Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In 2015, defendants AWi Builders, Inc. (AWi), Construction Contractors Corporation, Zhirayr Robert Mekikyan, Anna Mekikyan, and Tigran Oganesian (collectively, the AWI defendants) were under criminal investigation by the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) and the Riverside County District Attorney's Office (RCDA) in connection with AWi's involvement in certain public works projects. Pursuant to search warrants jointly obtained by OCDA and RCDA, a large amount of AWI' s property was taken into OCDA's custody. In 2017, OCDA decided not to pursue criminal charges against the AWI defendants and reassigned the matter to Orange County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby for civil prosecution. In 2018, Ernby filed a civil complaint, on behalf of the State and against the AWI defendants, for violations of the unfair competition law. The AWI defendants were provided with a copy of OCDA's full investigative file, minus privileged documents, and returned documents seized during the criminal investigation to the AWI defendants. In 2020, the AWI defendants filed a motion seeking an order recusing and disqualifying from this case Ernby and the entire OCDA, arguing OCDA had engaged in misconduct by, amongst other things, improperly handling property seized during the criminal investigation that was protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. The AWI defendants also argued that in the UCL action, Ernby had wrongfully threatened one of the AWI defendants, their counsel, and a paralegal with criminal prosecution, a claim Ernby categorically denied. The motion to recuse was denied, and the Court of Appeal affirmed denial: he AWI defendants did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court's findings. The Court found the trial court did not err by denying the motion to recuse because the evidence showed that no conflict of interest existed that would render it unlikely that the AWI defendants would receive a fair trial. View "California v. AWI Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, a suspected terrorist, plotted with a confidential informant to rob and murder a diamond dealer. Appellant was arrested after he provided two semi-automatic guns for use in the crime. While in pretrial detention, Appellant orchestrated a plot to prevent the informant from testifying against him. Appellant eventually pleaded guilty to the felon-in-possession count, and the government agreed to drop tampering and obstruction charges.In 2015, Appellant sought all FBI records containing his name, and any terrorism investigation he may have been a part of. The FBI denied the request. Citing the Appellant's plea agreement from the felon-in-possession case from years before, the district court granted summary judgment to the FBI.FOIA waivers must serve a legitimate criminal-justice interest to be enforceable. Here, the D.C. Circuit found that the waiver served such interests because it protected the safety of the confidential informant. The court also concluded that the waiver covered all documents requested by Appellant. View "Jihad Barnes v. FBI" on Justia Law

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On appeal, the district attorney argued that The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County (“ADDA”) lacks standing to seek mandamus relief on behalf of its members and that he does not have a ministerial duty to comply with the legal duties ADDA alleges he violated, that the trial court’s preliminary injunction violates the doctrine of separation of powers and that the balance of the harms does not support preliminary injunctive relief.   The Second Appellate District affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court’s order. The court concluded that ADDA has associational standing to seek relief on behalf of its members. The court concluded the voters and the Legislature created a duty, enforceable in mandamus, that requires prosecutors to plead prior serious or violent felony convictions to ensure the alternative sentencing scheme created by the three strikes law applies to repeat offenders. This duty does not violate the separation of powers doctrine by materially infringing on a prosecutor’s charging discretion; to the contrary, the duty affirms the voters’ and the Legislature’s authority to prescribe more severe punishment for certain recidivists. Further, neither the voters nor the Legislature can create a duty enforceable in mandamus to require a prosecutor to prove allegations of prior serious or violent felony convictions, an inherently discretionary act. Nor is mandamus available to compel a prosecutor to exercise his or her discretion in a particular way when moving to dismiss allegations of prior strikes or sentence enhancements under section 1385. View "The Association of Deputy District Attorneys etc. v. Gascon" on Justia Law

