Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for expungement of her felony charge, holding that Petitioner was entitled to mandatory expungement of her felony record under W. Va. Code 60A-4-407(b). Petitioner was a first-time offender whose drug-related offense to which she pled guilty involved distributing less than fifteen grams of marijuana without remuneration. Petitioner served a term of probation and satisfied all requirements of section 60A-4-407(b), and the case against her was dismissed. Petitioner later petitioned for expungement of her felony charge. The circuit court denied the petition on the ground that W. Va. Code 61-11-25 does not allow for the expungement of offenses that are dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea to another offense. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that W. Va. Code 60A-4-402(c) mandates that if a defendant who has been found guilty of a first offense for distributing less than fifteen grams of marijuana without any remuneration and satisfies the conditions of section 60A-4-407 then the defendant is entitled to expungement of any record of her arrest directly connected to the offense. View "State v. A.D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's recidivist life sentence imposed in connection with Defendant's conviction of second offense failure to register as a sex offender, holding that Defendant's recidivist life conviction, as applied, was unconstitutionally disproportionate. Defendant was sentenced to ten to twenty-five years in prison for his offense. Because of his prior convictions, Defendant received a recidivist life sentence under W. Va. Code 61-11-18(c). Defendant appealed both his conviction and his sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but reversed the sentence, holding (1) the circuit court properly denied Defendant's motions for acquittal based on the sufficiency of the evidence and Defendant's contention that the trial court incorrectly instructed the jury that time was not of the essence of the alleged offense; but (2) the sentence imposed by the trial court for Defendant's offense was unconstitutionally disproportionate under W. Va. Const. art. III, 5 and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. View "State v. Hoyle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court in this case considered two certified questions regarding West Virginia's kidnapping statute, W. Va. Code 61-2-14a. Defendant was indicted for kidnapping. During pretrial proceedings, the parties discussed (1) whether, under Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), the judge or the jury would need to make additional determinations when considering a kidnapping charge and (2) the propriety of special interrogatories to the jury in a kidnapping case. Defendant's trial was continued so that these issues could be brought to the Supreme Court for consideration. The Court answered, for a person convicted of kidnapping, (1) the trial judge, rather than the jury, is vested with the authority under the kidnapping statute to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole; and (2) in the absence of a statutory or constitutional requirement that special interrogatories be submitted to a jury in a kidnapping case, a trial court exceeds its authority and abuses its discretion in submitting special interrogatories to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole. View "State v. Scruggs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner relief on his second petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief on his three arguments on appeal. Petitioner was convicted of burglary by entering without breaking and other offenses. In his second habeas corpus petition Petitioner raised four grounds for relief. The circuit court summarily dismissed the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the errors Petitioner raised in this appeal were either not raised below and therefore waived or were previously and finally adjudicated on the merits and not clearly wrong. View "Lewis v. Ames" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court convicting Petitioner of six counts of sexual assault in the second degree, seven counts of sexual abuse by a custodian, and one count of sexual abuse in the first degree and sentencing Petitioner to a total of 131 to 295 years in prison, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief on any of his assignments of error. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in finding the State properly authenticated its exhibit of Facebook Messenger text messages; (2) the circuit court did not err in denying Petitioner's motion for judgment of acquittal; and (3) Petitioner was not entitled to relief on any of his remaining claims. View "State v. Benny W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court erred in finding that W.Va. Code 61-11-23(b) of the Juvenile Sentencing Reform Act did not apply retroactively to Petitioner's sentence. Petitioner, who was sixteen years old at the time he committed the offenses, was convicted of sexual assault in the first degree and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in a position of trust. The circuit court sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate sentence of thirty-five to seventy-five years of incarceration and fifty years of supervised release. The court further required Petitioner to register as a sexual offender for his lifetime. After the legislature enacted the Act, Petitioner brought this habeas corpus proceeding. The circuit court denied relief. The Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court erred in concluding that the legislature did not intend for section 61-11-23(b) to be applied retroactively; (2) Petitioner failed to establish that the State provided false and perjured testimony; and (3) Petitioner's sentence was not disproportionate. View "Christopher J. v. Ames" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus in which Appellant asserted ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that there were no grounds upon which to find that Appellant's trial counsel was ineffective. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree for fatally shooting his wife. Defendant was sentenced to life with mercy. After the circuit court denied Defendant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus Defendant appealed, raising eight separate instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus. View "Coleman v. Binion" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus asserting ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that there were no grounds upon which to find Petitioner's counsel was ineffective. After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of murder in the first degree. Petitioner's habeas petition asserted numerous grounds to support his claims of ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel. After an omnibus hearing, the circuit court denied the petition. Petitioner appealed, raising eight separate instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner received effective assistance of counsel. View "Coleman v. Binion" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified to it by the circuit court after reformulating the question, holding that a jury may consider images of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct contained in the temporary Internet cache files on a defendant's computer as evidence of a violation of W.Va. Code 61-8C-3(a). Respondent was charged with one count of violating section 61-8C-3. The circuit court certified a question to the Supreme Court. The Court reformulated the question and answered in the affirmative, holding (1) images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct found in temporary Internet cache files on a defendant's computer are contraband in a prosecution for a violation of section 61-8C-3(a) on a theory of constructive possession if the State's evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew of the cached images and exercised dominion and control over them; and (2) if the State cannot prove that the defendant knew of the cached images and exercised dominion and control over them, the images are still circumstantial evidence the State may use to prove that the defendant violated section 61-8C-3(a). View "State v. Beck" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence for one count of delivery of a controlled substance, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. After Defendant was convicted, a trial was conducted pursuant to the procedures contained in W. Va. Code 61-11-19, and Defendant was found to have been previously convicted of two prior felony offenses. The circuit court then sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment on the predicate delivery of heroin charge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction; (2) a criminal defendant who has been twice convicted and sentenced for crimes punishable by confinement in a penitentiary but has not discharged such prior penitentiary sentences and is subsequently convicted of a third crimes punishable by confinement in a penitentiary is subject to an enhanced sentence under the recidivist statute, W. Va. Code 61-11-18 and -19; and (3) the life sentence under the recidivist statute did not violate proportionality principles. View "State v. Norwood" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law