Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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After petitioner filed a second-in-time habeas petition raising Brady and actual innocence claims, the district court concluded that the petition was successive and transferred it to the Fifth Circuit. Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to death for the capital murder of a police officer. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's transfer order, holding that the petition is second or successive under 28 U.S.C. 2244. The court explained that, even though petitioner did not know of the State's alleged Brady violation at the time he filed his first habeas petition, it is still subject to the statutory requirements for filing a successive petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the district court did not err in transferring the habeas petition to this court. The court granted the motion for authorization, holding that petitioner made a prima facie showing that the factual predicate for his Brady claim could not have been previously discovered through due diligence. The court also held that petitioner has made a prima facie showing, by clear and convincing evidence, that no reasonable factfinder would find him guilty. In this case, petitioner has demonstrated that it is reasonably likely that, after hearing the Hit Document and the Schifani Report, every reasonable juror would have some level of reasonable doubt. View "Will v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Thomas pled guilty to two counts of distributing a mixture containing heroin, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). Thomas had several prior Michigan law drug convictions, including convictions for delivery of heroin and for possession with intent to deliver marijuana. The court concluded that those convictions made Thomas a career offender under the Guidelines, resulting in a sentencing range of 140-175 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a 140-moth sentence. The Guidelines define a controlled-substance offense as “an offense under federal or state law . . . that prohibits the manufacture, import, export, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance . . . or the possession of a controlled substance . . . with intent to manufacture, import, export, distribute, or dispense.” If the least culpable conduct criminalized by a statute falls outside the U.S.S.G. 4B1.2 definition, a conviction under that statute does not qualify as a controlled substance offense. The Guidelines define both distribution and possession with the intent to distribute as controlled-substance offenses. Under federal law, “distribution,” means “delivery,” “the actual, constructive, or attempted transfer of a controlled substance,” 21 U.S.C. 802(8).. Michigan defines “delivery” the same way. There is no meaningful difference between the federal offense of distribution and the Michigan offense of delivery. Nor is there any substantive difference between possession with the intent to distribute under federal law and possession with intent to deliver under Michigan law. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit earlier held that the district court miscalculated the Sentencing Guidelines range for Mongtomery’s sentencing, but explained that “the record shows that the district court would have imposed its sentence regardless of the Guidelines range” and the error was harmless. One feature of the sentencing hearing was that the court stated, “If the guideline calculation is determined to have been wrong, the Court would have imposed the same sentence under Section 3553(a) considering those factors as a whole.” Montgomery noted that the statement is part of the standard sentencing colloquy, even in cases where the parties do not object to the Guidelines calculation. The Sixth Circuit denied a rehearing while acknowledging that there is no reason to give any weight to boiler-plate language designed to thwart a deserved resentencing. The purpose of harmless-error analysis is to avoid resentencing in cases where the district court certainly would have announced the same sentence had it not erred..That aim is not served by a standard-issue pledge that the district court would have come to the same result under section 3553(a) had it calculated the Guidelines range correctly. Montgomery brought the argument too late so that it is inappropriate for consideration. The court issued an opinion “to voice our skepticism that a standard sentencing colloquy like the one at issue here should weigh into our harmless-error analysis in future cases.” View "United States v. Montgomery" on Justia Law

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Ouza was arguing with her son, Hassan. Ouza’s daughter, Maysaa called her father, Mohamad. Mohamad went to Ouza’s house, in violation of Ouza's Personal Protection Order. Maysaa called the police. When Officer Dottor arrived, the men were gone. The case report identified Ouza as the “victim” of domestic violence. After Dottor left, Mohamad returned and pushed into the house, causing Ouza to fall. A struggle ensued. The women pushed Mohamad out of the house. Maysaa called 911 and reported that her father was hitting her mother. Dottor and Officer Derwick arrived. Mohamad, standing outside, told a false story that Ouza had attacked him. Dottor placed Ouza under arrest and handcuffed her. Mohamad then said, “I was trespassing. I hit her. ... She was just defending herself.” Ouza alleges that she told Dottor several times that the handcuffs were too tight. Ouza was released from custody the next day. The prosecutor declined to prosecute. Ouza alleges that she continues to suffer physical injury from the excessively tight handcuffing. In Ouza’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the officers’ motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds with regard to Ouza’s excessive force claim; a ruling that the officers spoiled evidence (audio and video recordings), without a sanction of an adverse inference; and a ruling that the municipality is not liable. The court reversed summary judgment in favor of Dottor with regard to false arrest claims. View "Ouza v. City of Dearborn Heights" on Justia Law

