Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Trevor Lee appealed a district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence. As part of his plea agreement, Lee reserved the right to challenge the denial of his suppression motion on appeal. The district court concluded the pat-down frisk was reasonable under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), but the officer exceeded the scope of the frisk by opening the containers found in Lee’s pocket. However, the district court concluded the search of the containers was permissible as a search incident to Lee’s arrest because, prior to the search, the officer had probable cause to arrest Lee for driving without privileges and the search was substantially contemporaneous with the arrest. The court of appeals agreed and affirmed the district court’s denial of Lee’s motion to suppress. The Idaho Supreme Court found after review: (1) the district court correctly concluded that the frisk was justified under Terry but that the arresting officer exceeded the scope of a permissible frisk when he opened the containers found on Lee; and (2) the district court therefore erred in concluding the search of Lee's person was a permissible search incident to arrest. The Court vacated the conviction, reversed the district court’s denial of Lee’s motion to suppress, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Idaho v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Jonathan Folk was convicted by jury on one felony count of sexual abuse of a child under sixteen years old. On appeal, Folk contended the district court made numerous evidentiary errors. Folk also argued that the district court erred by denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal and the prosecutor committed misconduct amounting to fundamental error in his closing argument. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Idaho v. Folk" on Justia Law

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Darol Anderson appealed his convictions for felony domestic battery and misdemeanor domestic battery, arguing the district court erred when it admitted the preliminary hearing testimony of his alleged victim, Erica Messerly, after finding that she was unavailable to testify at his trial due to mental illness. Anderson also argued the district court abused its discretion when it allowed a responding officer to testify that the injuries that he had observed on Messerly’s person were consistent with her allegations against Anderson. Anderson contended the officer’s testimony constituted impermissible vouching for Messerly’s truthfulness. The Idaho Supreme Court found the district court erred in admitting Messerly’s testimony from the preliminary hearing in this case because the State failed to establish Messerly was unavailable to testify. The Court affirmed the conviction in all other respects. View "Idaho v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Matthew Cohagan appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. Following the denial of his motion, Cohagan entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of methamphetamine. Cohagan argued on appeal that the evidence seized when he was arrested should have been suppressed because it was “the direct result of the illegal detention because Officer Curtis detained [him] so that he could run a warrant check.” The Idaho Supreme Court determined there was no reason for the arresting officers to initiate a traffic stop in the first instance, so the evidence seized thereafter was indeed, the result of an illegal detention. The Court therefore reversed the denial of the motion to suppress and remanded for further proceedings. View "Idaho v. Cohagan" on Justia Law

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In 2013, while under the influence of a controlled substance, suffering from schizophrenia, and experiencing paranoia and a delusion that he and his family were in danger, defendant Shawn Fisher killed one person and attempted to kill another. He apparently selected his victims at random. Defendant was ultimately charged with murder in the first degree and several other crimes, but the district court found him unable to assist in his own defense due to his mental illness. Defendant filed a motion seeking to have the statutory abolition of the insanity defense declared to be unconstitutional; the district court denied the motion. The prosecutor, defense counsel, and defendant entered into a binding plea agreement, which provided that defendant would plead guilty to murder in the second degree, the remaining charges would be dismissed, and defendant would reserve the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to declare unconstitutional the statutory abolition of the insanity defense. There was no agreement as to the sentence. The State later filed an amended information reducing the charge of murder in the first degree to murder in the second degree. On the same day, defendant pled guilty to murder in the second degree. The district court held a sentencing hearing sentenced defendant to a determinate life sentence with no possibility for parole. On appeal, Defendant contended that the abolition of the insanity defense violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment. Finding no such constitutional violation nor an abuse of the district court’s discretion in sentencing defendant, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Idaho v. Fisher" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Darol Anderson appealed his convictions for felony domestic battery and misdemeanor domestic battery. Anderson argued the district court erred when it admitted the preliminary hearing testimony of his alleged victim, Erica Messerly, after finding that she was unavailable to testify at his trial due to mental illness. Anderson also argued that the district court abused its discretion when it allowed Officer Spencer Mortensen to testify that the injuries that he had observed on Messerly’s person were consistent with her allegations against Anderson; he argued this testimony constituted impermissible vouching for Messerly’s truthfulness. Unavailability due to mental illness was an issue of first impression for the Idaho Supreme Court. The Court determined two experts’ testimony were not sufficient evidence to establish that Messerly’s mental illness made her unavailable to testify, so the district court erred when it granted the motion in limine to allow her prehearing testimony to be read at trial. The district court did not abuse its discretion, however, by admitting Officer Mortensen’s testimony. Therefore, the district court’s judgment was vacated in part and affirmed in part. View "Idaho v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The district court igranted a motion to suppress statements made by defendant-respondent Tyrell McNeely to Detective Zane Jensen after finding that the Miranda warnings given to McNeely did not adequately advise him of his rights. On appeal, the State argued the district court erred when it followed case law from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals requiring police to advise suspects of their right to have an attorney present during interrogation. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Idaho v. McNeely" on Justia Law

