Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for harboring illegal aliens. The court held that defendant's duplicity argument is waived; even if the district court erred by applying the reckless endangerment and bodily injury sentencing enhancements, the errors were harmless; the district court did not impermissibly delegate judicial authority through the wording of two special conditions of supervised release; and defendant failed to show error, plain or otherwise, in the district court's imposition of his within-Guidelines sentence. View "United States v. Medel-Guadalupe" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendants Shelton Barnes, Michael Jones, Henry Evans, Paula Jones, and Gregory Molden's convictions and sentences for offenses related to Medicare fraud. In regard to Barnes, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; the district court correctly concluded that the prosecution's remarks during rebuttal were improper, but they did not affect defendant's substantial rights; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to admit the proffered consent forms into evidence; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to read Barnes's proffered instructions to the jury.The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support Michael Jones's convictions. In regard to Henry Evans, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to support his convictions; there was no error in allowing a certain expert witness to testify; and the district court did not procedurally or substantively err in sentencing him. In regard to Paula Jones, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to support her convictions; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to grant her severance motion; and the district court did not procedurally err when calculating the total-loss amount applicable to her sentence and restitution order. In regard to Gregory Molden, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to read the proffered instructions to the jury; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the expert witness at issue to testify. View "United States v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Merle Denezpi, a Navajo tribal member, was arrested by Ute Mountain Ute tribal authorities and charged with violating the Tribe’s assault and battery laws, as well as two provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations on terroristic threats and false imprisonment. He subsequently entered an "Alford" plea to the assault and battery charge and was released from custody for time served. Six months later, Denezpi was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado for aggravated sexual assault. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. At trial, the victim testified Denezpi had previously been incarcerated and implied that he had abused his ex-girlfriend. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to strike that testimony. The jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. He appealed the denial of his motions to dismiss and to strike the victim’s testimony at trial. The Tenth Circuit affirmed as to both issues. The Court found that "the ''ultimate source' of the power undergirding' the CFR prosecution of Mr. Denezpi is the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s inherent sovereignty. Therefore, the subsequent prosecution of Mr. Denezpi in the federal district court did not violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against Double Jeopardy." With respect to the victim's testimony, the Tenth Circuit concluded the testimony's admission was harmless: "the evidence against Mr. Denezpi is overwhelming. The SANE examination of [the victim]. revealed substantial injuries to her body, including bruising on her breasts, back, arms, and legs as well as injuries to her genitals. Mr. Denezpi’s DNA was found on [the victim's] genitalia. The SANE nurse testified at trial that [the victim's] injuries were 'consistent with a nonconsensual sexual assault.'" Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Denezpi" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied separate petitions for review filed by Velasquez-Rios and Desai, holding that an amendment to section 18.5 of the California Penal Code, which retroactively reduces the maximum misdemeanor sentence to 364 days, cannot be applied retroactively for purposes of removability under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(i).The panel rejected petitioners' contention that the BIA erred by relying on McNeill v. United States, 563 U.S. 816 (2011), and United States v. Diaz, 838 F.3d 968 (9th Cir. 2016). In McNeil, the Supreme Court held that retroactive changes to North Carolina's state-law sentencing scheme did not change the historical fact that the defendant had been convicted of two felonies. In Diaz, this court concluded that California's reclassification of Diaz's two felony convictions as misdemeanors did not invalidate his enhanced sentence under 21 U.S.C. 841. Relying upon McNeill, the panel held that the statute called for a backward-looking inquiry to the initial date of conviction, rather than the current state of California law, and that the triggering event under section 841 was when the two felony drug offenses had "become final." The panel rejected petitioners' arguments and further explained that its approach aligns with the Supreme Court's admonishments that