Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence and rejected the contention that the district court created unwarranted disparities contrary to 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(6), when it refused to vary from a guidelines provision that other district judges disagree with as a matter of sentencing policy. In this case, defendant was essentially asking the court to compel the district court to disagree with a guidelines provision as a matter of sentencing policy because other sentencing judges have done so. View "United States v. Heim" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court rejected defendant's claim under Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), and held that there was no plain error where defendant failed to show a reasonable probability that, but for the error, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different. Assuming without deciding that the district court erred in admitting a photo lineup identification in violation of defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, the court held that admission of such evidence did not affect defendant's substantial rights. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing two special conditions for defendant's supervised-release term --requiring defendant to participate in anger management treatment and domestic violence treatment -- in light of defendant's behavior problems in the past. View "United States v. Hollingshed" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's appeal of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) registration requirements as a condition of his release. The court held that the plea agreement, in which defendant entered into knowingly and voluntarily, waived the issue presented and there was no miscarriage in enforcing it. View "United States v. Knight" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. The court held that the same conduct can result in both a revocation of a defendant's supervised release and a separate criminal conviction without raising double jeopardy concerns. In this case, the imposition of defendant's sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3583(g) was a sanction rather than a punishment for a separate offense, and thus criminal prosecution did not violate double jeopardy. View "United States v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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After defendant installed drain tile on his property in a manner consistent with the NRCS map but inconsistent with the FWS map, defendant was convicted of the lesser-included offense of disturbing property in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Eighth Circuit vacated the conviction and held that the district court erroneously instructed the jury that the lesser offense was a strict liability crime when, in fact, the lesser offense requires proof of defendant's negligence. In this case, the evidence presented at trial would have been sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to convict defendant under the proper formulation of the lesser offense, but given the jury's acquittal of defendant on the greater offense of knowingly disturbing property, the court could not say that the evidence of his culpable mental state was so overwhelming that it rendered the erroneous instruction harmless. View "United States v. Mast" on Justia Law

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Defendants Sayonkon and Samaan appealed their convictions for aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Defendant Sesay pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. All defendants appealed their sentences. The Eighth Circuit held that there was sufficient evidence to convict Sayonkon and Samaan for a single conspiracy to commit bank fraud; there was no variance between the indictment for a single conspiracy charged in the indictment and the proof at trial; the district court did not err in denying Samaan's motion to suppress evidence gathered when police examined the guest registry at a motel he was staying, because he had no legitimate expectation of privacy in the identification card that he provided when registering at the motel; the evidence was sufficient to support Samaan's conviction for aggravated identity theft where a reasonable jury could find that he knowingly used another person's identification and that "another person" includes both the living and deceased; the district court did not err by applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 3B1.1 to Sayonkon for his role as a leader in the criminal activity; the district court properly calculated the loss amount for sentencing Samaan; and Sesay's below-guidelines sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Sesay" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a class of civilly committed residents, appealed the dismissal of their claims against state officials, alleging that the state's commitment provisions are facially unconstitutional, and that the treatment program as applied to the residents violates their substantive due process rights. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiffs did not assert a typical substantive due process claim but, rather, they contend that defendant officials must change the way that they conduct annual reviews of civilly-committed persons, design procedures for releasing low-risk residents into less restrictive housing, and carry out a statutory duty to authorize petitions for release of low-risk residents. The court held that an entitlement to these actions is not deeply rooted in the Nation's history and tradition or implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. In this case, plaintiffs had procedures available to them that were sufficient to vindicate their liberty interest in gaining release from detention once the reasons that justified the commitment dissipate. The court explained that the fact that the Act provides additional opportunities to facilitate release, and that state officials allegedly have failed to implement them properly, does not run afoul of substantive due process. In the alternative, the court held that the shortcomings cited by the district court in Missouri mirror those that Karsjens v. Piper, 845 F.3d 394 (8th Cir. 2017), held were not conscience-shocking in Minnesota. Accordingly, the district court correctly reasoned that the as-applied substantive due process claims should be dismissed. Finally, there was no reversible error in the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs abandoned their state law claims. View "Van Orden v. Stringer" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's petition for habeas corpus relief. The court held that plaintiff's counsel's representation did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness, and even if it did, plaintiff has not demonstrated that he was prejudiced. The court also held that, even assuming that plaintiff fairly presented his claim to the state court, his claim failed where considering an aggravating factor in violation of a state statute alone does not amount to a constitutional violation meriting federal habeas relief. Finally, the court held that the tools were available to plaintiff to make his arguments -- that his youth at the time of the offense and the serious mental illnesses categorically exempt him from the death penalty -- before the state court, he failed to show cause, and his procedural default was not excused. View "Anderson v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon. The court held that defendant's prior Arkansas conviction for second degree battery was a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The court also held that defendant's two prior Texas convictions for delivering a controlled substance were serious drug offenses under the Act. Accordingly, the district court correctly sentenced defendant as an armed career criminal. View "United States v. Block" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction to one count of distribution of child pornography. The court held that the statute of conviction, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2), as constitutionally applied to him, did not violate his rights under the First and Fifth Amendments. The court rejected defendant's contention that the statute unconstitutionally violated defendant's First Amendment right to free speech, because child pornography is categorically excluded from protection under the First Amendment. The court also rejected defendant's contention that the statute violated a right o privacy or sexual intimacy under the Fifth Amendment. The court held in United States v. Bach, 400 F.3d 622, 629 (8th Cir. 2005), that the Due Process Clause as interpreted in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), did not prevent a prosecution for transmitting a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, even though the conduct was not criminal. View "United States v. Rouse" on Justia Law