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Articles by Dale Chappell

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 ...

Colorado High Court Clarifies Crime-Fraud Exception to Attorney-Client Privilege

by Dale Chappell

In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of Colorado held February 5, 2018, that a party seeking to invoke the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege must demonstrate “probable cause” that a crime or fraud is being committed by the client’s communications with his or ...

California Supreme Court Vacates Conviction and Death Sentence After Experts Recant Testimony

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of California granted a writ of habeas corpus and vacated a first-degree murder conviction and death sentence after several of the experts who testified at trial recanted their testimony over 25 years later.

Vincent Benavides was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death ...

Colorado Supreme Court: ‘Entry of Judgment’ for New Trial Motion Means Both Conviction and Imposition of Sentence

by Dale Chappell

“Entry of judgment” for purposes of a motion for new trial under Criminal Procedure Rule 33(c) means the finding of guilt and the imposition of a sentence, the Colorado Supreme Court held on January 22, 2018, finding a defendant’s motion for new trial was timely filed ...


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