Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Nicholas Sunseri was arrested in 2016, charged by uniform citation with two misdemeanors: domestic violence committed in the presence of a child, and interfering with a 911 call. Sunseri was in custody when he made his first appearance before the magistrate court. The magistrate court advised Sunseri of his rights and the potential penalties associated with the charges he faced. The City Attorney’s Office had previously lodged with the magistrate court a document styled as “Waiver of Appearance,” in which it waived the right to be present and advised the magistrate court of its plea offer to Sunseri. Although Sunseri had not met with an attorney to discuss the offer, the magistrate court advised Sunseri of the terms of the State’s plea offer. Sunseri responded that he understood and accepted the offer. Sunseri then waived his right to counsel and entered a plea of guilty to domestic violence in the presence of a child. The magistrate court then entered a no contact order and released Sunseri on his own recognizance after Sunseri signed his acknowledgement of receipt of the no contact order. Three days later, the magistrate court entered an order scheduling sentencing. Thereafter, Sunseri consulted with an attorney and learned that his guilty plea would result in a loss of his right to possess firearms and ammunition by operation of 18 U.S.C. section 922(g)(9). More than six weeks prior to his scheduled sentencing date, Sunseri moved to withdraw his guilty plea. Sunseri appealed the district court's affirmance of the magistrate court's order denying his motion to withdraw the plea. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed, finding the district court failed to recognize the magistrate court had not proceeded to the second step of determining whether there was any other just reason for withdrawal of his guilty plea. The result was to conflate the “manifest injustice” standard, which requires the trial court to grant a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, with the “just cause” standard, which confers discretionary authority upon the trial court to permit a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea. View "Idaho v. Sunseri" on Justia Law

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At approximately midnight on October 1, 2016, Coeur d’Alene police officers responded to an apartment after receiving a 911 call from defendant Brianna Andersen reporting that that “there was a male who was unconscious, not breathing and unresponsive in the bathroom area of the residence.” Paramedics arrived at the residence approximately five minutes after the police officers’ arrival. Andersen initially reported that the occupants of the residence had been downstairs in the basement eating pizza when the man went upstairs. Then “they heard a loud thump, and . . . they found him unconscious.” Police found the man still breathing, but surmised he may have been under the influence of heroin; a syringe for "a narcotic analgesic of some kind" was found on the sink nearby. Police aggressively questioned Andersen, with Andersen eventually offering she had flushed a syringe down the toilet prior to placing the 911 call because she did not want the man to get in trouble. Andersen consented to a search of her purse; the purse held two plastic baggies containing heroin. Andersen and a search of Andersen’s person revealed two syringe caps in her pocket. Andersen was charged by information with possession of heroin and destruction of evidence. Andersen filed a motion to suppress, contending that her statements were obtained in violation of her Miranda rights, that the physical evidence obtained as a result of the statements was “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and that the search of her purse was the product of coercion. The district court granted Andersen’s motion based on its finding that Andersen’s statements were made without Miranda warnings during a custodial interrogation and that Andersen’s statements were not voluntary. The Idaho Supreme Court determined Andersen was not in custody during her interrogation, and that her statements were not made involuntarily. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Idaho v. Andersen" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Alwin appealed his conviction after a jury found Alwin guilty of felony eluding a peace officer. Alwin moved for a new trial, challenging the district court’s admission of a booking photograph at trial. Alwin argued the booking photograph was evidence of prior criminal conduct in violation of Idaho Rule of Evidence (“I.R.E.”) 404(b). The district court denied his motion. Alwin timely appealed and contended the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a new trial because the district court erroneously admitted I.R.E. 404(b) evidence over his objection when it admitted the booking photograph at trial. Alwin also argued the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments. The Court of Appeals reversed, and the State filed a timely Petition for Review. The Idaho Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in admitting the photograph, did not abuse its discretion in denying a new trial, and found the error committed by the prosecution did not rise to the level of fundamental error. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court. View "Idaho v. Alwin" on Justia Law

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John Bernal appealed his convictions for assault with a deadly weapon, reckless driving, and leaving the scene of an accident. Carmen Becerra and Bernal dated for approximately eight years. By March 2016, their relationship was strained. One afternoon, Carmen was visiting her cousin; Bernal showed up and asked her if they could talk. Carmen agreed to meet Bernal at his aunt’s house. Carmen and Bernal eft the house in separate cars. Stopped by construction, Bernal got out of his vehicle and walked toward Carmen, who was stopped behind him. Carmen testified Bernal looked angry, so she turned onto a side street to avoid a confrontation. Carmen testified she was driving fast so she could get away from Bernal, but he got back into his vehicle and followed her. While Bernal was following Carmen, she was on the phone with her brother, Gustavo Becerra. Gustavo testified that he could hear screaming, speeding, braking, commotion, and then Carmen abruptly hung up. Carmen hit her brakes, causing Bernal to lose control, spin out, and crash into a parked vehicle. Carmen drove to her home where she lived with her mother, Gustavo, and Gustavo’s family. Bernal arrived on foot. As Bernal was approaching the house, Gustavo told Bernal to leave. When Bernal made it halfway through the yard, Gustavo, who was still on the porch, picked up his baseball bat. An altercation ensured; Bernal left threatening to return. During closing arguments, Bernal argued he did not have a knife, that Gustavo was not a credible witness, and that Gustavo was the aggressor. He also argued that he was not identified as the driver of the car that collided with the parked car. Additionally, Bernal argued Carmen credibly testified, contrary to her previous statement to the police, that she did not see Bernal with a knife. The jury found Bernal guilty on all counts, including the sentencing enhancement, and the district court entered judgment. The Idaho Supreme Court determined Bernal failed to show fundamental error arose from an impermissible variance or from prosecutorial misconduct. Therefore, the Court affirmed Bernal's conviction. View "Idaho v. Bernal" on Justia Law

