Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the sentence Defendant received for being a felon in possession of a firearm, holding that any error in the district court's methodology in arriving at the sentence was harmless.Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court imposed a sentence of eighty-seven months in prison, which was less than the statute maximum of 120 months requested by the government. On appeal, Defendant challenged the procedures used by the district court in arriving at his sentence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding (1) any error in the district court's methodology was harmless; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of error. View "United States v. Settles" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants, two jail officers, and dismissing Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims that Defendants caused his injuries, holding that Plaintiff failed to establish that either defendant violated his constitutional rights.Plaintiff was booked into Boone County Detention Center on nonviolent drug charges and was placed in a cell with Jordan Webster, a fellow detainee. Webster attacked and beat Plaintiff during the night. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to protect him from the risk of harm posed by Webster. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to establish that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious risk of harm by failing to protect him from Webster. View "Stein v. Gunkel" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the order of the district court denying Appellant's motion to suppress, holding that there was no violation of Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights under the circumstances of this case.Defendant entered a conditional plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant subsequently brought this appeal challenging the district court's order denying his motion to suppress, arguing that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to initiate the traffic stop leading to the search of his car and unconstitutionally prolonged the stop. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to warrant a prudent person in believing Defendant had violated 4511.431(A); and (2) the officer had probable cause to detain Defendant, investigate the source of a marijuana odor, and continue search the entire vehicle for marijuana. View "United States v. Stevenson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Kinetic Concepts, Inc., and its indirect subsidiary KCI USA, Inc. (collectively, “KCI”) submitted claims to Medicare in which KCI falsely certified compliance with certain criteria governing Medicare payment for the use of KCI’s medical device for treating wounds. The district court granted summary judgment to KCI, concluding that Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to the False Claims Act elements of materiality and scienter.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment. The court agreed that compliance with the specific criterion that there be no stalled cycle would not be material if, upon case-specific review, the Government routinely paid stalled-cycle claims. In other words, if stalled-cycle claims were consistently paid when subject to case-specific scrutiny, then a false statement that avoided that scrutiny and instead resulted in automatic payment would not be material to the payment decision. The court concluded, however, that the record did not show this to be the case. The court considered administrative rulings concerning claims that were initially denied, post-payment and pre-payment audits of particular claims, and a 2007 report by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The court concluded that none of these forms of evidence supported the district court’s summary judgment ruling.   The court held that the district court further erred in ruling that there was insufficient evidence that KCI acted with the requisite scienter and that the remainder of the district court’s reasoning concerning scienter rested on a clear failure to view the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. View "STEVEN HARTPENCE V. KINETIC CONCEPTS, INC." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Nathaniel Johnson was arrested on a Greyhound bus after an encounter with Special Agent Jarrell Perry. Law enforcement found two packages of methamphetamine in Johnson’s backpack, and Johnson gave several incriminating statements. The district court denied Johnson’s motion to suppress the physical evidence and his statements. Johnson appealed. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court determined Perry had probable cause to arrest Johnson and to seize the bundle of clothing and backpack. But while seizing the items from the bus, Perry conducted an illegal search of the bundle by reaching inside Johnson’s open backpack and feeling the bundle in an exploratory manner. Then later, at the DEA office, still without a warrant, Perry conducted a second illegal search of the backpack and the bundle. And contrary to the government’s position, the plain-view exception to the warrant requirement could not apply because at neither point in time were the contents of the bundle or backpack a foregone conclusion. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Guy McDonald was arrested and charged for dealing methamphetamine. He pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate federal narcotics laws at the federal district court in Eastern Oklahoma. He received a sentence of 292 months’ imprisonment. McDonald appealed, arguing the district court erred in calculating his base offense level and in applying three sentencing enhancements to his sentence. Specifically, McDonald argued the district court improperly relied on facts alleged in his presentence investigation report given the objections he raised at the sentencing hearing. