Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of two counts of first degree murder. The trial court sentenced Defendant to terms of life-to-life imprisonment for each murder conviction. Defendant appealed, arguing, primarily, that because sudden quarrel provocation negates the malice element of murder, the step instruction for first degree murder violated his due process rights because the jury was not instructed that the State had to prove that the killings were not the result of a sudden quarrel brought about by a sufficient provocation. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentences, holding (1) when the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant acted with premeditated and deliberate malice, the jury necessarily simultaneously found no sudden quarrel provocation beyond a reasonable doubt; and (2) Defendant’s remaining arguments lacked merit. View "State v. Hinrichsen" on Justia Law

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After being married for approximately twenty years, Shelley and Kirk Brozek divorced. The divorce decree divided the marital estate and ordered Kirk to buy some of Shelley’s separate property. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the decree and the court’s order awarding Shelley attorney fees, holding that the district court did not err in (1) ordering Kirk to buy Shelley’s shares in a closely held farming corporation for a price higher than the value determined under a stock redemption agreement; (2) dividing the marital estate and declining to give Kirk credit for premarital property he disposed of during the marriage; (3) awarding Shelley attorney fees after Kirk filed a notice of appeal; and (4) not awarding Shelley alimony, a cash award for the inadequacy of the marital estate, or attorney fees in the decree. View "Brozek v. Brozek" on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of first degree sexual assault of a person at least twelve but less than sixteen years of age. Defendant filed a direct appeal, but his appeal was dismissed due to the untimely payment of a docket fee or the granting of in forma pauperis status. Defendant subsequently filed a motion seeking postconviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a direct appeal and for various actions made or not made at trial. The district court denied most of Defendant’s motion without a hearing. Following an evidentiary hearing, however, the court awarded Defendant a new direct appeal. This was that appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Court had jurisdiction to decide to decide this appeal; (2) Defendant’s sentence was not excessive; and (3) Defendant could not show that he was prejudiced by any deficient conduct on the part of trial counsel. View "State v. Collins" on Justia Law
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Defendant was convicted of terroristic threats, kidnapping, first degree sexual assault, and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. The court of appeals reversed, ruling that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments and that Defendant’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to timely object to the prosecutor’s improper comments. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the prosecutor’s statements, when considered in the context of all the trial proceedings, were not misconduct because they were not misleading and did not unduly influence the jury; and (2) because counsel cannot be deficient for failing to object to statements that were not misconduct, Defendant was not prejudiced by counsel’s performance. View "State v. McSwine" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance and was sentenced to eight to ten years’ imprisonment. Defendant’s direct appeal was dismissed because his poverty affidavit was untimely filed. Thereafter, Defendant filed a motion for postconviction relief alleging that his counsel provided ineffective assistance. The district court denied relief, concluding that Defendant failed to show that his counsel’s performance was deficient. Defendant appealed. The court of appeals vacated the district court’s order and remanded the cause for further proceedings after addressing the procedure the district court should follow when considering a postconviction motion that raises both an allegation that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a direct appeal and other ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, while this Court adopted a slightly different procedure than the one proposed by the court of appeals, the proper disposition of the appeal in this case was that the district court’s order denying certain of Defendant’s postconviction claims should be vacated and the cause remanded. View "State v. Determan" on Justia Law

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William Lorenz died in 2010. The county court admitted William’s last will and testament and two codicils to formal probate and also appointed William’s daughter, Theresa Lorenz, as personal representative of the estate. Alice Shea, William’s former wife, filed a petition challenging the rejection of her claims in the estate, seeking the appointment of a special administrator and challenging the second codicil of William’s will. The county court awarded summary judgment to Theresa except in regard to Alice’s claims regarding alimony and interest on a late payment. The court of appeals affirmed the county court’s order but modified the court’s dismissal of Alice’s request for the appointment of a special administrator to reflect that the request should have been dismissed without prejudice. Theresa petitioned for further review, assigning three errors relating to the issue of the special administrator. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals (1) erred in concluding that Alice’s filing of her claims and petition for allowance of those claims was sufficient written demand under Neb. Rev. Stat. 30-2726; and (2) erred in modifying the dismissal of Alice’s request for the appointment of a special administrator without prejudice. View "In re Estate of Lorenz" on Justia Law
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Neb. Rev. Stat. 77-1502(2) imposes a requirement and specifies a consequence for its violation. In this case, a taxpayer filed a property valuation protest. The taxpayer’s protest form specified the assessed and requested valuation amounts but stated no reason for the requested change. The Lincoln County Board of Equalization dismissed the protest, citing section 77-1502(2). The taxpayer appealed to the Nebraska Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC). TERC dismissed the appeal with prejudice, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction because the Board did not have jurisdiction to hear the protest due to the taxpayer’s failure to state the reason for the protest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Board correctly dismissed the taxpayer’s protest because the protest failed to include a reason for the requested change in valuation; and (2) because the Board lacked authority to hear the taxpayer’s property valuation protest on the merits, TERC likewise lacked authority to do so. View "Village at North Platte v. Lincoln County Bd. of Equalization" on Justia Law

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Appellant, an inmate, applied for reclassification of his custody level from medium custody to minimum custody. The Department of Correctional Services determined that Appellant’s classification should remain at medium custody. Appellant subsequently filed a pro se petition in the district court seeking judicial review of DCS’ decision. The district court sustained the DCS’ motion to dismiss, concluding that DCS’ decision regarding Defendant’s level of custody was not made in a “contested case” and, therefore, the court lacked jurisdiction under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The court of appeals agreed with the district court’s conclusion and dismissed Appellant’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DCS’ decision was not made in a “contested case” as defined in the APA; and (2) therefore, the district court correctly determined that it lacked jurisdiction to review the level of custody decision. View "Purdie v. Neb. Dep’t of Corr. Servs." on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of violating Neb. Rev. Stat. 60-6,198(1), which criminalizes the act of proximately causing serious bodily injury to another while driving under the influence of alcohol. Defendant appealed, arguing that the district court erred by failing to strictly construe the proximate cause element of section 60-6,198(1) to require a “but for” causal analysis of proximate cause, and that, had it done so, it could not have found him guilty. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the State met its burden of proving that Defendant’s act of driving while under the influence was both a “but for” cause and a proximate cause of serious bodily injury; and (2) because the serious bodily injury was a direct and natural result of Defendant’s act of driving while under the influence and there was no efficient intervening cause, a reasonable trier of fact could find that the State met its burden of proof on causation. View "State v. Irish" on Justia Law
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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit unlawful possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in (1) admitting the testimony of a police officer concerning the meaning of certain cell phone calls and text messages between Defendant and other persons involved in the drug conspiracy; (2) denying Defendant’s motions to continue trial or exclude the testimony of a witness despite the State’s failure to timely disclose the person’s status as a witness; and (3) convicting Defendant of a Class 1B felony instead of a Class II felony and sentencing Defendant to twenty to twenty-five years’ imprisonment. View "State v. Russell" on Justia Law
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