Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Criminal Law
In re: Dennis v. Alabama)
This case stemmed from a cold-case murder that took place in 1981. An armed robber broke into a gas station where Russell Douglas was working, shot him several times, robbed the station, and fled. Douglas's murderer eluded capture. Then, some 30 years later, forensic scientists retested DNA evidence found at the crime scene and turned up a match to the respondent here, Nathaniel Dennis, who was serving a 600-year sentence in Virginia for an unrelated crime. In 2011, an Alabama grand jury indicted Dennis for the murder of Douglas, and he was transferred to Alabama to stand trial. In 2019, after a series of pretrial delays, Dennis was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during a burglary. Dennis appealed, arguing that the delay between his indictment and trial violated his right to a speedy trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, holding that the over-eight-year period between 2011 and 2019 required the trial court to "presume" that the delay prejudiced Dennis's liberty interests -- even though Dennis had not put forward any affirmative evidence of prejudice and likely could not have done so because he was already serving a 600-year sentence in Virginia. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded this was error: the speedy-trial inquiry turns on how much delay has been caused by the government, not the bare amount of time between the indictment and trial. In this case, the portion of the delay caused by government negligence fell well short of the amount needed to justify a presumption of prejudice. Absent that presumption, Dennis' speedy-trial claim failed. The Court reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded for consideration of the other arguments Dennis raised in his appeal. View "In re: Dennis v. Alabama)" on Justia Law
Turner and the State of Alabama ex rel. Angela Turner v. Ivey, et al.
In 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed -- and Governor Kay Ivey signed -- House Bill 380 ("H.B. 380"), which became Act No. 2019-393, Ala. Acts 2019. As enacted, H.B. 380 amended various Code provisions, including § 15-22-21(a), Ala. Code 1975, creating the position of director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles ("the Bureau"), and § 15-22-20(b), Ala. Code 1975, addressing the nomination and appointment processes for the members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles ("the Board"). After H.B. 380 was enacted, Governor Ivey appointed Leigh Gwathney as chair of the Board pursuant to the new procedures set forth in § 15-22-20(b). In November 2020, the three-member Board convened and held a parole-consideration hearing for Angela Turner, an inmate who was serving a life sentence for murder. Following a review of Turner's file, the Board unanimously denied Turner's parole request. Around that same time, Governor Ivey appointed Cam Ward as the new director of the Bureau. In response to the Board's denial of parole, Turner filed suit against Governor Ivey, Ward, Gwathney, and the other members of the Parole Board, in which she sought a judgment declaring that Governor Ivey's appointment of Ward and Gwathney to their respective positions pursuant to the changes created by H.B. 380 violated the Alabama Constitution of 1901. She also, on behalf of the State of Alabama, petitioned for writs of quo warranto pursuant to § 6-6-591, Ala. Code 1975, alleging that Ward and Gwathney unlawfully held their respective positions. Finally, she alleged a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against all the defendants on the basis that she had been denied due process during her parole-consideration hearing. The circuit court dismissed Turner's claims with prejudice. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court's order, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Turner and the State of Alabama ex rel. Angela Turner v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law
Gaines v. Smith
Dalen Gaines sought monetary and equitable relief against Walker County law-enforcement officers for their role in what Gaines claimed was a delayed bond hearing. After Gaines failed to appear at the Walker Circuit Court to answer criminal charges, the court issued a warrant for his arrest. Three months later, Walker County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Doeur executed the warrant and took Gaines into custody. Afterward, Deputy Doeur filed a certificate of execution, informing the Circuit Court that he had arrested Gaines and placed him in the County jail. After about a month, Gaines remained incarcerated and had not yet appeared in court. The trial court granted the law-enforcement officers' motion to dismiss Gaines complaint here, and Gaines asked the Alabama Supreme Court to overturn that decision. The Court declined to do so, and affirmed dismissal. View "Gaines v. Smith" on Justia Law
Ex parte Dennis Morgan Hicks.
