Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The United States Supreme Court vacated the Alabama Supreme Court's earlier judgment in Ex parte Williams, 183 So. 3d 220 (Ala. 2015). Jimmy Williams, Jr., was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during a robbery in the first degree; the offense was committed when Williams was 15 years old. The trial court sentenced Williams to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the only possible sentence and one that was mandatory. In June 2013, Williams petitioned the Montgomery Circuit Court for a new sentencing hearing, asserting that his life-without-the possibility-of-parole sentence was unconstitutional and unlawful in light of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). The circuit court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and this Court disagreed, each holding that Williams was not entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the rule in Miller did not apply retroactively to cases such as Williams's, which were final when Miller was decided. Williams petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari review. While Williams's petition for certiorari review was pending, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016)., which clarified its holding in Miller, stating that "Miller announced a substantive rule that is retroactive in cases on collateral review." The Alabama Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded this case directly to the circuit court for proceedings consistent with Miller and Montgomery. View "Ex parte Jimmy Williams, Jr." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address a question of first impression: whether it was improper to admit into evidence in a trial de novo in the circuit court, evidence of a defendant's guilty plea made in the district court. Otha Lee Woods pleaded guilty to and was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the circuit court's judgment, holding that the circuit court's admission of evidence of Woods's plea of guilty made in the district court "violate[d] well settled principles of law regarding a trial de novo and that the admission of such evidence [was] inherently prejudicial." The Supreme Court disagreed. “A trial de novo in the circuit court provides a defendant with a clean slate with regard to a determination of whether he or she is guilty of the offense charged. It is an opportunity to have the defendant's guilt or innocence determined without consideration of the outcome, i.e., the judgment, of the earlier proceeding. Therefore, because the judgment from the prior court proceeding, and not the defendant's guilty plea, answers the ultimate question posed in the trial de novo – whether the defendant is guilty of the offense charged - admission of the judgment, but not of the guilty plea, is prohibited at the trial de novo.” View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Geranda Harris was convicted of third-degree burglary, and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. That sentence was split and Harris was ordered to serve 3 years' incarceration followed by 3 years' probation. Harris was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $889.63. Harris appealed his conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded the case with instructions that Harris be granted a new trial. The State appealed. The Supreme Court found that the trial court did not reopen the case and allow the presentation of new evidence after the case had been submitted to the jury; thus, the trial court did not err. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Alabama" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Christopher Floyd was convicted of capital murder for the death of Waylon Crawford, for which he received the death penalty. The United State Supreme Court vacated the Alabama Supreme Court’s judgment in this case, and remanded for reconsideration in light of its recent holding in “Foster v. Chatman,” (136 S.Ct. 1737 (2016)). In selecting the jury for Floyd's case, the prosecutor and Floyd's counsel exercised a total of 36 peremptory challenges. The State used its 18 challenges to remove 10 of 11 African-American veniremembers and 12 of 18 female veniremembers. Floyd’s “Batson” or “J.E.B.” challenges to the venire (precedential cases prohibiting racial or gender discrimination in jury selection) were rejected by the trial court. The trial court found that Floyd had not demonstrated that the prosecutor had engaged in actual, purposeful discrimination during the jury-selection process, and that the prosecutor had proffered race- and gender-neutral reasons for his peremptory strikes. Floyd petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to uphold the trial court’s judgment. The United States Supreme Court then vacated the Alabama Court's judgment upholding the Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded the case for further consideration in light of “Foster.” In his supplemental briefing, Floyd contended that the record in his case, like the record in “Foster,” established that the State improperly focused on race and gender during the jury-selection process. Rather, it was during plain-error review of the record by the Court of Criminal Appeals that that court determined that the prosecutor's use of his peremptory challenges created a prima facie case of discrimination under both Batson and J.E.B. and remanded the case for a Batson/J.E.B. hearing. After the Alabama Court’s reconsideration of the Batson/J.E.B. issues in light of Foster, as mandated by the United States Supreme Court, the Alabama Court reinstated its judgment in this matter and once again affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Ex parte Christopher Anthony Floyd." on Justia Law

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Jennifer Watters petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to stay proceedings in her criminal trial, and to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing to consider whether she was immune from prosecution on the ground of self-defense under the then existing version of § 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 1975. In 2015, Watters was charged with second-degree assault. In response to the trial court's actions, Watters filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, seeking a writ directing the trial court to conduct a pretrial hearing on her immunity defense. A majority of that court, noting that "[t]here are no Alabama cases interpreting the application and scope of section 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 1975, to criminal charges," denied Watters's request for relief. Watters then filed another petition for mandamus with the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court offered no opinion as to the factual merit of Watters's immunity claim, it nonetheless held that she was entitled to attempt to prove its application before she was required to stand trial. The Court therefore granted the petition and issued the writ directing the trial court to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing considering whether Watters was immune from criminal prosecution on self-defense grounds. View "Ex parte Jennifer Watters" on Justia Law

