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The After The Trial blog presents insights on ongoing and recent trials around the state of Alabama, including weekly criminal law round-ups.

Court of Criminal Appeal Releases from March 17, 2017

J.D. Lloyd - Monday, March 27, 2017

 

Keith v. State (CR-15-1319)

Keith pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled substance and first-degree unlawful possession of marijuana after police found drugs under the front seat of his car during an inventory search. Officers pulled Keith over when they ran his license plate and realized the tag didn’t match his car. When they ran Keith’s ID, they discovered he had outstanding warrants and placed him under arrest. His car was searched as an inventory search and the drugs were found inside. Keith moved to suppress on the grounds that the search was improper warrantless search.

REVERSED. The Court concluded that the State failed to show that inventory search was carried out “according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of criminal activity.” The Court focused on Ex parte Boyd, 542 So. 2d 1276 (Ala. 1989), where the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that an inventory search was not valid because there was no evidence that law enforcement carried out the search pursuant to policy. Here, the Court found the same deficiencies that the Boyd court found: conclusory statements regarding following inventory policy, a lack of an inventory list, no copy of the policy was presented, and no evidence the officer followed that policy. Judge Joiner wrote a lengthy dissent.

 

Thoughts: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Alabama Supreme Court take this issue up and ask for clarification for inventory searches andBoyd’s lasting effect. To me, inventory search precedent focuses on whether officers can show a search really was an administrative search and not a fishing expedition.

 

Sheffield v. State (CR-15-1467)

Sheffield was convicted of murder. He argued that he shot the victim in self-defense or by accident. At trial, the State introduced a recording of a heated phone conversation between the defendant and his wife, which was pretty damning to the defense -- she basically said he murdered the victim and didn’t act in self defense. Sheffield tried to invoke martial privilege to exclude the conversation, but the court allowed its introduction via Rule 804(b)(3) -- statements against interest. The State’s theory was that it was against the spouse’s interest for Sheffield to get convicted of murder.

REVERSED. The Court acknowledged that this was a question of first impression -- whether a declarant’s statements made against her spouse’s penal interest may also be considered against her own pecuniary or proprietary interest. In looking at Oregon case law, the Court concluded that the test as to whether a statement fits within the purview of Rule 804(b)(3) comes down to two central questions: (1) Was the declarant’s primary motive in making the statement to hurt or help her own interest; and (2) Was the risk to the declarant-spouse so great that the statements are inherently reliable? Here, the Court concluded the statements were not against Sheffield’s spouse’s interest (she wanted to divorce him), so they should not have been admitted under Rule 804(b)(3). Moreover, the Court concluded that this error wasn’t harmless given slight evidence presented surrounding the fatal moments.

 

Smith v. State (CR13-0055)

Smith was convicted of two counts of capital murder for a brutal kidnapping-murder/robbery-murder he carried out. At sentencing, the victim’s mother and sister testified that they believed the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for Smith. Smith argued on appeal that this testimony was improper.

CONVICTION AFFIRMED; SENTENCE VACATED. The Court concluded the victim’s family’s recommendations were improper victim impact statements regarding recommended sentences under Booth v. Maryland. The Court found these statements to be plain error and vacated the death sentence.

Thoughts: I’m not going to be surprised if this gets reversed by the AL SC saying that this error didn’t rise to the level of plain error. I could see the AL SC using Judge Windom’s dissent as a blue print for re-imposing Smith’s death sentence.

 

Legendre v. State (CR-16-0008)

Legendre was on probation and his PO filed a delinquency report alleging that he failed to report, left the state without permission, didn’t pay supervision fees, failed to pay court-ordered moneys, failed to report to CRO and failed to complete a court-ordered substance abuse program. At the hearing, the PO testified to trying to contact Legendre and how Legendre had missed meetings with her. In revoking, the court concluded that Legendre’s failure to report rose to the level of “absconding,” which allowed the court to fully revoke his probation. Legendre appealed claiming that he had not absconded.

AFFIRMED. The Court concluded that between his failure to report and his failure to communicate with the PO once she had contacted, the State presented sufficient evidence to prove that Legendre absconded and could be fully revoke.

 

Banville v. State (CR-15-1384)

The preclusive bar of Rule 32.2(d) does not bar a second Rule 32 petition if the first Rule 32 petition was based only upon Rule 32.1(f) -- a request to file an out-of-time appeal.

 

Campbell v. State (CR-15-1187)

Stoves v. State (CR-14-1687)

Both of these cases involved a reversal of one conviction on Double Jeopardy grounds (i.e., duplicate offenses), but an affirming of the remaining counts. Both are fact-intensive and not particularly noteworthy.

 

 

If you or someone you know has been convicted of wrongful criminal charges, there is hope after the trial. Contact us today by clicking HERE.



 

 

CCA Update: July Through September 2016

J.D. Lloyd - Saturday, September 24, 2016


State v. Watson 15-0211

 

Watson was charged with murder after shooting and killing a woman in the front yard of his cousin’s house. The woman, a stranger to Watson’s cousin, showed up at the house in some sort of “psychotic episode” and “foaming at the mouth and rolling around on the ground like a dog.” The cousin called Watson asking for his help. Watson immediately drove to his cousin’s house. Watson was armed with a pistol. The woman immediately began yelling at Watson, accusing him of killing her baby, and charged at him saying that she was going to kill him. Watson fired a warning shot into the ground. The woman yelled that guns did not scare her and continued to charge. Watson fired another shot at her, which struck her in the arm and traveled into her chest, killing her. Watson claimed that he was immune from prosecution pursuant to § 13A-3-23(d) and the circuit court agreed. In a detailed order, the circuit court concluded that Watson could reasonably conclude he or another was in danger of serious bodily harm, that he was free of fault, and that he had the right to defend himself. The State appealed. AFFIRMED The CCA concluded that the record fully supported the circuit court’s ruling and that there was no “gross abuse of discretion” warranting reversal.

