Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendants were convicted of charges related to their operation of a drug-trafficking organization in Bradenton, Florida.The Eleventh Circuit held that RICO conspiracy does not qualify as a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c). Therefore, the court vacated defendants' section 924(c) convictions and sentences. The court also held that Defendant Corey's 120-year sentence was procedurally unreasonable where the district court inadequately explained the sentence by failing to clarify the applicable guideline range. Furthermore, the district court relied on a clearly erroneous fact -- that Corey participated in a murder -- in sentencing defendant. Accordingly, the court vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court affirmed as to the remaining suppression issues, peremptory challenge, evidentiary claims of error, claims of cumulative error, claims of insufficient evidence, and inconsistent verdicts claims. View "United States v. Green" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant, David Lippert, filed a petition under Penal Code section 1170.95 to vacate his 2003 murder conviction. The parties stipulated that defendant made a prima facie showing that he “fall[s] within the parameters for resentencing” under the statute. Plaintiff-respondent, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office (the State), however, moved to strike the petition on the ground that Senate Bill No. 1437 was unconstitutional because it: (1) impermissibly amended Proposition 7; (2) impermissibly amended Proposition 115; (3) violated separation of powers principles; and (4) violated Victims’ Bill of Rights of 2008 (Marsy’s Law). The trial court agreed Senate Bill No. 1437 unconstitutionally amended Propositions 7 and 115, and struck defendant’s petition without addressing the State's remaining arguments. The Court of Appeal agreed with defendant that the trial court erred in concluding Senate Bill No. 1437 was unconstitutional, and reversed. View "California v. Lippert" on Justia Law

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A certified class claimed that during 2011 female inmates at an Illinois prison were strip-searched as part of a training exercise for cadet guards; the inmates were required to stand naked, nearly shoulder to shoulder, in a room where they could be seen by others not conducting the searches, including male officers. Menstruating inmates had to remove their sanitary protection in front of others, were not given replacements, and many got blood on their bodies, clothing, and the floor. The naked inmates had to stand barefoot on a floor dirty with menstrual blood and raise their breasts, lift their hair, turn around, bend over, spread their buttocks and vaginas, and cough.The district court awarded summary judgment to defendants on the 42 U.S.C. 1983 Fourth Amendment theory; a jury returned a defense verdict on the Eighth Amendment claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed but, on rehearing, reversed, holding that the Fourth Amendment protects a right to bodily privacy for convicted prisoners, albeit in a significantly limited way, including during visual inspections. The court remanded for the district court to assess whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that an issue of fact exists as to the reasonableness of the strip and body cavity searches. View "Henry v. Hulett" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress child pornography images that were seized from his computer pursuant to a search warrant issued by a state magistrate judge. The court held that, even if the Fourth Amendment might require more specificity as to the place to be searched or the items to be seized in some computer searches, defendant failed to convince the court that the Fourth Amendment demanded that the descriptions of the place to be searched and the things to be seized needed to be more specific in this case.The court also affirmed the district court's ruling that the constitutionality of the warrant was unaffected by the superfluous language included at the end of the warrant; affirmed the district court's application of the plain view doctrine to the evidence of child pornography; and rejected defendant's belated request that the court not follow its own prior holding in United States v. Williams, and hold instead that ordinary principles of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, including the plain view doctrine, should not apply to computer searches. View "United States v. Cobb" on Justia Law

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After defendant was captured and transported to a detention center in Iraq, the FBI Assistant Legal Attaché for Iraq interviewed defendant to gather intelligence about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) without providing him Miranda warnings. Ten days later, a different team of FBI agents interviewed defendant for purposes of a potential United States criminal prosecution. Defendant was subsequently convicted of conspiring to provide material support or resources to ISIL; providing material support or resources to ISIL; and possessing, using, and carrying firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence. On appeal, defendant challenged the admission of his statements to the second team of FBI agents, contending that the midstream Miranda warnings he received were ineffective.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress his Mirandized statements and held that, even assuming the FBI deliberately used a two-step interview strategy, the agents undertook sufficient curative measures to ensure that a reasonable person in defendant's position would understand the import and effect of the Miranda warnings and waiver. However, the court vacated defendant's firearm conviction under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) in light of United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), because defendant's conspiracy offense is not a predicate crime of violence. The court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Khweis" on Justia Law

