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

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Defendant Alexander Pauler was convicted of possessing a firearm after having previously been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. The district court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to state an offense, holding that Defendant violated the applicable statute because he possessed a firearm in 2014 after having been convicted in 2009 of violating a Wichita, Kansas municipal domestic battery ordinance by punching his girlfriend. The sole issue for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether a misdemeanor violation of a municipal ordinance qualified as a “misdemeanor under . . . State . . . law” when viewed in the context of a statutory scheme that clearly and consistently differentiated between state and local governments and between state statutes and municipal ordinances. Applying well-established principles of statutory interpretation, the Tenth Circuit held that it did not, and the Court accordingly reversed and remanded for the district court to vacate Defendant’s federal conviction. View "United States v. Pauler" on Justia Law

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The test applied in evaluating the constitutionality of a reasonable doubt jury instruction instruction is not whether a court finds it exemplary. Rather, the proper inquiry requires a court to consider the instructions in their entirety and ask whether a “reasonable likelihood” exists that the jury “understood the instructions to allow conviction based on proof insufficient to meet the [reasonable doubt] standard.” The Government charged Defendant Ishmael Petty with assaulting three employees at the federal correctional facility in Florence, Colorado. At Defendant’s trial, the district court tendered the jury a reasonable doubt instruction that tracked verbatim the Tenth Circuit’s Pattern Jury Instruction on reasonable doubt. The district court overruled Defendant’s objections to the instruction, and a jury found Defendant guilty. Defendant contended the district court’s instruction diluted the Government’s burden of proof contrary to his Fifth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Defendant’s argument that the reasonable doubt instruction as tendered was unconstitutional, and affirmed. View "United States v. Petty" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a criminal defendant’s obligation to pay restitution to his victims. Kapelle Simpson-El was convicted of crimes involving the sale of stolen cars. His sentence included a restitution obligation of $432,930.00. Since obtaining release, Simpson-El has paid at least 5% of his gross monthly income toward restitution. Simpson-El was injured while serving his prison sentence at a federal prison. The injury was allegedly exacerbated by inadequate medical attention and a lack of treatment, leading Simpson-El to sue the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. After obtaining release from prison, Simpson-El settled with the government for $200,000. The government sought modification of the restitution order based on a material change in economic circumstances, requesting an order for Simpson-El to pay the entire $200,000 as restitution. The district court granted the motion in part, applying $145,640 of the settlement funds toward restitution. The Tenth Circuit found a restitution payment schedule could be modified when the defendant’s economic circumstances materially change. Simpson-El appealed, arguing the settlement funds were not a “material change in economic circumstances.” Finding no reversible error in the district court’s restitution order, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Simpson-El" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Mark Ellis of five felony offenses and one misdemeanor offense involving child sexual assault on his adopted daughter, V.E. Child sexual assault allegations against Ellis first arose during his contentious divorce from V.E.’s mother. At trial, defense counsel Rowe Stayton argued that Ellis had been falsely accused: that V.E.’s vengeful mother was coaching her, and that V.E.’s sexual knowledge came only from admitted sexual abuse by her older brother. After he was convicted, Ellis moved for postconviction relief in Colorado state district court, alleging his counsel had been constitutionally ineffective for failing to interview and/or call to testify: (1) an expert forensic; and (2) several lay witnesses who could testify in particular about the Ellises’ family dynamics when the allegations arose. The state district court denied relief. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed.Ellis never sought review of his ineffective-assistance claim with the Colorado Supreme Court. On appeal to the federal courts Ellis raised similar arguments raised at the state court level. His motion was granted, and the State appealed, arguing the federal district court erred in finding Ellis exhausted state remedies, and in granting habeas relief on Ellis’ ineffective assistance claim. The Tenth Circuit concluded that Ellis adequately exhausted his ineffective assistance claim, but the district court erred in granting him conditional habeas relief on that claim. Any question as to the propriety of the district court’s ninety-day retrial condition was effectively moot because the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court should not have granted habeas relief in the first place. View "Ellis v. Raemisch" on Justia Law

