Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Joel Vargas was convicted of two counts of transporting stolen goods in interstate or foreign commerce and one count of conspiracy to do the same based on his leadership of a crew of burglars, which targeted commercial tire stores. Defendant Angelica, Joel's wife, was convicted of conspiracy to transport stolen goods based on her role as the crew's paymaster and alternate burglary driver. Joel was also convicted of witness tampering based on evidence that he threatened the father of the crew member who cooperated with law enforcement in Joel's arrest.The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions, concluding that defendants failed to show that any constructive amendment to their indictment affected their substantial rights because the trial record contained evidence supporting a guilty verdict on the crime actually charged in the indictment. Furthermore, in such cases, the court declined to exercise its discretion to grant relief. The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendants' convictions for transportation of stolen goods in foreign commerce, conspiracy to transport stolen goods in interstate commerce, and witness tampering. View "United States v. Vargas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction under 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(2)(B) to using a facility in aid of a racketeering enterprise with intent to commit a "crime of violence," as defined by 18 U.S.C. 16. The court concluded that defendant's predicate offense of sex trafficking of children under 18 U.S.C. 1591(a)(1) and (b)(2) does not qualify as a crime of violence under section 16(a). Therefore, defendant's conviction is a result of plain error and the error, left uncorrected, would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Millis and Creeden committed two armed robberies. State police stopped them and searched their vehicle, which contained ammunition, a pistol, and cash from the robberies. The traffic stop was found to be pretextual but Creeden had already implicated Millis as the getaway driver. Millis was convicted of aiding and abetting: an armed bank robbery, the use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, a Hobbs Act robbery, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Millis’s previous convictions, a 1992 Ohio conviction for aggravated assault and a 1991 Ohio conviction for selling marijuana, plus his federal armed bank robbery conviction qualified him as a career offender. The district judge sentenced him to a below-guidelings 410 months’ imprisonment, stating, “if I had discretion ... I would sentence him to about 25 years.”Millis repeatedly sought post-conviction relief. Attempting to benefit from intervening legal changes concerning career offender designation, Millis invoked the 28 U.S.C. 2255(e), “savings clause” to seek habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The savings clause is a narrow exception to the rule that federal sentences must be collaterally attacked under section 2255. Millis’s sentence on his guidelines counts fell within the range for a non-career offender, so his career offender designation did not result in a miscarriage of justice, as required for savings clause relief. View "Millis v. Segal" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Court affirming the judgments of the trial court convicting Defendant of, among other charges, aggravated sexual assault in the first degree and risk of injury to a child, holding that the trial court properly found that Defendant's waiver of his right to a jury trial was constitutionally valid.Following a seven day trial to the court, Defendant was found guilty of multiple offenses. On appeal, Defendant challenged the finding of the trial court that his jury trial waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. The Appellate Court affirmed. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court should have recognized that he was unready and incapable of waiving a jury trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Appellate Court's opinion fully addressed Defendant's arguments, and there was no need to repeat that discussion. View "State v. Kerlyn T." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions and sentence for conspiracy with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.The panel held that the district court did not err by allowing the government to rebut defendant's entrapment defense in its case in chief, or by allowing the government to introduce evidence of his affiliation with gangs to rebut that defense. Furthermore, any error in allowing defendant's parole officer to testify was harmless. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court did not err by applying a two-level sentence enhancement under USSG 2D1.1(b)(1) for possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offense. View "United States v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. Defendant challenges his convictions for interstate domestic violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2261(a)(1), and use of a firearm in relation to a violent crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c), arguing that the predicate offenses underlying these convictions no longer qualify as categorical "crimes of violence" in light of Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018). Dimaya held that the residual-clause definition of "crime of violence" in 18 U.S.C. 16(b) is unconstitutionally vague.The panel agreed with the government that defendant has not demonstrated that he was convicted and sentenced in violation of Dimaya and therefore fails to satisfy the gatekeeping provision set forth in 28 U.S.C. 2255(h)(2). The panel explained that the record and relevant background legal environment confirm that the district court's determination that Idaho assault and battery qualify as crimes of violence did not rest on section 16(b). Because defendant's section 2261 and section 924(c) convictions did not rely on section 16(b), the panel concluded that defendant's challenges to those convictions do not "rely on" Dimaya. Therefore, defendant's second section 2255 motion does not meet the gatekeeping requirements for a second or successive motion. View "United States v. Dade" on Justia Law

