Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Ryan Lee sued four Sheriff’s Deputies, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights. On July 4, 2014, Lee and his wife, Tamila Lee, attended a barbecue where they consumed alcohol. After the couple returned home, an altercation broke out over a set of car keys. Tamila, in an attempt to keep her husband from driving, blocked him from exiting their home, and a physical struggle ensued. Deputies Mark O’Harold and Todd Tucker arrived first and entered the home with Tamila’s consent. Shortly afterward, Deputies Amanda Weiss and Chad Walker also arrived at the Lees’ home and separated the Lees for questioning. Lee was largely uncooperative. Tucker attempted to detain him, and another struggle broke out. O’Harold and Weiss, hearing a commotion, reentered the home. O’Harold applied an arm bar hold to Lee. Lee collided with the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, and Weiss then struck him twice in the shoulder in an effort to force him to let go of the refrigerator. O’Harold also struck Lee twice in the neck. Tucker drew his Taser and applied it three to five times to Lee’s back, with each application lasting approximately three, five, and eight seconds respectively. Lee then lost consciousness. Throughout the incident, Walker observed but did not intervene. Weiss then handcuffed Lee and escorted him to Weiss’ squad car. Lee subsequently pled guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence. The district court granted the motion as to Lee’s First Amendment retaliation claim and the portion of his excessive force claim based on handcuffing, but denied it as to the remainder of his excessive force claim. The district court concluded that the facts remaining in dispute, when viewed in the light most favorable to Lee, precluded a grant of qualified immunity. Defendants appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined it lacked interlocutory appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s determination of evidentiary sufficiency at the summary judgment stage. As to the purely legal challenge defendants raised on appeal, the Court concluded the district court correctly held that defendants used excessive force and did so in violation of clearly established law. The appeal was dismissed as to the factual challenges, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Lee v. Tucker" on Justia Law

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Defendant Daederick Lacy was charged with three felony counts stemming from his prostitution of teenage girls. The jury convicted him on all three counts, and he was sentenced to a total of 293 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant challenged his conviction on each count, arguing Count 1 should be reversed because: (1) the district court did not provide the jury with a technical definition of “sex act” to guide its verdict and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that his sixteen-year-old victim engaged in sex acts with her clients. He argued Count 2 should have been reversed because the district court allowed two law enforcement officers to testify about what the victim told them the day after she committed an act of prostitution arranged by Defendant. Finally, he argued Count 3 should have been reversed for insufficiency of the evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Lacy's convictions. View "United States v. Lacy" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma charged Raye Smith with several child abuse charges stemming from the death of her two-year-old daughter, Kelsey, who died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen. Kelsey’s death, and Smith’s subsequent trial, generated substantial public interest and publicity. In the end, a jury convicted Smith of enabling child abuse. Smith moved for a new trial based on claims of juror misconduct and jurors’ exposure to information outside the courtroom. To support her contention, Smith provided affidavits from trial attendees who alleged some jurors were sleeping during the trial. Smith also claimed the out-of-court publicity tainted the verdict. Smith requested an evidentiary hearing from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), which granted with respect to the publicity issue, but refused on the sleeping-juror issue, finding the trial judge's statement on the issue adequately refuted the allegations. Ultimately, the OCCA denied relief. Turning to the Tenth Circuit, Smith sought habeas relief, reiterating the sleeping juror issue, and arguing she received ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to bringing the sleeping juror to the trial judge's attention. Smith also argued the trial publicity violated her rights to an impartial jury and due process. Finding that the OCCA did not base its denial of Smith's claims on an unreasonable determination of the facts, and that the OCCA's opinion was contrary to or unreasonably applied clearly established federal law, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the OCCA. View "Smith v. Aldridge" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Aaron Lewis, Jr., a federal prisoner acting pro se, sought a certificate of appealability to appeal the district court’s denial of his section 2255 petition. In 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court found Petitioner to be an armed career criminal based on two prior drug convictions and one burglary conviction and sentenced him to 188 months of imprisonment. He did not appeal his conviction. In this habeas petition, Petitioner sought sentencing relief based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B). The gravamen of his argument was that he was entitled to Johnson relief because the necessary third prior conviction for burglary under Kansas statute 21-3715 only qualified as a violent felony under the now-void residual clause. Petitioner also contended the district court erred in holding that Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), was not retroactively applicable on collateral review. Having granted the COA, the Tenth Circuit nevertheless denied Petitioner’s appeal on the merits. Though Petitioner asserted a timely Johnson claim, he did not establish a Johnson error, meaning that the Court's analysis could not go further than the initial, historical evaluation of the sentencing court’s decision. Petitioner was sentenced in 2010; Mathis was decided in 2016. Because Mathis was a “post-sentencing decision” that was not part of the “controlling law . . . at the time of sentencing,” and as such, the Court did not apply it on collateral review. View "United States v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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This appeal presented a question of whether established law supported Plaintiff Joseph Leiser's claim that two jail officials in Coffey County, Kansas, violated his constitutional rights by disclosing medical information about him that they had properly obtained. Plaintiff was set to be extradited from Illinois to Kansas, and the Kansas jail requested Illinois arrange for multiple medical examinations of Plaintiff to determine whether he had suffered injuries after being tasered by U.S. Marshals. The Kansas official learned Plaintiff had bone lesions and possibly cancer. This information was conveyed to the Coffey County Sheriff, who conveyed it to Coffey County Hospital, then to Plaintiff's family and friends, without first obtaining Plaintiff's permission. The Tenth Circuit determined the prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity, and dismissed his case. View "Leiser v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Wendell Grissom, with the assistance of a man he had just met, randomly selected a rural Oklahoma home to burglarize. Upon realizing that the home was occupied by two women and two minor children, Grissom shot his way into the home, killing one woman and seriously injuring the other. After the injured woman was able to escape in Grissom’s own vehicle, Grissom and his accomplice fled on a stolen all-terrain vehicle. Grissom and his accomplice were arrested shortly thereafter. Grissom was tried and convicted in Oklahoma state court of first degree murder, shooting with intent to kill, possession of a firearm after former conviction of a felony, and larceny of a motor vehicle after two or more previous felony convictions. Grissom was sentenced to death for the first degree murder conviction, and sentenced him to lengthy prison sentences for the other convictions. After exhausting his state court remedies through a direct appeal and a single application for state post-conviction relief, Grissom filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus, which was denied. However, the district court granted him a certificate of appealability (COA) with respect to one issue. The Tenth Circuit granted Grissom a COA with respect to two additional issues. Finding no reason to disturb the district court’s order, the Tenth Circuit affirmed denial of habeas relief. View "Grissom v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Richard Grissom, a prisoner in the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a number of state corrections and prison officials, alleging violations of his constitutional rights stemming from his lengthy placement in solitary confinement. The district court granted summary judgment against Grissom, and he appealed. Finding that the Prison Officials were entitled to qualified immunity because at the time of Grissom’s confinement there was no clearly established law that would have alerted them that his asserted constitutional rights were being violated, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Grissom v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Matthew Durham appealed his convictions and sentence on four counts for illicit sex with minors in Kenya after travelling there from the United States. He raised eight issues for the Tenth Circuit's review, arguing errors regarding the conduct of trial and the admission of certain evidence all cumulatively affected his Constitutional rights. In addition, he argued 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c), the statute on which the convictions were based, was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to Durham because it exceeded Congress’s power under the Foreign Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution. The Tenth Circuit held that section 2423(c) was constitutional because Congress could rationally conclude that travel abroad followed by illicit sex with a minor, in the aggregate, substantially affected foreign commerce. The Court found no other reversible error and affirmed Durham's convictions. View "United States v. Durham" on Justia Law

