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 conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Assuming without deciding that a justification defense to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) is available, the court agreed with the district court that defendant failed to present evidence sufficient to warrant denying the government's motion to exclude the justification defense.Even if applying the voluntary manslaughter cross-reference was procedural error, the court concluded that such error was harmless because the district court stated that it would have varied upward had it not applied the cross-reference. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that defendant had attempted to destroy or conceal evidence and thereby to apply the obstruction of justice enhancement. Finally, defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the statutory maximum sentence was appropriate because of the "seriousness of the offense" and the "serious effects of what happened that day." View "United States v. Still" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for four counts related to unlawful possession of drugs and a gun. Under the facts of this case the court concluded that defendant cannot show that voir dire on race was constitutionally required and thus the court saw no reason why voir dire on implicit racial bias would be constitutionally required. The court explained that the district court's inquiries on racial bias went beyond the requirement to eliminate any reasonable possibility that racial or ethnic prejudice would influence the jury. Moreover, the district court was not required to inquire into potential implicit bias. The court also concluded that defendant's prior two Missouri drug convictions for the sale of cocaine base qualified as serious drug offenses under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Therefore, the district court did not err in applying the career criminal enhancement. View "United States v. Young" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit dismissed defendant's appeal of his mandatory-minimum sentence of 60 months in prison. The court concluded that, no matter what it decides, defendant's sentence cannot get any shorter. The court explained that any live controversy over the relevant enhancement ended the moment the district court gave defendant a 60-month prison sentence. At that point, enhancements and reductions no longer mattered because a decreased offense level could not drive his sentence any lower. View "United States v. Corrigan" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Assuming without deciding that defendant has standing to challenge the search, the court concluded that the protective sweep was justified. In this case, there was good reason for a sweep where defendant was suspected of stealing several guns from a pawn shop in a burglary, committing a robbery, and possessing a handgun during a gunfight; after announcing their presence, officers were forced to wait for minutes while the blinds on either side of the door moved and they heard movement (and possible preparation for an attack) inside; officers thought the house belonged to defendant's girlfriend, who was not located; an occupant's initial reluctance and his unusual response strengthened suspicion that potentially dangerous people remained in the house; and defendant was covered in dust and cobwebs, suggesting that he had just been in a dusty place like an attic or basement. Therefore, these facts support a reasonable belief that someone else could be inside posing a danger to officers during or following the arrest. Furthermore, even if the protective sweep could not cover the attic, defendant does not show that the occupant's later consent to search the home was insufficient.The court also concluded that defendant is not entitled to Rehaif-relief because he cannot show a reasonable probability that, but for the error, the outcome of the trial would have been different. Finally, even if the court agreed with defendant that the district court erred in imposing a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) for possessing the firearms in connection with another felony offense, defendant's offense level was driven by his armed career criminal status and his total offense level would not decrease. View "United States v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for writ of habeas corpus where petitioner alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for not providing closing argument during the penalty phase of his capital-murder trial. Petitioner, though advised otherwise, insisted that his trial counsel forgo closing argument.The panel concluded that petitioner's informed, voluntary decision prevented his attorney's reluctant compliance with petitioner's wishes from subsequently becoming ineffective assistance of counsel. The court explained that the nature of the decision to forego oral argument, whether fundamental or one of trial strategy, does not alter this result. Therefore, petitioner's ineffective assistance-of-counsel claim is procedurally defaulted and barred. View "Taylor v. Steele" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the City of Pierre, South Dakota, and one of its police officers, Matthew Shaver, under 42 U.S.C. 1983 in federal district court, alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that defendant was collaterally estopped from relitigating his claim because he had already litigated the Fourth Amendment issue before the South Dakota trial court in the criminal proceedings against him. In this case, during criminal proceedings in a South Dakota trial court, defendant moved to suppress certain evidence as being obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. After the trial court denied defendant's motion, he then pleaded nolo contendere and did not appeal the suppression ruling. Plaintiff later filed his section 1983 action. Therefore, the court concluded that there was a final judgment on the merits for the purpose of collateral estoppel. View "Sparks v. Shaver" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress and affirmed defendant's conviction for two counts of possessing child pornography. In this case, after a police officer downloaded part of a computer file containing child pornography on a peer-to-peer network from an IP address connected to defendant, investigators searched his home and digital devices and uncovered additional illicit files.The court has held numerous times that a defendant has no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in files he shares over a peer-to-peer network, including those shared anonymously with law enforcement officers. The court also concluded that there was no error in denying defendant's request for independent testing of the software law enforcement used to identify him as possessing and sharing child pornography. The court explained that the evidence in the record, which the magistrate judge expressly found credible, is that the programs operated reliably and did not access private areas of defendant's computer. Furthermore, defendant has not offered any reason to conclude otherwise. View "United States v. Shipton" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's second revocation of supervised release and revocation sentence of 12 months' imprisonment. Defendant pleaded guilty to making false statements before a grand jury under oath and was sentenced to 33 months' imprisonment and a three-year term of supervised release. Defendant violated his first term of supervised release by failing to participate in substance abuse testing and violated his second term of supervised release by assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in assessing the evidence and did not abuse its discretion in deciding to revoke supervised release. Furthermore, defendant's appeal of the sentence as substantively unreasonable is moot where he has already finished serving the term of imprisonment imposed by the district court. View "United States v. Daye" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit vacated defendant's 72 month sentence for knowingly possessing a stolen firearm and remanded for resentencing before a different district court judge. In this case, defendant and the Government stipulated to a Sentencing Guidelines base offense level of 12. However, the Government later endorsed the PSR's contrary base offense level calculation of 20. The district court adopted the PSR's calculation.The court concluded that if the government breached the plea agreement in the case, a defendant may proceed with an appeal despite an appellate waiver; defendant preserved the issue for appeal; and the government breached the plea agreement. Even assuming a cure is possible, other circuits require that the government offer an unequivocal retraction of its erroneous position to sufficiently cure a breach. The court explained that the Government's conduct is a far cry from an unequivocal retraction. In this case, the Government's half-hearted and begrudging statement that the district court should follow the agreement was not enough—especially taking a holistic view of the Government's plea-related conduct. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's imposition of a statutory maximum of 24 months' imprisonment based on defendant's revocation of his supervised release. After defendant completed his initial term of imprisonment, he has struggled to comply with the conditions of his supervised release because of his alcohol addiction.The court concluded that the district court's revocation sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court properly consulted the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and considered defendant's struggle with alcohol addiction in selecting the sentence imposed. In this case, the district court expressed particular concern about the physical danger Flying Horse had posed to others, including law enforcement officers, while intoxicated. View "United States v. Flying Horse" on Justia Law