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Nashville Criminal Defense Law Blog

Supreme Court: Is phone location data admissible without warrant?

The U.S. Supreme Court has just heard an appeal on whether police can collect cellphone location data without a warrant and still have it be admissible against criminal defendants. The case pits Americans' privacy rights against the government's interest in easy access to personal data that can solve crimes.

The case before the court involves several armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores near Detroit and in northwestern Ohio. After getting a court order, law enforcement pulled records from the cellphone towers nearest the robberies and used them to determine who had been in the area at the time of each robbery.

Judge rules case against convicted rapist was 'weak at best'

When Wilbert Jones was convicted of a 1971 abduction and rape, he was 19. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now 65, he is tasting freedom once more after a Louisiana judge ruled the case against him was weak and found that prosecutors may have withheld key defense evidence.

Jones's conviction was overturned and he has been released on $2,000 bail. Prosecutors don't intend to retry him, although they have said they will ask the Louisiana Supreme court to review the judge's ruling.

SCOTUS sentencing ban brings release for former juvenile lifers

Bobby H. was locked up for 28 years. He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed when he was 15 years old. Now 43, he is working to navigate a world he left when he was in eighth grade.

Bobby was condemned for his role in a 1989 murder. Although he wasn't the shooter, prosecutors had painted him as the ringleader and had provoked the two other teens into firing. One of the first things he did after his release was to sit down with his victim's sister and take responsibility for what he did.

When does having separate trials violate double jeopardy?

Sometimes, a single defendant is subjected to two separate trials. This is often done in an effort to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial when something in the first trial would create undue prejudice among the jury in the second trial, or vice versa. But what if part of the second trial depends on facts being decided in the first trial?

A Virginia man says his acquittal in a first trial should have resulted in the state dropping the charges in the second. He was accused of participating in a break-in where a safe full of guns and money was stolen. Because he had a criminal record, the state also accused him of being a felon in possession of firearms. He was acquitted of the break-in; shouldn't that mean he was not guilty of the unlawful possession charge?

Supreme Court to decide on standards for resolving plain errors

A conviction can be appealed on a number of grounds. One way of looking at it is that convictions (and civil cases) can be appealed based on an error of the law or an error in the facts. In some cases, factual errors are hard to gauge, as a reasonable jury might have decided the facts either way. In others, however, a factual error is a straightforward mistake, such as a mistake in math or a wrong date. This is called "plain error."

In a case involving an apparent mathematical error, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide what should happen when a defendant suffers from a plain error but fails to bring the issue up when it first arises.

State high court: Field sobriety tests inadmissible for pot DUI

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has ruled that field sobriety tests are not an appropriate measure for whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana. Although the ruling doesn't apply directly in Tennessee, it could be influential because it involved a review of the current science on accurately detecting marijuana intoxication.

Specifically, the Massachusetts high court addressed how police officers can legally testify about field sobriety tests they administer to drivers they suspect of being under the influence of marijuana. It is not illegal to administer the tests, but the court determined they have no scientific value. Therefore, officers' testimony must be limited.

Civil rights suit shows police, witness failures in murder case

Halfway into a 20-year sentence for murder, Jennifer Del Prete was released on bond in 2014 after a judge found she had demonstrated her "actual innocence" of the crime she was convicted of. She had been convicted of violently shaking a child in her care at a day care center. That alleged shaking caused so-called "shaken baby syndrome," neurological evidence of abuse. Unfortunately, it appears that the science behind "shaken baby syndrome" is, as the judge put it, "highly suspect."

The case against Del Prete now appears to be so factually weak that she is suing the local police for intentionally framing her. The prosecution's expert witness, a pediatrician, concluded that the child was the victim of "shaken baby syndrome" even though she had never performed a physical examination. The child was already suffering from chronic subdural hematomas, which could easily explain the neurological evidence. The medical examiner who did the autopsy openly questioned the "shaken baby" diagnosis -- but his report was never turned over to the defense as was constitutionally required.

A search warrant can't be based on hunch suspect owns cellphone

In order to be legal, a search warrant must be based on probable cause. In other words, the officers seeking the warrant need to document a good reason to believe that evidence of criminal activity is likely to be found in a particular location.

To search someone's home, for example, it's not enough that the person is suspected of a crime and has a home that could be searched. Probable cause means there must be a specific reason for the police to believe that certain evidence is in that home.

Man caught having sex as teen now banned from living in own home

Just after he turned 17, LaShun G. was charged with second-degree sexual assault having sex with another teenager. He was tried and convicted as an adult, which means he was added to the sex offender registry in the state where he lives. He never committed another offense. He is now married and has three children.

He and his wife own and operate a small moving company. His wife is a nurse. Their 5-year-old son has medical issues that require constant monitoring and medical care, including breathing machines. He has limited mobility and is wheelchair-bound.

Prosecutorial misconduct leads to overturned murder conviction

A man who has been serving time since 1995 for the murder of a drug dealer has been released with his conviction overturned by a judge. That judge found evidence of serious prosecutorial misconduct that made his trial and conviction unfair. The district attorney's office is appealing the decision.

According to the New York Daily News, Tasker Spruill has always maintained his innocence in the 1993 killing of an East New York drug dealer. He was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars. He was released last week, but since his case is appealable, his release is conditioned on a $200,000 bond and electronic ankle monitoring.

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