Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Johnny Nevels appealed his convictions on three counts of drug possession. He claimed he was entitled to a circumstantial evidence instruction, which the trial court refused. He also argued his trial should not have proceeded in his absence. After reviewing Nevels’s circumstantial-evidence-instruction claim, the Mississippi Supreme Court overruled its previous case law that required a special instruction ramping up the burden of proof in circumstantial evidence cases. Because the jury in this case was properly instructed on the burden of proof, the Court found no reversible jury instruction error. Furthermore, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s determining Nevels had waived his right to be present and thus could be tried in absentia. Nonetheless, Nevels could not waive his right to be present at his later felony sentencing, making it an error for the trial court to sentence Nevels in absentia. Nevels’ convictions on three counts of drug possession were affirmed, but his sentences were vacated, and the case remanded to the trial court for resentencing with Nevels present. View "Nevels v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Talib Mujahid was convicted by jury of selling methamphetamine. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. His appellate counsel filed a Lindsey brief, certifying he found no arguable issues to appeal. Mujahid opted to file a pro se brief, arguing the judge should recused, a witness was wrongly allowed to testify, he was incorrectly sentenced as a habitual offender, and his trial counsel was ineffective. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no merit to any of Mujahid’s claims, and affirmed Mujahid’s conviction and sentence for sale of methamphetamine. View "Mujahed v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In March 2017, Sybil Brooks hired Jason Sebren to make repairs to a mobile home that she owned, and she allowed Sebren to live in the mobile home in exchange. Allegedly unbeknownst to Brooks, defendant Michael Buford began helping Sebren make the repairs, and he and his wife also moved into the mobile home. Subsequently, Sebren and Brooks had an argument, and Sebren moved out of the mobile home. Brooks stated that, because she did not have any agreement with Buford, told him to leave the mobile home. That same morning, Brooks also called the Pearl Police Department and stated that people were living in her rental house who did not have permission to be there. Four officers were dispatched to the property. One officer testified she asked Buford for any documents or proof that he was supposed to be at the home. Buford could not provide documentation. Another officer asked Buford “did he have any issues with me searching him and he advised he did not.” That officer conducted a search of Buford’s person and felt a can of smokeless tobacco. He opened the tobacco can and observed what he believed to be crystal methamphetamine. The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review centered on whether a police officer who obtained consent to search the person of another, had to obtain additional consent to search a specific, innocuous container found on that person. The Court of Appeals found that the defendant’s consent to the search encompassed the search of the smokeless tobacco can found in his pocket. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals. View "Buford v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Yancy Stevenson was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. On appeal, Stevenson contended the circuit court should have declared a mistrial sua sponte after one of the State’s witnesses testified that Stevenson had said that “he thought somebody was gonna snitch on him and he hate to kill somebody else” and that “he ain’t killed nobody in a long time.” Stevenson’s counsel did not object to this testimony, thus Stevenson also contended he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Mississippi Supreme Court rejected Stevenson's claims: even if his counsel had objected, the threat was admissible as evidence of Stevenson’s consciousness of guilt, and its probative value was not substantially outweighed by its prejudicial impact. Likewise, the Court found no merit to Stevenson’s contention that this failure to object constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. Stevenson’s conviction and sentence were affirmed. View "Stevenson v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Mickeal Hollis was convicted by jury of possessing methamphetamine, for which he was sentenced to three years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, pay a fine, and complete drug and alcohol treatment. Hollis appealed, but his appellate counsel found no arguable issues for appeal and filed a "Lindsey" brief. Continuing pro se, Hollis raised three issues the Mississippi Supreme Court determined were "vague allegations." Thus, finding no arguable issues or reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Hollis' conviction and sentence. View "Hollis v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Cynthia Burford was convicted by jury of burglary of a welling. The circuit court sentenced her to serve fifteen years in the custod of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and to pay a fine, restitution and court costs. The Court of Appeals declined to review her argument her defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance by making an untimely