Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The defendant, Allen Evans, was charged with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a protected individual. The charges were brought after a resident of the Beatrice State Development Center reported that Evans had sexually assaulted her while he was employed with the Department of Health and Human Services. Evans pleaded no contest to both counts. The district court sentenced him to 18 to 20 years’ imprisonment for each conviction, resulting in an aggregate term of imprisonment of 36 to 40 years. The court ordered the sentences to run consecutively.Evans appealed his sentences, arguing that they were invalid because, under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-1,110 (Supp. 2023), he may be eligible for parole before serving his minimum term of 36 years. He contended that under the parole eligibility criteria of a recent amendment to § 83-1,110(3)(c)(iii), the maximum sentence for an aggregate sentence of 40 years cannot exceed 32 years, because 80 percent of a maximum term of 40 years is 32 years.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that § 83-1,110 concerns parole eligibility calculations and not the permissible sentencing range of the underlying sentence imposed by the trial court. The court's aggregate sentence of 36 to 40 years was valid, and the court did not need to address the correctness of the court's truth-in-sentencing advisement in light of the amendments to § 83-1,110(3)(c)(iii). The court concluded that a truth-in-sentencing advisement containing a miscalculation as to the expected parole eligibility or mandatory release date does not affect the validity of either the sentence or the plea. View "State v. Evans" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves Kevin S. German, who was convicted of second-degree murder, kidnapping, and first-degree false imprisonment. The crimes were based on two separate incidents that occurred over a two-day period in November 2019. German and his girlfriend, Keonna Carter, abducted and assaulted E.A. In the second incident, they abducted, assaulted, and killed Annika Swanson.The District Court for Chase County, Nebraska, heard the case. The court admitted photographic evidence of Swanson's child, gave instructions on aiding and abetting a crime, and refused to give German's tendered instructions. The court also imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for kidnapping.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court found no abuse of discretion in the receipt of photographic evidence and no reversible error related to the jury instructions or kidnapping sentence. With regard to German's ineffective assistance of counsel claims, they either lacked merit, could not be resolved on the existing record, or were not sufficiently alleged. View "State v. German" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves a juvenile, Jeovani H., who was placed on probation and ordered to pay restitution as a term and condition of his probation. Jeovani was charged with an act that would constitute the felony of first-degree assault, which was later amended to a misdemeanor of attempted third-degree assault. The incident involved Jeovani shoving another youth, causing the youth to fall and fracture his arm. As part of a plea agreement, Jeovani admitted to the amended petition and agreed that the amount of restitution owed to his victim for medical expenses was $2,553.05. However, he disputed his ability to pay that amount.The Hall County Court, sitting as a juvenile court, accepted Jeovani’s admission to the amended petition and ordered a predisposition investigation. At the disposition and restitution hearing, Jeovani’s mother testified about the family's financial situation and work schedules, arguing that Jeovani did not have the ability to pay the restitution amount. The State called Jeovani and a juvenile probation officer as witnesses, who testified about Jeovani's ability to work and earn money to pay the restitution.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the juvenile court's decision. The court found that Jeovani had the ability to pay the restitution within the 12-month period of his probationary term. The court also rejected Jeovani’s claim that he was not allowed an opportunity to present or cross-examine witnesses on the issue of restitution. The court concluded that the restitution order was consistent with Jeovani’s reformation and rehabilitation and was supported by the record. View "In re Interest of Jeovani H." on Justia Law

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The case involves the defendant, Michael C. Hoehn, who was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) after a motion to suppress evidence from his stop and arrest was denied by the county court. The arresting officer, Officer Matt Rockwell of the Minatare Police Department, had left his primary jurisdiction after receiving a report of a white pickup driving erratically. Rockwell observed the pickup straddling the centerline and trash coming from the driver’s-side window. After the pickup turned into oncoming traffic and down into the grass median, Rockwell stopped the vehicle and identified the driver as Hoehn. Rockwell observed Hoehn had slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes, and detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle. Rockwell administered a preliminary breath test and other field sobriety tests, which Hoehn failed, leading to his arrest for DUI.Hoehn appealed to the district court, arguing that Rockwell did not have jurisdictional authority to perform the traffic stop. The district court affirmed the conviction, interpreting Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-215(3)(c) to mean that when probable cause exists, officers have authority to perform stops and arrests outside of their primary jurisdiction that are solely related to enforcing laws that concern a person operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.Hoehn then appealed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of § 29-215(3)(c) and found that Rockwell lacked jurisdictional authority to make the stop and arrest. However, the Court of Appeals held that under the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule, Hoehn’s conviction, based on the evidence from his stop and arrest, did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. Both Hoehn and the State petitioned for further review by the Nebraska Supreme Court.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, albeit on different grounds. The court held that a law enforcement officer’s jurisdictional power and authority to make a stop or arrest is irrelevant to the admissibility, under the Fourth Amendment and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution, of the evidence obtained from the stop or arrest. Therefore, the county court did not err in denying Hoehn’s motion to suppress brought under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. View "State v. Hoehn" on Justia Law

