Criminal Law Decisions: Decided

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A decision by the highest state court in Colorado may have far reaching implications for states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana.

The big pot-law decision they reached last week has sparked national debate over whether law enforcement must return marijuana seized in criminal investigations. Basically, despite Colorado state law requiring law enforcement to return marijuana seized for a criminal prosecution if the prosecution fails, the court found that officers are not required to return marijuana as it would violate federal drug laws.

Today, during President Barrack Obama's last week in office, he commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former US Army intelligence analyst that leaked classified information to Wikileaks in 2010. Manning, who was not scheduled to be released until 2045, will now be released on May 17, 2017. The 35-year sentence was an extreme result, particularly given that Manning was agreeable to a plea bargain and confessed to her actions.

Manning's leak is notorious for making Wikileaks world famous. Also, Manning's prison sentence has been the subject of controversy due to the fact that Manning came out as transgender after being sentenced, which has posed problems for her incarceration at an all male military prison.

A recent appellate decision in California is causing a minor stir throughout the mental health treatment community, particularly for those involved in the treatment of sexual addiction or compulsion.

A certified drug and alcohol counselor and two licensed marriage and family therapists in California sought a court declaration protecting the privacy rights of their patients' therapy sessions. All three plaintiffs work with patients that struggle with sexual addiction/compulsion. As a result of a change in California law in 2015, the three are now required to report to law enforcement when their patients disclose having viewed child pornography online. Needless to say, many therapists have been feeling the implications of the new law since it took effect.

Today, the Dylann Roof saga neared some semblance of closure as the young man was sentenced to death. The jury returned the death sentence after only three hours of deliberation. The speed of the sentencing decision was likely fueled by Roof's own insistence that he did not suffer from any mental impairments, coupled with his lack of a repentant attitude. To make matters worse for Roof, he not only confessed to the murders, he never even appeared remorseful for his actions.

When delving into the tragedy of this hate crime, it becomes abundantly clear that Roof held disturbing, patently false, and racist beliefs. The guilty verdict was reached in mid-December during the guilt-phase of the trial. Roof was convicted of all 33 counts, over 20 of which fell under the federal hate crimes statutes. The death penalty was reached today during the sentencing-phase of the trial. During this phase, the families of the victims were asked to present testimony about their losses. Roof chose to represent himself during this phase of the trial, despite the advice of the court and counsel.

The Florida wife that tried to hire a hitman to kill her husband in 2009 may be facing her third criminal trial soon. This week, the jury in Dalia Dippolito's retrial was unable to reach a verdict. When the judge realized that no amount of deliberation would break the deadlocked jury, he declared a mistrial.

This case has been making headlines for over half-a-decade at this point and was even featured on the popular TV show "Cops." The police department in charge of the case released audio and video footage on Youtube prior to the first trial in 2011. After Dippolito was convicted in 2011, an appeal was filed as a result of the court's failure to allow the defense to question prospective jurors, as well as the failure to ensure jurors were not biased due to the pre-trial media coverage. To the surprise of many, the appeal was successful and a retrial was ordered.

In a controversial case out of Florida, an appellate court judge ordered a criminal defendant to tell police his iPhone passcode. This ruling is significant as it has been routinely held that a court order could not compel a defendant to give up his passcode (although a court could order a person to touch their fingerprint to a fingerprint sensor). Fortunately, this ruling may only affect Floridians.

The appeals judge is being criticized for missing the mark in this ruling, particularly when it comes to analogizing cases. The main issue that legal scholars take with this ruling is that it diminishes the Fifth Amendment and the protection against self-incrimination.

The real makers of the popular energy supplement 5-Hour Energy, Living Essential, were pleased this week when a California jury found two individuals guilty of manufacturing counterfeit 5-Hour Energy drinks. The federal charges allege that the criminal drink makers produced millions of counterfeit bottles using unknown ingredients in an unsanitary facility. The couple could face over a decade in jail and $2 million in fines. Their conviction comes after the resolution of the consolidated civil suit earlier this year against more than 20 individuals, all involved in a conspiracy to make and sell fake 5-Hour Energy shots.

The convicted Southern California couple initially had a legitimate deal with Living Essential to distribute 5-Hour Energy drinks in Mexico. However, the initial deal provided the couple with Spanish labeled bottles which they relabeled and then sold in the US below the US market rate. The following year, the couple set up the manufacturing scheme to make the counterfeit drinks.

In an interesting twist in the 2014 case filed against two Tucson officers for wrongful arrest, an appeals court has upheld the officers' arrest of a man who refused to show the officers his driver's license. A district court had initially ruled that the suit could continue. However, on appeal, the court determined the officers are immune from liability as the arrest was based on probable cause.

What happened in this case is rather complex, and whether this result will be appealed is still undetermined.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire re-affirmed the state's rape shield laws and overturned their own decision. The 2014 conviction for the 2012 sexual assault and murder of Lizzi Marriot was appealed, and as part of the appeal, the attorneys for the appellant wanted to include part of the record that had been sealed as it related to Ms. Marriot's sexual history.

Initially, the court granted the defendant's motion to unseal the records for use on appeal, which would put them into the public record. However, after victim's advocates voiced their concerns over what that ruling would mean, and the attorney general's office appealed that ruling, the court actually reversed their own ruling.

For 41 days in January and February, armed militants seized and occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. The occupation became a news-cycle and social media circus, as the occupiers broadcasted video from inside the refuge and made no secret about their goals. As one of the occupier's attorneys told the Los Angeles Times, "His point in this case was to be convicted. His point was to go to the Court of Appeals and make legal arguments about the United States' ability to own land .The notion of being acquitted never entered his mind."

But that plan hit a bit of a snag last Thursday when seven of the occupiers, including infamous ringleaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were acquitted on conspiracy and weapons charges. So how did they get off, after admitted to the crimes and wanting to be convicted?