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A Utah state court dismissed Petitioner Jeffery Finlayson’s habeas corpus proceeding for failure to prosecute. After appealing that decision, Petitioner brought a petition in federal court under 28 U.S.C. 2254. But the district court found the state court’s dismissal procedurally barred federal relief. So the district court dismissed the petition and granted judgment for Respondent State of Utah, denying a certificate of appealability. Petitioner appealed, and a Tenth Circuit judge issued a certificate of appealability on two issues: whether dismissal for want of prosecution under Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) is an independent and adequate state ground for denial of habeas relief; and (2) whether Petitioner could establish cause to excuse the procedural bar under Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012), and its progeny. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that under Utah’s rule, the state court could look to the meritoriousness of the federal claim to gauge the injustice that might result from dismissal. "But the ultimate decision does not rest on the application of federal law or the answer to a question of federal law. For these reasons, we conclude that a dismissal for failure to prosecute under Utah Rule 41(b) is independent." And, the Court concluded, dismissal for failure to prosecute under that rule was an adequate sate procedural default. Further, the Court concluded Petitioner could not demonstrate cause for the default. Accordingly, dismissal was affirmed. View "Finlayson v. Utah" on Justia Law

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Defendant Erick Allen was convicted by jury of possessing less than 25 grams of cocaine, for which he was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender to a prison term of 30 months to 15 years. Defendant was on parole at the time of the possession, but the Michigan Department of Corrections (the MDOC) did not file a parole detainer against him when he was arrested. Defendant was released from jail on July 13, 2017, on a personal recognizance bond. Defendant subsequently missed two court dates, and the district court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. He was arrested on August 17. The district court turned his personal recognizance bond into a cash/surety bond that Defendant was unable to post. On August 31, 2017, the district court changed his bond back to a personal recognizance bond so that defendant could participate in a drug treatment program. However, defendant brought drugs with him to the program, and he tested positive for cocaine on September 5, 2017. That same day, defendant was arrested, and the MDOC filed a parole detainer against defendant. After being bound over, defendant was convicted by a jury of possession of cocaine. Defendant remained in jail until his sentencing on March 1, 2018. At sentencing, defendant made no request to be given credit for time served. Although the court believed that defendant was not legally entitled to any jail credit because of his status as a parolee, in its discretion, the court gave defendant some credit for the time served prior to sentencing. Defendant spent approximately 195 days in jail prior to sentencing, 17 of which came before the MDOC filed a parole detainer against him. Defendant appealed in the Court of Appeals, arguing that the circuit court erred by not granting any jail credit for the total time he spent in jail. The Michigan Supreme Court determined that under MCL 769.11b and Michigan v. Idziak, 773 NW2d 616 (2009), defendant was entitled to time-served credit. Because the trial court did not grant the credit to which defendant was entitled, defendant demonstrated plain error affecting his substantial rights. The Court of Appeals’ affirmance of the trial court's judgment was reversed, and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Michigan v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Defendant Paul Betts, Jr. entered a no-contest plea to violating the registration requirements of Michigan’s Sex Offenders Registration Act (SORA), as amended by 2011 PA 17 and 18 (the 2011 SORA), conditional on his ability to challenge on appeal the constitutionality of the retroactive application of the 2011 SORA. Defendant pleaded guilty in 1993 to second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-II). The trial court sentenced defendant to 5 to 15 years’ imprisonment. Two years later, SORA took effect. After defendant’s successful completion of parole, defendant failed to report his change of residence, his e-mail address, and his purchase of a vehicle within 3 days, contrary to MCL 28.725(1)(a), (f), and (g), as amended by 2011 PA 17. The prosecution charged defendant with violating SORA’s registration requirements. Defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the retroactive application of the 2011 SORA requirements violated the constitutional prohibitions on ex post facto laws. The trial court denied this motion. The Michigan Supreme Court held the retroactive application violated state and federal constitutional prohibitions on ex post facto laws. As applied to defendant Betts, because the crime subjecting him to registration occurred in 1993, the Supreme Court ordered that his instant conviction of failure to register as a sex offender be vacated. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Betts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss the criminal endangerment charge against him, holding that, under a de novo standard of review, the State alleged sufficient facts in support of its charge of criminal endangerment to withstand a motion to dismiss.The State filed an information charging Defendant with felony criminal endangerment under Mont. Code Ann. 45-5-207(1). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the charge on the grounds that there were no facts establishing probable cause that he had committed the offense of criminal endangerment. The district court granted the motion to dismiss without providing reasons for its decision. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the State established a probability that Defendant committed the offense of criminal endangerment. View "State v. Giffin" on Justia Law