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Wingate was charged with one count of bank robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2113(a); two counts of pharmacy robbery, 18 U.S.C. 2118(a); three counts of using or carrying a firearm during a federal crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c), two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm (Wingate was on parole for second-degree murder at the time of the robberies), 18 U.S.C. 922(g), and one count of conspiracy to commit those crimes, 18 U.S.C. 371. Nearly all of the indicted co-conspirators pleaded guilty. A jury convicted Wingate on all nine counts; he was sentenced to 684 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Wingate subsequently filed a section 2255 motion, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to cross-examine more of the government’s witnesses and for “failing to move to suppress the identification obtained as a result of a suggestive photo lineup” and that his convictions for bank and pharmacy robbery were improperly classified as crimes of violence under section 924(c). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of those claims. Wingate cannot demonstrate prejudice as a result of his attorney’s purportedly ineffective assistance. The district court was right to conclude that sections 2113(a) and 2118(a) are crimes of violence under section 924(c)’s elements clause. View "Wingate v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that defendant failed to present sufficient evidence on the fifth element of his justification defense and the district court properly refused to instruct the jury on the defense. Furthermore, even if the district court erred by excluding evidence related to the defense, the error was harmless. However, the court reversed the district court's restitution order, holding that the restitution imposed as a condition of supervised release can compensate only for losses caused by the specific conduct that is the basis for the offense of conviction. Therefore, even if the district court intended to order restitution as a condition of supervised release, the district court lacked authority to do so. Finally, the court held that precedent foreclosed defendant's contention that 18 U.S.C. 922(g), as construed, is unconstitutional. View "United States v. Penn" on Justia Law

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Defendants Pike and Portillo were convicted of multiple counts related to a RICO conspiracy. The convictions arose out of their positions as high-ranking officials with the Bandidos Outlaws Motorcycle Club. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that Portillo was not deprived of his Sixth Amendment rights during his initial appearance; the district court did not abuse its discretion in empaneling an anonymous jury and imposing security measures to protect the jury; the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions; the court rejected defendants' numerous evidentiary challenges; and the district court did not plainly err in imposing a special assessment on each of Portillo's thirteen crimes of conviction. View "United States v. Portillo" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court in light of Davis v. United States, 140 S. Ct. 1060 (2020), the Fifth Circuit reviewed defendant's sentence for plain error and held that it was not plain error for the district court to order that defendant's federal sentence run consecutively to any future-imposed sentence that arose out of the pending state court charges related to the earlier offenses in question. In this case, the district court's conclusion that the earlier state charges were unrelated to the instant offense, and thus its order that defendant's federal sentence run consecutively to any state sentences arising from the earlier charges, was not plain — i.e., clear and obvious — error under USSG 5G1.3(c). Finally, defendant abandoned any argument under USSG 5G1.3(d) and, even if he had not, any argument that the district court should have weighed the sentence factors differently would be an insufficient basis for reversal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Lindsey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court denying Defendant's motion for discharge under Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C), holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant was entitled to discharge. After Defendant successfully suppressed certain evidence the State filed an interlocutory appeal. Rather than request a stay of the proceedings the State asked for a continuance during the pendency of its appeal. Only after Defendant moved for a discharge did the State belatedly asked for a stay of the proceedings. The trial court granted the request and denied Defendant's renewed motion for discharge. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Rule 4(C)'s clock continued to tick until the State formally moved for a stay of the proceedings, and this time continued to count against Rule 4's one-year limitation in prosecuting the charged crimes; and (2) the State exceeded the one-year limitation. View "Battering v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of felony strangulation of his girlfriend, holding the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction, and Defendant did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the evidence was sufficient to sustain Defendant's conviction of felony strangulation; (2) Defendant failed to meet the prejudice standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. on his claim that his counsel was ineffective by opening the door to evidence of Defendant's prior violence; and (3) this Court declines to review for plain error Defendant's argument challenging the district court's instruction on the mental state for strangulation. View "State v. Dineen" on Justia Law