Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence, issued by the district court on remand, after he pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base. The court concluded that the district court's order, as amended, complied with the court's mandate, including the spirit of it as embodied by United States v. Evbuomwan, 992 F.2d 70, 74 (5th Cir. 1993). In this case, the district court made the three required findings for USSG 1B1.3 liability and unequivocally held defendant indirectly responsible for all of the $7,809.The court had remanded defendant's case to the district court to determine whether defendant was directly or indirectly responsible for the currency at issue, and the district court made a determination as to the latter. The court concluded that the district court's findings were plausible in light of the record, including the district court's finding that defendant was indirectly responsible for the entire amount of the currency seized from the residence at issue. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

by
After defendant was convicted of violating both the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Analogue Enforcement Act, the district court sentenced him to 120 years in prison. On appeal, the parties agree that the jury instructions regarding the Analogue Act were erroneous because they omitted an element of the offense. Defendant claimed that the error was structural.The Fifth Circuit concluded that there is more than enough to demonstrate defendant's knowledge of the chemical structure of the drugs he sold and the controlled substances they mimicked. The court rejected defendant's contention that United States v. Stanford, 823 F.3d 814 (5th Cir. 2016), permits the court to bypass the "thorough examination" of the "whole record" that is required in Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1 (1999). Rather, the court applied the Neder harmless-error standard on the same "functional, case-by-case" basis as usual, and concluded that a jury could not rationally find that the Government failed to prove the knowledge requirement in McFadden v. United States, 576 U.S. 186, 188–89 (2015). Therefore, the court concluded that the omitted element in defendant's jury instruction was harmless. The court rejected defendant's remaining arguments on appeal. View "United States v. Muhammad" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit held that an alien has no constitutional right to be advised of his eligibility for discretionary relief. The court affirmed the dismissal of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 habeas petition challenging his sentence for felony illegal reentry of an alien who has previously been removed, in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326(a) and (b). Petitioner claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to recognize that he was innocent of illegal reentry because the underlying removal order was invalid.The court agreed with the district court's finding that petitioner could not collaterally attack (and thus invalidate) that order because he had not satisfied 8 U.S.C. 1326(d)'s three requirements for doing so. The court concluded that, at a minimum, petitioner failed to satisfy the third condition: the entry of the removal order was fundamentally unfair. In this case, petitioner identifies no other due process violations arising from his removal hearing; he cannot invalidate his removal order; and thus his claim of actual innocence fails. View "United States v. Herrera-Pagoada" on Justia Law

by
Schaefer, who had a long history of mental illness, ignited a homemade explosive device when officers attempted to arrest him. Charged with assault on a federal officer (18 U.S.C. 111(a)–(b)) and possession of a “destructive device,” (26 U.S.C. 5841, 5861(d), 5871) Schaefer spent 18 months with a rotating cast of counsel. Weeks before trial, he sought to proceed pro se. After holding a “Faretta” hearing, the court ruled that Schaefer unequivocally, knowingly, and intelligently waived his right to counsel. Schaefer changed his mind once the jury was empaneled and attempted to reinvoke his right to counsel. Finding that Schaefer was attempting to manipulate the proceedings, the court denied the request but continued the appointment of advisory counsel.The Ninth Circuit affirmed his convictions. The district court ensured that Schaefer understood the nature of the charges and the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation. Although the court inaccurately identified the minimum sentence, if a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel, he must have substantially understood the approximate range of his penal exposure. The district court was mindful of Schaefer’s conduct throughout and did not abuse its discretion in declining to reappoint counsel nor in denying Schaefer’s motion to compel the government to produce its trial materials. Schaefer sought those materials after learning, post-trial, that the government’s legal assistant previously worked for the state public defender’s office and had participated in a “substantive interview” with Schaefer for a state prosecution months before the explosion. The state prosecution was unrelated to obtaining the explosive materials involved in the federal case. The court rejected Schaefer’s arguments that the statutes were intended to cover only “military-type weapons” and an argument under the Speedy Trial Act. View "United States v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

