April 23, 2021 Decisions
Last Friday, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals released a new batch of decisions. Below are the more noteworthy opinions with summaries.
Lockhart v. State, CR-19-0703 (Ala. Crim. App. April 23, 2021)
Lockhart is deals with the appeal of a Rule 32 petition in a death penalty case. This was a 12-0 life verdict that was overrode by the judge. The Rule 32 petition involved various claim of ineffective assistance of counsel that were denied by the circuit court and later affirmed by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Judge Kellum has a dissent about post-conviction stage forensic firearm testing that may be an issue going forward in federal habeas.
State v. Gray, CR-19-1110 (Ala. Crim. App. April 23, 2021)
The court reversed the circuit court’s order granting the motion to suppress. The case involved an admittedly pretextual arrest warrant for simple gambling and suppression was granted on those grounds. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, however, because although the simple gambling warrant was pretextual, the smell of marijuana when they arrived to execute the warrant gave officers probable cause to obtain a search warrant for the house where marijuana, paraphernalia, and a stolen gun were found.
Watson v. State, CR-18-0377 (Ala. Crim. App. Appeals April 23, 2021)
George v. State, CR-180435 (Ala. Crim. App. April 23, 2021)
These are post-Carpenter cell tower location information cases. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals and held that this type of evidence is scientific in nature, therefore it requires an expert witness. These opinions are the Court of Criminal Appeals officially remanding to the circuit court with specific instructions to hold a hearing to determine whether the witness was qualified as an expert and whether the testimony would meet the admissibility requirements of 702(b). This will be one to watch going forward.
May v. State, CR-19-0721 (Ala. Crim. App. April 23, 2021)
The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed May’s murder conviction that involved a firearm enhancement and hate crime statute. The court rejected May’s fair cross section arguments and sufficiency claims regarding the murder, hate crime aspect, and self-defense claim.
State v. Stallworth, CR-19-0546 (Ala. Crim. App. April 23, 2021)
The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the circuit court’s order dismissing the indictment against Stallworth on what was basically insufficient evidence. Under Rule 13.5(c)(1), Ala. R. Crim. P., circuit courts have limited authority to dismiss an indictment pretrial in certain circumstances and insufficient evidence is not one of those circumstances. It has been held permissible when the state invites error under Ex parte Worley 102 So. 3d 428 (Ala. 2010).
Okeowa v. State, CR-19-0273 (Ala. Crim. App. April 23, 2021)
Okeowa filed a Rule 32 petition claiming that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate her citizenship status before Okeowa pleaded guilty to third-degree theft charges and ICE began removal proceedings. The Court of Criminal Appeals essentially distinguished Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), in affirming the denial of Okeowa’s Rule 32 petition because trial counsel was never made aware of Okeowa’s legal resident status and had no reason to investigate it. Court said it would be best practice to be informed of citizenship/immigration status but not ineffective to not do so unless there is a reason to investigate it and take it into consideration.
Hydrick v. State, CR-20-0019 (Ala. Crim. App. April 23, 2021)
The court dismissed the appeal because the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to alter Hydrick’s sentence because more than 30 days had passed. After Hydrick failed to report to begin her 3 year sentence, the circuit court altered the sentence to 5 years. But because more than 30 days had passed, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to do so.