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Eighty-five year old Sundiata Acoli had been imprisoned for forty-nine years for his role in the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper, and the wounding of another. During his time in prison, Acoli had consistently received positive institutional reports from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, completed over a hundred programs and counseling sessions, served on the Honor Unit in his institution, taught a course to younger inmates on rational thinking and emotional control, and learned employable skills. Since 1993, the New Jersey State Parole Board denied Acoli parole every time he became eligible for release. On each occasion, including in 2016 when Acoli was seventy-nine years old, the Parole Board determined that there was a substantial likelihood that Acoli would commit a crime if released. The Board, however, did not indicate what crime it feared Acoli might commit at his advanced age. In 2010, the Parole Board denied Acoli parole, despite psychological assessments that favored his release. The Appellate Division overturned the Board’s decision, finding no substantial support in the record to justify Acoli’s continued imprisonment, and ordered his release. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed on procedural grounds to allow the full Board to take firsthand witness testimony before deciding whether to grant parole to Acoli. At a hearing in 2016, the Parole Board called only one witness, Acoli, who was then suffering from cardiovascular disease and hearing loss. Acoli testified that, if released, he planned to reside with his daughter, a Wall Street risk analyst, and his grandchildren. The State’s psychological expert, despite issuing a report less favorable than the previous one, described Acoli’s risk of committing another offense as low to moderate. The Board again denied parole, stating “that concerns remain that [Acoli] would commit a crime if released on parole.” The Board imposed a fifteen-year future eligibility term. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the Parole Board did not establish “by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that [Acoli] will commit a crime” if placed on parole. "The Parole Board’s decision is entitled to deference -- but not blind deference." View "Acoli v. New Jersey State Parole Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part the judgment of the trial court dismissing in part and denying in part Defendant's two motions to correct an illegal sentence, one filed in each of his two criminal cases, holding that the trial court erred in part.Defendant was convicted in two separate cases for crimes he committed when he was fifteen years old. The trial court dismissed in part and denied in part Defendant's two motions to correct an illegal sentence, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over Defendant's claims to correct, and that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claim that his parole eligibility date, as calculated by the Board of Pardons and Parole, violated the terms of his plea agreement. The Supreme Court vacated in part, holding (1) the trial court should have denied, rather than dismissed, Defendant's claims that he was entitled to resentencing pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012); and (2) the form of the judgment was improper insofar as the trial court denied Defendant's claim that his new parole eligibility date violated the terms of his plea agreement. View "State v. Myers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Samuel Provenza, formerly employed as a police officer by defendant Town of Canaan (Town), appealed a superior court order: (1) denying his petition for declaratory judgment and “request for temporary and permanent injunctive and other relief”; and (2) granting the cross-claim of the intervenor, the Valley News. Provenza sought to bar public disclosure of an investigative report commissioned by the Town as a result of a motor vehicle stop in which he was involved while still employed by the Town as a police officer; the Valley News sought release of the report under RSA chapter 91-A, the Right-to-Know Law. See RSA ch. 91-A (2013 & Supp. 2021). Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Provenza v. Town of Canaan" on Justia Law

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In November 2017, Saul Cisneros was charged with two misdemeanor offenses and jailed. The court set Cisneros’s bond at $2,000, and Cisneros’s daughter posted that bond four days later, but the County Sheriff’s Office did not release him. Instead, pursuant to Sheriff Bill Elder’s policies and practices, the Sheriff’s Office notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) that the jail had been asked to release Cisneros on bond. ICE then sent the jail a detainer and administrative warrant, requesting that the jail continue to detain Cisneros because ICE suspected that he was removable from the United States. Cisneros was placed on an indefinite “ICE hold,” and remained in detention. During his detention, Cisneros, along with another pretrial detainee, initiated a class action in state court against Sheriff Elder, in his official capacity, for declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the appellate court erred in concluding that section 24-10-106(1.5)(b), C.R.S. (2021), of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”) did not waive sovereign immunity for intentional torts that result from the operation of a jail for claimants who were incarcerated but not convicted. The Supreme Court concluded section 24-10-106(1.5)(b) waived immunity for such intentional torts. "In reaching this determination, we conclude that the statutory language waiving immunity for 'claimants who are incarcerated but not yet convicted' and who 'can show injury due to negligence' sets a floor, not a ceiling. To hold otherwise would mean that a pre-conviction claimant could recover for injuries resulting from the negligent operation of a jail but not for injuries resulting from the intentionally tortious operation of the same jail, an