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Mark Henry Lankford (Lankford) appealed after he was convicted by jury on two counts of felony murder. Lankford and his brother, Bryan Lankford (Bryan), were both convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 murders of Robert and Cheryl Bravence, who were brutally murdered while camping in the Sheep Creek area of Idaho County. Lankford argued that the district court erred in multiple ways and that he is entitled to a new trial. The State argued Lankford failed to prove that reversible error was committed by the district court and that Lankford’s convictions should be affirmed. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court found that a witness' false testimony about his motive for testifying could have influenced the judgment of the jury. Furthermore, the Court found that the prosecutor's failure to disclose the full details of the agreement for the witness to testify undermined "[its] confidence in the outcome of the trial such that we cannot be sure the defendant 'received a fair trial, understood as a trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence.'" Therefore, the Court held Lankford's right to a fair trial was violated and he was entitled to a new one. View "Idaho v. Lankford" on Justia Law

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Mark Lankford and his brother Bryan were both convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 murders of Robert and Cheryl Bravence, who were brutally murdered while camping in the Sheep Creek area of Idaho County. Lankford (Lankford) appealed his judgment of conviction, arguing the district court erred in multiple ways and that he was entitled to a new trial. The State argued that Lankford failed to prove that reversible error was committed by the district court and that Lankford’s convictions should have been affirmed. After careful consideration of the evidence presented at trial, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded Lankford was entitled to a new trial based on a finding of prosecutorial misconduct: the prosecutor's failure to disclose the full details of an agreement with a key corroborating witness' testimony “'undermines our confidence in the outcome of the trial,' such that we cannot be sure the defendant 'received a fair trial, understood as a trial resulting in a verdict worthy of confidence.'” View "Idaho v. Lankford" on Justia Law

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Shawn Wass appealed the judgment entered upon his conditional guilty plea to possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine). He argued the district court erred when it denied his motion to suppress his admission to the arresting officer that he was in possession of syringes. Wass argued the arresting officer did not inform him of his Miranda rights prior to being questioned. The trial court found the officer did not tactically induce a confession, coerce a confession, or use improper tactics to obtain the confession prior to Miranda warnings. The court found a second set of Miranda warnings did cure the failure to administer it the first time: “[i]t’s not a coercion where the actual circumstances are calculated to undermine the suspect’s ability to exercise free will. So I find that the second Miranda warnings does [sic] cure it. Once that happens, then the officer has reasonable articulable suspicion to search the automobile under the automobile search warrantless exception and he does search it and finds the items found in the case. So I’m denying the motion to suppress.” The United States Supreme Court first addressed the issue of whether admissions made in response to police questioning before Miranda warnings have the effect of rendering the same admissions made again after Miranda warnings inadmissible. Wass did not contend that either his pre- or post-Miranda statements were coerced. Therefore the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decisions that the post-Miranda statements were admissible. View "Idaho v. Wass" on Justia Law