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Giavanni Miles pleaded guilty to two counts of theft of firearms from a federal firearms licensee. He was sentenced to two concurrent 70-month terms of imprisonment. In his Plea Agreement, Miles “knowingly and voluntarily” waived his right to appeal “any matter in connection with this prosecution, conviction, or sentence unless it met one of the following criteria: (1) the sentence exceeded the maximum penalty provided in the statute of conviction; (2) the sentence exceeded the applicable advisory guideline range; or (3) the government appealed the sentence[] imposed.” Furthermore, the Agreement provided that “[i]f any of these three criteria apply, the defendant may appeal on any ground that is properly available in an appeal that follows a guilty plea.” Nevertheless, Miles appealed, arguing his appeal waiver was unconscionable and contrary to public policy. Alternatively, Miles argued he received ineffective assistance of counsel in the negotiation of the appeal waiver. The Tenth Circuit granted the government's motion and dismissed this appeal: it fell within the scope of the appeal waiver contained in the plea agreement. The Court acknowledged Miles preserved his right to pursue an ineffective-assistance claim in a collateral proceeding. View "United States v. Miles" on Justia Law

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An Oklahoma jury convicted and sentenced Gilbert Postelle to death in connection with the brutal killings of four people: over a holiday weekend in 2005, Postelle and two other assailants attacked Donnie Swindle at his home, murdering him and three acquaintances. The raid apparently sprang from the Postelle family’s grudge against Swindle alone. After an unsuccessful appeal and collateral action in state court, Postelle sought federal habeas corpus relief. He alleged the state prosecution violated several of his constitutional rights, including his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Postelle raises three issues: (1) whether he received constitutionally adequate trial counsel; (2) whether he received constitutionally adequate appellate counsel; and (3) whether the unconstitutional presentation of victim-impact evidence at trial prejudiced his defense. He also asked the Tenth Circuit to expand the scope of its review to include several new issues for which he has yet to receive a Certificate of Appealability. Finding no cause to reverse denial of the writ, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court and declined to extend the scope of its review. View "Postelle v. Carpenter" on Justia Law