Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The court held that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to an obvious constructive amendment to the superseding indictment. In this case, the trial court not only eliminated the scienter requirement of actual knowledge, the element defendant was indicted under, but lowered the factual basis required to prove this essential element from what defendant knew to what he had the reasonable opportunity to observe. Furthermore, counsel's failure to object prejudiced defendant. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Phea" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed appellants' convictions and sentences for narcotics trafficking and firearms possession. The court held that the district court did not plainly err in allowing appellants to be shackled during trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion in addressing the jury note and declining to conduct a Remmer hearing; although the indictment omitted the mens rea element for appellants' 18 U.S.C. 922(g) charges, this error did not deprive the district court of jurisdiction, requiring vacatur under Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019); and the government's failure to prove the now-requisite mens element did not constitute a plain error. Finally, the court held that appellants' remaining claims were without merit and did not warrant discussion. View "United States v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court held that the state habeas court's decision as to petitioner's ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of federal law nor based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. The court rejected petitioner's claim that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective under Strickland v. Washington when counsel failed to investigate mitigating evidence at sentencing. Petitioner also alleged that he was denied due process and a fair trial when his request for a one day continuance was denied, that the jury's verdict was unconstitutional, and that he was denied a right to self-representation under Faretta v. California. The court concluded that it was barred from considering petitioner's claims because he failed to raise them on direct appeal, and cannot show cause and prejudice to overcome the default. View "Sealey v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison" on Justia Law

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Davis, previously convicted of two state felonies, pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and to possessing drugs with the intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). The presentence report noted pending drug and gun charges stemming from a separate 2015 state arrest. The district court sentenced Davis to 57 months in prison, to run consecutively to any sentences that the Texas courts might impose. Davis did not object. Davis appealed, arguing that his 2015 state offenses and his 2016 federal offenses were part of the “same course of conduct,” and that under the Sentencing Guidelines (1B1.3(a)(2), 5G1.3(c)), the sentences should have run concurrently. The Fifth Circuit refused to consider Davis’ argument, characterizing it as raising factual issues; in the Fifth Circuit “[q]uestions of fact capable of resolution by the district court upon proper objection at sentencing can never constitute plain error.” The Supreme Court vacated, granting a petition for certiorari and a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The Fifth Circuit’s “outlier practice” of refusing to review certain unpreserved factual arguments for plain error lacks a legal basis. Rule 52(b) states: “A plain error that affects substantial rights may be considered even though it was not brought to the court’s attention.” Rule 52(b) does not immunize factual errors from plain-error review. Supreme Court precedent does not purport to shield any category of errors from plain-error review. View "Davis v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed as moot Appellant's appeal from a judgment entered by the superior court ordering the involuntary medical treatment of Appellant, holding that because Appellant was no longer subject to the court's involuntary treatment order, this appeal was moot. Appellant was arrested and charged with burglary and theft by unauthorized taking. While Appellant was in preconviction detention at the mental health unit of the Maine State Prison (MSP) the Department of Corrections filed an application pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 34-A, 3049 seeking the involuntary medication of Appellant. The court entered an ex parte order granting the emergency application and permitting the immediate medication of Appellant for a period of 120 days. Appellant appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the appeal as moot, holding that because Appellant was no longer at the mental health unit of the MSP and the involuntary treatment order had expired, the appeal was moot and no exceptions to the mootness doctrine applied. View "In re Involuntary Treatment of K." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the ruling of the circuit court denying both Appellant's request for post-conviction relief under the Post-Conviction Procedure Act (UPPA) and his petition for writ of error coram nobis, holding that Appellant was not entitled to the relief he sought. The circuit court found Appellant guilty to two counts of second-degree assault and determined that he was "not criminally responsible" (NCR). Appellant later filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief under the UPPA, arguing that his NCR plea was the functional equivalent of a guilty plea and was invalid because he did not understand the nature of the charges. He also filed a petition for writ of error corm nobis seeking to vacate the NCR judgment. The circuit court denied relief as to both petitions. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Appellant was not eligible for relief under the plain language of the UPPA; and (2) Appellant was not entitled to coram nobis relief because he did not suffer significant collateral consequences. View "Peterson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals reversing the order of the circuit court declaring that Defendant, who pled guilty to sex trafficking, was not required to register as a Tier II Sex Offender on the ground that the victim's age had not been proven, holding that the circuit court properly granted declaratory judgment in favor of Defendant. At issue was whether a person like Defendant, who was convicted of human trafficking under Md. Code Ann. Crim. Law (CR) 11-303(a), was required to register as a Tier II Sex Offender where the victim's age was not established during the guilty plea proceeding. The Court of Special Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a determination of the victim's age. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) CR 11-303(a) is an offense whose elements do not require proof of the victim's age; (2) where no proof of the victim's age was established at the plea proceeding, Defendant was not required to register as a Tier II Sex Offender; and (3) the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services lacks the authority to make a factual determination as to the victim's age for purposes of determining whether registration as a Tier II Sex Offender is required. View "Rogers v. State" on Justia Law