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Patrolling a high-crime area in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an officer saw a man riding a bicycle against traffic and not using a bicycle headlight, in violation of Tulsa’s traffic law. Unknown to the officer, the bicyclist was Phillip Morgan, who had a string of felony convictions: (1) unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition, (2) accessory after the fact to first-degree murder, (3) unlawful possession of a controlled drug, and (4) unlawful possession with intent to distribute a controlled drug. After a lawful traffic stop, an officer has authority to order a driver and passengers from a car. The issue presented here was whether an officer has authority to order a person to step off his bicycle after a lawful traffic stop. Under the circumstances of this case, the Tenth Circuit held that the officer had that authority. View "United States v. Morgan" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit found that Terry Margheim failed to show an essential element of his malicious prosecution claim against deputy district attorney Emela Buljko to establish a constitutional violation. For that reason, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant qualified immunity to Buljko. Margheim sued Buljko under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for malicious prosecution in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. This case arose from Margheim’s involvement in three state criminal matters - two domestic violence cases and a later drug case. His malicious prosecution claim was based on his prosecution in the drug case, but the three cases were tied together. When Buljko raised the qualified immunity defense in district court, Margheim had the burden to show a violation of clearly established federal law. (CA-D) Save Our Heritage Organization (McConnell) View "Margheim v. Buljko" on Justia Law

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Defendant Gregory Jordan was sentenced to 168 months’ imprisonment pursuant to a Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(C) agreement that proposed a base offense level of 31 and a Guidelines range of 135 to 168 months. The district court accepted the plea agreement, despite a discrepancy between the parties’ agreed-upon sentencing range and the range calculated by the district court. After both ranges were subsequently lowered by the Sentencing Commission, Jordan moved for a reduced sentence under section 3582(c)(2). The district court denied relief, concluding that Jordan’s sentence was not “based on” the Guidelines and he was thus ineligible for a sentence reduction. The Tenth Circuit held, to the contrary, that Jordan’s sentence was “based on” the Guidelines for purposes of section 3582(c)(2). Accordingly, he was eligible for relief. View "United States v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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Adaucto Chavez-Meza pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges in 2013. He originally received a prison sentence of 135 months, the Sentencing Guidelines minimum. In 2014, the Sentencing Commission amended the Guidelines to reduce the relevant offense levels. Chavez-Meza then sought and was granted a sentence reduction to 114 months, the minimum under the revised guidelines range. In confirming the new sentence, the district court issued a form order stating it had “tak[en] into account the policy statement set forth at USSG sec. 1B1.10 and the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a).” Chavez-Meza appealed his reduced sentence, claiming the district court erred by failing to adequately explain how it applied the section 3553(a) factors in imposing a 114-month sentence. Finding no reversible error in the district court's sentence calculation, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Section 3582(c)(2) does not require additional explanation when a district court imposes a guidelines sentence and affirmatively states that it considered the section 3553(a) factors in its decision. View "United States v. Chavez-Meza" on Justia Law

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Defendant Harold Creighton was indicted on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Because Defendant had multiple prior felony drug convictions, he qualified for a sentence enhancement that would raise his statutory sentence on conviction from “ten years or more” to “a mandatory term of life imprisonment without release.” He appealed the conviction, arguing the sentence was the result of prosecutorial vindictiveness in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The Tenth Circuit no evidence of vindictiveness, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Creighton" on Justia Law

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Percy Holcomb invoked U.S. Sentencing Guidelines section 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) in 2014, seeking reduction of the sentence that he had received in 2002. But in 2011, the U.S. Sentencing Commission tightened 1B1.10(b)(2)(B)’s eligibility requirements. This tightening worked against Holcomb: Under the 2002 version, he would have been eligible for relief; under the 2014 version, he was not. The district court applied the 2014 version and held that Holcomb was ineligible for relief under 1B1.10(b)(2)(B). According to Holcomb, application of the 2014 version resulted in a violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause, exceeded the Sentencing Commission’s statutory authority, and usurped the judiciary’s authority to determine an appropriate sentence. The Tenth Circuit rejected these challenges: Tenth Circuit precedent foreclosed relief under the Ex Post Facto Clause, Congress authorized the Sentencing Commission to determine the retroactivity of its amendments, and § 1B1.10(b)(2)(B) did not usurp a judicial function. View "United States v. Holcomb" on Justia Law