Dennis Morgan Hicks was convicted of one count of capital murder for the killing of Joshua Duncan. The murder was made capital because Hicks committed it while he was under a sentence of life imprisonment. Hicks was also convicted of one count of second-degree theft of property. By a vote of 11-1, the jury recommended that Hicks be sentenced to death on the capital-murder conviction. The Circuit Court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Hicks to death on the capital-murder conviction; it sentenced him to time served on the second-degree theft-of-property conviction. Hicks appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, and, on original submission, that court affirmed Hicks's conviction but remanded the case for the trial court to address some sentencing issues. The Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately affirmed the death sentence. To the Alabama Supreme Court, Hicks argued the Court of Criminal Appeals erred: (1) in holding his right to counsel was not violated at the time of a pretrial mental evaluation; and (2) in holding that Dr. Karl Kirkland's testimony regarding Hicks' pretrial mental evaluation was admitted properly. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's judgment. View "Ex parte Dennis Morgan Hicks." on Justia Law
Ex parte Charlie Byrd
After being indicted by a grand jury for unlawful possession of a controlled substance -- delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (synthetic marijuana), Charlie Byrd filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was the basis of his indictment on the ground that it was the product of an unlawful search and seizure. The motion was denied, and Byrd conditionally pled guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress. Byrd was sentenced to 60 months in prison, with 12 served and 24 months of supervised probation. The Court of. Criminal Appeals affirmed Byrd’s conviction, and he appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Ex parte Charlie Byrd" on Justia Law
Jones v. Alabama
In January 2018, Whitney Jones, an inmate in the Mobile County Metro Jail and a participant in the jail's work-release program, left her work-release job and did not return to the work-release barracks. As a result, Jones was charged with, and convicted of, second-degree escape, a felony. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Jones's conviction. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether an inmate, like Jones, who escapes from a county work-release program authorized pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-30 through 14-8-44 ("the county work-release statutes"), could be convicted of escape pursuant to one of the escape statutes in the Alabama Criminal Code, Ala. Code 1975, §§ 13A-10-30 through 13A-10-33 ("the escape statutes"), which would be punishable as a felony, or whether such an escape is punishable only as a misdemeanor pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-42 and 14-8-43. The Supreme Court concluded that escapes from county work-release programs were governed by the escape statutes. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Jones v. Alabama" on Justia Law
Ex parte Whitney Owens Jones.
In January 2018, Whitney Jones, an inmate in the Mobile County Metro Jail and a participant in the jail's work-release program, left her work-release job and did not return to the work-release barracks. As a result, Jones was charged with, and convicted of, second-degree felony escape. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Jones's conviction. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether an inmate, like Jones, who escapes from a county work-release program authorized pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-30 through 14-8-44 could be convicted of escape pursuant to one of the escape statutes in the Alabama Criminal Code, Ala. Code 1975, §§ 13A-10-30 through 13A-10-33 ("the escape statutes"), which would be punishable as a felony, or whether such an escape was punishable only as a misdemeanor pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-42 and 14-8-43. The Supreme Court concluded that escapes from county work-release programs were governed by the escape statutes. View "Ex parte Whitney Owens Jones." on Justia Law
Ex parte Hunter Halver Brown.
Hunter Halver Brown petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review in which a circuit court had denied Brown's motion to dismiss the indictment against him notwithstanding the State's purported failure to comply with the Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act, 15-9-80 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the Act"), a codification of the federal Interstate Agreement on Detainers, 18 U.S.C. App. 2 ("the IAD"). The Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether, as a matter of first impression, its Court's statewide suspension of jury trials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic tolled the Act's 180-day time limit for bringing a prisoner to trial. The Court held that it did, and affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to affirm the circuit court. View "Ex parte Hunter Halver Brown." on Justia Law
Hare v. Mack
The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review was one of first impression. Yamil Alexsander Hare and Jose Sosa filed a state-court action to recover personal property that a Gulf Shores police officer seized without a warrant under state law and then transferred to two Baldwin County Sheriff's Office ("BCSO") deputies, acting in their capacity as federally deputized agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration ("the DEA"). The circuit court ruled that it lacked in rem jurisdiction based on the Court of Civil Appeals' caselaw. The Supreme Court held that, under 21 U.S.C. 881(c), exclusive federal jurisdiction attached when the deputized DEA agents took possession of the property and no state court had prior in rem jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Hare v. Mack" on Justia Law
Ex parte Nancy Powers.
In 2018, pursuant to a premises search warrant, police in Mobile, Alabama searched the residence of Joshua Moyers, seeking evidence of drug activity. Although Moyers was referenced in the affidavit supporting the issuance of the warrant, no individuals were named in the warrant itself. Police entered Moyers's house and discovered Nancy Powers sleeping on a couch in the first room of the house. Powers's purse was sitting on a table next to the couch. After confirming with Powers that the purse belonged to her, police searched the purse and discovered methamphetamine, a digital scale, and cash. Relevant to these proceedings, Powers was charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The circuit court denied Powers's motion to suppress the evidence found in her purse. Thereafter, Powers pleaded guilty and appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, challenging the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress. The Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously affirmed the trial court's ruling. The Alabama Supreme Court granted Powers's petition for a writ of certiorari to consider a question of first impression: whether police improperly searched Powers' purse, or whether, as the State argued, the purse was simply a container in the House that fit within the scope of the premises warrant. The Supreme Court agreed with the State that the purse was a container that came within the scope of the warrant, and that Powers' right to privacy was not violated. View "Ex parte Nancy Powers." on Justia Law