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In 2017, a jury found Austin guilty of drug and gun crimes. The district court sentenced him to 255 months of imprisonment plus five years of supervised release. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While Austin’s appeal was pending, he filed a pro se “Motion to Request Audio Recordings,” seeking permission to access the backup audio recordings for his arraignment and sentencing hearing. He believed that the certified, written transcripts were erroneous. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. When an audiotape is merely a backup to the court reporter’s stenographic record (as here), the audiotape is the personal property of the court reporter and there is no public entitlement to the audiotapes except for “arraignments, changes of plea, and sentencings filed with the clerk of court.” The court reporter must file either a transcript or an electronic recording; a litigant is not automatically entitled to both. A transcript is presumed to be a correct representation of the proceedings, 28 U.S.C. 753(b). Austin did not provide the district court with any reason to distrust the accuracy of the transcripts. View "United States v. Austin" on Justia Law

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Torres was a long-time employee at Vitale’s Italian Restaurants located throughout Western Michigan. Although Torres and other Vitale’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, they allege that they were not paid overtime rates for those hours. Vitale’s required the workers to keep two separate timecards, one reflecting the first 40 hours of work, and the other, reflecting overtime hours. The employees were paid via check for the first card and via cash for the second. The pay was at a straight time rate on the second card. Torres alleged that employees were deprived of overtime pay and that Vitale’s did not pay taxes on the cash payments. Torres sought damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961. The district court dismissed, holding that the remedial scheme of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, precluded the RICO claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The claims based on lost wages from the alleged “wage theft scheme” cannot proceed. However, the FLSA does not preclude RICO claims when a defendant commits a RICO-predicate offense giving rise to damages distinct from the lost wages available under the FLSA. The court remanded Torres’s claim that Vitale’s is liable under RICO for failure to withhold taxes. View "Torres v. Vitale" on Justia Law

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At Savage’s sentencing hearing for his 2005 drug, money laundering, and witness tampering convictions, the judge stated that the $5,000 fine was “due immediately.” The judge “recommended” participation in the Bureau of Prisons Inmate Financial Responsibility Program, under which the Bureau periodically takes money from an inmate’s prison trust account and forwards it to the court. Savage was subsequently charged with directing several killings from the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center. He was transferred to a Colorado federal super-maximum-security prison, where he is not permitted to work and earn money. Savage moved to modify the payment schedule under 18 U.S.C. 3572(d)(3), which provides that a court can modify a judgment that “permits payments in installments.” The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. The sentencing court never permitted payment in installments but required immediate payment. Section 3572(d)(3) does not apply where the fine is due immediately. While the court “recommended” that Savage “participate in” the Program, nothing in section 3572(d) precludes the Bureau from setting a payment schedule to satisfy a fine that was due immediately. The court’s recommendation did not transform his fine payable immediately into one subject to installments. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Savage may object to the Bureau’s collection mechanism and seek an alternate payment schedule by filing a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2241. View "United States v. Savage" on Justia Law