federal laws should be construed to achieve national uniformity, and explained that its decision avoids the "absurd" results described in McNeill that would follow from petitioners' approach, under which an alien's removability would depend on the timing of the immigration proceeding. Finally, the panel held that federal law standards cannot be altered or contradicted retroactively by state law actions, and cannot be manipulated after the fact by state laws modifying sentences that at the time of conviction permitted removal or that precluded cancellation. View "Velasquez-Rios v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit withdrew its opinion filed May 16, 2019, in Case Nos. 17-50337 and 17-50387; withdrew the mandate issued in Case No. 17-50337; and filed a new opinion, after the Supreme Court remanded Case No. 17-50387 for reconsideration in light of Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019).Defendant Azano and his co-conspirators sought to influence local politicians during the 2012 San Diego election cycle by providing campaign contributions. Defendants Azano and Singh were convicted of various crimes stemming from the campaign contributions. Azano was also convicted of violating federal firearms law.Although the panel agreed with the Government that there was Rehaif error, the panel held that Azano has not demonstrated that the error seriously affected his substantial rights or the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of his judicial proceedings such that it warrants correction as an exercise of the panel's discretion. In this case, the evidence on the omitted mens rea element—that Azano knew he was "admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa"—was overwhelming and uncontested such that there is no reasonable probability "the jury's verdict would have been different had the jury been properly instructed." However, the panel reversed Azano's and Singh's convictions under count thirty-seven for falsification of campaign records, finding the evidence insufficient to support all material elements. The panel affirmed as to all other convictions, including Azano's conviction for unlawfully possessing a firearm. The panel vacated Azano's and Singh's sentences and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Singh" on Justia Law

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From behind a closed hotel bathroom door, Casler told Sgt. Draper that his name was Jakuta King Williams, that he had no identification, and that he was from Virginia. Draper recognized Casler when he emerged and remembered having previously arrested him. Draper asked whether he was Rasheed Casler. Casler did not respond. The dispatcher indicated that Casler had an outstanding warrant. Draper arrested Casler. Casler did not attempt to resist or flee. There was no indication that Casler had disposed of evidence in the bathroom. The officers discovered Casler’s Illinois identification card.Casler was charged with possessing less than 15 grams of cocaine and less than five grams of methamphetamine and with obstructing justice by providing false information. Casler testified that, while in the bathroom, he thought that his friends were joking around, so he answered Jakuta King Williams; he did not know there were officers outside the bathroom and was not attempting to avoid arrest. Casler was acquitted of the drug possession charges and convicted of obstructing justice. The appellate court affirmed.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed; 720 ILCS 5/31-4(a)(1), which criminalizes obstructing justice by furnishing false information, includes as an element of the offense that the false information materially impeded the administration of justice. In this case, the charge and the jury instructions did not identify that element of the offense. Retrial is not precluded by the Double Jeopardy Clause. View "People v. Casler" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for extortion, attempted extortion, and receipt of a firearm with intent to commit a felony. Defendant's convictions stemmed from the use of his official position on the Tri-County Drug Task Force to obtain an ATV and firearms from confidential informants. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to convict defendant of the charges.The court also held that the district court did exactly what it should have done after receiving unsolicited, case-related messages from a family member, and thus the district court did not err, plain or otherwise, by failing to sua sponte recuse the judge at sentencing. In this case, while the court did not know why the district judge's brother was interested in the case (nor did the district court), nothing in the text messages disclosed by the district judge revealed any favoritism or antagonism by the judge. Furthermore, none of the parties observed any potential issues or objected. View "United States v. Chastain" on Justia Law

