August, 2017

Pennsylvania: Most Recent Sex Offender Registration Law Could Not be Applied Retroactively to Defendant

Defendant was convicted of sex offenses prior to the effective date of Pennsylvania’s most recent sex offender registration law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the law could not be applied retroactively to defendant because it would inflict greater punishment on defendant than the law in effect at the time defendant committed the crimes. Commonwealth v. Muniz, 2017 BL 248645, Pa., No. 47 MAP 2016, 07-19-17: full text at

Third Circuit: Petitioner’s Right to a Fair Trial Was Violated Where the Prosecutor Did Not Correct Witness’s False Statement and Used it in Closing Arguments

 During petitioner’s murder trial, the prosecutor’s witness testified that she did not expect any benefit from her testimony. The prosecutor knew she was getting favorable treatment and failed to correct her and restated her claim in closing arguments. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that this violated defendant’s right to a fair trial and granted habeas petition. Haskell v. Superintendent Greene SCI, 2017 BL 266640, 3d Cir., No. 15-3427, 08-01-17: full text at

D.C. Circuit: Defendant Was Entitled to a New Trial Where Defense Counsel Failed to Call a Mental Health Expert Regarding Online Fantasy Chats

At defendant’s trial for attempted coercion and enticement of a minor with intent to engage in elicit sexual conduct, he testified that his online chats with what was actually a detective were just fantasy. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed his conviction finding that his lawyer’s failure to call a mental health expert regarding online fantasy chats was ineffective assistance. United States v. Laureys, 2017 BL 275690, D.C. Cir., No. 15-3032, 08-08-17: full text at

California: Defendant’s Confrontation Rights Were Violated Where Prosecution Was Allowed to Admit Hearsay Statement for Improper Purpose

Defendant testified at her murder trial that her dead boyfriend committed the murder, and the prosecution was allowed to admit the boyfriend’s prior statement blaming her. The California Supreme Court ruled that the admission of the boyfriend’s statement was inadmissible hearsay that violated defendant’s confrontation rights because it was put before the jury for the purpose of describing the manner of the victim’s death and not for the permissible purpose of attacking defendant’s truthfulness on the witness stand. People v. Hopson, 2017 BL 229791, Cal., No. S229791, 07-03-17: full text at

Massachusetts: State Cannot Hold Undocumented Immigrant for Federal Officials on Civil Immigration Detainer After State Criminal Charges Were  Dismissed

Defendant, an undocumented immigrant, was charged with robbery and bail was set. The charges were later dismissed, but state officers held him on a request from federal immigration officials based on a civil immigration detainer. The Massachusetts Supreme Court held that with no state charges pending the state officers could only hold defendant by arresting him and the civil immigration detainer did not give them that power. Lunn v. Commonwealth, 2017 BL 254784, Mass., SJC-12276., 07-24-17: full text at

Massachusetts: Evidence Found on Camera During Warrantless Search of Arrestee Must Be Suppressed

Defendant was convicted of gun charges after the police searched his backpack incident to his arrest finding a digital camera that they searched without a warrant finding pictures of defendant next to firearms. The Massachusetts Supreme Court found that its constitution and the logic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California (holding that warrants are needed to support searches of mobile phones of arrestees) supported suppression of the evidence and reversal of the conviction. The inventory exception did not apply because inventories are meant to safeguard and catalog property, not to investigate crimes. Commonwealth v. Mauricio, 2017 BL 282921, Mass., SJC-12254, 08-14-17: full text at

Fourth Circuit: Defendant Was Entitled to a New Trial Where Trial Judge Made Prejudicial Comments About Diversity Immigrant Visa Program During Trial

Defendant applied for a permanent resident visa under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program and was charged with visa fraud because he did not list his traffic tickets on his application for citizenship. The trial court’s comments during the trial, criticizing Congress for creating the program and suggesting that people who use it come from the bottom hundred countries in the world, do not need any discernible skill or education, and will probably “drag along” their “ten kids and four wives” when they come, were so prejudicial they were plain error entitling defendant to a new trial. United States v. Lefsih, 2017 BL 283233, 4th Cir., No. 16-4345, 08-14-17: full text at

D.C. Circuit: Failures of a Warrant to Search and Seize Mobile Phones and Electronic Devices Required Reversal of Gun Conviction

Defendant’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm was vacated where the gun was found during the execution of a warrant that lacked probable cause and was overbroad. The warrant allowed police to search for and seize any mobile phones and other electronic devices without proof that the subject of the investigation even owned a mobile phone. The good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not save the warrant because of the severity of the failures of the warrant. United States v. Griffith, 2017 BL 289587, D.C. Cir., No. 13-3061, 08-18-17: full text at

Fourth Circuit: Government May Only Restrain Assets That Are Directly Subject to Forfeiture as Property Traceable to a Charged Offense

An en banc panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled that the government cannot restrain untainted substitute assets before trial. The government sought to restrain the sale of property that defendant was trying to sell after he was accused of participating in a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. while serving in Afghanistan. The court found that 21 U.S.C. § 853 only permits pretrial restraint over assets directly subject to forfeiture as property traceable to a charged offense, overruling precedents to the contrary and vacating the district court’s order. United States v. Chamberlain, 2017 BL 284723, 4th Cir., No. 16-4313, 08-18-17: full text at

Tenth Circuit: Protective Sweep Doctrine Did Not Apply Where There Was No Proof of Unknown Dangerous People in the Home

The protective sweep doctrine did not cover guns found during a warrantless search of a residence where the guns were found after the police secured the arrestee in another part of the home and there was no proof of any unknown dangerous person hiding in the home. The court held that the guns should be suppressed but remanded for a determination as to whether there was proper consent for the search. United States v. Nelson, 2017 BL 288223, 10th Cir., No. 16-3292, 08-17-17: full text at

First Circuit: Fact That Defendant Was Sought for Drug Trafficking Did Not Support Protective Sweep

 Defendant was allowed to challenge the denial of his motion to suppress in spite of his guilty plea where the trial court went to extreme lengths to preserve the right, repeatedly saying that the right to appeal the denial would remain open. The court reversed the denial of the motion to suppress finding that the fact that the arrestee was being sought for drug trafficking did not, standing alone, give officers the right to perform a protective sweep on the ground that there may be another person in the home who posed a danger to officer safety. United States v. Delgado-Prez, 2017 BL 286875, 1st Cir., No. 15-2247, 08-16-17: full text at