absurd result that we cannot countenance." Accordingly, the judgment of the division below was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Cisneros v. Elder" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy and substantive health care fraud for fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars for visits to nursing home patients that he never made. He challenged the convictions, sentence, restitution amount, and forfeiture amount on appeal.The co-conspirator pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government. Part of his plea agreement addressed his compensation during the conspiracy. Defendant contends that the district court erred in quashing his subpoena of the co-conspirator’s attorney. The court ruled that any erroneous exclusion of the attorney’s testimony was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because his testimony would not have impeached the co-conspirator. He further argues that the district court erred in limiting how many character witnesses he could present. The court found that the district court did not err because defendant overstates the importance of character witness testimony in this case. He was not on trial for being uncaring or uncompassionate but for lying and billing Medicare for services he did not provide.Additionally, defendant contends that the district court improperly limited part of his counsel’s closing argument when he was discussing whether defendant had made a profit. The court found that the government does not have to prove a defendant profited to establish the elements of fraud. The court also found that the district court did not err in calculating the loss amount used to determine defendant's sentence or the amount of restitution ordered. View "USA v. Douglas Moss" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a jury found petitioner Larry Bailey guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and leaving the scene of an accident and found true various enhancements. Petitioner was sentenced to 28 years in prison. In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 57, which amended the California Constitution to grant early parole consideration to persons convicted of a nonviolent felony offense. It also authorized the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Department) to adopt regulations in furtherance of its guarantee of early parole consideration. In 2017 and 2018, the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) considered petitioner for Proposition 57 parole. In each of the parole consideration proceedings, the Board allowed petitioner to submit a written statement explaining why he should be granted parole. The Board, through written decisions by a deputy commissioner, both times denied petitioner parole. Petitioner requested administrative review of each of the parole decisions; both decisions were upheld. Petitioner thereafter filed two petitions for writ of habeas corpus; the trial court denied petitioner’s claims challenging the evidentiary sufficiency of the parole denials, but granted petitioner habeas relief after finding he was entitled to “a live parole hearing at which [he] could attend.” The trial court interpreted Penal Code section 3041.5 “ ‘as providing for a hearing for all inmates eligible for parole consideration, at the very least to comply with federal and state due process concerns as well as equal protection.’ ” The trial court further ordered the Department to, within 60 days of the finality of the decision, promulgate new parole regulations to reflect the right to an in-person hearing under Proposition 57. The Department appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding Proposition 57 neither required nor impliedly incorporated an in-person hearing requirement, and the Department acted within its delegated authority under Penal Code section 32(b) when it adopted the parole regulations at issue in this appeal. The Court further concluded the absence of an in-person hearing did not violate equal protection principles, nor did it violate a prisoner’s right to procedural due process. View "In re Bailey" on Justia Law

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Defreitas, an enforcement officer for the U.S. Virgin Islands (U.S.V.I.) Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, asked for sexual favors in exchange for not reporting a female immigrant who was unlawfully present in the U.S.V.I. Defreitas was convicted of soliciting a bribe, V.I. CODE tit. 14, 403, and violating the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(3) but was acquitted of a blackmail charge, 18 U.S.C. 873.The Third Circuit declined the request to certify any questions to the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands but vacated the convictions, holding hold that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove that Defreitas engaged in an “official act” under either statute. Custom may inform the understanding of official duties when those “duties [are] not completely defined by written rules,” but custom alone cannot establish what constitutes an “official act.” Even assuming that the testimony of Defreitas’s partner established a custom of reporting undocumented immigrants, that evidence was insufficient to prove that Defreitas’s decision not to report was an “official act.” There existed no internal regulation, guideline, or statute that advised the Department to engage in any activity related to the policing of immigration laws. View "United States v. Defreitas" on Justia Law