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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Dale Chappell

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds 2014 Amendment to Megan’s Law Violates Ex Post Facto Clause

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that a 2014 amendment to the Violent Predator Incapacitation Act (“VPIA”), part of Megan’s Law, which applied to defendants who had violated their community supervision for life (“CSL”), violated the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the U.S. and New Jersey Constitutions. That’s because a violation of CSL is not a new offense but relates back to the original offense.

When four defendants in separate, unrelated cases violated their conditions of CSL, the four were charged under the 2014 amendment to the VPIA. That increased their violations from fourth-degree to third-degree offenses and would convert their CSL to parole supervision for life (“PSL”), resulting in harsher consequences than the law provided at the time of their criminal conduct a decade ago. The trial courts presiding over the four separate cases tossed the indictments, holding that imposing the harsher punishments under the 2014 amendment violated the Ex Post Facto clause. The State appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted the State’s petition for certification and consolidated the four cases for appeal.

Under CSL, those convicted of sex-based offenses are subject to several conditions—more than 20 in ...

California Court of Appeal Holds Box Cutter Not ‘Inherently’ Deadly Weapon

by Dale Chappell

A box cutter is a type of knife “designed to cut things and not people,” and was therefore not “inherently” a deadly weapon as a matter of law, the Court of Appeal of California Second Appellate District held, overturning a defendant’s conviction.

There was no question that Yazan Aledamat pulled a box cutter and said, “I’ll kill you,” during an argument. The question later became whether the box cutter was “inherently” a deadly weapon to support his conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, after the jury found him guilty based on the superior court’s instruction on what constitutes a “deadly weapon” as a matter of law. Aledamat appealed his conviction.

A “deadly weapon,” as a matter of law, is defined as an object that is deadly to others in its “ordinary use for which it is designed” or when used in a manner “capable of and likely to produce death.” Because a box cutter is not designed to cut people in its ordinary use, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is “not an inherently dangerous or deadly instrument as a matter of law.” The superior court’s jury instruction was a ...

Kentucky Supreme Court Overrules Flawed Brindley Opinion and Announces Commonwealth Cannot Appeal Judgment of Acquittal

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Kentucky held that the Commonwealth cannot appeal from a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case after a jury’s guilty verdict, interpreting the Kentucky Constitution and overturning its prior decision on the issue.

Michael Maupin was charged with failing to comply with Kentucky’s sex offender registry after law enforcement was unable to locate him at the homeless shelter he listed as his residence. Maupin’s name was listed only two times in a month’s span on the shelter’s sign-in sheet. The Commonwealth convinced a jury that this proved Maupin was not at his approved residence, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Maupin moved for a new trial or for a judgment of acquittal. The trial court granted Maupin’s motion for acquittal, ruling that the Commonwealth’s proof was insufficient because the sign-in sheet was equivocal at best and that the officer’s single attempt to locate him did not justify a criminal conviction. The Commonwealth appealed, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reinstated Maupin’s conviction. The Kentucky Supreme Court granted Maupin discretionary review.

Section 115 of the Kentucky Constitution provides that “in all cases, civil or criminal, there shall be ...

Iowa Supreme Court Announces Actual Innocence Claim Is Freestanding Claim That Can Be Made Even After Guilty Plea

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Iowa adopted and announced a new rule that characterizes claims of actual innocence as freestanding claims under Iowa’s postconviction-relief statute, regardless of whether the applicant has knowingly and voluntarily pleaded guilty and thereby overturning its prior cases that had barred relief under those facts.

“What kind of system of justice do we have if we permit actually innocent people to remain in prison?” asked Justice David Wiggins for the Court, before overturning its prior cases that prevented freestanding actual innocence claims to be raised in a postconviction-relief action. “It is time that we refuse to perpetuate a system of justice that allows actually innocent people to remain in prison.”

Jacob Schmidt pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse and incest, under a plea agreement, after he was accused of sexual conduct with a minor relative. The same day, the district court, finding that Schmidt’s plea was knowing and voluntary, sentenced him to no more than seven years in prison.

In 2014, Schmidt filed an application for postconviction relief based on the alleged victim’s recantation of his story to police, claiming, “I was not guilty ...

NY Court of Appeals Holds Trial Court’s Failure to Advise Defense of Jury Note Contents Constitutes Reversible Error

by Dale Chappell

The Court of Appeals of New York held that a trial court’s failure to make the defendant aware of the content of notes by the jury to the court was error requiring reversal, even though the issue was raised for the first time on appeal.

During the joint trial of Lawrence Parker and Mark Nonni for crimes related to burglary, the jury sent three substantive notes to the court, requesting specific information about the case. When everyone reconvened in court, the judge raised the issue of the three notes and said the court would address each one in turn. After resolving the first note, the court broke for lunch and said it would address the other notes after lunch. The jury, however, reached a verdict during lunch, ending the trial. The two remaining notes were never mentioned.

After the Appellate Division affirmed their convictions, Parker and Nonni were granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals.

Raised for the first time before the Court of Appeals, Parker and Nonni argued that the trial court’s failure to provide them with notice of the content of the other notes amounted to a mode of proceedings error requiring reversal ...

