Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Criminal

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Raul Herrera challenged a district court’s partial denial of his Idaho Criminal Rule 35 motion for correction or reduction of sentence. Following his conviction for first-degree murder, among other charges, Herrera was sentenced to an indeterminate term of life with thirty-five years fixed. Herrera argued his sentence was illegal because the fixed term was greater than the duration authorized by Idaho Code section 18-4004, the statute governing punishment for murder. The district court rejected this argument and denied Herrera’s motion as to that part, but the motion was granted in part due to an illegal sentence for Herrera’s separate conviction for second-degree kidnapping. After a hearing was held to correct the kidnapping sentence, the district court entered an amended judgment, from which Herrera appealed. Finding no reversible error in the district court's sentence, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision. View "Idaho v. Herrera" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered the interpretation of Idaho Code section 37-2732: the State charged Daniel Amstad with violating section 37-2732 for “being present at or on premises of any place where he knows illegal controlled substances are being manufactured or cultivated, or are being held . . . .” Amstad moved to dismiss on the basis that he was in a vehicle, so his conduct did not fall within the statute. The magistrate court granted the motion and dismissed the case. The State appealed and the district court affirmed, holding that “premises” and “place” under section 37-2732 did not include a parked vehicle. The Idaho Supreme Court disagreed with the magistrate and district courts, holding that "a person does not leave a location simply by entering a parked vehicle." As such, the Court reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Idaho v. Amstad" on Justia Law

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Dillon Gibson was arrested for vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. His mother, Judy Luis, posted a cash deposit and a property bond that collectively enabled Gibson’s release on bail. After he pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter, but before sentencing, Gibson was alleged to have violated his conditions of release. He was arrested on a bench warrant, remanded to custody, and informed by the district court that additional bail would be required and that the previous bail amount would not be forfeited. Following sentencing, Luis moved for release of the cash deposit, asserting that it should have been exonerated when Gibson was remanded to custody. The district court denied the motion and directed the clerk of the court to apply the cash deposit against Gibson’s fine, costs, and restitution obligations. Luis timely appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court concurred the cash deposit should have been exonerated when Gibson's bail was revoked and he was remitted to custody. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Idaho v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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Sonny Rome sought post-conviction relief. In March 2016, Rome moved for post-conviction relief from his aiding and abetting a burglary conviction, claiming counsel was ineffective under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). In support of post-conviction relief, he challenged counsel’s performance at both the trial and direct-appeal phases. The district court held a one-day trial on Rome’s post-conviction petition. At the trial, after Rome presented his case in chief, the State moved for a directed verdict. The district court granted the State’s motion. In this appeal, Rome argued the district court erred by: (1) not taking judicial notice of certain items at the post-conviction phase, and (2) concluding trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to request a certain jury instruction. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rome v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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Steven Moore appealed a district court’s decision denying his motion to suppress his identification by an eyewitness. The district court found that law enforcement had engaged in a suggestive identification procedure but concluded that the identification was nonetheless reliable under the five-factor reliability test first articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972). Moore argued before the Idaho Supreme Court that the district court should have suppressed the identification because the district court’s findings regarding several of the reliability factors were not supported by substantial and competent evidence. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Idaho v. Moore" on Justia 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