Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, former President Donald Trump was appealing a district court's denial of his motion to dismiss an indictment against him. The indictment was based on his actions contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election and interfering with the constitutional transfer of power to his successor. Trump argued that, as a former President, he was immune from prosecution for his official actions while in office.The appeals court disagreed and affirmed the district court's decision. It held that former presidents are not immune from federal criminal prosecution for their official acts. The court concluded that the Constitution, federal statutes, and history do not support the existence of such immunity. The court also noted that former President Trump's actions in question, if proven, constituted an unprecedented assault on the structure of the U.S. government.Additionally, the court rejected Trump's contention that his impeachment and acquittal by the Senate for the same or closely related conduct bar his subsequent criminal prosecution under principles of double jeopardy. The court held that impeachment is a political process and does not result in criminal punishment, and the crimes alleged in the indictment differ from the offense for which Trump was impeached. Thus, the court concluded that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply.These holdings allowed the criminal prosecution against Trump to proceed. View "USA v. Trump" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Russell Alford, who was a participant in the Capitol protest on January 6, 2021, appealed his convictions and sentence for four misdemeanors. The misdemeanors were related to his unauthorized entry and conduct within the U.S. Capitol. Although Alford's behavior while in the Capitol was neither violent nor destructive, he was convicted for his role in disrupting the Congress's electoral certification and endangering public safety.Alford raised two issues in his appeal: the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions for disorderly or disruptive conduct and the reasonableness of his twelve-month sentence. The court affirmed his convictions, noting that a jury could rationally conclude that his unauthorized presence as part of a mob contributed to the disruption of the Congress's proceedings. The court also affirmed his sentence, stating that the district court was within its discretion in imposing a within-Guidelines sentence after considering the circumstances.The case underscores that disorderly or disruptive conduct, as defined by relevant statutes, can include non-violent and non-destructive actions if they are likely to endanger public safety or create a public disturbance. Even passive conduct can be deemed disorderly or disruptive, depending on the context. The court also emphasized that sentencing disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct are not inherently unreasonable, especially when the defendant's conduct during trial or other factors may justify a greater sentence. View "USA v. Alford" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit considered an appeal by Khan Mohammed, who had been convicted of international drug trafficking and narcoterrorism and sentenced to two concurrent life sentences. The district court later vacated the narcoterrorism charge, and upon resentencing for the drug trafficking charge, applied a terrorism enhancement under Section 3A1.4 of the Sentencing Guidelines, again resulting in a life sentence.Mohammed appealed this new sentence, arguing that the district court committed legal and factual errors in applying the terrorism enhancement, and used the wrong burden of proof. The appellate court affirmed Mohammed’s sentence. The court found no plain error in the lower court's application of Section 3A1.4, rejecting Mohammed's argument that the language of the statute had been abrogated and that the enhancement should only apply to convictions of federal crimes of terrorism. The court also held that the district court did not err by applying a preponderance of the evidence standard to conduct that was the subject of Mohammed's vacated conviction, even if the case involved extraordinary circumstances. Lastly, the court upheld the district court's factual findings that supported the application of the terrorism enhancement, declining to disturb findings that had already been upheld on appeal. View "USA v. Mohammed" on Justia Law

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In a case involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has partially upheld and partially vacated a lower court's order restricting Trump's public statements about the trial. The case stems from Trump being indicted for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election through unlawful means and for obstructing the election’s certification. Trump had posted numerous statements on social media attacking potential witnesses in the case, the judge, and the prosecution team. The lower court issued an order restraining the parties and their counsel from making public statements that "target" the parties, counsel and their staffs, court personnel, and "any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony." On appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the order insofar as it prohibited all parties and their counsel from making public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in the criminal proceeding. The court also upheld the order to the extent it prohibited parties and their counsel from making public statements about counsel in the case other than the Special Counsel, members of the court’s staff and counsel’s staffs, or the family members of any counsel or staff member, if those statements were made with the intent to materially interfere with the trial or with the knowledge that such interference was highly likely to result. However, the court vacated the order to the extent it covered speech beyond these categories. The court found that the order was justified by a sufficiently serious risk of prejudice to an ongoing judicial proceeding, that no less restrictive alternatives would adequately address that risk, and that the order was narrowly tailored to ensure the fair administration of justice while also respecting Trump's First Amendment rights. View "USA v. Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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Appellant participated in the riot that took place on January 6, 2021, at the United States Capitol. The riot interrupted and delayed Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote that determined the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. A jury convicted Appellant of obstructing the vote certification in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(c)(2). On appeal, Appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to show that he acted “corruptly,” as Section 1512(c)(2) requires. He also challenged his 87-month sentence, making new arguments on appeal that the district court erred in applying two specific offense characteristics for obstruction of the “administration of justice.”   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Robertson acted “corruptly,” and the district court did not plainly err in applying the specific offense characteristics. The court explained that the interpretations of “corruptly” posited by Appellant and the Fischer concurrence appear to confuse sufficiency with necessity: Their proposed definitions of “corruptly” may be sufficient to prove corrupt intent, but neither dishonesty nor seeking a benefit for oneself or another is necessary to demonstrate “wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil” behavior within the meaning of Section 1512(c). The court wrote that it declined to adopt the limited constructions of “corruptly” proffered by Appellant and the Fischer concurrence, which each insist that the broad concept of “corrupt” intent must be proved in only one way. View "USA v. Thomas Robertson" on Justia Law