Insurance, Courts Protect Cops from Liability

by Dale Chappell

Lots of lawsuits get filed against law enforcement, but very few result in a payout. Police have an ever-growing shield called “qualified immunity” and decades of court decisions to hide behind. And even when there is a payout, it is not groundbreaking.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the broad protection qualified immunity offers law enforcement. The Court, once again, held that qualified immunity “gives ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent [officers] or those who knowingly violate the law.” Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S. Ct. 1148 (2018). It is a high standard, lawyers admit, and no defined criteria exist.

Police again can thank the courts for decisions that give them a loophole to get out of lawsuits. Say police use excessive force and crush a man’s pelvis during an arrest, as in the case of Brandon Anderson, who had his pelvis crushed by Bristol, Tennessee, police after he gave them a fake name. There’s an easy and virtually foolproof way to ensure he cannot sue—charge him with resisting arrest, even if he didn’t do so. When Anderson sued, police invoked the “Heck Rule,” which bars a criminal defendant ...

East Pittsburgh Officer Charged in Shooting of Unarmed Teen

by Dale Chappell

An East Pittsburgh Police Officer was charged with criminal homicide June 27 in the shooting death of Antwon Rose Jr., a 17-year-old who ran from police during a traffic stop but was unarmed and posed no threat to anyone.

Experts say this type of charge against an officer is hard to come by. Philip Stinson, a former police officer and now law professor at Bowling Green State University, said the charge against Michael Rosfeld, the officer who shot Rose, arose because authorities were forced to do something, with cellphone video of the shooting, eyewitness statements, conflicting statements by Rosfeld, and peaceful marches demanding “Justice for Antwon.” “I couldn't think of a more horrific fact pattern,” he said.

Rosfeld is only the 87th officer charged with murder in such a case in the last 13 years.

Prosecutors face high hurdles in these cases. Many people believe cops are more honest than those they police, making it difficult to convict. But that is changing, thanks to bystander videos as evidence. “It is because of the existence and publication of the video by a bystander that charges were filed” against Rosfeld, Stinson said. Such videos have triggered ...

U.S. Supreme Court: Drivers of Rental Cars Not on Rental Agreement Have Expectation of Privacy

by Dale Chappell

The U.S. Supreme Court held that a driver of a rental car who is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement still had an expectation of privacy in the vehicle for Fourth Amendment purposes, concluding that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit erred holding otherwise.

When Terrence Byrd had someone else rent a car so he could transport drugs to Pittsburgh, the person renting the car did not list Byrd as an authorized driver on the rental agreement. Looking “suspicious” to a state trooper, Byrd was stopped for a supposed traffic violation. When law enforcement found that he was not an authorized driver on the rental agreement, one trooper said that he had “no expectation of privacy” in the car, which meant that he could not refuse a warrantless search of the car in the trooper’s estimation. When asked, Byrd also advised law enforcement that he had a “blunt” in the car and offered to give it to the cops. A search turned up body armor and bricks of heroin. Byrd was charged with possession of both items.

Byrd moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that it ...

New Kansas Law Compensates Those Wrongfully Convicted

by Dale Chappell

Kansas has become the thirty-third state to offer compensation to those who were wrongfully convicted. The new law signed by Gov. Jeff Colyer allows exonerees to be paid $65,000 for each year that they wrongfully spent in prison and $25,000 per year wrongfully on parole or the sex offender registry.

One of those exonerees, Lamonte McIntyre, was present for the signing ceremony and said he was going to use the money to get a car and housing, something he has not been able to do since being released from prison after 23 years for a double murder he did not commit. “I can live a normal life, like everyone else,” he said of the new law. Lamonte was originally told he would get nothing from the state when he was released from prison last year.

In addition to money, the new law also provides exonerees with access to health care, education, and housing assistance, plus a certificate of innocence, which should help with employment when the criminal conviction shows up on a background check.

“Years taken from men and women who have been wrongfully convicted cannot be given back,” Colyer said upon signing ...

Virginia Supreme Court Holds Convictions for Common Law and Statutory Involuntary Manslaughter Violate Double Jeopardy Clause

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Appeals for Virginia held that convictions for both common law and statutory involuntary manslaughter for the same offense violated the Double Jeopardy Clause and remanded to vacate one of the convictions.

A jury convicted Carroll Gregg Jr., of both common law involuntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter under Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-154, after he was found guilty of what he said was an accidental shooting that led to the death of a person who was repossessing his truck. Gregg moved the circuit court to dismiss one of the convictions, arguing it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Double Jeopardy Clause, but his motion was denied. The Court of Appeals, though, reversed, ruling that the convictions were duplicitous and unconstitutional. The State appealed, and the Supreme Court of Virginia agreed to hear the case.

Common law involuntary manslaughter is defined by case law as (1) the accidental killing of a person, contrary to the intention of the parties and (2) that the death occurred during the commission of an unlawful but not felonious act or during the commission of an improper performance of a lawful act. Similarly, statutory involuntary manslaughter, under Code § 18 ...


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