Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
In exchange for Defendant’s guilty plea on the superseding indictment’s principal drug-dealing charge (“Count 1”), the Government dismissed all other charges. The parties stipulated to a recommended prison sentence of 240 months. The district court followed the parties’ sentencing recommendation and dismissed all remaining counts in the superseding indictment “on the motion of the United States. Some months later, the Government discovered the procedural snag at the heart of this case: the superseding indictment to which Defendant pleaded guilty had been returned by a grand jury whose term had expired. At a plea hearing in which Defendant indicated satisfaction with his trial counsel’s performance and familiarity with the “grand jury mess-up[]” that had occurred in his initial case, Defendant pleaded guilty in accordance with the new plea agreement. The district court then imposed the 144-month sentence the parties agreed to and noted for the record the key terms of the provision quoted above.   Without conducting a hearing, the district court accepted a magistrate’s recommendation that Defendant’s Section 2255 motion be denied. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the expired grand jury’s untimely superseding indictment in Defendant’s first criminal case was null and void when jeopardy would have otherwise attached at Defendant’s jury trial and, accordingly, could not have placed Defendant in actual legal jeopardy within the meaning of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Because the failure of Defendant’s trial counsel to advise Defendant of a meritless double jeopardy argument was neither deficient nor prejudicial, the district court was correct to deny Defendant’s habeas corpus petition. View "USA v. Slape" on Justia Law

by
Rogers, with a friend, A.W., went to a Rural King store where the video surveillance system recorded Rogers as he handled firearms, including a Mossberg shotgun. Minutes later, A.W. provided her ID, filled out Form 4473, and paid for the shotgun. A week later, Rogers and A.W. went to another Rural King: Rogers approached the counter alone and inspected several firearms, including a Sig Sauer rifle. A.W. later purchased the rifle. Law enforcement received a tip that Rogers and A.W. were purchasing firearms with fraudulently-obtained gift cards. Officers reviewed the Rural King security footage and concluded that A.W. was purchasing the firearms for Rogers. During an interview, A.W. denied knowing the location of the Sig Sauer. Rogers, interviewed by the same officer, stated that the rifle was under the couch in A.W.’s home. Rogers was charged with two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm.At trial, it became evident that two Mossberg shotguns were involved, one that Rogers handled, and another retrieved by the manager from storage and sold to A.W. The defense argued impossible to ascertain whether the grand jury intended to accuse Rogers of possessing the gun that he had handled at the counter or the gun purchased by A.W. The prosecution proceeded on a theory of joint possession of the purchased Mossberg. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction and 70-month sentence. View "United States v. Rogers" on Justia Law

by
A Romanian organization, the Alexandria Online Auction Fraud Network (AOAF), used fraudulent online advertisements on websites like eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon to convince unknowing U.S. purchasers to send payments for high-value items that did not actually exist. After receiving the payments through vehicles like gift cards and prepaid debit cards, AOAF money launderers in the U.S., including Brown, converted the payments into Bitcoin currency, which was then transferred back to Romania. Foreign Bitcoin exchange businesses including RG, Iossifov’s Bulgaria-based business, then transferred the Bitcoin balances to cash on behalf of AOAF fraudsters. About 900 victims never received the items for which they paid. The government learned about the scheme in 2014 when it discovered that an American citizen living in Kentucky was laundering funds on behalf of an online fraud organization; the individual became a confidential source.The Sixth Circuit affirmed Iossifov and Brown’s convictions and sentences under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), and Iossifov’s additional conviction for conspiring to launder money 18 U.S.C. 1956(h). The court rejected venue, jurisdiction, and Due Process claims, a contention that Bitcoin does not fall under the money laundering statute, and challenges to sentencing enhancements and evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Iossifov" on Justia Law

by
Dunn was convicted in Indiana state court for the Torres murder. The case against Dunn was based largely on the testimony of two pathologists. In a state court post-conviction proceeding, Dunn argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to consult with any forensic pathologist. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a conditional writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254 based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel. At a state court post-conviction hearing, a board-certified forensic pathologist, Dr. Sozio, testified that the autopsy was substandard, missed a great deal, and that Torres’s injuries were more consistent with a fall than with being bludgeoned by a blunt object. If the defense had presented Sozio's testimony, the jury would have been presented with conflicting expert testimony regarding whether the fall alone caused the injuries. The state conceded that blood evidence effectively ruled out the use of a bat; no other weapon was found. Two eyewitnesses testified consistently that Torres was not beaten after his fall. Sozio's testimony was critical in this case to create reasonable doubt because it countered the state's scientific evidence and gave the jury reason to doubt that Torres was beaten. Dunn demonstrated prejudice under Strickland. View "Dunn v. Neal" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Andrew Gregor, a naturalized citizen from Australia, pleaded guilty to a felony sex offense that was later reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed after early termination of probation. After he was informed he was not able to sponsor his father for a family visa due to this conviction, defendant filed a motion pursuant to Penal Code section 1473.7 and sought to withdraw his plea claiming he was unable to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the adverse immigration consequences of his conviction. The trial court denied the motion; defendant appealed. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Gregor" on Justia Law

