Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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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

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Defendant argued that the lag between his January 2017 arrest and his December 2017 revocation hearing violated both due process and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(a)(1). The DC Circuit agreed with the government and held that defendant forfeited his right to appeal the district court's decision rejecting these claims by failing to object to the magistrate judge's adverse recommendation. Furthermore, because Rule 59(b)(2) was not cast in jurisdictional terms, the courts have discretion to excuse a waiver under the rule. In this case, the district court did not excuse his waiver and defendant's due process argument was without merit. Alternatively, the court declined to remand for an evidentiary hearing on two claims alleging ineffective assistance of counsel during the revocation proceedings. View "United States v. Islam" on Justia Law

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After defendant filed an unopposed motion asking the district court to direct the probation officer to disclose the sentencing recommendation in his case, the district court denied the request pursuant to its policy of always treating the recommendations as confidential. The DC Circuit vacated defendant's sentence and remanded for resentencing, holding that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(e)(3) requires a district court to exercise discretion in deciding whether to withhold the recommendation. In this case, the discretion must be based on case-specific reasoning rather than on a uniform policy. On remand, the district court must disclose the probation officer's sentencing recommendation unless it finds that case-specific reasons justify nondisclosure. View "United States v. McIlwain" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's restitution award to the victim of defendant's child pornography offenses. In Paroline v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1710, 1727 (2014), the Supreme Court held that every perpetrator's viewing of a child's image inflicts distinct harm on that child in that it effects "a repetition of the victim's abuse." The court held that the district court followed Paroline in calculating a restitution amount that was reasonably tailored to defendant's causal role. View "United States v. Monzel" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for violating a federal law prohibiting the possession of firearms on the grounds of the United States Capitol. Defendant had pleaded guilty to violating this law after parking a car containing three guns on a street near the Capitol. The court held that the Second Amendment does not give defendant the right to bear arms in the Maryland Avenue parking lot because it was set aside for the use of government employees, was in close proximity to the Capitol building, and was on land owned by the government. Therefore, the court considered the lot as a single unit with the Capitol building, and concluded that the lot was a "sensitive" place where firearms prohibitions were presumptively lawful. Defendant's arguments to the contrary were unavailing. The court also held that defendant's conviction did not violate the Due Process Clause where the text of the Capitol Grounds ban was quite clear, and an ordinary citizen would readily understand from the text of the statute that he may not carry a firearm on the Capitol Grounds or inside the Capitol. View "United States v. Class" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the retroactive application of the 2000 parole guidelines, rather than the 1987 guidelines in effect at the time of his offense, in his parole hearings violated the Ex Post Facto Clause and the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal in favor of defendants, holding that plaintiff's claim for damages failed because the parole officials named as defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. The court also held that the parole commission did not violate plaintiff's due process rights where, even assuming the evidence supporting plaintiff's guilt of the first rape was insufficient to support the denial of parole, it was undisputed that the second rape—his offense of conviction—occurred while he was out on bond. The court held that this alone sufficed to suggest a risk of recidivism and to support a rational determination that his relatively low guidelines range inadequately accounted for the risk he posed. Finally, the court held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim that the arrest warrant was unsupported by probable cause. View "Johnson v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Petitioner challenged the district court's denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, raising a due process challenge to the government's use of undisclosed classified information as a basis for his detention. The DC Circuit held that the district court's ruling that binding circuit precedent denied petitioner all rights to due process was in error. The court explained that Kiyemba v. Obama ruled only that the Due Process Clause does not invest detainees who have already been granted habeas corpus with a substantive due process right to be released into the United States. However, Kiyemba did not decide, or have any occasion to address, what constitutional procedural protections apply to the litigation of a detainee's habeas corpus petition in the first instance. Furthermore, no other decision of this circuit has adopted a categorical prohibition on affording detainees seeking habeas relief any constitutional procedural protections. The court held that the governing law is that petitioner and other alien detainees must be afforded a habeas process that ensures "meaningful review" of their detention pursuant to Boumediene v. Bush. Therefore, the court remanded the case for further proceedings to be conducted within the correct legal framework and to develop the needed factual record. View "Qassim v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Defendants Norman, Brantley, and Rowe appealed their convictions on multiple counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery, and conspiracy to distribute and possess marijuana with the intent to distribute. The DC Circuit held that the district court did not plainly err by interfering in Brantley's plea negotiations; the district court did not err in its guidelines calculations; but Rowe has made a colorable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The court held that defendants' remaining arguments lacked merit. Accordingly, the court remanded the ineffective assistance of counsel claim and affirmed the district court's judgment in all other respects. View "United States v. Norman" on Justia Law