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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 Appeals Decisions - April 2018

J.D. Lloyd - Friday, April 27, 2018

 Pruitt v. State 16-0956

 

 

Pruitt pleaded guilty to two counts of committing a sex act with a student, violations of § 13A-6-81, and two counts of distributing obscene material to a minor, violations of § 13A-12-200.5. These offenses involved 3 students Pruitt formerly taught. Pruitt was a teacher in the Blount County School system. She taught at the Locust Fork High School during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. She taught the three students during this time. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, Pruitt was transferred to Appalachian High School. During October 2014, she sent Student #1 nude Snapchat pictures, had deviate sexual intercourse with Student #2, and had sexual intercourse with Student #3. For all intents and purposes, the acts were consensual. These facts were stipulated by both sides. Prior to pleading guilty, Pruitt, relying on Lawrence v. Texas, argued that the statutes and charges were unconstitutional as applied to her. AFFIRMED The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the Lawrence-based argument on the grounds that Lawrence explicitly held that the decision didn’t apply to conduct involving minors. Further, the Court concluded that the State has a legitimate state interest in “prohibiting intimate contact between a teacher and a student.” The Court likewise rejected Pruitt’s “consent” defense since the statute expressly says “consent is not a defense.” Finally, the Court held that the fact that Pruitt did not teach at the same school as the students did not entitle her to relief. The Court also rejected an argument that her violation for unlawful distribution of obscene material to a minor didn’t violate her right to Equal Protection to be free from State intervention in a private relationship with a consulting person. The Court ruled against this argument based on the student being a minor (per § 13A-12-200.1) and previous holdings that the State doesn’t violate Equal Protection concerns by prohibiting sexual contact with minors.
 
Towles v. State CR-15-0699
Towles was convicted of capital murder pursuant to §13A-5-40(a)(15) for killing his girlfriend’s son by hitting him on the buttocks with a piece of lumber. This appealed stemmed from a re-trial after the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his capital murder conviction and death sentence years back. In the interim, Towles’ girlfriend pleaded guilty for failing to protect her son from Towles. The girlfriend didn’t testify at trial. Towles’ defense was that she caused the death and then blackmailed him to help her cover up the child’s death. However, the State impeached Towles by discussing how she had pleaded guilty for failing to protect her son from Towles. REVERSED The Court concluded that the introduction of the girlfriend’s conviction into evidence was improper evidence of Towles’ guilt. The Court also concluded that the trial court’s instruction that “knowledge of the probability of death or great bodily harm is sufficient to constitute murder” impermissibly lessened the State’s burden and undermined the defense’s argument that the killing was, at most, unintentional. Mr. Towles will now go back for his third trial.

 

Betton v. State CR-15-1501
Betton was a juvenile capital defendant seeking re-sentencing under Miller v. Alabama. Here, the circuit court re-sentenced him to LWOP without considering the factors the Alabama Supreme Court announced in Ex parte Henderson. REMANDED The Court held that remand was necessary for the circuit court to enter specific findings under Ex parte Henderson.
 
Battles v. State CR-17-0044
In a prosecution for unlawful possession of a pistol by a forbidden person pursuant to § 13A-11-72(a), Battles waived counsel and represented himself at trial. However, throughout, Battles complained that he didn’t understand the charges against him and complained that he didn’t have the resources necessary to defend his case. REVERSED The Court concluded that while Battles knowingly waived his right to represent himself at trial, the circuit court failed to the factors a court must discuss with a defendant pursuant to Fitzpatrick v. Wainwright, 800 F. 2d 1057 (11th Cir. 1986) and Tomlin v. State, 601 So. 2d 124 (Ala. 1991). Additionally, the court failed to tell Battles he could withdraw the waiver at any time.

 

 

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.


 

 

Supreme Court Update - New Protections Against Executing The Mentally Disabled

J.D. Lloyd - Thursday, March 30, 2017

 

Moore v. Texas (U.S. Supreme Court, March 28/2017)

 

Moore was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. In post-trial proceedings, a circuit court concluded that Mr. Moore was intellectually disabled and, thus, ineligible for execution under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) and Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. ___ (2014). The circuit court based its decision on the most current medical guidelines. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) rejected that conclusion and re-instated Moore’s death sentence. The CCA concluded that the circuit court erred in not following factors laid out in Ex parte Briseno, 135 S. W. 3d 1( 2004), which relied upon medical authority from 1992. Moore appealed, claiming the CCA’s reasoning violated the Eighth Amendment.

 

REVERSED.

In Atkins, the Supreme Court opened the door to allow states to develop their own tests for determining intellectual disability and ineligibility for the death penalty. However, as the states have developed different tests, the Court has indicated it will review these procedures to determine whether the states have created “an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.” Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. at ___. Here, the Court took aim at Texas’ Atkins test for determining intellectual disability which was centered around out-dated medical information and court-created “factors” that have been widely criticized.

 

In holding that Mr. Moore was ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins, the circuit court relied on medical diagnostic standards coming from the 11th edition of the American Association on Intellectual and Development Disabilities (“AAIDD”) clinical manual and the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (“DSM-5”) published by the American Psychiatric Association. The court followed the “generally accepted, uncontroversial intellectual-disability diagnostic definitions” in reaching their conclusion. Basically, the circuit court relied on the most up-to-date diagnostic material in assessing Moore.

 

The CCA rejected the circuit court’s conclusion and chastised it for not applying the Briseno test for determining intellectual disability. The Briseno test was based upon the 9th edition of the AAIDD and included a seven-factor test that was not grounded in any medical authority -- just a judicial creation. The CCA recognized that the standards in the AAIDD may have changed, but concluded that the Briseno test “remained adequately informed by the medical community’s diagnostic framework.”

 

The Supreme Court concluded that the CCA’s reliance on out-dated medical information and “factors” that have been widely criticized and rejected in the legal and medical community could not comport with the Eighth Amendment as well as Atkins and Hall. While the State’s have leeway in formulating their own approach to addressing Atkins claims, the cornerstone of any scheme must be “the medical community’s diagnostic framework.”

 

 

Read the decision here

 

 

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.



 

Interesting Gun Control Battle in DC

J.D. Lloyd - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Yesterday, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for DC vacated a district court decision that had previously enjoined a DC gun control measure. The DC ordinance essentially only allowed residents to register a handgun "for protection within the home." While the district court struck down the ordinance as violative of the 2nd Amendment, the Court of Appeals vacated the district court's decision on the grounds that the lower court judge, who was sitting by special appointment, acted outside the power of his appointment.

 

 
Read the district court's decision and discussion on the Ordinance by clicking here.


 
Read the Court of Appeals decision vacating the district court's decision by clicking here.

 

 

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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