Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In 2017, the Union County Sheriff’s Department seized six horses, four cats and three dogs belonging to Michael Dancy. The Justice Court of Union County found Dancy guilty of three counts of animal cruelty and ordered the permanent forfeiture of Dancy’s animals. Dancy appealed to the Circuit Court of Union County, where a bench trial was held de novo. The circuit court ordered that the animals be permanently forfeited and found Dancy guilty of three counts of animal cruelty. The circuit court further ordered Dancy to reimburse the temporary custodian of the horses $39,225 for care and boarding costs incurred during the pendency of the forfeiture and animal-cruelty proceedings. Aggrieved, Dancy appealed to the Mississippi SUpreme Court. Finding the forfeiture and reimbursement orders supported by substantial evidence, the Supreme Court affirmed. Furthermore, the Court found the circuit court did not abse its discretion in allowing a veterinarian testify for the State. The Supreme Court affirmed Dancy’s conviction under Section 97-41-7, and Section 97-41- 16(2)(a) that coincided with Union County Justice Court Arrest Warrant 7036216. However, the Court found Section 97-41-16(2)(a) made Dancy’s cruelty to his dogs and cats one offense. As a result, Dancy’s second conviction under Section 97-41-16(2)(a) that coincides with Union County Justice Court Arrest Warrant 7036219 was vacated. View "Dancy v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury found Dante Taylor guilty of first-degree murder for the death of his uncle Willie Lee Taylor. Dante appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence. Dante petitioned for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review, challenging the Court of Appeals’ decision to affirm the trial court’s grant of a pre-arming jury instruction. Granting certiorari, the Supreme Court held that the trial court’s decision to grant this instruction constituted reversible error. Accordingly, it reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, and remanded the case to the Circuit Court for a new trial. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that pre-arming instructions would no longer be permitted in criminal trials in Mississippi. View "Taylor v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury found Willie Nash guilty of possession of a cell phone in a correctional facility. Nash did not appeal the jury’s verdict; he challenged only the twelve year sentence he received. He claimed the twelve-year sentence was grossly disproportionate to the crime and thus violated the Eighth Amendment. Though harsh, the Mississippi Supreme Court found Nash’s sentence fell within the statutory range of three to fifteen years. And the judge based his sentencing decision on the seriousness of Nash’s crime and evidence of Nash’s criminal history. Because Nash has not shown that a threshold comparison of the crime committed to the sentence imposed leads to an inference of gross disproportionality, no further analysis was mandated, and the Court affirmed the sentence. View "Nash v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Corey Moore disappeared from his trial after the court refused to grant him a continuance. He was convicted in abstentia and sentenced to twenty-five years as a habitual offender. On appeal, Moore argued he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the trial court erred by not ordering a competency hearing, sua sponte, based on Moore’s diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and vague, general assertions about Moore’s mental state from lay witnesses. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined Moore based the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims on facts outside the record; thus, those claims were suitable only for postconviction review, not direct appeal. Furthermore, the Court found no basis to doubt the trial judge’s finding that Moore’s absence from the trial was “willful, voluntary, and deliberate.” View "Moore v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Darren Lee Wharton was found guilty by a jury of capital murder in 1995 for the shooting death of Danny McCugh during the commission of a robbery. The crime occurred on July 17, 1994, when Wharton was seventeen years of age. Wharton was granted leave by the Mississippi Supreme Court to the proceed with a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR) based on Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). The trial court vacated Wharton’s life- without-parole sentence for capital murder and granted Wharton a Miller sentencing hearing. The trial court denied Wharton’s request that a jury make the Miller determination, stating that “the sentencing authority is the trial court.” Following the Miller hearing, the trial court resentenced Wharton to life in prison without parole. The Court of Appeals reversed Wharton’s sentence and remanded the case to the trial court, instructing that “Wharton’s Miller resentencing should be decided by a jury, not the trial court, because Wharton was convicted and sentenced under [Mississippi Code Section] 99-19-101 that prescribes sentencing solely by a jury.” The State petitioned for a writ of certiorari, which was granted. The Supreme Court found Wharton was not entitled to have a Miller resentencing hearing in front of a new jury because Section 99-19-101 was complied with at the original sentencing proceeding. Accordingly, it reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. Further, although the Court of Appeals did not reach the question, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision not to resentence Wharton to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Accordingly, the Court reinstated and affirmed. View "Wharton v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Antwune Washington was indicted on counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a felon. The jury acquitted Washington of aggravated assault, but found him guilty of felony possession of a firearm. Washington appealed. His appellate counsel filed a Lindsey brief. Washington, pro se, argues that the indictment was insufficient and that his conviction and sentence for felon in possession of a firearm had to be vacated. He argued his indictment was defective because it did not include the specific statutory subsection of the offense and thereby failed to charge an essential element of the crime. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no arguable issues on appeal. Accordingly, it affirmed Washington’s conviction. View "Washington v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jermaine Alston was convicted by jury of burglary of a dwelling. The trial court sentenced Alston as a habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-81 (Rev. 2015) to twenty-five years without the possibility or parole or early release. Alston filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, a new trial. The trial court denied Alston’s motion, and he filed a notice of appeal. Alston’s appellate counsel found no arguable issue to raise on appeal and filed a brief in accordance with Lindsey v. Mississippi, 939 So. 2d 743 (Miss. 2005). After reviewing the record, the Mississippi Supreme Court found no reversible error or issue warranting supplemental briefing, and affirmed Alston’s conviction and sentence. View "Alston v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Willie Bernard appealed his conviction following a second murder trial for shooting Larry Johnson to death after a traffic dispute in an apartment-complex parking lot. The first trial resulted in a jury finding Bernard guilty of murder and an accompanying firearm enhancement. But the trial judge found he had wrongly denied Bernard’s request to instruct the jury on the Castle Doctrine. So the judge granted Bernard’s posttrial motion for a new trial and set aside that jury’s guilty verdict. The State tried Bernard again. And this time, the trial judge granted Bernard a Castle Doctrine instruction. He also instructed the jury on self-defense. Once again, a jury found Bernard guilty of murder and the related firearm enhancement. He was sentenced to life in prison. Bernard now appeals this murder conviction. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined sufficient evidence supported the jury's verdict, and his remaining appellate challenges, over the record, other jury instructions, the effectiveness of his counsel, jury selection, and improper witness bolstering, were either wholly speculative, not preserved, outside the record, or lacked merit. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "Bernard, Jr. v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Marlon Howell was convicted of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to three years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. In 2019, Howell filed a motion to vacate his three year sentence, claiming that his three year sentence was illegal because it exceeded the statutory maximum penalty in effect at the time of his conviction. The State filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that he did not have standing because his sentence had expired. The circuit court granted the motion, found that Howell did not have standing, and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. Howell appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred. On the narrow question presented, interpreting Mississippi Code Section 99-39-5(1), the Mississippi Supreme Court held Howell had standing. View "Howell v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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An officer with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks saw Sylvester Williams, a convicted felon, throw a pistol from the passenger seat of a fleeing vehicle the officer had been pursuing. A jury found Williams guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On appeal, his appellate counsel has filed a Lindsey brief; Williams thereafter opted to file a pro se brief. He argued the State’s evidence was insufficient and the jury’s guilty verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. He also claimed a judge and attorney should have recused, a defense witness was wrongly prevented from testifying, a jury instruction was incorrectly refused, and he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no merit to any of Williams’s claims, and affirmed. View "Williams v. Mississippi" on Justia Law