Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Sitting as “thirteenth juror,” the Court of Appeals reversed Marlon Little’s convictions and remanded for a new trial, finding the weight of the evidence preponderated heavily against the verdict. Despite its prior language suggesting otherwise, neither the Mississippi Supreme Court nor the Court of Appeals assumes the role of juror on appeal. Nurse practitioner David Ellis was attacked from behind and robbed while leaving his medical clinic. Ellis reacted by swinging his computer bag at the assailant’s head. During the struggle, Ellis fell down, and his attacker also stumbled. Ellis was on the ground when his attacker stuck a gun in Ellis’s face. Ellis saw the man “square in the face” from about three feet away. The man demanded Ellis’s wallet. Ellis complied. And the man fled. When Ellis took the stand, he stated clearly and unequivocally that Little was man who robbed him. The jury found him guilty of armed robbery and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment for armed robbery and ten years’ for felon-in-possession, with his sentences to run concurrently. After his post-trial motions for judgment not withstanding the verdict and for a new trial were denied, he timely appealed. The appellate court majority found Ellis’s initial identification conflicted with Little’s “actual physical attributes, including age and build.” And because Ellis’s identification of Little as the robber was the only substantive evidence against Little, the majority found a new trial was warranted. The Supreme Court took an opportunity to clarify that neither it nor the Court of Appeals ever acted as “juror” on direct appeal. “We sit as an appellate court, and as such are ill equipped to find facts. [E]ven if we wanted to be fact finders, our capacity for such is limited in that we have only a cold, printed record to review.” The Court found no reason to disturb Little’s guilty verdict. Therefore, the Curt reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Little v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Marvin Carver was the passenger in a vehicle not owned by him in which marijuana was found in the rear of the trunk. Although Nicholas Ingram, Carver’s half-brother who had been driving the vehicle, took full ownership of the contraband, Carver was convicted of possession of marijuana. Because the State presented insufficient evidence to support Carver’s conviction, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and rendered judgment. View "Carver v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In 2015, William Wells shot and killed Kendrick Brown on the steps of the Madison County Mississippi Courthouse. He was convicted by jury of first-degree murder. On appeal, Wells argued: (1) the trial court violated his due process rights when its in limine orders denied him a fair opportunity to defend himself against the State's accusations; (2) the trial court deprived him a fundamental right to assert his theory of self-defense; (3) the trial court erroneously defined "self-defense,"; (4) the trial court erred in barring Wells' theory of the case as to manslaughter; and (5) the trial court erred in granting the State's motions in limine. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Wells' conviction. View "Wells v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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After probation was revoked and he was sentenced to serve the full five years of his suspended sentence, Demario Walker filed a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR). The circuit court dismissed Walker’s petition, and Walker appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the circuit court. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted certiorari review and held that the Court of Appeals did not err in finding: (1) the circuit court had jurisdiction and authority to revoke Walker’s probation; (2) Walker was afforded due process at his revocation hearing; and (3) revocation of Walker’s probation was proper. However, the Court of Appeals did err in finding that the circuit court’s sentencing Walker to serve the full, five-year term of his suspended sentence was improper. Therefore, in affirming in part and reversing in part, the Supreme Court reinstated and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "Walker v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Brandy Williams was convicted by jury of the capital murder of Sheriff Garry Welford. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Williams argued the trial court erred by not quashing her indictment, improperly instructing the jury and admitting evidence of her prior crimes. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Williams v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Joseph Patrick Brown was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1994, and his conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1996. Brown notified the Supreme Court of his intent to file a successive petition for post-conviction relief. Included in that notice was a motion requesting the Court to direct the Circuit Court of Adams County to assume jurisdiction over “discovery matters relevant to Mr. Brown’s successive post-conviction claims.” The Supreme Court unanimously denied that motion on December 17, 2015, finding that “there has been no minimal showing of any need for pre-petition discovery.” Brown’s Motion for Leave to Invoke Discovery and Seek Access Orders in the Circuit Court was thus denied. “The only thing differentiating this motion from the previous request is that Brown now presents [the Supreme] Court with several discovery ‘needs.’ Aside from references to a claim of ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel, Brown’s motion does not identify with any particularity the issues that he plans to raise in his successive petition. Instead, he claims that so-called ‘pre-petition discovery’ is necessary for him to ‘file a meaningful and constitutionally adequate motion for leave to proceed in the trial court with a petition for post-conviction relief.’” View "Brown v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Nicholas Johnson appealed his convictions of burglary and attempted armed robbery, claiming the State presented insufficient evidence to identify him as the perpetrator and that the jury found he was the perpetrator contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Because three witnesses identified Johnson with absolute certainty, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Johnson v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jafron Roberts was convicted by jury of kidnapping and statutory rape, but was acquitted him of sexual battery. The Circuit Court imposed the maximum penalty for the kidnapping conviction, thirty years, and sentenced Roberts to thirty-seven years for the statutory rape conviction, to run concurrently with his sentence for kidnapping. Roberts appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress his statement to the police; (2) the trial court should have granted his request for production and in camera inspection of medical records; (3) the State’s loss of exculpatory evidence denied his right to due process; (4) the trial court should have excluded the testimony of the State’s DNA expert; and (5) a pre-indictment delay of approximately one year violated his due process rights. Finding no error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirm Roberts’ convictions. View "Roberts v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Kevin Boston was convicted of capital murder for the killing of Willie Dean. Boston raised five issues on appeal, one of which was raised by Boston himself in a pro se supplemental brief. In that supplemental brief, Boston argued the trial court erred by granting the State’s “pre-arming instruction.” Finding that the granting of the pre-arming instruction was reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed Boston’s conviction and sentence and remanded the case for a new trial. View "Boston v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Years after his direct appeal was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, Winfred Forkner filed a motion for postconviction relief. The circuit court denied the motion as untimely. Forkner appealed, and the Court of Appeals found that the circuit court was without authority to adjudicate the appeal because Forkner had not obtained the required permission from the Mississippi Supreme Court to file his motion for post-conviction relief in the circuit court. The Court of Appeals also held, erroneously, that the circuit court’s lack of authority to entertain the motion deprived the Court of Appeals of jurisdiction over the appeal. The Court of Appeals then dismissed the appeal, thus allowing the circuit court’s erroneous judgment to stand. The Supreme Court found that because the Court of Appeals did have jurisdiction to consider the lawfulness of the circuit court’s judgment, it erroneously dismissed Forkner’s appeal. Therefore, it reversed the Court of Appeals. Because the circuit court lacked authority to entertain Forkner’s motion, as the Court of Appeals rightly determined, the Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s judgment. View "Forkner v. Mississippi" on Justia Law