Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
Aristy-Rosa, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, was admitted to the U.S. in 1993 as a lawful permanent resident. Several years later, he was convicted of attempted criminal sale of cocaine and was sentenced to five years’ probation. Aristy-Rosa received a notice, charging him as subject to removal because he had committed a crime relating to a controlled substance, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(B)(i), his controlled substances conviction constituted an aggravated felony, section 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), and he was an alien who was inadmissible under 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2)(A)(i)(II) at the time of his application for adjustment of status. Aristy-Rosa conceded removability and sought no relief from removal. An IJ ordered Aristy-Rosa removed. Aristy-Rosa did not appeal but later filed unsuccessful motions to reopen his removal proceedings to apply for adjustment of status and other relief.In 2017, New York Governor Cuomo fully and unconditionally pardoned Aristy-Rosa for his controlled substance conviction. Aristy-Rosa moved to reopen his removal proceedings, arguing that the pardon eliminated the basis for his removal. The IJ denied the motion, reasoning that it was time- and number-barred and that a pardon fails to extinguish the basis for removal where the underlying conviction was for a controlled substance offense. The BIA and Third Circuit dismissed his appeals. Section 1227(a)(2)(B), which provides for the removal of an alien convicted under any law relating to a controlled substance, contains no pardon waiver. View "Aristy-Rosa v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for receiving and possessing child pornography. Defendant argued that the district court should reduce his Sentencing Guidelines range pursuant to a provision that applies only to defendants whose "conduct was limited to the receipt or solicitation of" child pornography under USSG 2G2.2(b)(1). The court concluded that, because defendant admitted to unintentionally distributing such material, the Guideline does not apply to him. The court also concluded that, even when distribution is unintentional, it is not conduct limited to receipt or solicitation. Therefore, defendant's use of a peer-to-peer file-sharing network to unintentionally distribute child pornography rendered him ineligible for a reduction pursuant to section 2G2.2(b)(1). View "United States v. Miltier" on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress a firearm. The court concluded that the Fourth Amendment was not implicated during defendant's encounter with police on April 7, because he never acquiesced (passively or otherwise) to a show of authority. Furthermore, even assuming that defendant acquiesced to a show of authority, there was a reasonable articulable suspicion to support the seizure in order to investigate who owned the firearm that the officer observed. In this case, the district court's reasonable suspicion determination rested on four factors: (1) the officer saw someone hide a firearm under defendant's seat; (2) defendant's claim of control over the Dodge; (3) defendant being the only adult associated with the Dodge; and (4) the time of day and location of the incident. View "United States v. Cloud" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. 2332g, which prohibits illicit dealings in guided surface-to-air missiles. Defendant, a Jordanian-born, naturalized United States citizen, and an international arms dealer, was captured by DHS in Greece in an undercover sting operation. Defendant was extradited from Athens to Los Angeles, by way of New York. The government subsequently asked for an erroneous jury instruction on venue, which the district court gave, over defendant's objection.The panel concluded that, although defendant waived his challenge to the indictment for improper venue by failing to bring it before the pretrial motions deadline, he was still entitled to a correct instruction on venue. The panel explained that when defendant landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport, in custody, venue was laid in the Eastern District of New York for the section 2332g charge even though the government had not yet brought it. The panel concluded that the error was harmful because a reasonable juror could have found it more likely than not that defendant's restraint in Greece really was in connection with the alleged section 2332g offense, and thus his conviction must be vacated. Finally, the panel applied plain error review and disposed of defendant's remaining claims regarding extraterritoriality, the doctrine of specialty, and due process. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Ghanem" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of the murders of four young men during the robbery of a car wash and his sentence of death, holding that there was no merit to any of Defendant's claims.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court did not err by denying a motion to suppress two witnesses' identifications of Defendant; (2) Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was not violated by the trial court's admission of certain testimony; (3) the trial court did not err by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of unpremeditated second-degree murder, and there was no other instructional error; (4) Defendant's claims of trial error in the admission of allegedly prejudicial hearsay were without merit; (5) the trial court's denial of Defendant's new trial motion was not erroneous; (6) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to investigate certain allegations raised by Defendant; and (7) Defendant's objections to the constitutionality of California's death penalty scheme were unavailing. View "People v. Wilson" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's 96-month sentence after a jury found him guilty of three counts of abusive sexual contact of a child. The court concluded that any evidentiary error in admitting defendant's prior sexual assault accusation against defendant was harmless because it had little to no influence on the verdict. The court also concluded that the district court did not make a mistake by treating the prior abuse as part of "a pattern of activity involving prohibited sexual conduct" under USSG 4B1.5(b). Furthermore, the district court could consider it once it found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the prior prohibited conduct occurred, regardless of whether it "resulted in a conviction." Finally, the district court did not rely on a "clearly erroneous fact." View "United States v. Oakie" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court set aside the verdict in this case, vacated Defendant's conviction, and remanded the matter for a new trial, holding that the prosecutor's failure to disclose certain statements and newly discovered evidence required that this matter be remanded.Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty. Prior to trial, the prosecutor failed to disclose testimony by the stepdaughter of the victim describing the victim's last words. Following trial, a forensic pathologist opined that the victim could not have spoken after he had been stabbed. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the conviction, holding (1) the prosecutor's failure to disclose the stepdaughter's testimony prejudiced Defendant's ability to prepare and present his defense effectively; and (2) the pathologist's opinion likely would have been a real factor in the jury's deliberations. View "Commonwealth v. Rodriguez-Nieves" on Justia Law