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Joseph Herrera appealed his conviction for second-degree murder after a second trial. On appeal, Herrera argued: (1) the State vindictively prosecuted him by adding a sentencing enhancement; (2) the district court erred when it failed to conduct a sufficient inquiry into his request for substitution of appointed counsel; (3) the district court abused its discretion when it overruled objections to a detective’s testimony regarding gunshot residue analysis; (4) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct in closing arguments; (5) the accumulation of errors deprived him of a right to a fair trial; and (6) the district court judge imposed a vindictive sentence after the second trial. After review of the second trial record, the Idaho Supreme Court found no reversible errors and affirmed Herrera’s conviction and sentence. View "Idaho v. Herrera" on Justia Law

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Charges were brought against Charles Capone following the disappearance of Rachael Anderson in April of 2010. He was convicted by jury of felony first degree murder, failure to notify coroner or law enforcement of death, and conspiracy to commit failure to notify coroner or law enforcement of death. Capone challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction and claimed the district court erred in the admission of certain evidence and by denying his motion for new trial. Finding no error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Idaho v. Capone" on Justia Law

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Kilo Le Veque appealed district court decisions to revoke his probation and subsequently relinquish jurisdiction. Le Veque argued the district court abused its discretion in these decisions by refusing to consider the propriety of the terms of his probation at the revocation hearing and by relinquishing jurisdiction solely because Le Veque had not obtained a polygraph examination that the district court desired. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s order revoking probation and reversed the district court’s order relinquishing jurisdiction. The Idaho Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for review and: (1) affirmed the district court’s decision revoking Le Veque’s probation; (2) reversed the district court’s decision relinquishing jurisdiction; and (3) remanded the case for further proceedings before a new district court judge. View "Idaho v. Le Veque" on Justia Law

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The State appealed the dismissal of a charge against defendant Laura Akins for her failure to notify of a death pursuant to Idaho Code section 19-4301A. In November 2015, Kimberly Vezina’s body was found wrapped in a tarp and a shower curtain in Lake Coeur d’Alene. Law enforcement’s investigation revealed that Laura Akins was suspected of disposing the body after Vezina died of a drug overdose. The statute imposes a duty on persons who find or have custody of a body to promptly notify authorities. It also prescribes the punishment for failure to comply with that duty, including felony punishment for failing to notify with intent to prevent discovery of the manner of death. The issue this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court’s review was whether defendant’s prosecution under this statute would violate her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The Supreme Court hold that it would, based on the unique set of facts of this case and affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the charge. View "Idaho v. Akins" on Justia Law

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Shane Kraly was convicted by jury on various charges, including injury to a child. Kraly argued the jury verdict as to the injury to child charge was not supported by sufficient evidence to conclude that he assumed care or custody of the minor child, M.M. M.M. met Kraly on social media through a mutual friend. When they met in person, Kraly showed M.M. how to use methamphetamine. After review of the district court judgment, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated the judgment of conviction and remanded with instructions for the entry of a judgment of acquittal as to the injury to child charge. However, Kraly’s other convictions remain. On a day M.M. did not show up for school, the school called her father, and her father called M.M.’s juvenile probation officer. Using M.M.’s ankle monitor’s GPS coordinates, law enforcement tracked M.M. to the casino parking lot and discovered Kraly and M.M. sitting in his truck. Kraly was later arrested and charged with rape, injury to child, possession of methamphetamine, and possession of drug paraphernalia. After trial, a jury found Kraly guilty on all counts. The pertinent part to “injury to child” was that the actor had to willfully cause a child to suffer, having the care or custody of any child. Under this standard Kraly argued he did not have “care or custody” of M.M. during the hours he spent with her and his conviction of injury to child had to be vacated. The Idaho Supreme Court agreed and reversed conviction as to that charge. The Supreme Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Idaho v. Kraly" on Justia Law

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Anthony Robins, Jr. was convicted by jury for aiding and abetting two first-degree murders and an attempted first-degree murder. While incarcerated prior to trial, Robins’s cell was searched and handwritten notes he had prepared in anticipation of a meeting with counsel were seized and delivered to the prosecuting attorney. The district court granted Robins partial relief from a violation of his attorney-client privilege but placed the burden on him to object at trial if the State offered evidence or argument arising from the privileged materials. Robins argued the district court erred in fashioning this remedy, and the Idaho Supreme Court agreed. In light of the circumstances, the Supreme Court vacated his judgment of conviction and remanded the case with instructions to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the State can overcome the presumption of prejudice arising from its violation of Robins’s attorney-client privilege. If the State can overcome the presumption, the Court held a new trial had to be conducted from which the prosecutor's office had to be recused. View "Idaho v. Robins" on Justia Law