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1). He filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained during a vehicle search. The district court denied the motion. Defendant proceeded to trial, where a jury found him guilty. He appealed and raised four arguments: (1) the district court should have granted his motion to suppress; (2) the district court should have admitted impeachment evidence; (3) the district court should have given additional jury instructions; and (4) the evidence was not sufficient to convict.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress because the search was supported by reasonable suspicion. At trial, any error in excluding defense Exhibits S and T was harmless because the impeachment information was admitted through the officer’s testimony. The district court did not abuse its discretion by rejecting Defendant’s proposed jury instructions because the instructions it gave fairly and accurately set forth the law. Finally, the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction. View "United States v. David Allen" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of a firearms offense after police seized evidence during a traffic stop. The district court sentenced Defendant to a term of forty-eight months’ imprisonment. Defendant appealed the conviction and sentence on several grounds. The Eighth Circuit affirmed discerning no reversible error.   The court explained that an officer’s observance of a traffic violation, no matter how minor, gives the officer probable cause to initiate a stop. Here, the officer reasonably concluded that the driver’s following distance was not reasonable and prudent. He thus had probable cause for a traffic stop, and the district court properly denied the motion to suppress. Further, the court wrote that the district court abuse its discretion in concluding that a jury reasonably could infer that Defendant sought to flee the patrol car because he recognized that officers were on the brink of discovering his unlawful possession of firearms in the trunk of the rental car. Defendant’s efforts to escape coincided with the officer’s search of the Altima’s trunk and with Defendant’s anxious statements about that search. Thus, the evidence was properly admitted.   Further, Defendant objects that much of the evidence is “merely circumstantial,” but circumstantial evidence can support a conviction, and the combination of direct and circumstantial evidence here was sufficient to support a finding that Defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, the district court’s finding that he constructively possessed the guns is not clearly erroneous in light of the record as a whole. View "United States v. Drake Banks, Sr." on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon. He appealed the district court’s conclusion that his prior Arkansas burglary convictions were separate offenses, rendering him an armed career criminal subject to an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”).The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the ACCA mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for a defendant who has been convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon following “three previous convictions by any court . . . for a violent felony . . . committed on occasions different from one another[.]” 18 U.S.C. Section 924(e)(1) In determining whether prior convictions are separate and distinct, at least three factors are relevant: “(1) the time lapse between offenses, (2) the physical distance between their occurrence, and (3) their lack of overall substantive continuity, a factor that is often demonstrated in the violent-felony context by different victims or different aggressions.” United States v. Pledge, 821 F.3d 1035.   Here, Defendant committed three residential burglaries—each on different days, in different locations, and against different victims—over an approximate three-week span. The court held that these offenses qualify as separate and distinct criminal episodes committed on occasions different from one another. View "United States v. Jeremy Robinson" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted tried, convicted, and sentenced to 28 months imprisonment for her part in a broader scheme to defraud the federal government out of relief funds intended for farmers affected by drought and fire. She challenged both her conviction and her sentence. As to her conviction, she contends that the evidence preponderated against a guilty verdict such that the district court abused its discretion when it denied her motion for a new trial. As to her sentence, she asserts that her bottom-of-the-Guidelines term of imprisonment is substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant’s motion for a new trial. Neither did it abuse its discretion when it imposed a bottom-of-the-Guidelines sentence of 28 months’ imprisonment. The court explained that allowing the verdict to stand in the face of an arguable inconsistency—of which the jury was made aware, and which doesn’t bear on an element of the conviction—is not a miscarriage of justice. Further, the court reasoned that the weight of the evidence does not preponderate against a guilty verdict in this case. Finally, the court explained that Defendant never mentioned the Section 3553(a) factors or explains how the court committed reversible error when it considered them. Accordingly, she has failed to carry her burden of establishing that the sentence is unreasonable in the light of both the record and the factors in Section 3553(a). View "USA v. Danyel Michelle Witt" on Justia Law