Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Felon Grand Juror Spoils Indictments

Interesting story out of Savannah, Georgia, where a felon sitting on a Chatham County grand jury has nullified 95 returned indictments.  Here is the full story, pulled from Jacksonville.com
Prosecutors in Chatham County will have to take as many as 95 felony cases to a grand jury for a second time because a convicted felon was on the panel that issued the initial indictments.
The Savannah Morning News reports that Georgia law bars convicted felons from serving on grand or trial juries unless their civil rights have been restored.
At issue are cases that involve felony indictments returned since December.
Chatham Count’s chief public defender, Michael Edwards, said public defenders this week are filing motions in Superior Court to dismiss those charges. About 40 such motions had been filed as of Friday.
The Morning News reports that additional challenges are anticipated from private defense lawyers.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

United States Supreme Court Activity

Missouri v. McNeely

Docket: 11-1425
Opinion Date: April 17, 2013
Judge: Sotomayor
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
McNeely, stopped for speeding and crossing the centerline, declined to take a breath test to measure his blood alcohol concentration (BAC). He was arrested and taken to a hospital. The officer never attempted to secure a search warrant. McNeely refused to consent, but the officer directed a lab technician to take a sample. McNeely’s BAC tested above the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated. The trial court suppressed the test result, concluding that the exigency exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because, apart from the fact that McNeely’s blood alcohol was dissipating, no circumstances suggested that the officer faced an emergency. The Missouri Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court affirmed. The Court looked to the “totality of circumstances,” declining to announce a per se rule. When officers in drunk-driving investigations can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search, the Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so. Circumstances may make obtaining a warrant impractical such that dissipation will support an exigency, but that is a reason to decide each case on its facts. Blood testing is different in critical respects from other destruction-of-evidence cases; BAC evidence naturally dissipates in a gradual and relatively predictable manner. Because an officer must typically obtain a trained medical professional’s assistance before having a blood test conducted, some delay between the time of the arrest and time of the test is inevitable regardless of whether a warrant is obtained. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Florida jail "unfit for human habitation"

A story from jacksonville.com reports that Atkinson County grand juries have consistently found the county jail needs repair.  This time around they are calling for its demolition:
Atkinson County grand juries have said since 2006 that the county needs a new jail. The current grand jury is the first to say the jail is unfit for human habitation and call for its demolition. “That’s the first time they’ve put it so bluntly,” Sheriff David Moore said. The 18-bed jail has cell doors that are extremely hard to open and close after years of welding on patches. There is raw sewage on the floor at times, and the sheriff and others have described the lighting as almost non-existent. The grand jurors issued the jail inspection committee report April 1 and urged the County Commission to address the issue at its next meeting and come up with an immediate solution.
Read the full story here.

Lawyer Has Final Say on Witness List

Interesting holding from Florida Supreme Court:
Puglisi v. State 
Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred in refusing to allow Defendant to call a witness despite defense counsel's determination that calling the witness would not be of benefit to Defendant's case. The Fourth District court of appeal held that determining which witnesses should be called by the defense is not a fundamental decision to be made by the defendant himself, and therefore, the trial court did not err in its judgment. The Fourth District subsequently certified conflict with the Fifth District's decision in Cain v. State. The Supreme Court (1) approved the decision of the Fourth District in this case and disapproved the decision of the Fifth District in Cain, holding that defense counsel has the final authority as to whether or not the defense will call a particular witness to testify at the criminal trial; and (2) receded from its decision in Blanco v. State to the extent it held that the ultimate decision rests with the defendant as to the presentation of witnesses. 
View Case On: Justia  Google Scholar 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

11th Circuit Activity: More FSA Fallout

United States v. Hinds

Judge: Per curiam
Areas of Law: Criminal Law 
Opinion Date: April 9, 2013
Defendant was convicted of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base and was sentenced following his conviction. Defendant was resentenced after the court vacated his original sentence upon finding that the drug amount attributed to him for sentencing purposes was too speculative and remanded to the district court for resentencing. The district court then imposed a sentence of 120 months and defendant appealed. The court agreed with defendant and the government that the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), Pub. L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372, applied to defendants whose offenses occurred prior to August 3, 2010, the date on which the FSA took effect, but who were resentenced after August 3, 2010. The court held that there was no meaningful difference between an initial sentence and a resentencing post-Act, and that the FSA applied in both cases. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's sentence and remanded to the district court for resentencing.

View Case On: Justia  Google Scholar

Monday, April 8, 2013

Former U.S. Senator Shares Thoughts on Federal Laws

Robert Bennett, a former U.S. Senator from Utah, offered a concise editorial on the current state of federal criminal law. 
Then crime rates soared in American cities and "Get tough on crime!" became a popular political slogan. Members of Congress responded by once again increasing the scope of federal police power, particularly with respect to drug crimes. Today, 209,000 of America's 1,600,000 inmates are in federal prison, which means that 13.5 percent of crimes committed in this country are now federal offenses, half of them involving drug violations.
The entire article is available here.