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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Dale Chappell

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Announces New Rule to Allow IAC Claims for Fine-Only Sentences

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania announced a new rule allowing post-sentencing motions raising ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”) claims where only a fine but no prison or probationary time is imposed.

After being convicted by a jury and sentenced to pay restitution and a fine, Edward Delgros filed a post-sentencing motion raising IAC claims. The trial court, however, ruled that Delgros was not entitled to relief because his IAC claims could only be raised under the Post Conviction Review Act (“PCRA”), despite not being able to use the PCRA since he was not sentenced to time in custody. Delgros appealed.

Delgros pointed out to the superior court on appeal that he had no avenue to raise his IAC claims, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Commonwealth v. Holmes, 79 A.3d 562 (Pa. 2013), left open an option for review where “good cause” is shown. The court, though, disagreed and ruled that the Holmes exception applied only to petitioners eligible to file under the PCRA, which requires that a petitioner is “currently serving a sentence of imprisonment, probation, or parole.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543(a). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to address whether ...

Delaware Supreme Court Reverses Criminally Negligent Homicide Because Conduct was ‘Too Remote’ from Cause of Death

by Dale Chappell

Conduct that was “too remote” from the cause of death could not support criminally negligent homicide, the Delaware Supreme Court held, reversing a juvenile’s adjudication.

Tracy Cannon and Alcee Franklin-Johnson (pseudonyms), two 16-year olds, took their argument into a school bathroom where things turned physical. In less than one minute, it was over, and two hours later, Alcee was dead. However, the death was not from any injury sustained during her altercation with Tracy. Instead, she died from a very rare heart condition that even she didn’t know she had.

Nevertheless, Tracy was charged with criminally negligent homicide and was adjudicated delinquent in family court after a five-day bench trial. The judge, as the fact-finder, pinned blame on Tracy because her attack on Alcee was carried out “in the close confines of the school bathroom stall, which posed [a] risk of potential catastrophic physical harm including death by virtue of the tile floor, walls and fixtures.” The court also said Tracy was aware that her attack on Alcee would result in “physical and emotional trauma” that could result in her death and ruled that the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that Tracy had caused Alcee’s ...

Ninth Circuit Rules Weekends in Jail Count as Time ‘In Prison’

by Dale Chappell

Weekends in jail count as time “in prison,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held, granting immediate release for a prisoner serving a supervised release revocation term in prison.

When Wallace Shimabukuro violated his federal supervised release for the third and final time, the district court sentenced him to 17 months in prison and ended his supervised release. The court credited Shimabukuro with the 18 months he served for his first violation and the one month he did for the second, but the judge refused to count the 50 consecutive weekends he served as part of that second violation. Shimabukuro appealed, arguing that counting the weekends he spent in jail counted, and the most he could have received on his third violation was 12 months in prison. The Court of Appeals agreed and ordered his release.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e) that was in effect at the time of Shimabukuro’s original criminal offense, there was a cap on the amount of prison time the court could have given Shimabukuro for his supervised release violations. That version required the court to aggregate all of the prison time for his collective ...

Louisiana Supreme Court: Jury May Not Speculate on Guilt When Evidence Is Lacking

by Dale Chappell

Where the evidence was lacking and the jury could only speculate as to the defendant’s guilt, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed the defendant’s conviction and entered a judgment of acquittal, holding that a jury may not “speculate” on a person’s guilt.

Darryl Jones and two co-defendants were found guilty by a jury of the second-degree murder of one of their drug associates, after the victim was found on the side of a road with two gunshot wounds.

A witness who heard the shots said a vehicle matching Jones’ was seen speeding from the scene, and a local gas station video showed one of the co-defendants with Jones’ vehicle around the same time as the shooting.

Jones denied any involvement. He told police the victim had been at his house earlier that evening, but never returned after he left.

Jones’ girlfriend and another friend of his corroborated his story that the two co-defendants had taken Jones’ car, but Jones stayed at home all night.

Jones’ friend had loaned a phone to one of the co-defendants, and cellphone records showed that phone was near the crime scene and was used to call Jones and the victim. That phone ...

Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts Give Prosecutors ‘Awesome Power’ and Have Racist Roots

by Dale Chappell

Only Louisiana and Oregon allow non-unanimous jury verdicts to convict. In both states, the law allows just 10 of the 12 jurors to agree a person is guilty. While such laws give prosecutors “awesome power” to convict, they also have racist roots.

In 1898, Louisiana adopted the non-unanimity rule after it was required to allow blacks to serve on a jury, figuring that even if one or two blacks wound up on a jury and refused to convict, the white jurors could still convict. In 1934, Oregon passed a law allowing non-unanimity when a Jewish immigrant was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder. An editorial in a newspaper at the time blamed the reduced verdict on “vast immigration.”

By combining mandatory minimum sentences and harsh habitual penalty threats with non-unanimity, The New Orleans Advocate called this a “potent cocktail” in the hands of prosecutors. In a 2009 study by the Oregon Public Defense Services, researchers discovered that more than 40 percent of 662 convictions between 2007 and 2008 were non-unanimous. Louisiana’s numbers are similar.

Prosecutors, unsurprisingly, have pushed to keep the non-unanimity laws on the books, despite its racist origin. It was the Oregon District Attorney’s ...

Delaware Supreme Court Describes What Constitutes ‘Effective’ Counsel at Sentencing

by Dale Chappell

Providing a lesson on what defense lawyers should and should not do to get their client a lower sentence, the Supreme Court of Delaware held that counsel was ineffective when he met with his client for the first time just minutes before sentencing and did not coach ...

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Holds Any Search of Cellphone Requires Warrant

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania made it clear: “If a member of law enforcement wishes to obtain information from a cellphone, get a warrant.” The Court held that turning on, as well as digging into a cellphone to obtain its number, constituted a search each that ...

Wyoming Supreme Court Adopts ‘Castle Doctrine’ for Cohabitants

by Dale Chappell

In a case of first impression before the Supreme Court of Wyoming, the Court held that a cohabitant who attacks another cohabitant in their shared home may raise the “castle doctrine” in a self-defense argument, defending her use of force to protect herself from the other cohabitant ...

Eleventh Circuit Clarifies When a Court Must Conduct Resentencing Following § 2255 Relief

by Dale Chappell

In an issue of first impression for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the Court clarified when a district court must hold a resentencing hearing, rather than summarily “correcting” a sentence, when granting relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

In the ...

Virginia Supreme Court Grants Relief Under Revised Actual Innocence Statute

by Dale Chappell

The change of a single word in Virginia’s actual innocence statute “fundamentally changed the nature” of actual innocence inquiries, the Supreme Court of Virginia announced, finding a petitioner proved his actual innocence under the revised statute.

In 1978, Roy Watford pleaded guilty to the rape of a ...


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