by
Appellant was convicted of unlawfully possessing a loaded firearm. He does not dispute that the bulge of that gun in his waistband gave an arresting officer the reasonable suspicion required to conduct a stop-and-frisk that uncovered the gun. But Appellant argues he submitted to an illegal show of authority several seconds before then when the officer did not yet have a close view of the bulge in Appellant’s waistband.The DC Circuit affirmed the finding that Appellant did not submit to a show of authority. The court explained that Appellant has not described submission to a show of authority. Because the officer’s statement (“No.”) followed Appellant’s declaration that he was “going to walk off,” Appellant could not submit while he “continued moving forward.” One cannot submit to an order not to “walk off” by walking off. Moreover, even when a show of authority does not expressly prohibit flight, it can do so implicitly. Accordingly, at no point did Appellant voluntarily submit to a show of authority. He, therefore, was not seized until the officer blocked his path. By then, the officer could see the bulge of Appellant’s gun in his waistband, and Appellant does not dispute that the bulge gave the officer the reasonable suspicion required for the stop and frisk that followed. View "USA v. Amistad Veney" on Justia Law

by
Facing five child-pornography counts and one for enticing a minor, Defendant decided to enter into a plea agreement with the government. Of the six counts, he pleaded guilty to three of them: two for receiving child pornography, each from a separate victim. When the presentence investigation report said he was responsible for receiving pornographic images from two others, Minor Victim 3 and H.P., he filed a written objection. At sentencing, the fact dispute never came up. Defendant did not renew his objection, the government did not present evidence that he had received sexually explicit material from Minor Victim 3 or H.P., and the district court never made any findings. Without ever resolving the factual dispute that the presentence investigation report had flagged, the court sentenced him to 210 months in prison.The Eighth Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court explained that agrees that Defendant specifically objected to receiving sexually explicit images from Minor Victim 3 and H.P., meaning that the district court could not rely on those facts unless the government proved them by a preponderance of the evidence. The government never did so, yet the district court sentenced Defendant as if it had. The government does not dispute that the error here was “clear or obvious.” Instead, the focus is on the next step in the plain-error analysis: whether the procedural error affected Defendant’s substantial rights. The court vacated the sentence explaining that a failure to correct the error will also seriously affect the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings. View "United States v. Lamark Combs, Jr." on Justia Law

by
Defendant pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon. 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1). The district court imposed a fifteen-year mandatory-minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act after concluding that Defendant had three prior violent felonies: two for third-degree assault; and another for first-degree burglary with assault. Defendant argued that none of these convictions were violent felonies, however, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.The court explained that there are two ways for a prior conviction to count. One is through the “enumerated-offenses clause,” which lists offenses that qualify. The other is if the offense “has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another,” otherwise known as the “force clause.” Defendant’s final conviction was for first-degree burglary, which is a “divisible” crime. The particular version he committed was first-degree burglary with assault, which as the name suggests, required him to commit an assault during the course of a burglary. This crime uses the same definition of “assault” as the others, which means it is a “violent felony” too. Defendant argues that Borden v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 1817 (2021) suggests that an assault can never qualify as a violent felony. However, n Minnesota, assault requires intentional conduct, and Borden only “excludes crimes that can be committed recklessly.” View "United States v. Seth Huntington" on Justia Law

by
Defendant pleaded guilty to bank robbery. The presentence investigation report (PSR) recommended applying a five-level sentencing enhancement for possessing or brandishing a firearm during the robbery. Overruling Defendant’s objection, the district court found the Government proved there was a firearm involved by a preponderance of the evidence. The five-level firearm enhancement resulted in an advisory guidelines sentencing range of 100 to 125 months’ imprisonment. The court after considering the 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a) sentencing factors imposed a 100-month sentence. Defendant appealed, arguing the district court committed clear error when it imposed the five-level firearm enhancement because the government, by relying on “uncorroborated, unreliable hearsay statements,” failed to prove that Defendant possessed a firearm during the bank robbery.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering the tellers’ interview testimony after concluding that the “statements, though hearsay, were made under circumstances indicating sufficient. Nor did the court clearly err in finding by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant brandished or possessed a firearm during the robbery. The tellers’ testimony was strong but not necessarily conclusive evidence on this issue, and the security video did not eliminate uncertainty as to the presence of a firearm. View "United States v. Zachary Anderson Wailes" on Justia Law

by
Defendant sold capsules of heroin that contained fentanyl to a confidential source in the St. Louis metro area. A superseding indictment charged Defendant with conspiracy to distribute heroin and fentanyl between June 2017 and May 2019, possession with intent to distribute heroin, and distribution of fentanyl in August 2019 resulting in death. Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl.At sentencing, adopting the presentence investigation report (PSR) without objection, the district court1 determined an advisory guidelines sentencing range of 15-21 months’ imprisonment, granted the government’s motion for an upward departure, and sentenced Defendant to 70 months imprisonment. Defendant appeals, arguing the court erred in granting an upward departure based primarily on Defendant’s role in the August 2019 fentanyl overdose death.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the agent’s testimony, to the extent it included hearsay, bore sufficient indicia of reliability to support its use in sentencing Defendant. Accordingly, the court did not clearly err in finding that the government proved by a preponderance of the evidence that a death resulted from Defendant’s conduct and then granting the government’s motion for an upward departure. Departing upward, the court imposed a sentence of 70 months imprisonment. This sentence is consistent with upward departures the court has approved under Section 5K2.1 for drug distribution conduct that resulted in an overdose death. View "United States v. Jeff Harris" on Justia Law