Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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In 1996, Lee and Kehoe, members of a white supremacist organization, traveled from Washington to the Arkansas home of Mueller, a firearms dealer. After stealing about $30,000 worth of weapons and $50,000 in cash and coins, the two stunned Mueller, his wife, and his eight-year-old daughter and sealed plastic bags over their heads, then threw them into the Illinois Bayou. The bodies were discovered months later. The two were convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1959(a)(1). Kehoe’s jury returned a verdict of life in prison. At Lee’s sentencing, prosecutors introduced evidence of his involvement in a 1990 Oklahoma murder; the government’s expert testified that Lee had a test score in the psychopathy range. The Eighth Circuit affirmed Lee’s death sentence. Lee pursued collateral review. The government scheduled Lee’s execution for December 2019. He again sought relief. The district court stayed Lee’s execution. The Seventh Circuit vacated the stay, stating that Lee’s likelihood of success on the merits was “slim” because both claims—Brady claims alleging suppression of exculpatory evidence and Strickland claims alleging ineffective assistance of counsel—are “regularly made and resolved under section 2255,” so the remedy cannot be called “inadequate or ineffective” for purposes of the Savings Clause in section 2241. The evidence Lee claims is “newly discovered” was known to him and publicly available in the court record of his Oklahoma murder case. Lee’s execution was rescheduled for July 13, 2020. The judge denied Lee’s Rule 59 motion. The Seventh Circuit denied relief, finding Lee’s arguments frivolous. View "Lee v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against various correctional officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a violation of his procedural due process rights. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from the four years that he spent in solitary confinement in prison. The district court granted summary judgment to the officials on the ground that plaintiff had failed to establish a protected liberty interest. The Fourth Circuit vacated and held that plaintiff has presented evidence demonstrating that his confinement conditions were severe in comparison to those that exist in general population and that his segregation status may have had collateral consequences relating to the length of his sentence. Furthermore, although the duration of plaintiff's segregated confinement is not as long as the substantial periods of segregated confinement that this court has found sufficient to support a protected liberty interest in the past, prisoners need not languish in solitary confinement for decades on end in order to possess a cognizable liberty interest under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In this case, the four-plus years that plaintiff spent in administrative segregation is significant enough to tip the scales in his favor, particularly in light of the other evidence of indefiniteness that he relies upon in this case. Therefore, the court held that there is at least a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether plaintiff's conditions of confinement imposed a significant and atypical hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Smith v. Collins" on Justia Law

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Fugate sold stolen firearms and other property that he acquired from co-defendants conducting thefts from automobiles across Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Authorities recovered 25 firearms from Fugate’s residence. Fugate’s wife turned over an additional seven firearms. Fugate admitted that he sold firearms to drug traffickers and gang members and that he knew that some of the firearms were stolen. Fugate pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), The government dropped a charge of receipt, possession, or trafficking of firearms and ammunition, “knowing and having reasonable cause to believe the firearms and ammunition were stolen.” Fugate had a prior conviction for felony possession of firearms by an unlawful user of controlled substances. The court applied a six-level sentencing enhancement because the offense involved at least 25 firearms; a two-level enhancement because some firearms were stolen; a four-level enhancement because Fugate engaged in the trafficking of firearms; and a four-level enhancement because Fugate possessed or trafficked the firearms “in connection with another felony offense.” The calculated Guidelines range was 78-97 months’ imprisonment. The court sentenced him to 97 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded the sentence. Applying an enhancement for possessing or trafficking firearms in connection with another felony—knowingly trafficking stolen firearms was impermissible double-counting under the Sentencing Guidelines. View "United States v. Fugate" on Justia Law

