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Stephen Smalls v. State of South Carolina, filed 2/7/18: South Carolina Supreme Court Reverses Conviction Finding that COA Did Not Properly Assess State’s Evidence of Guilt. Also, Court Clarifies It Reviews PCR Legal Conclusion De Novo.

February 8th, 2018
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

Important case for the Bench and Bar-- Court clarifies its standard of review for PCR court conclusions of law, and how to properly assess strength of State's case in assessing Strickland prejudice. The title of this post is probably a bit misleading, given the procedural posture of this case.  What really happened is that the South Carolina Suprem

State v. Justin Johnson, SC Court of Appeals, filed 1/31/18: Court of Appeals Addresses Sympathy Photographs and Cops using Skype.

February 1st, 2018
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

  A particularly brutal double murder ostensibly justifies finding significant errors to be harmless. The opinion details the horrifying and sad details of this double-homicide case.  Warning: one of the victims was a 9-month old boy, the appellant's son.  Because of the facts, the Court could not find its way to finding the significant errors in this case to be prejudicial. First, the State introduced photograph

U.S. v. Hager, 5th Circuit, filed 1/5/18: Fraud and Confidential Business Information

January 31st, 2018
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

Private business information taken by the defendant to profit deemed confidential business information which created a property right created by the mail and wire fraud statutes. The defendant, Hager, worked for Velocity Electronics, a company which distributed computer parts in Austin, Texas. By wrongfully using Velocity's confidential information, Hager profited $1.16 million over the course of 4 years. Hager set up a fake c

United States v. Crabtree, 11th Circuit, filed 1/3/18: Fraud and Double Jeopardy Clause, Dismissed Juror, Jury Charges

January 23rd, 2018
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

Defendants’ conviction of Medicare fraud was upheld, after finding that an acquittal of one crime did not necessarily elicit a finding of acquittal for other charges, nor was this a violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. The court also upheld the adequacy and appropriateness of evidence and failed to find any procedural impropriety in dismissing a juror or issuing jury charges. Health Care Solutions Network, Inc (HCSN) was

US v. Castaneda-Pozo, 11th Cir., filed 12/19/17; Sentencing Issues for Fraud Convictions; Intended Loss and Substantial Financial Hardship

January 2nd, 2018
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

The Eleventh Circuit finds not-entirely-credible testimony of co-defendants sufficient to support making defendant entirely liable for intended loss, and substantial financial hardship applies even when victims don't have to sell their Rolexes.  The appellant in this case, Mr. Castaneda-Pozo appealed two aspects of his sentence.  First, he argued that the district court erred in finding him responsible for the scheme's entir

United States v. Blue, 4th Cir., filed 12/12/17: Vacate and Remand on Sentencing Issue; Judge did not adequately consider Blue’s non-frivolous arguments in favor of downward departure

December 13th, 2017
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

The Fourth Circuit finds sentence procedurally unreasonable when district court did not adequately address a defendant's nonfrivolous arguments that he should receive a downward departure.   Blue pleaded guilty to armed robbery and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.  Probation prepared its usual presentence report (PSR) and recommended a sentence of 188 to 235 months' imprisonment for the robbery, and a consec

US v. Diaz, 9th Cir., filed 12/6/17: The Limits (or Not!) of Expert Witness Testimony in White Collar Criminal Case

December 8th, 2017
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

I find this opinion disturbing because I think too often government expert witnesses are allowed too free rein in their testimonies in the first place, to the obvious disadvantage of criminal defendants, and this decision clearly will not be slowing down that train anytime soon.  Here, the Court did not find error when the government's expert witness cou

US v. Elliot, et al., 6th Circ., filed 11/30/17, Honeycutt Remand on Forfeiture Issue

December 5th, 2017
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

Abolishment of joint and several liability for forfeitures pursuant to §853(a)(1) of the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act of 1984. The defendants in this case were convicted of being participants, in varying roles, in a "pill mill" scheme. Located in Florida, they were indicted in the Eastern District of Kentucky for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone in that area.  As the government proved at trial, numerous purchasers of the o

United States v. Pleitez, 5th Cir., filed 11/22/17: Increase in Restitution Award Without the Assistance of Counsel Reversed; Restitution Increase “Critical Stage” of Criminal Proceeding.

November 29th, 2017
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

This is an interesting case addressing the fundamental right to an attorney at all "critical stages" of a trial proceeding. I don't believe I've seen this particular issue arise before, so it caught my attention. This is an immensely important decision for criminal defendants facing mandatory restitution obligations. Pleitez pleaded guilty to a number of charges that re

Burgess v. United States, 11th Cir., filed 11/6/17, Court Vacates §2255 Denial When Judge Sua Sponte Raises Procedural Bar

November 16th, 2017
Elizabeth Franklin-Best

The 11th Circuit holds that Court cannot invoke a procedural bar, on its own accord, to deny a petitioner's claim in a federal post-conviction action. The petitioner here pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.  As part of this plea agreement, he did what every other defendant is unfairly forced to do-- he waived his right to appeal, which also included his right to collaterally challenge his conviction (except as

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RECENT POSTS

Stephen Smalls v. State of Sou...
February 8th, 2018

State v. Justin Johnson, SC Co...
February 1st, 2018

U.S. v. Hager, 5th Circuit, fi...
January 31st, 2018

United States v. Crabtree, 11t...
January 23rd, 2018