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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendants' sentences imposed after they pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport illegal aliens within the United States by means of a motor vehicle. One of the people defendants transported died from a heart attack while fleeing law enforcement. The court affirmed the district court's application of a 10 level enhancement under USSG 2L1.1 and held that defendants' conduct was the but-for cause of the alien's death. In United States v. Ramos-Delgado, the court held that the defendant's conduct must simply be the but-for cause of the death, not its proximate cause. Just as in Ramos-Delgado and United States v. Ruiz-Hernandez, defendants were fully responsible for placing the victim in a precarious position where subsequent but-for causes ultimately took his life. View "United States v. Salinas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit previously granted a certificate of appealability (COA) to defendant on two claims—first, that the government breached its obligations under his plea agreement when it failed to credit his cooperation in a murder conviction, and second, that defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel due to his attorney's failure to object to the government's breach of his plea agreement. In this appeal, the court held that the district court should have held an evidentiary hearing on defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The court held that an evidentiary hearing was needed before it could decide whether defendant's representation was constitutionally deficient, based on the failure to inform the court of his cooperation in the murder investigation. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for a limited evidentiary inquiry. View "United States v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Garcia was convicted of distributing a kilogram of cocaine to co-defendant Cisneros, 21 US.C. 841. The government offered no direct evidence that Garcia possessed or controlled cocaine, drug paraphernalia, large quantities of cash, or other unexplained wealth. There was no admission of drug trafficking by Garcia, nor any testimony from witnesses that Garcia distributed cocaine. Instead, the government secured this verdict based upon a federal agent’s opinion testimony purporting to interpret several cryptic intercepted phone calls between Garcia and Cisneros, a known drug dealer. In those calls, the defendants talked about "work" and a "girl" in a bar, and made statements like “the tix have already walked more that, that way.” The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that: This case illustrates the role trial judges have in guarding the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases. While the government’s circumstantial evidence here might have supported a search warrant or perhaps a wiretap on Garcia’s telephone, it simply was not sufficient to support a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for distributing cocaine. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Based upon an informant’s tip and some “largely unproductive surveillance activity,” two Wilmington police detectives applied for a warrant to search Lamont Valentine’s apartment and automobile for evidence that Valentine, a convicted violent felon, was in possession of a firearm or ammunition. A magistrate issued the warrant, and when the officers conducted the search, they found marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and ammunition in the apartment and a firearm in the vehicle. These discoveries and other information provided by another resident of the apartment building resulted in numerous criminal charges against Valentine, including possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, drug dealing, aggravated possession of marijuana, terroristic threatening, and conspiracy. Valentine moved to suppress the fruits of the search on the grounds that the warrant affidavit and application did not establish probable cause that he had committed or was committing the offense of unlawfully possessing a firearm or that evidence of that crime was likely to be found in his apartment or car. The Superior Court denied the motion, and Valentine was eventually convicted of drug dealing, aggravated possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and endangering the welfare of a child. He appealed to challenge the Superior Court’s denial of his suppression motion. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Valentine that the warrant application was insufficient to support a finding of probable cause that he had committed or was committing the crime identified in the warrant, or that a firearm was in his apartment or car. Accordingly, Valentine’s convictions were reversed. View "Valentine v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Defendant, then a minor, was directly charged and tried as an adult. Defendant's convictions and sentence were affirmed on appeal, and the matter was remanded to the trial court for the limited purpose of permitting him to make a record of information relevant to his eventual youth offender parole hearing. After the appellate opinion was filed, but before remittitur issued, voters eliminated prosecutorial discretion to file charges against certain juvenile defendants directly in a court of criminal (adult) jurisdiction. Furthermore, after the remittitur issued and proceedings on remand took place, but while the appeal following those proceedings was pending, the Legislature gave trial courts discretion to strike firearm enhancements. The Court of Appeal held that, under the unique circumstances of this case, and in light of the California Supreme Court's conclusion that Proposition 57 applies to all juveniles whose cases were filed directly in adult court and whose convictions were not final at the time of its enactment, the trial court should have entertained and granted defendant's motion for a juvenile fitness/transfer hearing. The court also held that whether defendant may receive the benefit of Senate Bill No. 620 depends on the outcome of his juvenile fitness/transfer hearing. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "People v. Hargis" on Justia Law

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Appellee Juan Martinez, Jr. was indicted for intoxication manslaughter. He moved to suppress evidence, challenging the State’s seizure and search of vials of his blood which were previously drawn at a hospital for medical purposes. The trial court granted the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that because, under the facts of this case, Appellee had a privacy interest in the private facts contained in his blood and because the State’s acquisition and subsequent testing of the blood went beyond the scope of the hospital’s blood draw, Appellee’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated, and the trial court correctly granted his motion to suppress. View "Texas v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant’s first-degree burglary conviction, holding that the victim must be physically present during the burglary for a conviction under Minn. Stat. 609.582(1)(b). Section 609.582(1)(b) elevates burglary to a first-degree offense if “the burglar possesses, when entering or at any time while in the building,….any article used or fashioned in a manner to lead the victim to reasonably believe it to be a dangerous weapon.” On appeal, Defendant argued that because the victim was not physically present during the burglary, the evidence was not sufficient to support his conviction. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 609.582(1)(b) requires the victim to be physically present during the burglary. View "State v. Rogers" on Justia Law

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In this first-degree murder case the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court summarily denying Appellant’s second and third petitions for postconviction relief, holding that Appellant was conclusively entitled to no relief. In his petitions, Appellant alleged, among other things, that two of the State’s witnesses recanted, that he was denied his right to confront the witnesses against him, and that he was denied his right to self-representation. The postconviction court denied the petitions without a hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in summarily denying postconviction relief because five of Appellant’s claims were filed after the statute of limitations expired and the sixth was legally insufficient to entitle Appellant to a new trial. View "Reed v. State" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's order reducing defendant's term of imprisonment in light of Amendment 782 of the Sentencing Guidelines. The court held that the district court impermissibly reduced defendant's sentence below his amended guideline range. The court held that any reduction below 110 months was inconsistent with the policy statement in USSG 1B1.10(b)(2)(A) and thus unauthorized by 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). In this case, it was not irrational for the Commission to avoid undue complexity and litigation by adopting a uniform limitation on reductions tied to the amended guidelines range. Accordingly, the court remanded for a resentencing consistent with the limitation that the sentence must not be less than the 110-month minimum of the amended guideline range. View "United States v. Heaton" on Justia Law

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After defendant appealed his conviction and sentences for several offenses, the Eighth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence in the first appeal. On remand, the district court sentenced defendant to 380 months in prison. The court affirmed, holding that the district court's statements and colloquy with defendant adequately explained the basis for his sentence where the district court considered the relevant statutory factors, discussed some factors in detail, and responded to defendant's objections with further explanation. Therefore, defendant's sentence was procedurally reasonable. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in choosing the term of imprisonment and defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Morris" on Justia Law