Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The defendant, Melvin Lear, was charged with a felony offense by the State of Nebraska. Lear requested a continuance in order to conduct additional discovery, which was granted by the court. However, the continuance extended the trial date beyond the statutory six-month period. Lear then filed a motion for absolute discharge on statutory speedy trial grounds. The district court denied the motion, finding that Lear had waived his statutory right to a speedy trial by requesting a continuance that extended the trial date beyond the statutory limit. Lear appealed the decision, arguing that the waiver provision in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-1207(4)(b) only applies to a continuance granted at the sole request of the defendant, not a request joined in by the State. The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected Lear's argument, interpreting the waiver provision to apply to a continuance granted at the request of the defendant or his or her counsel, regardless of whether the State joins the request, when the period of delay resulting from the continuance extends a trial date beyond the statutory six-month period. The court therefore affirmed the district court's decision to deny Lear's motion for absolute discharge. View "State v. Lear" on Justia Law

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In Nebraska, a man named Hope T. Npimnee was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and sentenced to 35 to 40 years in prison. The victim, identified as S.M., claimed that she was intoxicated when Npimnee had non-consensual sexual contact with her. Npimnee appealed his conviction, arguing that the jury instructions were incorrect and contradictory, that there was insufficient evidence to support the theory that S.M. was so intoxicated as to be incapable of resisting, that the court failed to instruct the jury on the defense of consent, and that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s conviction and sentence, finding that the jury instructions were correct and that there was sufficient evidence to support the theory that S.M. was so intoxicated as to be incapable of resisting. The Court also found that there was no need for an additional instruction on the defense of consent, as the jury was already required to find that the sexual contact was without consent in order to convict Npimnee. Npimnee's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were dismissed due to insufficiently specific allegations. View "State v. Npimnee" on Justia Law

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The appellant, Jordon J. Miller, was convicted and sentenced for second degree murder following a plea agreement. The charge stemmed from an incident when shots were fired at a passing vehicle, resulting in the death of Jade Lea. Miller appealed, claiming that the district court erred in overruling his motion to withdraw his plea, that his statutory right to a speedy trial was violated, that the court imposed an excessive sentence, and that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The Nebraska Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the overruling of Miller's motion to withdraw his plea, noting that a defendant’s change of mind alone is not a fair and just reason to withdraw a guilty or no contest plea. The court also found that the record on appeal was not sufficient to review Miller's claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Finally, the court found no abuse of discretion in Miller's sentencing. As such, the court affirmed Miller’s conviction and sentence. View "State v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Nebraska Supreme Court, the defendant, Favion Lara, appealed from the District Court for Hall County, arguing that his sentences should be vacated and the case remanded for resentencing before a different judge. Lara was convicted on five felony charges related to firing gunshots toward law enforcement officers.The court found that there was no breach in the plea agreement. Lara claimed that a letter from a police officer (who was also a victim of Lara's crime) asking for a harsher sentence than the prosecution recommended was a violation of the plea agreement. The court disagreed, noting that the letter was treated as a victim's opinion, and the officer was not acting as an agent of the prosecution when submitting it. There was no evidence that the officer participated in the plea negotiations or consented to act on behalf of the prosecution.Regarding Lara's claim of excessive sentences, the court found no abuse of discretion. The sentencing court considered the relevant factors, such as Lara's age, mentality, education and experience, social and cultural background, past criminal record or record of law-abiding conduct, motivation for the offense, the nature of the offense, and the amount of violence involved in the commission of the crime.Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "State v. Lara" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The defendant, Tristan T. Horne, was charged with attempted possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. As part of a plea agreement, Horne was admitted into a problem-solving court program (Wellness Court) designed to assist defendants with mental health diagnoses. The program defers sentencing and provides treatment, supervision, and judicial oversight. Successful completion of the program may result in the defendant being allowed to withdraw their plea and have their charges dismissed. However, if the participant is removed from the program or withdraws before successful completion, the conviction stands and the case proceeds to sentencing.Throughout Horne's participation in the program, he repeatedly violated program requirements. These violations included missed drug tests, dishonesty with probation officers, not completing community service hours ordered by the District Court, failing to successfully complete multiple residential treatment programs, testing positive for marijuana, removing his court-ordered GPS monitoring device, and failing to report to jail as ordered after leaving a treatment program. Following these violations, the State moved to remove Horne from the program. The District Court accepted Horne's admission to the violations and removed him from the program. Subsequently, Horne was sentenced to a term of imprisonment.On appeal, Horne challenged his removal from the program, the fact that the District Court did not order a presentence investigation before sentencing him, and the length of his sentence. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the District Court's decision, finding no reversible error. It held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in removing Horne from the program given his multiple failures to comply with program requirements. The Supreme Court also held that the District Court did not plainly err in not ordering a presentence investigation before sentencing Horne. Lastly, the Supreme Court found that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Horne. View "State v. Horne" on Justia Law