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Gamble robbed a Chicago branch of Chase Bank, where she had worked until three months earlier. Two Chase employees were working at the time of the robbery, Gamble entered the bank wearing a disguise and waited for customers to leave, then pulled out a gun and ordered the employees to open the vault, pressing the gun against the back of one employee's head, The employee later testified that the gun felt cold and made a clicking noise. Gamble took over $126,000 from the vault and left the bank. Both employees had recognized her. FBI agents arrested Gamble hours later when she arrived for work at another Chase branch. Gamble waived her Miranda rights and admitted that she had robbed the bank. She said that the gun was a “play gun” that she had bought at a Walmart store. A later investigation determined that Walmart did not sell fake guns in Illinois. Gamble also said that she disposed of the gun on Irving Park Road and stashed the money in a trash can. FBI agents canvassed Irving Park Road and looked for the money, but found nothing.Convicted of armed bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113, Gamble was sentenced to 151 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Ample evidence supported a finding that Gamble used a real firearm. Gamble’s Fifth Amendment rights were not violated. The district judge was entitled to consider her false statements in deciding on her sentence. View "United States v. Gamble" on Justia Law

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Following a 2016 altercation with a correctional officer at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Bullock pleaded guilty to knowingly and intentionally forcibly assaulting, resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, and interfering with a correctional officer, 18 U.S.C. 111(a) and (b). Bullock had two prior convictions for robbery in North Carolina. that corresponded to generic robbery under U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a)(2). The district court found that Bullock qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G. 4B1.1, with a Guidelines range of 151-188 months’ imprisonment, but gave Bullock a substantial downward variance, imposing a sentence of 84 months’ imprisonment.Bullock argued his conviction under 18 U.S.C. 111 was not categorically a crime of violence for purposes of the sentencing enhancement. The Third Circuit affirmed. Applying the modified categorical approach, the court looked to the record of conviction and determined that a defendant who violates section 111(b) has used physical force against the person of another, either through employing a deadly or dangerous weapon or by inflicting bodily injury. View "United States v. Bullock" on Justia Law

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If a defendant is convicted of a money laundering scheme that caused no financial harm to an innocently involved bank, an order of forfeiture is still mandatory.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the government's forfeiture motion. The court held that the definition of property in 18 U.S.C. 982(a)(1) is distinct from that in the other subsections of section 982(a), as well as 21 U.S.C. 853(a). The court's ruling allows forfeiture in the amount of property that defendant transferred as a part of his laundering scheme. The court explained that this outcome is what Congress intended when it used the broad term "any property, real or personal, involved in such offense" and instituted a scheme of substitute forfeiture. Therefore, the district court was under an obligation to order forfeiture against defendant. View "United States v. Hatum" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and completed his initial prison sentence, defendant violated the terms of his supervised release. The district court resentenced defendant to one year in prison followed by five years of supervised release. On appeal, defendant challenged the district court's denial of his motion to modify the conditions of supervised release.The Eighth Circuit first held that the district court had authority to rule on defendant's request for the district court to exercise its statutory authority to modify the terms of his supervised release, and there is no barrier to the court's review of the district court's judgment on appeal. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to modify or eliminate the condition restricting his access to the internet, computers, and media storage devices. Furthermore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining the conditions related to barring contact with minors. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to modify the condition prohibiting defendant from shopping or working at a business that derives a majority of its revenue from the sale of alcohol. View "United States v. Trimble" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254 where petitioner raised two grounds for relief under the Sixth Amendment. Petitioner was convicted of first-degree statutory rape, first-degree sodomy, and two counts of incest based on his sexual abuse of his stepdaughter starting when she was nine years old.The court held that the Missouri Court of Appeals' determination that the trial court's decision to exclude evidence regarding possible other sources for the victim's sexual knowledge was not contrary to or an unreasonable interpretation of federal law as clearly established by the Supreme Court. The court also held that trial counsel's failure to object to the expert witness's testimony did not deny petitioner effective assistance of counsel because the evidence was admissible and an objection would have been meritless. Furthermore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that the record contained all the facts necessary to resolve petitioner's claims, and that no further evidentiary development was required. View "Sittner v. Bowersox" on Justia Law