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Ashrafkhan came to the U.S. in 1991 after receiving a scholarship to study at Michigan State University. He earned a Ph.D. with a research focus on pathology and the genetics of cancer. In 2006, he founded Compassionate Doctors, a medical practice outside of Detroit, that was actually a “pill mill,” where unscrupulous doctors wrote fraudulent prescriptions for fake patients. Compassionate billed Medicare for the fake patient visits and collected millions of dollars in Medicare payments over the course of several years. The fraudulent prescriptions were filled by individuals recruited by Compassionate at pharmacies that paid Compassionate kickbacks. Those drugs were then sold on the street, resulting in hundreds of thousands of opioid-based drugs being distributed onto the illegal drug market. Ashrafkhan was convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, and money laundering and was sentenced to 23 years of imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting a challenge to the jury instruction on “reasonable doubt.” The instruction stressed to the jury the need to base its decision on “the evidence or lack of evidence” and that a reasonable doubt was one that was “still standing” after all of the evidence had been considered. View "United States v. Ashrafkhan" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit declined to grant Defendant's petition for leave to file a second or successive motion under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to once again challenge his 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A) conviction and sentence for use of a firearm during a crime of violence, holding that 18 U.S.C. 2113(a) bank robbery qualifies as a crime of violence under section 924(c)'s force clause. Defendant was convicted of several offenses, including bank robbery and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. In his petition to file a second or successive motion under section 2255 to challenge his section 924 conviction, Defendant argued that section 2113(a) bank robbery is not a crime of violence under section 924(c)'s force clause because it is an indivisible statute setting forth a single offense that may be violated by alternative means, which do not necessarily have as an element the use of physical force against the person or property of another. The First Circuit denied the requested relief, holding (1) section 2113(a) bank robbery is a divisible statute setting forth distinct offenses with alternative elements; and (2) under the modified categorical approach, Defendant's offense of conviction was a crime of violence under section 924(c)'s force clause. View "King v. United States" on Justia Law

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Defendant Richard Wyatt challenged two convictions for conspiring with others to deal in firearms without a federal firearms license. The Government conceded that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury that, in order to convict Wyatt of these conspiracy offenses, the jury had to find that Wyatt and his alleged co-conspirators acted willfully -- that they knew they were agreeing to do something unlawful. The Government further conceded that this error warranted vacating Wyatt’s conspiracy convictions and remanding for a new trial. But Wyatt contended that there was insufficient evidence presented at trial for a reasonable jury to find that he and his co-conspirators acted willfully and, therefore, the Tenth Circuit court should instead, dismiss the conspiracy counts charged against him with prejudice. The Tenth Circuit declined to dismiss, concluding there was sufficient evidence presented at trial that, if believed, would have supported a reasonable jury finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Wyatt and his co-conspirators knew they were agreeing to violate the law. Wyatt’s two conspiracy convictions were vacated and the matter remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "United States v. Wyatt" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendants' conviction for forced labor, conspiracy to harbor an alien for financial gain, and harboring an alien. The court held that defendants have failed to identify any authority holding that under current law—the standard they must meet on plain-error review—the forced-labor statute's definition of "serious harm" is unconstitutionally vague or overbroad; the evidence was sufficient to support the forced-labor conviction; the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to give defendants' requested jury instruction; and the district court did not err by imposing a restitution award of $288,620.24. View "United States v. Toure" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals remanded this case, without affirming or reversing, to the court of special appeals with instruction to explain the basis of its order reversing the circuit court's judgment denying postconviction relief and remanding and granting permission for the filing of a belated motion for modification of sentence, holding the Court was unable to determine the basis underlying the court of special appeals' order. Defendant was convicted of first-degree robbery, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Defendant later petitioned for postconviction relief, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The circuit court denied postconviction relief. The court of special appeals summarily reversed and remanded with instruction to permit Defendant to file a belated motion for modification of sentence. At issue on appeal was whether trial counsel's failure to timely file a motion for modification of sentence pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-345(e) constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court remanded the case without reaching the merits, holding that the order of the court of special appeals was unclear and the case must be remanded for clarification. View "State v. Day" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's pre-sentencing order enjoining the government from spending additional funds on the prosecution of defendants, who pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. The panel held that the appropriations rider that prohibited the Department of Justice from using congressionally-allocated funding to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws does not bar the government from spending funds on this appeal. The panel also held that the district court did not err in concluding that defendants met their burden to show that they were strictly compliant with the Medical Marijuana Program Act at the time of their arrest. In this case, the district court properly focused the McIntosh hearing on the conduct underlying the charge, and the district court's analysis of state law was not in error and its factual findings were not clearly erroneous. View "United States v. Pisarski" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied the petition for review of the BIA's December 2015 order of removal, holding that the BIA did not err in relying on binding precedent to conclude that petitioner was removable on the ground that he was convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude. The panel discussed that, if it were writing on a clean slate, what categorical analysis it would use. However, because the panel was not writing on a clean slate, the panel held, according to binding precedent, that petty theft under section 484(a) of the California Penal Code is a crime involving moral turpitude. The panel also denied the petition for review of the BIA's denial of petitioner's motion to reopen, holding that the BIA did not abuse its discretion in concluding that petitioner failed to establish a prima facie case for asylum or withholding of removal. Finally, the panel held that the BIA did not abuse its discretion in concluding that petitioner failed to establish a prima facie case for protection under the Convention Against Torture. View "Silva v. Barr" on Justia Law