In Carpio v. United States, No. C16-0647JLR, 2016 WL 6395192 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 28, 2016), the court applied the holdings in Johnson and Welch to the defendant's claim, in a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition challenging his U.S. Sentencing Guidelines sentence, that the identically worded residual clause in U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a), defining "crime of violence," used to enhance the defendant's sentence, was unconstitutionally vague. The court in Carpio held that the Johnson holding applied with equal force to the residual clause in section 4B1.2(a) of the Sentencing Guidelines and, therefore, it was unconstitutionally vague.

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Topics: criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, advisory sentencing guidelines, Johnson v. United States

CRIMINAL LAW: Use of Risk Assessment Tools in Sentencing Upheld . . . For Now

Posted by Jason Holder on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 @ 13:10 PM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8

Jason Holder, Research Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In State v. Loomis, 2016 WI 68, 881 N.W.2d 749, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin upheld the use of risk assessment tools at sentencing against a due process challenge. In doing so, however, the Loomis court noted that such tools are consistent with due process protections only if they are used properly and in accordance with certain limitations. Additionally, the court may have provided a possible road map for future challenges to the use of risk assessment tools at sentencing.

     Loomis had been charged with a number of offenses stemming from a drive-by shooting and ultimately pleaded guilty to two of the lesser offenses. A presentence investigation report was prepared and included a Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions ("COMPAS") risk assessment. In ruling out probation, the circuit court noted that it did so because "of the seriousness of the crime and because your history, your history on supervision, and the risk assessment tools that have been utilized, suggest that you're extremely high risk to re-offend." Id. ¶ 19, 881 N.W.2d at 755.

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Topics: criminal law, The Lawletter Vol 41 No 8, Jason Holder, risk assessment, due process challenge

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Use of Cell-Site Simulator Constitutes a Search

Posted by Mark Rieber on Mon, Oct 3, 2016 @ 17:10 PM

Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In United States v. Lambis, No. 15CR734, 2016 WL 3870940 (S.D.N.Y. July 12, 2016), a federal court, apparently for the first time, suppressed evidence obtained as the result of the warrantless use of a cell-site simulator to locate a target's cell phone. The court explained that a cell-site simulator—sometimes referred to as a "StingRay," "Hailstorm," or "TriggerFish"—is a device that locates cell phones by mimicking the service provider's cell tower (or "cell-site") and forcing cell phones to transmit "pings" to the simulator. The device then calculates the strength of the "pings" until the target phone is pinpointed.

     The court's holding relied mainly on Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), which held that a Fourth Amendment search occurred when government agents used a thermal-imaging device to detect infrared radiation emanating from a home. In Kyllo, the Supreme Court reasoned that "[w]here . . . the Government uses a device that is not in general public use to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a 'search' and is presumptively unreasonable without a search warrant." Id. at 40.

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Topics: constitutional law, Mark V. Rieber, cell-site simulator, warrentless use, StingRay

Juvenile Sentences Affected by Football Team Losses

Posted by Nicole Prysby on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 @ 09:09 AM

     According to research released by two Louisiana State University economists, juveniles who are sentenced by judges who are college football fans received longer sentences after the judge's team had an unexpected loss. The researchers examined juvenile court decisions involving first-time offenders over a period of more than 15 years. Their research focused on judges who are alumni of LSU and demonstrates that for those judges, where LSU lost games it was expected to win based on rankings, the judges issued harsher sentences in the week after the loss. Unexpected wins or losses when the games were expected to be close had no impact. The paper is available at the National Bureau of Economic Research: http://www.nber.org/papers/w22611?utm_campaign=ntw&utm_medium=email&utm_source=ntw.

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Topics: criminal law, sentencing, juvenile sentences

CRIMINAL LAW: Search and Seizure—Traffic Stop—Length of Detention

Posted by Mark Rieber on Tue, May 3, 2016 @ 11:05 AM

The Lawletter Vol 41 No 4

Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     In Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court recently stressed that a seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation becomes unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of issuing a ticket for the violation. The stop may not exceed the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made. In Rodriguez, the issue was raised in the context of whether the police unnecessarily extended the traffic-violation stop to conduct a dog sniff of the exterior of the vehicle for drugs.

     Lower courts applying Rodriguez have had the difficult task of determining whether a vehicle stop for a traffic violation was unnecessarily and unlawfully prolonged by police so that they could pursue unrelated suspicions, usually related to illegal drugs. While the courts often observe that there is no rigid time limit for determining when a detention has lasted longer than necessary to effectuate the purposes of the stop, they nevertheless often look to the total time of the stop and the length of what is deemed the unnecessary delay in determining whether the police conduct was lawful.

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Topics: search and seizure, criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, length of detention, traffic stop

CRIMINAL LAW: Search and Seizure—Medical Marijuana Statute—Probable Cause to Search Based Solely on the Smell of Marijuana

Posted by Mark V. Rieber on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 @ 12:01 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 12

Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     Two recent opinions in Arizona have come to different conclusions about the significance of the smell of marijuana in the determination of probable cause in light of the passage of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act ("AMMA"), albeit in very different factual situations. In State v. Sisco, 359 P.3d 1 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2015) the court held that with the passage of the AMMA, the mere scent of marijuana coming from a warehouse, standing alone, was insufficient to provide probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant to search the warehouse. The court observed that its holding accorded "with well-reasoned jurisprudence from several other jurisdictions." Id. at 8, ¶ 29 (citing cases).

     In State v. Cheatham, 353 P.3d 382 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2015), however, the court distinguished Sisco and held that the odor of burnt marijuana from inside a vehicle lawfully stopped by police provided probable cause to search the vehicle. The court explained that the AMMA does not decriminalize marijuana possession or use, but, instead, where applicable, it provides immunity for possession or use consistent with the immunity provision of the AMMA. Thus, the possession or use of marijuana remains a crime under Arizona law, albeit a crime subject to immunity if undertaken consistently with the AMMA. It is a defendant's burden to plead and prove immunity under the AMMA. "The fact that a registered patient under the AMMA with a valid registry identification card can affirmatively claim immunity for arrest, prosecution or penalty for possession or use of marijuana . . . does not eliminate the significance of the smell of marijuana as an indicator of criminal activity in this case." Id. at 386. Thus, the court concluded that the AMMA does not mean that the plain smell of marijuana is no longer sufficient to establish probable cause under Arizona laws.

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Topics: probable cause, criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, medical marijuana

CRIMINAL LAW: Search and Seizure—Warrantless Procurement of Cell Site Location Information

Posted by Mark V. Rieber on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 @ 13:09 PM

The Lawletter Vol 40 No 8

Mark Rieber—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     The Fourth Circuit recently held that the Government's warrantless procurement of historical cell site location information ("CSLI"), for an extended period of time, recorded by the defendant's cell phone service provider, was an unreasonable search in violation of the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights, even though the CSLI records were kept by cell phone companies in the ordinary course of business. United States v. Graham, Nos. 12-4659 & 12-4825, 2015 WL 4637931 (4th Cir. Aug. 5, 2015). The court stated that the examination of a person's historical CSLI can enable the Government to trace the movements of the cell phone and its user across public and private spaces and thereby discover the private activities and personal habits of the user. Id. at *8.

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Topics: search and seizure, criminal law, Mark V. Rieber, cell site location

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