Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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After apprehension and extradition to the United States, defendants were convicted each on four counts: two counts under 18 U.S.C. 1114, which criminalizes the killing of an officer or employee of the United States; one count under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) for using a firearm while committing a crime of violence; and one count under 18 U.S.C. 1116, which criminalizes the killing of certain persons protected under international law. On appeal, defendants argued that sections 1114 and 924(c) do not apply extraterritorially. The DC Circuit held that section 1114, which has a purely domestic scope, does not apply extraterritorially. However, the court held that section 924(c) can apply to conduct overseas. Therefore, the court vacated defendants' convictions under section 114 and remanded for a limited resentencing. View "United States v. Garcia Sota" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that defendant's prior bank robbery convictions were crimes of violence and affirmed the denial of defendant's motion for post-conviction relief. The court need not reach defendant's constitutional objection, because in 2003, when he was sentenced, a prior conviction could be a crime of violence under either the residual clause or the Guidelines' independent elements clause, which defines a crime of violence as one that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force. The court explained that the federal bank robbery statute requires proof that a defendant took property by force and violence, or by intimidation. In order to satisfy this requirement, defendant must have at least knowingly threatened someone with physical force (or have attempted to do so), which squarely placed the offense within the Guidelines' elements clause. View "United States v. Carr" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for six counts of sex trafficking and related crimes against minors, rejecting his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The court held that the existing record left no doubt that counsel's failure to challenge the qualifications of an expert witness was not ineffective assistance of counsel. In this case, an objection to the expert's qualifications would have been meritless under the applicable legal standard; the expert's curriculum vitae listed extensive medical training in pediatrics, decades of on-the-job experience, and specialized knowledge reflected in peer-reviewed publications, other publications and expert reports, and dozens of lectures on the dynamics of child sex trafficking and victimization; and the court's cases clearly supported qualifying an expert witness on these facts. Furthermore, counsel's decision to press the defense by challenging the expert on three grounds other than qualifications fell within the reasonable range of professional assistance. View "United States v. Marshall" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to vacate his conviction. Defendant claimed that his trial and appellate counsel failed to properly argue or advance a claim that his Speedy Trial Act (STA) rights were violated. The court assumed without deciding that the STA was violated, and that the trial and appellate counsel were deficient in failing to properly argue or advance that violation. The court held that failure to obtain a dismissal without prejudice under the STA does not constitute Strickland prejudice. Highlighting that each of the explicit statutory factors weighs in favor of a dismissal without prejudice, the court held that defendant has not shown that he suffered any trial or non-trial prejudice sufficient to tip the scale in favor of a dismissal with prejudice. View "United States v. McLendon" on Justia Law

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After defendant was sentenced for possession of a heroin mixture exceeding two kilograms based on the then-applicable statutory minimum contained in 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A), Congress enacted the First Step Act, narrowing the range of past offenses that trigger section 841(b)(1)(A)'s mandatory minimum. The DC Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence and held that a reduced prison term applies only to a defendant whose sentence had not been "imposed" as of the Act's enactment date. Therefore, the court rejected defendant's argument that, because his case was still pending on direct review when the Act was enacted, he should receive the benefit of the decreased term of imprisonment. View "United States v. Young" on Justia Law

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Roger Stone and members of his family petitioned for a writ of mandamus vacating the district court's orders modifying his conditions of release. Stone, a political consultant, was indicted on one count of obstruction of proceedings, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering. Stone's charges stemmed from allegations that he obstructed investigations by Congress and the FBI into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election. The DC Circuit dismissed the petition, holding that Stone and his family members failed to avail themselves of adequate alternative remedies and thus were not entitled to mandamus relief. The court held that Stone could have appealed under 18 U.S.C. 3145(c), which expressly provides for judicial review of a detention order; Stone could have challenged the conditional release orders by filing a notice of appeal within fourteen days after their entry, but failed to do so; and Stone's family members may move the district court to reconsider or modify the conditions of release and, if unsuccessful, appeal the denial of that motion. View "In re: Roger Stone, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's order authorizing the government to medicate him without his consent for the purpose of rendering him competent to stand trial. Defendant was indicted for threatening bodily harm to the President and for conveying false information concerning the use of an explosive. At issue were the district court's rulings on two of the four Sell factors for determining whether the government had met its burden of proof. In regard to the second Sell factor, the DC Circuit held that the government established that the administration of the drugs was substantially likely to render defendant competent to stand trial, even if the psychiatrist did not personally examine defendant. Furthermore, the district court did not clearly err in concluding that the prescribed medication was substantially unlikely to cause side effects impairing defendant's ability to assist his counsel. In regard to the fourth Sell factor, the court held that defendant presented no basis for concluding that the district court clearly erred in relying on the psychiatrist to conclude that involuntary medication would be in defendant's best medical interests. View "United States v. Gamarra" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act (PROTECT Act) was constitutional as applied to defendant, who was indicted for producing child pornography and sexually abusing a child while residing in Vietnam in 2015. The court reversed the district court's dismissal of the indictment and held that each of the provisions of the Act that defendant challenged was rationally related to implementing the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. The court held that the provisions of the PROTECT Act that criminalize child sexual abuse and production of child pornography by U.S. citizens living abroad help to fulfill the United States' responsibility under the Optional Protocol to criminalize, "as a minimum," child prostitution and child pornography production by U.S. nationals wherever that conduct occurs. Furthermore, the Foreign Commerce Clause supports application of U.S. law to economic activity abroad that could otherwise impair the effectiveness of a comprehensive regulatory regime to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children. View "United States v. Park" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed appellant's conviction for violating 21 U.S.C. 960a, which prohibits using the proceeds of drug trafficking to support foreign terrorist groups. The court held that Congress had the authority to criminalize appellant's conduct even though his actions occurred outside of the United States. In this case, appellant was a key leader of an extensive criminal enterprise that produced and transported drugs in a controlled territory. The court also held that appellant's plea agreement precludes his other arguments on appeal. View "In re: Sealed Case" on Justia Law

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Defendant and his export business, Wing-On LLC, appealed their convictions of conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), unlawful export in violation of the AECA, and conspiracy to launder money. The DC Circuit held that the district court erred in admitting the deposition testimony of a key witness because the government failed to make reasonable efforts before it deported the witness to procure his presence at trial; the jury instruction defining the "willfulness" element of unlawful exportation of defense articles was correct, but the court suggested clarification of the willfulness instruction to more squarely require a finding that defendants were aware of and knowingly violated their legal obligation not to commit the charged actus reus; and the district court did not err by admitting defendant's non-Mirandized statements because he was not in custody where, even assuming language proficiency is relevant to the custody inquiry, a reasonable officer would not have thought defendant's imperfect English meant a reasonable person in his position would have believed himself detained during the interview. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment in light of the error in admitting the key witness's deposition testimony, because the error was not harmless. View "United States v. Burden" on Justia Law