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On July 24, 2020, the district court denied Payton’s motion for compassionate release or a reduction of his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). A notice of appeal, dated August 9, was filed in the district court on August 10. A defendant’s notice of appeal in a criminal case must be filed in the district court no later than 14 days after the challenged judgment or order is entered. Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A). A section 3582(c) motion is a continuation of the criminal proceedings, so the 14-day deadline applies. Rule 4(b)(1)(A)'s deadline is not jurisdictional but is a claims-processing rule; the government can waive an objection to an untimely notice. If the government raises the issue of timeliness, the court must enforce the time limits.In response to the government’s motion to dismiss, Payton asserted that the prison has been “on an institution-wide lockdown and getting copies in this environment is problematic” and argued excusable neglect. Rule 4(b)(4) authorizes the district court to extend the time for filing an appeal for up to 30 days if the court finds “good cause” or “excusable neglect.” The Sixth Circuit remanded for the limited purpose of allowing the district court to determine whether Payton has shown excusable neglect or good cause. View "United States v. Payton" on Justia Law

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In the middle of a weekday in August 2017, Sergeant Ryan Gardiner of the Houston Police Department was patrolling Memorial Park on horseback. While on the lookout for suspicious activity, he positioned himself near bushes and trees where he was mainly concealed. From this location, Gardiner had a good vantage point and line of sight towards an empty parking lot in an area of the park called the Picnic Loop. According to Gardiner, Appellant Ricardo Romano parked his vehicle in the empty parking lot, exited, and walked around to the passenger side, where he opened the door. He then walked to the back of the vehicle, where he pulled the top of his shorts down with one hand and began masturbating with the other. Gardiner radioed his partner, who was in a nearby location of the park, and told him that Appellant was masturbating. Gardiner’s partner rode out of the bushes, which were about fifteen to twenty feet from Appellant to Appellant’s location and arrested him for indecent exposure. Appellant denied masturbating, saying that he was “trying to use the bathroom” because he had drunk a lot of water from a large jug inside the vehicle. Gardiner did not see urine on the ground, and there was a public restroom directly across the street from Appellant’s location. When asked why he did not use the public restroom, Appellant said he did not like those restrooms. Gardiner testified that he was sure that Appellant was masturbating. As far as Gardiner knew, he was the only person who saw Appellant touch himself, but said that there was a risk that other people in the park could have seen Appellant, and Appellant disregarded that risk. Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him, stating it was insufficient to show he was reckless as to the presence of others. Appellant contended he parked his car in an empty lot in order to review some business papers before proceeding downtown. After parking, he got out of the car in order to urinate. As soon as he pulled out his penis, he heard branches move. He said he did not actually urinate because Gardiner emerged on horseback before he could. Appellant said that he did not expect to see anyone because he believed there was no one else in that area of the park, and he did not believe it was reckless to urinate there. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined the officer's testimony plus body camera footage was sufficient to support Appellant's arrest, and reversed the court of appeals whose judgment held to the contrary. View "Romano v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Several officers were dispatched to locate a vehicle carrying stolen merchandise. The merchandise had been equipped with a tracking device and placed in a “bait” car before being stolen. Using the tracking device, the officers traced the merchandise to a Hummer driven by Appellant Victor Gonzalez. After observing the Hummer commit a traffic violation, the officers initiated a traffic stop. Appellant attempted to flee but ran into a dead end in an apartment complex’s parking lot. Two police cars pulled up closely on either side of the Hummer to prevent Appellant from getting out. As Officer Taylor Rogers got out of his patrol car to arrest Appellant, Appellant reversed and accelerated. The Hummer collided with the side of a patrol car and injured Officer Rogers. After successfully reversing away from the officers, Appellant sped off, crashed the Hummer into a nearby structure, and then fled on foot. Appellant was eventually arrested and charged with aggravated assault of a public servant with a deadly weapon. The issue this appeal presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether a defendant was harmed by an erroneous jury charge if the error at issue effectively amounted to nothing more than a formatting defect. Relevant here, the unobjected-to jury instructions tracked the statutory language and allowed for conviction for an intentional, knowing, or reckless aggravated assault on a public servant. The indictment, however, alleged only an intentional or knowing aggravated assault on a public servant. The Court concluded that erroneously including recklessness in the jury charge application paragraph was, under the facts of this case, a mere formatting defect that did not cause egregious harm. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals which held to the contrary, and remanded this case to that court for further proceedings. View "Gonzalez v. Texas" on Justia Law