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In this case, Patrick Tvrdy was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 to 16 years' imprisonment following a vehicle-motorcycle collision that resulted in the death of the motorcycle driver, Brady Sweetser. Tvrdy appealed on three grounds: that the district court used erroneous jury instructions relating to motor vehicle homicide instead of manslaughter, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, and that the sentence imposed was excessive.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the jury instructions correctly stated the law and were not misleading. The court noted that the law in Nebraska does not consider a victim's negligence as a defense to manslaughter unless that negligence is the sole proximate cause of the death. This principle was correctly reflected in the jury instructions.Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, the court found that there was enough evidence to support Tvrdy's conviction. The court emphasized that an appellate court does not resolve conflicts in the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or reweigh the evidence. The court found that there was sufficient evidence of Tvrdy's intoxication and that there was never enough time for Tvrdy to complete his left turn without causing Sweetser, who had the right of way, to collide with him.As to the sentence, the court found no abuse of discretion by the district court. Tvrdy's sentence was within the statutory limits for his offense, and the court noted his criminal history of multiple speeding and possession of marijuana offenses, as well as a driving under the influence offense. View "State v. Tvrdy" on Justia Law

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The Nebraska Supreme Court heard an appeal from Angelina M. Clark who was convicted for terroristic threats and third-degree sexual assault. Clark argued that her trial before an all-male jury violated her constitutional rights to a fair trial and an impartial jury. She also contended that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction for terroristic threats and that her trial counsel was ineffective.The court held that Clark waived any objection to the all-male jury by failing to challenge the jurors for disqualification during the trial. It also determined that there was sufficient evidence to support Clark's conviction for terroristic threats. The court found that Clark's claim of ineffective counsel was without merit as the statements her counsel failed to object to were not hearsay, and any objection to them on hearsay grounds would have been meritless. Finally, the court rejected Clark’s claim that her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion in limine to exclude certain testimony, as she failed to show she suffered prejudice as a result of this alleged failure.The court affirmed the decision of the lower court, holding that Clark's claims were without merit. View "State v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In the case, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Bernard R. Turner for first degree murder. The court found no error in the trial court’s decision to grant the state’s motion to continue the trial due to the discovery of new evidence, a cell phone, a week prior to the original trial date. The Supreme Court stated that the timing of the state’s disclosure of the cell phone and its admission at trial did not violate Turner’s right to due process under Brady v. Maryland or Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-1912. The court also found that Turner waived his right to relief from the state’s belated disclosure by failing to request a continuance.The court further determined that the evidence presented at trial, including the testimony of a key witness who claimed Turner confessed to him, was sufficient to support Turner’s conviction. The court noted that a voluntary confession, with slight corroboration, can establish the corpus delicti as well as the defendant’s guilty participation.Finally, the court rejected Turner’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Turner claimed his trial counsel failed to zealously advocate for him and did not present an adequate defense. However, the court found these claims were insufficiently specific and that Turner failed to show that his trial counsel’s performance was deficient or that this deficient performance actually prejudiced his defense. View "State v. Turner" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Clay Y. Bixby, was convicted for driving under the influence (DUI), which was his third offense. He contended that the district court had erred in using evidence of his two prior DUI convictions to enhance his sentence. The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected this claim.The court noted that the state had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the offenses underlying Bixby’s previous convictions occurred within 15 years of the date of his current offense, as required for sentence enhancement. The court also rejected Bixby's claim that his South Dakota DUI offense was not sufficiently similar to his Nebraska DUI offense to be valid for sentence enhancement. The court determined that Bixby’s South Dakota DUI offense, as statutorily defined in South Dakota, would have been a violation of the Nebraska DUI statute and was thus valid to be used for sentence enhancement.Lastly, the court rejected Bixby's argument that the district court failed to consider mitigating factors before sentencing. The court explained that under the precedent set in State v. Vann, any conviction record obtained after Gideon v. Wainwright is entitled to a presumption of regularity. Once the government establishes the existence of a prior conviction, it becomes the defendant’s burden to prove that he or she did not have counsel and did not waive the right to counsel at the time of conviction. The court concluded that Bixby's South Dakota DUI conviction was valid for sentence enhancement under this precedent, even though the record did not show whether Bixby had or waived counsel at the time of his sentencing in that case.The court ultimately affirmed the sentence enhancement and Bixby's conviction for DUI, third offense. View "State v. Bixby" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The defendant, Anthony W. Earnest, pled no contest to charges of driving under the influence (DUI) causing serious bodily injury and third degree assault. Following a two-vehicle accident, Earnest was charged and released on bond with specific conditions. However, following another incident where he was found driving under influence, his bond was revoked. The district court sentenced Earnest to 3 years’ imprisonment, 18 months’ post-release supervision, a $10,000 fine, and a 15-year license revocation for the DUI causing serious bodily injury, and 1 year’s imprisonment and a $1,000 fine for the third degree assault.On appeal, Earnest argued that the district court erred by imposing a $10,000 fine without considering his ability to pay and by imposing excessive sentences. The Nebraska Supreme Court found that the district court was not required to consider Earnest's ability to pay before imposing fines. The court also noted that while the district court misunderstood the law about imposing consecutive sentences, it was not prejudicial to Earnest; the court would have imposed consecutive sentences even if it had understood concurrent sentences were permissible. Additionally, the court rejected Earnest’s argument that the district court failed to consider factors that weighed in favor of a more lenient sentence. Concluding that the district court did not commit any prejudicial error, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. View "State v. Earnest" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law