Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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In 2009, defendant was sentenced to 324 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to multiple counts of conviction stemming from his role in a kidnapping and attempted murder. In 2020, following a change in law, the district court set aside one of defendant's judgments and resentenced him to 300 months. On appeal, defendant argued that the judge wrongly treated his original sentence as a sentencing package and misapplied the sentencing guidelines.The DC Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence, concluding that defendant failed to show that the district judge obviously erred at resentencing by characterizing defendant's original sentence as an aggregate package. The court explained that, to the extent defendant separately argues that the district judge erroneously overlooked defendant's request for a lower sentence reflecting his alleged rehabilitation, the argument runs aground on the record: the district judge did consider defendant's progress before imposing the new sentence. The court also concluded that defendant's challenge to his kidnapping offense level failed where the district judge applied USSG 2A2.1(b)(1)(A), for causing life-threatening bodily injury during an attempted murder, based on the boxcutter slashing, not on the attempted shootings. View "United States v. Lassiter" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress a firearm seized from his waistband, holding that the officers who seized the gun had reasonable suspicion that defendant was involved in criminal activity. The court concluded that the record facts support the findings of the district court where the officers were responding to late-night reports of gunfire; the officers saw that defendant was the only person on the block; defendant was walking quickly away from the location of the shooting, failing to initially respond to an officer's repeated efforts to get his attention; and, although the officer did not see that defendant was wearing earbuds, it was reasonable for her to treat defendant's non-responsiveness as grounds for suspicion. Furthermore, the district court viewed the bodycam footage and credited the officers' testimony, and nothing in the record suggests that the district court's findings were clearly erroneous. The court rejected defendant's arguments to the contrary, concluding that the combination of the facts found by the district court raised reasonable suspicion. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Thomas, a resident of Jamaica, pleaded guilty to interstate communication with intent to extort, 18 U.S.C. 875(b), after botching a lottery scam. Thomas waived most of his rights to appeal, retaining only the rights to claim he received ineffective assistance of counsel and to appeal an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines range. The district court applied an offense level enhancement not mentioned in the plea agreement because it found Thomas “demonstrated the ability to carry out” his threats, then applied upward departures for extortion that “involved organized criminal activity” and for “a threat to a family member of the victim,” and sentenced Thomas to 71 months’ imprisonment, 30 months more than the maximum estimated in the agreement.The D.C. Circuit remanded some of Thomas’s ineffective assistance claims based on counsel’s failure to argue for a Smith variance based on his status as a deportable alien; raise mitigating facts contained in the sentencing exhibits; review the sentencing exhibits with Thomas; and submit character letters Thomas’s family and friends had written. The government did not plainly breach the plea agreement; it never sought the challenged sentencing enhancement. Assuming, without deciding, that the waiver was ineffective, the court rejected an argument that the district court abused its discretion by departing upward from the guidelines range. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Corley was convicted of three counts of sex trafficking of a minor. Corley subsequently sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning his own case. The Department of Justice withheld 323 pages of responsive records, including “the names, descriptions and other personally identifiable information” of Corley’s victims, invoking FOIA Exemption 3, which authorizes withholding of certain materials “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(3). The “statute” relied upon was the Child Victims’ and Child Witnesses’ Rights Act, which restricts disclosure of “information concerning a child [victim or witness],” 18 U.S.C. 3509(d)(1)(A)(i).The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The Child Victims’ Act qualifies as an Exemption 3 withholding statute and covers the records Corley seeks. The Act provides that “all employees of the Government” involved in a particular case “shall keep all documents that disclose the name or any other information concerning a child in a secure place” and disclose such documents “only to persons who, by reason of their participation in the proceeding, have reason to know such information.” Corley sought the documents not as a criminal defendant but rather as a member of the public. The protections apply even though the victims are no longer minors. View "Corley v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Metropolitan Police officers in uniform, with body cameras, were patrolling an area known for gun- and drug-related crime. They saw three men hanging out on the sidewalk and exited their car to talk to them. One man began to walk away; Officer Goss approached him. Mabry and the third man stayed. The man who tried to leave became irate as Goss spoke with him. Officer Tariq walked over and patted the man down. Officer Volcin stayed with Mabry and the third man.Seeing the pat-down, Mabry raised his shirt and said, “I’ve got nothing,” and “you have no probable cause to search me.” Volcin asked about a satchel with a cross-body strap Mabry was carrying. The officers requested that he open the satchel. Mabry repeatedly said that he had nothing. Volcin never grabbed Mabry or the satchel, nor said that Mabry could not leave. Eventually, Mabry ran. During the ensuing chase, Mabry discarded the satchel, which Goss recovered. Mabry eventually stopped. Volcin opened the satchel and discovered a spring for a large-capacity magazine. While walking, Mabry made unsolicited statements indicating he was in possession of a firearm and drugs. Mabry had a pistol, 30 rounds of ammunition, an extended magazine, crack cocaine, and amphetamines.The D.C. Circuit reversed the denial of Mabry's motion to suppress. Mabry was “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. The circumstances show the officers’ conduct constituted a show of authority to which Mabry submitted. View "United States v. Mabry" on Justia Law

