Criminal Law News - U.S. Eighth Circuit
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The controversy stirred up by the botched execution of Clayton D. Lockett in Oklahoma has left states asking -- in my humble opinion -- the wrong question. Rather than reexamining the moral implications of a society that allows the death penalty to exist as a legal means of punishment, states are trying to figure out how to kill people.

Some states are going back to the electric chair, while others ponder the firing squad, reports The Associated Press. So Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is proposing something new -- something akin to a very popular show on AMC about a chemistry teacher who becomes a drug dealer, which will remain nameless.

Russell Bucklew was on death row and his execution was scheduled for Wednesday, but because of last minute legal maneuvers, was put off.

After a stay was granted, lifted and put back into place, a full Supreme Court decided to grant a stay pending further appeals. Here's a detailed look at the situation.

The 4th Amendment: Still Alive and Kicking in the 8th

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals breathed a bit of life into our republic on April 19 as it decided in a divided opinion, of course that the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure is still with us despite the imminent threat of ... money?

In 2010, Carlos Martins was driving his pickup just west of Omaha, Nebraska when Deputy David Wintle pulled him over because his license plate was "obstructed" in violation of Nebraska Revised Statute § 60-399(2). And by "obstructed," Wintle means that he had to get within 100 feet of it to be able to read the very bottom, where it said "Utah." It's undisputed that the rest of the license plate was completely clear.

Martha Shoffner Seeks Post-Conviction Acquittal

Lawyers for Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner argued before U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes that Shoffner should be acquitted on 14 bribery and extortion charges.

Holmes withheld judgment on Shoffner's earlier request to be ordered free on grounds that prosecutors didn't prove that any federal laws were broken. But Holmes opted to entertain the argument only if the jury returned any guilty verdicts, The Associated Press reports.

A jury convicted Shoffner last week, clearing the way for both sides to present written arguments to Holmes on why she should or should not be acquitted.

Beatrice Six Appeals Wrongful Conviction Case to 8th Cir.

The Eighth Circuit will consider reinstating Gage County as a defendant in a civil rights lawsuit over the wrongful conviction of six people, dubbed the "Beatrice Six," for the 1985 murder of a Nebraska woman.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf dismissed Gage County from the case. This week, he granted the plaintiffs' motion to have the Eight Circuit review his dismissal of the county as a defendant, The Omaha World Herald reports.

Flashing Headlights to Warn Drivers Is Free Speech: Dist. Court

Drivers have a First Amendment right to flash their headlights to warn others about an upcoming speed trap, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey has ruled.

Autrey made waves in Missouri last week after he granted a preliminary injunction that bars the city of Ellisville from enforcing its ordinance against flashing headlights at a speed trap warning.

Given the novelty of the issue, it's possible that the Eighth Circuit will eventually hear an appeal of the case.

N.D. Farmer Sentenced in Warrantless Drone Search Case

Law enforcement took a turn for the futuristic in North Dakota when a farmer in the state became the first person to be convicted following the use of a Predator drone, raising questions about the legality of warrantless drone searches.

Rodney Brossart was arrested in 2011 for refusing to return his neighbor's cows and for allegedly "terrorizing" police officers who tried to arrest him.

That's when things took a turn for the creepy.

For Ineffective Assistance in Plea, Sentencing: Think Prejudice

Convicted mail fraudster Larry Covington alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective at two stages of his proceedings. Covington alleges that § 2C1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines did not apply to his conduct and that his counsel should have challenged its application to his convictions both during plea negotiation and at sentencing.

Ultimately, the three-member panel of the Eighth Circuit determined that Covington's arguments floundered when it came to proving prejudice. They didn't even reach the question of whether his attorney was in fact deficient. The case highlights how the Eighth Circuit handles claims of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of plea negotiations and sentencing.

Former Minn. Banker Gets 4th Bite at Sentencing Apple, But Why?

A former banker from St. Paul, Minnesota is appealing his 3.5-year prison term for his involvement in a sophisticated loan scheme, hoping to get a third bite at the sentencing apple.

Fourth time's the charm, maybe? If not, well, at least we'll know a little more about what "actual loss" means for sentencing purposes in fraud cases.

Allen Nicklasson Executed in Mo. After SCOTUS Lifts Stay

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay of execution granted to Allen Nicklasson by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, clearing the way for his execution. Late Wednesday night, Nicklasson was put to death nearly 23 hours after he was originally scheduled to die.

Nicklasson was put to death for the August 1994 murder of motorist Richard Drummond, who stopped on a highway to help Nicklasson and two others whose car had broken down, reports The Associated Press.