by
In consolidated appeals, the issue they presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) empowered judges to detain defendants who were non-citizens to prevent immigration officials from removing them from the country before trial. Defendants Juan Molchor and Jose Rios were arrested and charged with aggravated assault and criminal mischief. Pretrial Services prepared Public Safety Assessments (PSAs) for both defendants, rating both defendants 1 out of 6 for failure to appear (the lowest level of risk), and 2 out of 6 for new criminal activity. Neither defendant had any pending charges, prior convictions, prior failures to appear, or prior juvenile adjudications. Pretrial Services recommended that both be released with monthly reporting. The State moved for pretrial detention, claiming defendants posed a flight risk because they were undocumented immigrants. The State presented no evidence that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was interested in either defendant. The court ordered both defendants detained pretrial, noting that, but for their immigration status, both would likely have been released. The Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division that the DJRA did not authorize judges to detain defendants to thwart their possible removal by ICE: "it would be preferable for ICE to refrain from deporting defendants while they await trial for many reasons. If removal proceedings occur while a case is pending, we again urge ICE officials to work with prosecutors to allow pending criminal charges to be resolved." View "New Jersey v. Lopez-Carrera" on Justia Law

by
At 3:55 a.m. people were loitering outside a lounge when Lopez sideswiped an SUV parked in front of the lounge. Bystanders swarmed Lopez’s car, punching him through an open window. A passenger exited Lopez’s car and fired a warning shot. Lopez exited the car, grabbed the gun, and walked toward the bystanders. Raines, a Cook County correctional officer, out celebrating, arrived at 3:56:11. Lopez walked back toward his car, stopping to fire two shots at an upward angle. Raines approached Lopez with his own gun drawn. Lopez reached to open his car door. Raines started shooting at 3:56:27. Lopez, injured, dropped his gun and staggered away. Raines continued to fire. Raines pursued Lopez, who was leaning against a wall. Lopez’s passenger, Orta, picked up the dropped gun and fired at Raines at 3:56:32 a.m. For about three minutes, Orta and Raines engaged in a standoff. Raines simultaneously restrained Lopez, wounded but conscious, and used him as a human shield. At 4:00:10 a.m., Orta fled. Police and paramedics arrived. Lopez faced criminal charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in his 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit. Raines was entitled to qualified immunity because his use of deadly force did not violate clearly established law although the video footage of the events conveys the impression that Raines might have been able to avoid any use of lethal force. View "Lopez v. Sheriff of Cook County" on Justia Law

by
The IRS began a criminal investigation of Gaetano, who owns Michigan cannabis dispensaries. Portal 42, a software company that provides the cannabis industry with point-of-sale systems, confirmed that Gaetano was a client. Agents served a summons, ordering Portal 42 to produce records “and other data relating to the tax liability or the collection of the tax liability or for the purpose of inquiring into any offense connected with the administration or enforcement of the internal revenue laws concerning [Gaetano] for the periods shown.” The IRS did not notify Gaetano about the summons. Portal 42 sent the IRS an email with a hyperlink to the requested records. An IRS computer specialist copied the documents. None of the personnel in the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division have viewed the records.Gaetano filed a petition under 26 U.S.C. 7609, seeking to quash the summons, arguing that the IRS should have notified Gaetano about the summons and that it was issued in bad faith. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because Gaetano lacked standing. Section 7609 waives the government’s sovereign immunity to allow taxpayers to bring an action to quash certain third-party IRS summonses. An exception applies because the summons here was issued by an IRS criminal investigator “in connection” with an IRS criminal investigation and the summoned party is not a third-party recordkeeper. Without a statutory waiver of sovereign immunity, subject-matter jurisdiction cannot obtain. View "Gaetano v. United States" on Justia Law