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Long is serving a 29-year sentence at a federal medical penitentiary for violent racketeering offenses committed over the course of three decades. A double amputee, he suffers from other disabling medical conditions. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged through the federal prison system, Long sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), arguing that his distinct medical susceptibility to COVID-19 and the failure of prison officials to curb the disease’s rapid spread constituted “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for release. The district court denied his motion, believing itself bound by a policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission that bars courts from releasing any incarcerated defendant unless the court first finds that he “is not a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community,” U.S.S.G. 1B1.13(2).The D.C. Circuit vacated, joining seven other circuits in holding that this policy statement is not applicable to compassionate release motions filed by defendants. The policy statement applies only to motions for compassionate release filed by the Bureau of Prisons. Because it is not clear what the district court might have done had it considered the correct factors, its reliance on an incorrect Guidelines policy establishes an effect on Long’s substantial rights. View "United States v. Long" on Justia Law

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Four years after his release from prison, and after completing three years of supervised release, plaintiff was told he would have to serve another 27 months in jail based on an erroneous release from prison because he had a consecutive misdemeanor to serve. Plaintiff filed a writ of habeas corpus and the district court ruled that he must serve the remainder of his sentence. Plaintiff appealed, but the district court failed to act on the appeal until December 2013, at which point it dismissed the petition as moot because plaintiff had been released from jail upon completion of his sentence.Plaintiff then filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that his spontaneous incarceration deprived him of due process under the Fifth Amendment. The district court dismissed the case based on claim preclusion in light of plaintiff's prior unsuccessful habeas corpus action. The DC Circuit reversed and, on remand, the district court granted summary judgment for the District.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment that plaintiff failed to establish a pattern of constitutional violations or to demonstrate deliberate indifference. The court explained that plaintiff's evidence fails to show either that the District had a relevant custom of unconstitutional actions or that the District acted with deliberate indifference. However, the court vacated the entry of summary judgment for the District on the claim of unconstitutional policy because the nature and contours of the alleged policy present a number of disputed issues of material fact. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hurd v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly transporting an individual to engage in prostitution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2421(a), the district court sentenced him to 22 months in prison and six years of supervised release.The DC Circuit vacated the supervised release portion of defendant's sentence, agreeing with defendant that his attorney provided ineffective assistance at sentencing by failing to object when the district court relied on the wrong provision of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. In this case, USSG 5D1.2(c) was the incorrect provision to apply, and the proper Guidelines provision was USSG 5D1.2(c). The court explained that the record of defendant's sentencing shows a reasonable probability that the district court would have chosen a five-year sentence but for his counsel's failure to object to the incorrect Guidelines provision. Therefore, defendant was prejudiced by counsel's deficient performance. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Parks" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a guilty plea on the understanding that the government would not argue that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction because of his alleged supervisory or managerial role in a drug-smuggling conspiracy. Doing so would eliminate a statutory barrier to defendant seeking relief under the Safety Valve provision of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. 3553(f)(4), from his mandatory minimum sentence. However, the government understood its promise differently, arguing that it retained the ability to oppose any Safety Valve relief and characterizing the relevant language in the plea agreement as inelegant and unnecessary.The DC Circuit held that the plea agreement is ambiguous as to the government's ability to oppose Safety Valve relief on the ground that defendant was a supervisor or manager in a drug conspiracy. The court explained that controlling precedent requires that the ambiguity be resolved in favor of the defendant. Therefore, the court vacated defendant's sentence and remanded for a new sentencing proceeding, untainted and uninfluenced by the government's breach of the plea agreement and the evidence it introduced in the process. View "United States v. Moreno-Membache" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts related to his involvement in a Mexican cartel called the Los Zetas. The first count involved a racketeer influenced and corrupt organization (RICO) conspiracy to import controlled substances into the United States, and the second and third counts related to being an accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder in Mexico of two U.S. Special Agents.The DC Circuit concluded that the district court did not commit reversible error in determining the drug quantity for which defendant was responsible; the district court did not commit reversible error in applying the two-point supervisory role enhancement under USSG 3B1.1(c); and the district court did not commit reversible error in imposing a two-point enhancement for the use of threats and violence under USSG 2D1.1(b)(2) and a two-point enhancement for the use of physical restraints under USSG 3A1.3. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's calculation of defendant's sentence for the RICO conspiracy. However, the court vacated defendant's convictions under 18 U.S.C. 1114 for accessory after the fact to the murder and attempted murder of U.S. officials. The court concluded that the district court committed plain error affecting defendant's substantial rights by convicting and sentencing defendant under section 1114 because the underlying conduct occurred in Mexico. The court remanded for a limited resentencing. View "United States v. Carbajal Flores" on Justia Law