motion to suppress her confessions, finding the argument was most appropriate in post-conviction proceedings. The Mississippi Supreme Court found Burford received ineffective assistance of counsel. A video of Burford’s confession shows that a peace officer made several threats and promises to Burford. The officer acknowledged during his trial testimony that he had made the threats and promises in an effort to induce Burford’s confession. Under the circumstances, defense counsel rendered deficient performance by failing to make a timely motion to suppress the video confession and a subsequent written confession. Burford was prejudiced because a reasonable probability existed that the trial court would have granted a timely motion to suppress the confessions and because the confessions were the primary evidence of Burford’s guilt of burglary of a dwelling. "But for the admission of Burford’s confessions, the State’s only evidence of her guilt of burglary was that stolen items were found at her residence and in a car registered to her relative." Because the record affirmatively reflected deficient attorney performance and resulting prejudice, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "Burford v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In September 2019, Brian Turner was found not guilty of one count of aggravated assault upon a law-enforcement officer (Count I), but was convicted of one count of failing to stop a motor vehicle pursuant to the signal of a law-enforcement officer (Count II), two counts of aggravated assault upon a law-enforcement officer (Counts III and IV) and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon (Count V). Turner appealed his convictions and the circuit court’s denial of his Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict or, in the Alternative, for New Trial (J.N.O.V. Motion). Finding each of Turner’s assignments of error to be without merit, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Turner’s convictions and the circuit court’s denial of the J.N.O.V. Motion. View "Turner v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Curtis Valentine appealed his conviction of aggravated driving under the influence (DUI), claiming the circuit court erred by denying his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and by denying his proposed jury instruction defining “under the influence.” Finding no reversible error in the circuit court’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Valentine v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Defendant Duane Henderson contacted April Newman through Facebook Messenger; she believed Henderson was offering to sell her methamphetamine. Newman contacted police suggesting she could set up a controlled drug delivery from Henderson. At a narcotics officer’s direction, Newman set up the controlled delivery. Officers then set up on Interstate 20, waiting for Henderson to drive by with the suspected drugs. Henderson consented to a search of his vehicle and person. When officers searched Henderson’s boots, they found a clear plastic bag containing methamphetamine. A grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging Henderson with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and possession of more than two but less than ten grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The grand jury also charged Henderson as a subsequent drug offender and a habitual offender. At trial, the parties stipulated the bagged substance in Henderson’s boot was 3.16 grams of methamphetamine. The jury found Henderson guilty on both counts. The judge sentenced Henderson to twenty years on the conspiracy conviction. And on the possession with intent to distribute conviction, because Henderson was a subsequent drug offender, the judge exercised discretion and sentenced Henderson to forty years, double the statutory maximum. The judge ordered the two sentences to be served consecutively to one another and any other sentence Henderson was currently serving. Henderson’s appellate counsel filed a Lindsey brief, certifying there were no arguable issues for appeal. Henderson submitted several pro se filings. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined the State failed to prove Henderson conspired with anyone to distribute methamphetamine; Newman’s involvement was, at most, a drug user, not a co-conspirator to distribute drugs. On this basis, the Supreme Court reversed the conspiracy conviction. The Court found sufficient evidence supporting the possession charge. View "Henderson v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Abdur Rahim Ambrose Sr. was convicted by jury of the capital murder of Robert Trosclair. The jury also found that Ambrose’s sentence should be death, and the circuit court imposed the death sentence. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Ambrose’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Ambrose’s motion for rehearing was subsequently denied on October 18, 2018, and his petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court was denied on March 25, 2019. Ambrose timely filed his application for postconviction relief on October 25, 2019, asserting the evidence presented at trial was constitutionally inadequate, and that the trial judge made rulings during voir dire that demonstrated impermissible gender bias, resulting in an unfair pool of prospective jurors. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied Ambrose’s application for relief. View "Ambrose v. Mississippi" on Justia Law