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The case involves Joseph C. Boeggeman, who was convicted in Nebraska for two counts of attempted first degree sexual assault and one count of attempted third degree sexual assault. During the Nebraska criminal proceedings, Boeggeman was serving an unrelated sentence in Massachusetts. After his sentencing hearing in Nebraska in February 2017, and before the time for filing an appeal had expired, Boeggeman was returned to Massachusetts, where he remained until January 2020.Boeggeman filed a motion for postconviction relief in December 2020, arguing that there was a discrepancy between the trial court's pronounced sentence and its written sentencing order regarding whether his Nebraska sentences were to run concurrently with or consecutively to his Massachusetts sentence. The district court denied his motion without an evidentiary hearing, concluding that his motion was untimely and that equitable tolling did not apply to the 1-year limitation of § 29-3001(4).The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the 1-year limitation period for filing a postconviction motion under § 29-3001(4) is not subject to equitable tolling. The court also noted that postconviction relief is only available where a constitutional violation renders the judgment void or voidable, and Boeggeman's supplemental allegations, which all occurred after his judgment was entered, had no bearing on the underlying judgment. View "State v. Boeggeman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentences of Bailey M. Boswell for premeditated first degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and improper disposal of human skeletal remains. Boswell and her co-conspirator, Aubrey C. Trail, were charged after the dismembered remains of 24-year-old Sydney Loofe were discovered. The court found no error in the district court's evidentiary rulings, which included the admission of photographs of Loofe's dismembered body, evidence of sex toys, sexual fantasies, and sexual torture, testimony about witchcraft and the occult, and hearsay statements by Trail under the coconspirator exemption to the hearsay rule. The court held that the evidence was relevant and admissible under Nebraska law, and that its probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The court also found that the State had sufficiently proved the existence of a conspiracy through independent evidence, allowing for the admission of Trail's statements under the coconspirator exception to the hearsay rule. View "State v. Boswell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves Makhi Woolridge-Jones, who was convicted of second-degree murder, second-degree assault, and two counts of use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. The charges stemmed from a shooting at a shopping mall that resulted in the death of one man and injury to a woman. Woolridge-Jones fired multiple shots, hitting the man. On appeal, Woolridge-Jones argued that the district court erred in excluding expert testimony that would have opined that the initial shot fired by him put him in a state of peritraumatic dissociation. He also claimed that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions and that his sentences were excessive.The District Court for Douglas County had previously found Woolridge-Jones guilty of the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder, second-degree assault, and two counts of use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. The court had also excluded the expert testimony of a licensed psychologist who had evaluated Woolridge-Jones and opined that he experienced symptoms of peritraumatic dissociation during the shooting incident.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the expert's testimony would not have assisted the jury in determining whether Woolridge-Jones acted with the requisite intent to be found guilty of second-degree murder. The court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support Woolridge-Jones' convictions and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing him. View "State v. Woolridge-Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case involves the defendant, Donald Gene Anthony, who was convicted of first degree murder, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person. The charges stemmed from an altercation that resulted in the death of Said Farah. The defendant appealed his convictions based on evidentiary rulings made by the district court during the trial.The trial court heard testimony from several witnesses who were present at the scene of the crime. The defendant's girlfriend, Marissa Stephens, testified that Farah was acting "weird" and "off" on the night of the incident. The court, however, did not allow Stephens to testify about whether she believed Farah was under the influence of drugs at the time of the altercation.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the trial court did not err in excluding Stephens' lay opinion that Farah was under the influence, as it was largely cumulative to other evidence received at trial without objection. The court also found that the trial court did not err in admitting certain statements as nonhearsay, as they were offered for relevant nonhearsay purposes related to their effect on the listener. Lastly, the court found no error in the trial court's exclusion of statements made by law enforcement during the defendant's post-arrest interviews. View "State v. Anthony" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The State of Nebraska convicted DeShawn L. Gleaton, Jr. of first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, and witness tampering. Gleaton appealed, arguing that the lower court erred in admitting expert testimony about cell phone location data, in overruling defense objections to the prosecutor's statements during closing argument, and in declining to strike certain victim impact material from the presentence investigation report. Gleaton also accused the lower court of judicial misconduct during sentencing. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed Gleaton's convictions and sentences, ruling that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the expert testimony, in overruling defense objections to the prosecutor's statements, or in declining to strike the victim impact material. The high court also found no judicial misconduct. However, the Nebraska Supreme Court found that the lower court committed plain error in sentencing by applying 413 days' credit for time served to Gleaton's life sentence, instead of applying the credit to the nonlife sentences consecutive to the life sentence. The high court modified Gleaton's sentences to correct this error. View "State v. Gleaton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals in a case involving the right to a speedy trial. The defendant, Justin N. Rashad, was charged with first degree assault and use of a firearm to commit a felony in connection with the shooting of his father. Rashad argued that his right to a speedy trial, as provided by Nebraska law, was violated when the State failed to meet its evidentiary burden to show that there was good cause to continue his case past the 6-month speedy trial deadline. The trial was initially delayed because the judge had another trial scheduled. The trial was then set for a date in February, months past the speedy trial deadline.The Supreme Court held that the evidence in the record, which consisted solely of emails regarding the scheduling of the hearing on the continuance and a transcript of that hearing, was insufficient to show that there was good cause to continue Rashad’s trial past the speedy trial deadline. The Court noted that statements of unavailability, without more, are insufficient to show that docket congestion existed, such that there was good cause to continue the trial. Furthermore, the court highlighted that the information about the judge’s availability came from statements by the judge, and that comments by the trial judge are not evidence. As such, the court concluded that the State failed to meet its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there was good cause to continue Rashad’s trial. The case was remanded to the lower court with instructions to grant Rashad's motion for absolute discharge. View "State v. Rashad" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law