Articles Posted in U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Defendants McLaurin and Lowery appealed their convictions and sentences for conspiracy and firearms charges related to their involvement in a plan to rob a drug "stash house." The court concluded that the district court did not err in giving the jury supplemental instructions clarifying the term "inducement" on defendants' entrapment defense; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of prior bad acts under Rule 404(b); the district court did not err in determining that the conspiracy and felon-in-possession offenses were properly joined; even if the counts were improperly joined, the misjoinder caused no actual prejudice to McLaurin; and the court exercised its discretion to correct the plain error in calculating McLaurin's Guidelines' range by vacating his sentence and remanding for resentencing. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions but vacated McLaurin's sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. McLaurin" on Justia Law

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Defendant, convicted of illegal firearm possession, appealed the district court's denial of his pretrial motion to suppress evidence. A law enforcement officer, acting without a warrant, had installed a battery-powered GPS device under the rear bumper of defendant's vehicle. While defendant's case was pending, the Supreme Court held in United States v. Jones that the government's installation of a GPS on a target vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constituted a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The district court concluded that, in light of Jones, the officer's warrantless use of the GPS on defendant's vehicle was an unconstitutional search that led to the seizure of the challenged evidence. However, the district court held that the exlcusionary rule did not apply because the officer acted in good faith. The court concluded that, under the facts of this case, the rule announced in Davis v. United States directly controls: the officer's use of the GPS was objectively reasonable at the time because of the binding appellate precedent of United States v. Knotts. Accordingly, the court concluded that the exclusionary rule does not apply and the court affirmed defendant's conviction. View "United States v. Stephens" on Justia Law

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Twenty days after his trial had begun, before the prosecution had finished presenting its evidence, defendant filed a notice of appeal of the district court's written order denying his motion to dismiss one of the eleven charges against him as barred by collateral estoppel. Sixteen days later, on the eve of jury deliberations, defendant filed a second notice of appeal challenging the district court's denial of his motion to sever that same charge from the remainder of the trial. The court dismissed because neither notice was effective to confer appellate jurisdiction over the merits of the underlying rulings. View "United States v. Modanlo" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to unlawfully entering the United States after being deported. The court affirmed the district court's application of a sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2L1.2(b)(1)(B) because defendant illegally reentered the country after a prior North Carolina conviction for felony drug trafficking, which is a drug offense punishable by more than one year in prison. The court held that North Carolina's legislatively mandated sentencing scheme, not a recommended sentence hashed out in a plea negotiations, determines whether an offender's prior North Carolina conviction was punishable by more than a year in prison. View "United States v. Valdovino" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and North Carolina law against police officers, alleging, inter alia, that they fabricated evidence that led to plaintiff's arrest, convictions, and nearly-twelve-year incarceration. The district court granted the officers' motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). The court concluded that plaintiff waived his right to appeal the judgment in Officer Ledford's favor. The court also concluded that plaintiff has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted in regards to Officers Ojaniit and Esposito. Further, plaintiff failed to plead any colorable state law claim as to these two officers. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal as to Officer Ledford and affirmed the judgment as to Officers Ojaniit and Esposito. View "Massey v. Ojaniit" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion as untimely. Plaintiff argued that his failure to meet the requirements of section 2255(f)(4) should not bar his section 2255 motion because the vacaturs of his state convictions rendered him "actually innocent of his sentence." The court declined to apply McQuiggin v. Perkins, which held that a defendant who demonstrated actual innocence of his crime of conviction may, in extraordinary circumstances, proceed with a habeas petition that otherwise would have been statutorily time-barred. The court held that McQuiggin does not apply to habeas claims based on actual innocence of a sentence and, therefore, affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a death row inmate, appealed the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner alleged that his Sixth Amendment rights to an impartial jury and to be confronted with the witnesses against him were violated by an extraneous communication between a juror and her father during the penalty phase of his capital murder trial. The court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether the communication between a juror and her father about a Bible verse had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict. View "Hurst v. Joyner" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed her convictions and sentence for conspiring to traffic in 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, and of additional charges stemming from the kidnapping and murder of Michael Knight in connection with her trafficking operation. The court concluded that the district court did not err in suppressing recorded interviews where there was no legitimate basis to suppress them; pursuant to United States v. Love, the court concluded that the district court's relatively short vacation of the bench was harmless; although the district court's quantity instruction and attendant verdict form were inaccurate, the government proved that the conspiracy trafficked in tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana over its ten-year course, amounting to many multiples of the quantity required to impose a life sentence; and, therefore, the court affirmed defendant's convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to charges stemming from his involvement in a massive and organized scheme to use stolen credit card information to create counterfeit credit cards and to use such cards to make retail purchases of gift cards and high-end merchandise to be sold or returned for cash. Defendant's appellate counsel filed an Anders brief questioning whether the district court adequately complied with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 when accepting defendant's guilty plea and whether the district court properly sentenced defendant. The court examined the issues raised by defendant in his pro se briefing and his appellate counsel's Anders brief and concluded that all issues lack merit. In accordance with the court's obligations under Anders, the court reviewed the entire record and found no reversible error. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions and sentence, as well as the district court's order of restitution. View "United States v. Seignious" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction for three counts of fraud related to his receipt of Social Security and healthcare benefits. The court concluded that, in regards to Count One and Two, the indictment was sufficient to apprise defendant of the charges against him and identify the essential elements of the crimes charged; the indictment charged the requisite intent and the court rejected defendant's argument that the government failed to allege specific intent to defraud; the court rejected defendant's argument that the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment as time barred under the statute of limitations; the court rejected defendant's challenges to the sufficiency of the indictment on Count Three; and, in regards to defendant's healthcare fraud conviction, the government presented sufficient evidence for a rational jury to find that defendant engaged in a health care fraud scheme. Accordingly, the court held that the district court properly denied defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment and motion for judgment of acquittal. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Perry" on Justia Law