Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to suppress evidence of medicine vials, concluding that the plain view exception does not apply where the incriminating character of the vials was not immediately apparent. Furthermore, there is nothing in the record suggesting that the officer had specialized expertise or training with regard to narcotics such that his specific knowledge could be a basis for finding probable cause.In this case, officers arrived at the residence after a neighbor's report of a woman screaming and crying, they entered the home without consent to check on the woman, found her extremely intoxicated but unharmed, and discovered the small glass vials. The court explained that, when one of the officers picked up the vials, held them higher to get a better view, and turned them to read the labels, he had no idea of the contents. At that moment, the vials had been searched and seized, before he had probable cause to believe they were an illegally possessed controlled substance. View "United States v. Arredondo" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) and 922(a)(6), concluding that the indictment was sufficient to give defendant notice where he could have easily read the definition on the order form and known that S.O. was an intimate partner and that he was restricted from firearm and ammunition possession. The court explained that section 922(g)(8) simply does not require that the court-order form identify the protected party as an intimate partner. Rather, section 922(g)(8) requires only that the order protect an intimate party in fact. The court rejected defendant's contention that he was denied due process. The court also concluded that the district court's error under Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), was harmless where a rational fact finder could infer that defendant had knowledge of his status under section 922(g)(8) beyond a reasonable doubt because he was aware of the facts that met the statutory requirements for the court order.However, the court remanded for resentencing. The court concluded that, because USSG 2K2.1(b)(2) does not contemplate attempted firearm purchases, the district court erred by including defendant's attempted purchase in its analysis. Because there is a reasonable probability that the sporting-use reduction would have applied to defendant's offense-level calculation, he has shown plain error. View "United States v. Sholley-Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed defendant's 51-month sentence imposed after the district court determined that he had violated the conditions of his supervised release. While defendant was awaiting a hearing on his alleged violations of his supervised release, law enforcement discovered that he was in possession of 4.86 grams of cocaine. In this case, defendant stipulated that he violated his conditions of release by possessing cocaine, but he denied that he intended to distribute a controlled substance. Furthermore, the district court did not find that defendant had committed a controlled substance offense as that term is defined in the Sentencing Guidelines. Therefore, the district court erred by concluding that defendant had committed three grade A violations and the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Trent" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for possessing a firearm and ammunition after having been convicted of a felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2). The court concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress where the initial duration of the traffic stop was justified by defendant's inability to produce the basic identifying information the officer requested and the time it took for her to address this issue. Furthermore, by the time the officer handcuffed defendant, she had moved beyond addressing defendant's traffic offense and begun investigating ordinary criminal wrongdoing where defendant was on federal probation for a firearm offense, and she had seen a loaded gun magazine in plain view in the pocket of the driver's side door. Therefore, the officer's extension of the stop was properly supported by reasonable suspicion that other criminal activity was afoot and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.The court also concluded that, in light of this circuit's silence on whether Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377 (1968), permits the use of a defendant's suppression hearing testimony for impeachment purposes, this court cannot say that the district court's decision to allow the government to impeach defendant at trial with his prior testimony at the suppression hearing was not plain error. View "United States v. Navarette" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment denying safety-valve relief following defendant's guilty plea to distributing five grams or more of actual methamphetamine. The court concluded that defendant, while under an obligation to truthfully disclose his involvement in drug trafficking, chose to concoct a story to advance his own agenda and mislead the government about one of his drug suppliers. Therefore, the district court did not err in determining that defendant was ineligible for safety-valve relief. View "United States v. McVay" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's pretrial motion to suppress evidence in a case where he was convicted of reentry of a deported alien in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326(a). The court concluded that the cooperation between the police officers and Border Patrol to detain defendant was within the authority conferred by Congress pursuant to 8 U.S.C. 1357(g)(10); the Border Patrol reasonably questioned defendant about his legal presence in the United States; and Border Patrol had authority to take defendant into custody because there was probable cause that he was illegally present in the United States and likely to escape before a warrant issued. The court rejected defendant's Brady challenge, concluding that defendant failed to explain how disclosure of text messages from a confidential informant to a police officer about a potential burglary are either favorable to him or material to his charged offense that requires showing he was a previously deported alien who was knowingly and voluntarily in the United States. Finally, there is no evidence of intentional deletion of the text messages. View "United States v. Puebla-Zamora" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence discovered during a vehicle search and statements made to a task force agent. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that defendant had not maintained control or possession of the vehicle while awaiting the tow truck's arrival. In this case, there is no dispute that defendant was under arrest and in the back of the patrol vehicle during the search, that no one else was present to take possession of the vehicle, and that the deputy made the decision to tow the vehicle. Furthermore, defendant's request that the deputy retrieve his cash and phone from the vehicle further indicates that defendant did not expect to retain custody over the vehicle and its contents during the towing process. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err in concluding that the need to conduct an inventory of the vehicle's contents did not constitute a pretext for an investigatory search. View "United States v. Morris" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence of drugs from a traffic stop and canine drug sniff. The court considered the totality of the circumstances and concluded that the officer had reasonable suspicion to extend the traffic stop so that his canine could conduct a drug sniff. In this case, the incongruity between defendant's statements suggested that defendant might be lying about his travel plans, defendant gave odd answers about his travel plans, defendant appeared very nervous even though the officer had informed him he would only be receiving a warning, and the officer testified that the rental vehicle had a lived-in look, suggesting that defendant was attempting to travel without making many stops. Furthermore, the officer had probable cause to search the trunk of the vehicle. View "United States v. Pacheco" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction under 26 U.S.C. 7212(a) for corruptly endeavoring to obstruct and impede the due administration of the tax laws. Defendant was the owner and CEO of Winntech Digital Systems, and his conviction stemmed from his failure to pay employment taxes.The court concluded that the indictment was sufficient under Marinello v. United States, 584 U.S. ___,138 S.Ct. 1101 (2018), in charging defendant with corruptly endeavored to obstruct and impede the due administration of the tax laws in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7212(a) (Count Two). The court explained that Marinello clarifies what must be proven to sustain a conviction under section 7212(a) but does not require that nexus and knowledge be charged in the indictment. The court rejected defendant's contention that the district court constructively amended Count Two, and concluded that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to dismiss or for disqualification of the prosecution team on the basis of an alleged violation of the attorney-client privilege. View "United States v. Prelogar" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1951, with the exception of the district court's order taxing costs for grand jury witnesses. Defendant was an internet entrepreneur and social-media influencer, and his convictions stemmed from his efforts to force the victim to transfer a domain name.The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the Government's reasons for striking the only Black prospective juror were race-neutral and not pretextual; there was overwhelming evidence that defendant committed the crime of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence, and the testimony regarding a collateral issue did not affect defendant's substantial rights and did not have more than a slight influence on the verdict; the district court did not abuse its discretion in assessing costs for a witness who attended but did not testify at trial; the district court did not err in ordering defendant to reimburse the government $22,000 in attorney fees; the district court did not procedurally err in imposing offense-level increases under USSG 2B3.2(b)(3)(A)(i), (4)(B), and (1) when calculating his total offense level; and the district court did not err when it imposed a two-level increase under USSG 2B3.2(b)(1). However, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion by assessing costs for witnesses who testified before the grand jury because those costs are not taxable against defendant. View "United States v. Adams" on Justia Law