Monday, January 26, 2009

Chew on some interesting criminal law cases, last week of January 2009:

Criminal law -- Manslaughter -- Evidence -- Error to exclude evidence of victim's blood-alcohol level at time of affray in which defendant struck victim one time and victim fell where theory of defense was that victim was acting in an aggressive, threatening manner, under the influence of alcohol, and that defendant was only defending himself when he punched the victim a single time -- New trial required
Reported at 34 Fla. L. Weekly D223c

Criminal law -- Incest -- Defendant who had sexual intercourse with his 18-year-old adopted daughter and niece by his marriage to her biological mother's sister was erroneously convicted of incest because adopted daughter was not related to defendant by consanguinity -- Legal definition of incest is limited to persons who are related either by lineal consanguinity or collateral consanguinity -- It does not extend to persons who are related by affinity or adoption, but not biologically by blood
Reported at 34 Fla. L. Weekly D217a

Criminal law -- Murder -- Circumstantial evidence -- Trial court did not err in denying defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal where circumstantial evidence was sufficient for jury to exclude every reasonable hypothesis except for that of guilt -- No merit to defendant's claim that court's finding in penalty phase of trial that state failed to prove heinous, atrocious, or cruel aggravator applied to issue of whether evidence was sufficient to rebut defendant's hypothesis of innocence that someone else killed victim -- Penalty phase proceedings are distinct from guilt phase of murder trial, and court's findings regarding aggravators in penalty phase are not intended to override jury's verdict in guilt phase
Reported at 34 Fla. L. Weekly D213a

Criminal law -- Possession of cocaine, marijuana, and paraphernalia -- Search and seizure -- Vehicle stop -- Error to stop vehicle on ground that trailer hitch partially blocked tag and officers could not read letters on tag from distance of thirty to fifty feet -- Properly attached trailer hitch is not “other obscuring matter” for purposes of statute requiring that identifying information on plate be clear and distinct and free from defacement, mutilation, grease, and “other obscuring matter”
Reported at 34 Fla. L. Weekly D220a

Criminal law -- Habeas corpus -- State court reasonably applied Supreme Court precedent to facts of case in rejecting claim that certain jury instructions on accomplice liability used at petitioner's trial on murder and related charges were ambiguous and were likely misinterpreted by jury to relieve state of burden of proving every element of crime beyond a reasonable doubt -- Circuit court erred in granting habeas relief where state-court decision did not result in “unreasonable application of . . . clearly established Federal law”
Reported at 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S602a

Criminal law -- Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base and powder cocaine -- Sentencing -- Federal guidelines -- Offense level -- Quantity of drugs -- Circuit court of appeals' order requiring petitioners' resentencing based on the district courts' categorical rejection of the 100:1 crack-to-powder cocaine ratio and substitution of its own 20:1 ratio conflicts with Kimbrough v. United States, which recognized district courts' authority to vary from the crack guidelines based solely on a policy disagreement, and not simply on individualized determination that guidelines yield excessive sentence in a particular case
Reported at 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S596a

Civil rights -- Search and seizure -- Qualified immunity -- Under two-step procedure for resolving government officials' qualified immunity claims mandated by Court in Saucier v. Katz, court must decide whether facts alleged or shown by plaintiff make out violation of constitutional right and, if so, whether that right was “clearly established” at time of defendant's alleged misconduct -- Saucier procedure, although often beneficial, it should no longer be regarded as mandatory in all cases -- Law enforcement officers in this case, who conducted warrantless search of plaintiff's house incident to arrest for sale of methamphetamine to an undercover informant whom he had voluntarily admitted to the premises, were entitled to qualified immunity on ground that it was not clearly established at the time of the search that their conduct was unconstitutional -- Officers relied on “consent-once-removed” doctrine, which permitted warrantless police entry into home when consent to enter had already been granted to undercover officer who observed contraband in plain view -- At time of entry, “consent-once-removed” doctrine had gained acceptance in lower courts and had been approved in some cases involving consensual entry by private citizens acting as informants, and officers were entitled to rely on those cases without facing personal liability for their actions even though their own federal circuit had not yet ruled on “consent-once-removed” entries
Reported at 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S588a

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