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Defendant committed a petty offense. The district court sentenced him to prison, followed by probation. The only question on appeal is whether that sentence is authorized by statute.   The DC Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court held that probation and imprisonment are alternative sentences that cannot generally be combined. So the district court could not impose both for Defendant’s petty offense. The court explained that the government’s reading conflicts with the statutory scheme of Section 3561. Congress made probation and imprisonment separate options for separate offenses, length of post-confinement monitoring to the severity of an offense. The Government’s reading subverts those choices. View "USA v. James Little" on Justia Law

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The district court issued a search warrant in a criminal case, directing appellant Twitter, Inc. ("Twitter") to produce information to the government related to the Twitter account "@realDonaldTrump." The search warrant was served along with a nondisclosure order that prohibited Twitter from notifying anyone about the existence or contents of the warrant. Although Twitter ultimately complied with the warrant, the company did not fully produce the requested information until three days after a court-ordered deadline. The district court held Twitter in contempt and imposed a $350,000 sanction for its delay. On appeal, Twitter argued that the nondisclosure order violated the First Amendment and the Stored Communications Act, that the district court should have stayed its enforcement of the search warrant, and that the district court abused its discretion by holding Twitter in contempt and imposing the sanction.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court held that it affirmed the district court's rulings in all respects. The court wrote that the district court properly rejected Twitter's First Amendment challenge to the nondisclosure order. Moreover, the district court acted within the bounds of its discretion to manage its docket when it declined to stay its enforcement of the warrant while the First Amendment claim was litigated. Finally, the district court followed the appropriate procedures before finding Twitter in contempt of court - including giving Twitter an opportunity to be heard and a chance to purge its contempt to avoid sanctions. Under the circumstances, the court did not abuse its discretion when it ultimately held Twitter in contempt and imposed a $350,000 sanction. View "In re: Sealed Case (AMENDED REDACTED OPINION)" on Justia Law

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Appellant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a person who has been convicted of a felony in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1). He moved to suppress the firearm, contending that it was the fruit of an unlawful seizure. The district court denied the motion, reasoning that Appellant had not been seized until the second time he was told to show his waistband, by which time, in the court’s view, reasonable suspicion supported the seizure.   The DC Circuit vacated the denial. The court concluded that Appellant had been seized the first time the officer told Gamble to show his waistband, a statement the district court viewed to be a “demand” or “command” by the officer. The government neither contests that characterization nor attempts to show that there was reasonable suspicion for a seizure at that time. The court noted that while the government “believe that this case presents an opportunity for this Court to re-examine the wisdom of Brodie,”, a panel of the court is bound by Brodie in materially indistinguishable circumstances like those in this case. View "USA v. Johnnie Gamble" on Justia Law

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Appellant was convicted of wire fraud and other offenses for embezzling over one million dollars from her former employer, Global Management Systems, Inc. On appeal, Appellant sought to set aside both her convictions and her sentence. Appellant contends that the district court erred in admitting evidence of her embezzling from a different employer to prove her intent and lack of mistake concerning the offenses charged in this case. With respect to her sentence, Appellant challenged the district court’s application of a sentencing enhancement for her use of sophisticated means to conceal her scheme, and she submits that her eight-year sentence of imprisonment is unreasonable.   The DC Circuit rejected Appellant’s arguments and affirmed her convictions and sentence. The court wrote that Appellant insists that a sophisticated means enhancement was inappropriate because the “most unsophisticated offender” could set up an email address or obtain a mailbox. The court explained that it does not assess the sophistication of a defendant’s concealment actions piecemeal.   Here, Appellant did not just set up an email address or a mailbox. Rather, she took those actions as part of an overall scheme to impersonate a former employee so as to enable concealing her offense from GMSI: she set up an email address in the employee’s name and used that account to author and send several emails to GMSI that purported to be from employee, and she obtained a mailbox in the name of a fictitious entity bearing the employee’s name so that she could then obtain checks listing that address for her use in writing checks that appeared to come from employee’s business. View "USA v. Eleanor Milligan" on Justia Law

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Petitioner served as the personal assistant and public-relations secretary to Usama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attack against the United States. Members of a military commission convicted Petitioner of conspiracy to commit war crimes, providing material support for terrorism, and solicitation of others to commit war crimes. The members sentenced Petitioner to imprisonment for life, and the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review (“CMCR”) affirmed. On Petitioner’s first appeal to the DC Circuit, the court upheld the conspiracy charge but vacated the other convictions as unconstitutional under the Ex Post Facto Clause. The CMCR subsequently reaffirmed Petitioner’s remaining conspiracy conviction and life sentence twice. Petitioner asked the court to vacate his conspiracy conviction or, alternatively, to remand his case for resentencing by military commission members.   The DC Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that Petitioner could have raised the change in law, or other similar objections, in his initial appeal to the CMCR or during the extensive proceedings since then. He did not. On the most recent remand to the CMCR, he questioned the admissibility of the statements in his opening brief but did not argue that Section 948r barred their admission until his reply. Accordingly, the court wrote that it declined to revisit its prior ruling that the convening authority is an inferior officer because the intervening Supreme Court case cited by Petitioner does not clearly dictate a departure from the circuit’s precedent. The court also upheld his sentence of life imprisonment. View "Ali Hamza Ahmad al Bahlul v. USA" on Justia Law