Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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A case was brought before the Supreme Court of Iowa involving Kadin Miller, who was convicted of harassment after he posted a video of himself and his ex-girlfriend engaged in consensual sexual intercourse on a pornography website without her consent. This act was done to "annoy" and "get back at" his ex-girlfriend after their relationship ended on bad terms. As a result of his conviction, Miller was sentenced to two years in prison and was required to register as a sex offender. The main issue in the appeal was whether the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Miller was required to register as a sex offender pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 692A.Under Iowa law, individuals convicted of any sex offense are required to register as a sex offender if they reside, are employed, or attend school in the state. The law sets forth a comprehensive list of sex offenses that require an offender to register as a sex offender. However, the crime Miller was convicted of, harassment in the first degree, is not a per se sex offense. For non-per se sex offenses, an offender is required to register only if the state proves “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “a judge or jury” that the offense was “sexually motivated.”In this case, the Supreme Court of Iowa concluded that the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Miller's crime was sexually motivated. The court found that the district court's reasoning did not focus on the relevant statutory inquiry—whether the crime was sexually motivated—and instead focused on whether Miller had a sexual interest in the video. The court also noted that there was no evidence to support the district court's finding that Miller's commission of the crime of harassment was done for the purpose of his own sexual gratification. As such, the Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the district court's finding that Miller's crime was sexually motivated, and therefore, Miller was not required to register as a sex offender. View "State of Iowa v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the defendant, Randall Crater, was convicted of wire fraud, unlawful monetary transactions, and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business based on his involvement in a cryptocurrency scheme. The trial lasted eight days and was based on Crater's management of My Big Coin (MBC), a cryptocurrency company that allegedly misrepresented itself as a gold-backed digital currency and claimed a partnership with MasterCard. The defendant appealed two of the district court's rulings.Firstly, Crater argued that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process by refusing to enforce subpoenas against three federal agency witnesses due to Crater's non-compliance with the agencies' Touhy regulations. Secondly, Crater contended that the district court did not perform its gatekeeping duty by admitting testimony from the government's cryptocurrency expert without holding a Daubert hearing.However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, stating that Crater's arguments could not be reconciled with controlling precedent or the record in the case. The court found that Crater's failure to show how the excluded testimony of the federal agents would have been both material and favorable to his defense invalidated his Sixth Amendment claim. Furthermore, the court held that Crater's objections to the expert witness's qualifications and methodology were insufficient to necessitate a Daubert hearing. View "US v. Crater" on Justia Law

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In this case, Chad Michael Rider was convicted of three counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and was sentenced to 720 months’ imprisonment. The evidence presented included numerous videos that Rider had taken of minors, in various stages of undress, in places where they expected privacy such as bathrooms. Rider appealed his conviction and sentence on several bases, including arguing that his conversation with police officers, where he admitted to setting up cameras, should have been suppressed, that expert testimony about his lack of pedophilic tendencies should have been admitted, that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions, that the jury instructions constructively amended the indictment, and that his sentence was unreasonable.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected all of Rider's arguments and affirmed his conviction and sentence. The court found that Rider was not in custody when he spoke to the officers, and so his statements were not involuntary. The court also found that there was no error in excluding the expert testimony, as it was not relevant to any element of the charges that the government had to prove. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions, as there was ample evidence that Rider had the intent and took the necessary steps to produce child pornography. The court also ruled that the jury instructions did not constructively amend the indictment. Finally, the court found that the sentence was not unreasonable, given the uniquely disturbing facts of the case and Rider's lack of remorse. View "United States v. Rider" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, six men affiliated with the transnational criminal organization MS-13 were convicted of sex trafficking a thirteen-year-old girl by force, fraud, or coercion, and conspiracy to do the same. The accused appealed the district court’s denial of their motions to suppress evidence obtained from Facebook warrants, arguing the warrants failed the probable cause and particularity requirements of the Fourth Amendment. One of the accused also appealed the district court’s denial of his motion for acquittal, contending that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction.The court held that the Facebook warrants were supported by probable cause, as they were based on substantial evidence linking the accused’s use of Facebook to their criminal activities. The court also held that the warrants were sufficiently particular as they identified the items to be seized by reference to the suspected criminal offenses and confined the officers’ discretion by restricting them from rummaging through the accused’s social media data in search of unrelated criminal activities. However, the court noted that future warrants enhance their claims to particularity by requesting data only from the period of time during which the defendant was suspected of taking part in the criminal conspiracy.The court rejected one appellant's sufficiency challenge to his conviction and affirmed his convictions, finding that substantial evidence supported the jury’s conclusion that he was guilty of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor under fourteen or of a minor by force, fraud, or coercion, and of conspiracy to transport a minor in interstate commerce with intent for the minor to engage in prostitution or illegal sexual activity.Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all respects. View "United States v. Zelaya-Veliz" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the use of electronic information evidence in a murder trial. The defendant, Christian Steve Campos, was charged with premeditated murder and convicted of second-degree murder. He argued that electronic evidence, obtained by the government from his Facebook account and cellphone records under the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), should have been suppressed because he was not properly notified of its acquisition. The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fifth Appellate District, agreed that the government did not properly notify the defendant pursuant to the CalECPA, but concluded that suppression of the evidence was unwarranted. The court also rejected a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and affirmed the judgment. The court found that while the government did violate the CalECPA's notice provisions, the purpose of the CalECPA was achieved despite the notice error because the efforts of law enforcement to obtain the defendant's electronic information were eventually made known to him before trial began. As a result, the court concluded that suppression of the evidence was not the appropriate remedy for the notice violations. View "People v. Campos" on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, Somayina Odiah, the defendant, was appealing his conviction for one count of indecent solicitation of a child. The defendant had been communicating online with a person he believed to be a 14-year-old transitioning from male to female named “Alice.” However, “Alice” was a fictitious character created by the Rhode Island State Police for an undercover operation. The defendant was arrested after arranging to meet “Alice” in person. The defendant's argument on appeal focused on the claim that the state had not proven that “Alice” was “over the age of fourteen,” a necessary element for the charged offense.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the conviction. It held that even if “Alice” had turned fourteen on the day of the charged offense, under Rhode Island law, a person reaches their next year in age at the first moment of the day prior to the anniversary date of their birth. Therefore, “Alice” would have been considered to be exactly fourteen years old on the day before the charged offense. The court concluded that the defendant was planning to meet a fourteen-year-old child, with whom he had communicated about sexual activity, and that the trial justice did not err in denying the motion to dismiss the charge on the basis of the state not proving "Alice" was "over the age of fourteen." Thus, the defendant's judgment of conviction was affirmed. View "State v. Odiah" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Kansas reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, which had overturned Mark Scheetz's convictions for aggravated criminal sodomy, rape, sexual exploitation of a child, and victim intimidation. The Court of Appeals had ruled that the cumulative effect of various trial errors denied Scheetz his constitutional right to a fair trial. However, the Supreme Court found that the appellate court erred in its analysis, as Scheetz failed to make a timely and specific objection at trial to preserve an evidentiary challenge for appellate review as required by K.S.A. 60-404. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found the internet search history evidence was relevant to establish Scheetz's sexual desire for underage girls, a required element of the sexual exploitation of a child charge. The Supreme Court also concluded the prosecutor did not commit error in his closing arguments as the panel had determined. Consequently, the Supreme Court affirmed Scheetz's convictions. View "State v. Scheetz" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the appeal of Gordon Grabau's sentence for receiving child pornography, with the appellant arguing that the district court erred in applying a two-level enhancement because he knowingly distributed child pornography. The United States Court of Appeals For the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, maintaining that Grabau, who was a field technician for a technology company and held a bachelor's degree in computer science, demonstrated superior knowledge about how software works. This knowledge, in conjunction with his use of the peer-to-peer file-sharing program BitTorrent and his possession of a large collection of child pornography, was deemed by the court as sufficient evidence that Grabau knowingly distributed child pornography. Therefore, the application of the two-level enhancement was found to be appropriate. View "United States v. Grabau" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Nevada upheld a judgment from a lower court in a case involving extortion claims related to cryptocurrency. The case involves Christopher Terry, who sued Ava Blige, alleging she extorted cryptocurrency and money from him under threat of publishing his personal information. Blige failed to respond to court-ordered discovery requests, leading the district court to enter a default judgment in favor of Terry. The court found that Terry had established a prima facie case for conversion, unjust enrichment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, awarding him damages accordingly. The court also found that the factual allegations supported a claim for extortion, even though it was not specifically pleaded in the complaint. On appeal, Blige argued that the district court erroneously determined that she had impliedly consented to being sued under the unpleaded legal theory of extortion. The Supreme Court of Nevada agreed with Blige on this issue, stating that a defaulting party cannot be found to have impliedly consented to try claims that were not pleaded in the complaint. However, the court affirmed the lower court's judgment, concluding that Blige wrongfully dispossessed Terry of the cryptocurrency and money for cars through extortive acts under the theories of conversion, unjust enrichment, and caused him emotional distress. View "BLIGE VS. TERRY" on Justia Law

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In this case arising from two unrelated episodes in which a Tallahassee police officer used lethal force in detaining a suspect after asserting self-defense the Supreme Court held that Marsy's Law, Fla. Const. art. I, 16(b)-(e), guarantees to no victim, including a police officer, the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure to the public.After the City of Tallahassee proposed to release the law enforcement officers' names to the public, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sought an emergency injunction to prevent that from happening. The trial court denied the injunction and ordered that the names of the two officers be released. The First District Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that nothing in article I, section 16 excluded police officers or other government employees from the protections granted crime victims. The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the First District, holding that Marsy's Law did not preclude the City from releasing the two police officers' names under the circumstances of this case. View "City of Tallahassee v. Fla. Police Benevolent Ass'n" on Justia Law