by
In 2006, a California death row inmate sued, arguing that California’s execution protocol violated the Eighth Amendment. The district court stayed the execution. After the state promulgated a new execution protocol, the District Attorneys of three counties unsuccessfully sought to intervene. While the District Attorneys’ appeal was pending, Governor Newsom withdrew California’s execution protocol and placed a moratorium on executions. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their suit subject to conditions.The Ninth Circuit first held that this appeal was not mooted by Governor Newsom’s Order or by the stipulated dismissal. Nothing prevented Governor Newsom, or a future Governor, from withdrawing the Order and proceeding with preparations for executions. The suit could be revived upon the occurrence of any of three events specified in the Stipulation.The district court properly denied intervention as of right under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a) because the District Attorneys had not shown a significant protectable interest in the litigation. California law does not authorize them to defend constitutional challenges to execution protocols. The litigation concerned only the method by which the state may perform executions. The District Attorneys have neither the authority to choose a method of execution nor to represent the state entity that makes that choice. The district court properly denied permissive intervention under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(b): there was no common question of law or fact between the District Attorneys’ claim or defense and the main action; intervention would delay the already long-drawn-out litigation. View "Cooper v. Newsom" on Justia Law

by
Defendant, formerly a physical therapist, was charged with sexual penetration by foreign object (count 1); sexual penetration by foreign object of a person incapable of giving legal consent because of a mental disorder or developmental or physical disability (count 2); sexual battery (count 3); lewd conduct by a caretaker upon a dependent person by use of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person (count 4); and lewd conduct by a caretaker upon a dependent person (count 5). Defendant pleaded guilty to count 5 and the remaining charges were dismissed. Defendant received a one-year jail sentence, of which 364 days were suspended, one day of credit for time spent in custody awaiting sentencing, and three years' felony probation.In a partially published opinion, the Court of Appeal remanded to the trial court to modify the term of probation to conform with Assembly Bill No. 1950, which limits the maximum probation term a trial court is authorized to impose for most felony offenses to two years, and permit the People and trial court an opportunity to withdraw from the plea agreement. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied defendant's withdrawal motion, and because the case will be remanded for modification of the length of defendant's probation term, defendant's Dueñas argument is moot. View "People v. Montoya" on Justia Law

by
After Albuquerque Police Officers Demsich and Melvin entered plaintiff-appellant Bradley Soza’s front porch with guns drawn, handcuffed him, and patted him down as part of a burglary investigation, Soza sued the Officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the Officers violated his clearly established Fourth Amendment rights when they seized him without probable cause and entered the curtilage of his home without a warrant. The Officers moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity, which the district court granted. Because the law regarding the constitutionality of the Officers’ actions was not clearly established, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Officers were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Soza v. Demsich, et al." on Justia Law

by
In 1994, the jury convicted Desmond and Jesse Rouse, their cousin Russell Hubbeling, and another cousin of sexually abusing five nieces. Defendants ultimately raised claims in Rule 60(b)(6) motions seeking relief from the dismissal of their initial 28 U.S.C. 2255 motions. The district court denied the Rule 60(b)(6) motions as successive section 2255 motions and granted certificates of appealability.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that newly discovered evidence in support of a claim previously denied and a subsequent change in substantive law justifying relief - fall squarely within the class of Rule 60(b) claims to which the Supreme Court has applied section 2244(b) restrictions. Furthermore, the motions were an improper attempt to circumvent the procedural requirements of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty (AEDPA). Assuming arguendo that petitioners' Rule 60(b)(6) motions were not unauthorized second or successive motions subject to section 2244(b)(3), the district court did not err in determining that the allegations, including claims of newly discovered victim recantations, medical evidence and claims of juror bias, did not meet the extraordinarily high burden of proving actual innocence, a complete miscarriage of justice, or are evidence that would produce an acquittal in a new trial. View "Rouse v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's pro se petition to reinvest jurisdiction in the trial court to consider a petition for writ of error coram nobis, holding that Petitioner failed to raise a cognizable claim for issuance of the writ.Petitioner was found guilty of aggravated robbery and theft of property and sentenced to fifty years' imprisonment as a habitual offender. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction. At issue was Petitioner's pro se petition for writ of coram nobis, in which Petitioner challenged the testimony corroborating his part in the crime. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that Petitioner failed to raise a claim that is found in one of the four categories that fall within the purview of coram nobis relief. View "Green v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by not giving a jury instruction on second-degree murder, a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder.Defendant was charged with first-degree murder for fatally shooting his wife. The trial court denied Defendant's request to instruct the jury on second-degree murder, finding that there was no evidence that Defendant intended anything but to purposely take his wife's life. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion by not instructing the jury on second-degree murder. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no rational basis for giving the instruction, and therefore, the trial court did not err. View "Marshall v. State" on Justia Law