 

Thomas v. State 14-0723

 

Thomas was convicted of murder stemming from a shootout that occurred one night in Montgomery. On the night in question, the evidence presented indicated that Thomas was invited to the house by someone there who owed him money. The man who was eventually shot, Johnson, had bad blood with Thomas, but both the State and defense’s evidence indicated that Thomas was invited to the house and did not engage in any unlawful activity when he was there. According to Thomas, when he said “hey” to Johnson, Johnson and another man pulled guns and fired at him. Thomas asked for stand-your-ground instruction of self-defense, but the circuit court denied. REVERSED The CCA concluded that the evidence presented supported a jury instruction on a stand-your-ground defense.


Caver v. State CR-15-0300

 

Police executed a search warrant on a house that was the known residence of Caver.  Small packages of marijuana and paraphernalia were found in a bedroom that contained a framed picture of Caver and his girlfriend, as well as letters addressed to Caver. Caver’s girlfriend testified that marijuana was hers and the letters addressed to Caver were letters she wrote to him while he was in prison that were returned to her. On cross-examination, over the objection of defense counsel, Caver’s girlfriend explained that Caver was incarcerated on a burglary and sodomy charge. Caver was convicted of one count of first-degree possession of marijuana and one count of paraphernalia. UPOM CHARGE REVERSED RENDERED; UPDP CHARGE REVERSED Carver challenged the sufficiency of the State’s case of first-degree possession of marijuana and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed the State’s case of constructive possession was insufficient as a matter of law. The evidence failed to demonstrate Caver had exclusive rights of possession in the house or room. The Court also agreed that the State should not have been able to have Caver’s girlfriend testify about the nature of the charges for which Caver was serving time when she wrote him.


Case v. State CR-15-0252

 

Case pleaded guilty to one count of felony murder. During the guilty plea colloquy, the circuit court informed Case that the minimum sentence applicable to his guilty plea was 10 years; however, at sentencing, the circuit court sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment, finding that the firearm enhancement of § 13A-5-6(a)(4) applied. Case moved to withdraw his guilty plea in a timely Rule 32 petition, but the circuit court denied the petition. REVERSED. The circuit court has the duty under Rule 14.4(a)(1)(ii), Ala. R. Crim. P. to inform the defendant of the correct sentencing range. The incorrect information rendered the guilty plea involuntary.


Hinkle v. State CR-15-0615

 

Hinkle pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree theft and 3 counts of second-degree theft stemming from her theft of over $500,000.00 from a law firm where she was a secretary. The court departed from the guidelines and hammered her with 137 years’ total imprisonment for the convictions. Hinkle challenged the departure and the sufficiency of the departure order. AFFIRMED The Court concluded there was no abuse of discretion in this departure and that the record was sufficient. In affirming the departure, the Court concluded that the court’s conclusion that departure was warranted was not based on an “erroneous conclusion of law” and did not violate the general admonition that departures “should be rare.” This decision heavily relied upon the CCA’s earlier presumptive sentencing guideline decision in Hall v. State.

 

Taylor v. State 15-0354

 

Taylor, a probationer, tested positive for meth and was sanctioned with 21-days imprisonment. The court held an extensive hearing where the direct of the Marshall County Court Referral Services drug laboratory testified about the drug-testing process. The analyst who actually tested Taylor’s sample did not testify, so Taylor objected on Confrontation Clause grounds. AFFIRMED Relying on Chambers v. State, the CCA concluded that there was no Confrontation Clause violation as the technician who analyzed the sample merely submitted it into the machine and the machine carried out the rest of the analysis. The Court held that Taylor right to confrontation was protected as he had ample opportunity to cross-examine the lab director on the methods of analysis.

 

Sharifi v. State CR-14-1349

 

Sharifi was convicted of capital murder pursuant to § 13A-5-40(a)(10) and sentenced to death. Sharifi’s conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal and he filed a timely Rule 32. AFFIRMED While Rule 32-death opinions are usually pretty detailed with dozens of allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, Sharifi’s opinion here is brief. Of interest here is the Court’s detailed rejection of his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based upon Batson/JEB violations. The CCA is very tough on such claims at the Rule 32 stage and this opinion succinctly outlines the narrow road to pleading a colorable claim.


Yates v. State CR-14-1151

 

Yates was convicted as an accomplice of murder, attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle. At trial, the State was allowed to play a recording of a jail call Yates made to a friend while Yates was incarcerated in which he said something to the effect of, “I’m going to kill whoever stole my clothes.” The State sought to introduce this statement as evidence of Yates’ particularized into to commit the offense that occurred 3 weeks after the shootings. REVERSED. The Court held that this evidence was not admissible under Rule 404(b).  The Court found the recording to be confusing and disjointed as opposed to being “clear and conclusive” as required for admission. Additionally, the evidence was not necessary to prove the State’s case. This is a great decision to read and review for attaching the State’s attempt to introduce Rule 404(b) evidence.

 

 

If you or someone you know has been convicted of wrongful criminal charges, there is hope after the trial. Contact us today by clicking HERE.



 


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