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In June 2011, Jerry Bohannon was charged with and convicted of two counts of capital murder in connection with the shooting deaths of Jerry DuBoise and Anthony Harvey outside the Paradise Lounge in Mobile. He received the death penalty. He raised four grounds on appeal of the conviction and sentence, alleging: (1) his death sentence should have been vacated in light of "Hurst v. Florida," (136 S.Ct. 616 (2016)); (2) the circuit court erred in characterizing the jury's penalty-phase determination as a recommendation and as advisory, conflicting with "Hurst;" (3) the circuit court erred in allowing the State to question defense character witnesses about Bohannon's alleged acts on the night of the shooting; and (4) the circuit court erred in failing to sua sponte instruct the jury on the victims' intoxication. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment to affirm Bohannon's conviction and sentence, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ex parte Jerry Bohannon" on Justia Law

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Jacquees Maurice Boone was convicted of attempted murder, for which he was sentenced as an habitual felony offender to life imprisonment. On appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Boone argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that he was affiliated with a "gang." The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Boone's conviction and sentence in an unpublished memorandum, reasoning that the evidence was relevant under Rule 404(b), Ala. R. Evid., to prove motive. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court disagreed, reversed and remanded for further proceedings: "The record does not disclose any evidence indicating that [the victim] Cooley or anyone in his family was a member of a gang. The motive advanced by the State at trial was that there was animosity between Boone and his friends, on the one hand, and Cooley's family, on the other hand, arising from the participation of Cooley's mother in police drug investigations that led to the arrest of Boone's friends. The State does not explain how the evidence of 'gang' affiliation is relevant to Boone's motive for shooting Cooley." View "Ex parte Jacquees Maurice Boone." on Justia Law

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While serving a subpoena on Christopher Okafor at the residence of Shanna Hereford, law-enforcement officers noticed a strong smell of marijuana and entered the residence. When an officer asked Okafor if there was marijuana in the residence, Okafor responded that there was. When the officers requested that Okafor sign a consent form to permit a search the residence, Okafor informed them that he did not live at the residence and that he could not sign a consent form to search the residence. Okafor, however, led the officers to the marijuana, which was located in a white plastic bag in the closet of a downstairs bedroom. A subsequent search of the bedroom resulted in the seizure of not only the marijuana, but also $16,500 in cash. Okafor denied any knowledge or ownership of the currency. The State filed a complaint against Okafor seeking to condemn the $16,500 seized from Hereford's residence. Okafor filed an answer in which he stated that he was the lawful owner of the currency, that the currency was not subject to condemnation, and that the law-enforcement officers had seized the currency during an unlawful search. The State moved for a summary judgment; Okafor, amongst other things, argued that the officers did not have probable cause or consent to enter Hereford's residence and that any consent that they may have gotten for the search of the residence was not given knowingly, intelligently, and/or freely. The Court of Civil Appeals, in a per curiam opinion, reversed the summary judgment, finding that Okafor presented sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material fact with regard to the legality of the search of Hereford's residence and the legality of the seizure of the currency. The Supreme Court disagreed: because Okafor did not demonstrate that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy or a proprietary interest in Hereford's residence, he did not establish that he had standing to challenge the search of the residence and the seizure of the currency. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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An issue implicating the "prison mailbox rule" came before the Supreme Court in this case. The rule, codified at Ala. Code 1975 13A-5-9.1, was revised to place a time limit on motions like the motion for reconsideration of sentence underlying this appeal, and a question arose as to whether the statute's time limit applied here. The Supreme Court concluded the time limit did appeal, and reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals' holding to the contrary. View "Ex parte Joe Louis Spencer." on Justia Law

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Amanda Holderfield was convicted of second-degree assault. She was sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment; that sentence was suspended, and Holderfield was ordered to serve 3 years' supervised probation, to undergo mental-health treatment and substance-abuse treatment, to pay $100 to the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Fund, and to pay restitution of $2,219.99 to the "City of Gardendale Municipal Works Comp Fund." Holderfield filed a "Motion to Set Aside Order of Restitution and Request Hearing," which the circuit court later denied. The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Holderfield's appeal, without an opinion. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether a motion to modify or set aside a restitution order in a criminal case should be treated as a motion for a new trial under Rule 24.1, Ala. R. Crim. P., with regard to tolling the time for taking an appeal. After review, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissing the appeal in this case as untimely, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Amanda Holderfield." on Justia Law