Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and use of an interstate facility in aid of racketeering. In this case, the officer stopped defendant because he believed that defendant did not "safely clear" a tractor-trailer when he tried to pass the trailer on the road. The court held that the initial traffic stop was justified, and the officer did not unreasonably extend the detention because the officer had reasonable suspicion that defendant was engaged in drug trafficking. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to conclude that defendant reached an agreement to distribute drugs with another individual. Furthermore, a rational jury could infer that the money was related to the drug-trafficking conspiracy. Finally, the district court did not err by determining that defendant was a career offender. The court disposed of defendant's remaining claims and affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Bams" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew the prior opinion and substituted this opinion. The court held that the district court erred by imposing a sixteen-level enhancement under USSG 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii) based on a prior conviction for terroristic threatening in violation of Arkansas law. Even if the district court correctly resorted to the modified categorical approach, the Arkansas conviction could not constitute a crime of violence because it lacked physical force as an element. Because the Government failed to meet its heavy burden to convincingly demonstrate that the district court would have imposed the same sentence regardless of its erroneous calculation, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Rico-Mejia" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing a firearm as a convicted felon and the district court sentenced him under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), based on a prior Texas felony conviction under section 38.14 of the Texas Penal Code. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that the caselaw defendant presented -- Dobbs v. State, and Finley v. State -- did not definitely calibrate the amount of force required for a violation of resisting arrest under section 38.03, and there was no indication that the definition of force was intended to apply outside of section 38.03. The court held that section 38.14 has as an element the "threatened use of force" and qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA. View "United States v. Massey" on Justia Law

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Defendant, operator of a tax preparation business, was convicted of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the administration of the tax code and of three counts of filing fraudulent tax returns. The Fifth Circuit upheld the convictions and amount of the restitution award, but modified the judgment so the restitution obligation was limited to the supervised release term that was the only period during which restitution can be imposed for a tax offense. View "United States v. Westbrooks" on Justia Law

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Where there is no relevant evidence of drug use, the essential characteristic of a defendant that makes surveillance for drug use reasonable and appropriate is absent. Defendant appealed the district court's reimposition of a special condition of supervised release. The Fifth Circuit vacated the drug surveillance special condition, holding that the district court abused its discretion in imposing the condition on defendant where there was no record evidence that she engaged in personal drug use. The court otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Ramos-Gonzales" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. 1983 pro se complaint as frivolous and for failure to state a claim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), was moot after his transfer to a different detention center; plaintiff's First Amendment claim failed because, other than not being allowed to attend Jumu'ah prayer services, he has not identified any other restrictions on his ability to express or exercise his faith; plaintiff's claims regarding the denial of medical care, negligent or deliberately indifferent infliction of injury, interference with his mail/denial of access to the courts, denial of equal protection, and retaliation were either not briefed at all or not adequately briefed; and plaintiff filed a formal motion requesting leave to file his proposed third amended complaint, and his "proposed order" accompanying that complaint did not qualify as such a motion. The court denied plaintiff's motion for a proposed settlement, and noted that the dismissal of this complaint counts as a strike under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). Because plaintiff has at least three other strikes, he is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis. View "Coleman v. Lincoln Parish Detention Center" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged a detention order that was issued because he was caught violating the conditions of pretrial release set by a federal magistrate judge in California. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the evidence supported the detention order. In this case, defendant was on pretrial release for about a month, during which he tested positive for drugs and was arrested for drug-related crimes; he has four drug convictions, no ties to the Eastern District, and no verifiable legitimate employment; and the facts surrounding his arrest established probable cause that he committed a felony while on release, creating a rebuttable presumption that he was a danger to the community. The court also held that the district court's interpretation of Eastern District of Louisiana Local Criminal Rule 5.2 did not constitute plain error; even if the district court erred, that error was neither clear or obvious; defendant's challenge to an email sent by a law clerk was foreclosed because defendant never moved to supplement the record with the email; and defendant's claim that he had a constitutional right to an evidentiary hearing was waived for lack of adequate briefing. View "United States v. Moreno" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery, and possessing and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's firearm conviction because Hobbs Act robbery falls within the definition of crime of violence; vacated his sentence for the Hobbs Act robbery count because the district court erred by imposing the physical restraint enhancement where defendant did not do anything with his firearm that went beyond what would normally occur during an armed robbery; and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Even in light of Amendment 794's clarifying guidance to USSG 3B1.2, it is proper for a sentencing court to consider the "critical" or "essential" nature of a defendant's role when assessing application of section 3B1.2. However, a sentencing court may not deny the adjustment on this ground alone. In this case, defendant appealed his 155 month sentence after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The district court's explanation at sentencing for its denial of the mitigating-role reduction strongly suggested that the district court made outcome determinative its finding that defendant's role was "critical." Furthermore, this error pretermitted the district court's application of section 3B1.1 and the applicable commentary. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Sanchez-Villarreal" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the Commission's determination that the federal offense most analogous to defendant's crime was second-degree murder. Petitioner, an American who killed his girlfriend in Mexico, was sentenced for "qualified homicide committed with advantage" under the Baja Penal Code. Second-degree murder under United States law requires a finding that a human being was killed with malice aforethought. The Fifth Circuit held that the Commission did not clearly err in finding that defendant acted with malice when he hit his girlfriend in the face with a hammer a few times and then strangled her to death. In this case, there was scant evidence of provocation; defendant fabricated a story to deflect attention from his malicious crime; and there was evidence that the heat of passion had time to cool when defendant walked down and up a flight of stairs to obtain the hammer and then strangle the victim. View "Frascarelli v. USPC" on Justia Law