Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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Defendant pleaded guilty to possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court determined that Defendant was a career offender under Section 4B1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines because he had at least two prior convictions for crimes of violence or controlled substance offenses.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that Defendant’s conviction for interference with official acts inflicting bodily injury constitutes a crime of violence. Defendant argued that interference with official acts causing bodily injury can be committed recklessly. If it can, under Borden, it no longer qualifies as a crime of violence. The court held that the offense cannot be committed recklessly. The court explained that reckless conduct is not sufficient. Because interference with official acts inflicting bodily injury cannot be committed recklessly, the Supreme Court’s decision in Borden has not abrogated Malloy. Interference with official acts inflicting bodily injury is a crime of violence under the force clause. Defendant, therefore, qualifies as a career offender under U.S.S.G. Section 4B1.1. View "United States v. Donte Kent" on Justia Law

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Defendant alleges that during the third revocation hearing, the district court violated his right to due process because it forced him to proceed either with an incompetent attorney or without any attorney at all.The Eighth Circuit reversed finding that Defendant was denied the right to counsel. The court explained that to show his waiver of the right to counsel was involuntary, a defendant must show the district court forced him to choose between inadequate representation and self-representation.Here, Defendant has shown he was justifiably dissatisfied with his attorney. This is not a case where the evidence shows a defendant who disagrees with his attorney’s strategy or wants to delay the hearing. Instead, the evidence shows an attorney who was not prepared to handle a revocation of supervised release hearing. Further, the attorney’s comment regarding “the big house or the nut house” demonstrates he did not know the factual background of the case or the potential consequences that Defendant was facing. Because Defendant was forced to proceed with either this unprepared attorney or no attorney at all, Defendant’s decision to waive his right to counsel was not knowing and voluntary and his right to due process was violated. View "United States v. Robert Ivers" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a federal inmate, appeals an order of the district court directing the Bureau of Prisons to turn over all funds in Defendant’s inmate trust account for payment toward an outstanding restitution obligation.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the order is not adequately supported, and therefore vacated the order and remand for further proceedings. The court reasoned that the district court cited Section 3613(a) only for the proposition that Defendant’s funds were not exempt from enforcement. The court did not assert that 3613(a) is a self-executing means to enforce a lien, and did not rely on 3613 as authority to order that the funds be turned over to the clerk of court. Rather, the court cited restitution provisions in 3664 as the basis for turnover and collection. The court, therefore, declined to affirm the order based on 3613 alone and does not address on the record what authority is available to a district court under that section. View "United States v. Anthony Robinson" on Justia Law

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The district court sentenced Defendant to concurrent terms of 280 months’ imprisonment on the sex trafficking offenses and a consecutive 120 months for committing a felony involving a minor while a registered sex offender, for a total imprisonment term of 400 months. Defendant raises four claims on appeal: (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain the sex trafficking convictions; (2) the district court erred when it instructed the jury that a “happy ending massage” was a commercial sex act; (3) the district court abused its discretion when it admitted prior bad act evidence; and (4) a conviction on Count One—sex trafficking of a minor—violated the double jeopardy clause because it is a lesser included offense of Count Two—sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the testimony at trial was sufficient beyond a reasonable doubt to establish the women were directed and encouraged by Defendant to digitally stimulate clients' genitalia in exchange for money—conduct that satisfies the statutory definition of a “commercial sex act.” Next, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant participated in a venture by knowingly receiving money acquired from his massage business, which included assisting, supporting, and facilitating sex trafficking. Further, the testimony offered by the women working in Defendant’s massage business, if given credence by the jury, is sufficiently strong for the court to conclude that the 2005 conviction, even assuming it was improperly admitted, did not have a substantial influence on the jury’s verdict. View "United States v. Omar Taylor" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g)(1). He filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained during a vehicle search. The district court denied the motion. Defendant proceeded to trial, where a jury found him guilty. He appealed and raised four arguments: (1) the district court should have granted his motion to suppress; (2) the district court should have admitted impeachment evidence; (3) the district court should have given additional jury instructions; and (4) the evidence was not sufficient to convict.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress because the search was supported by reasonable suspicion. At trial, any error in excluding defense Exhibits S and T was harmless because the impeachment information was admitted through the officer’s testimony. The district court did not abuse its discretion by rejecting Defendant’s proposed jury instructions because the instructions it gave fairly and accurately set forth the law. Finally, the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction. View "United States v. David Allen" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of a firearms offense after police seized evidence during a traffic stop. The district court sentenced Defendant to a term of forty-eight months’ imprisonment. Defendant appealed the conviction and sentence on several grounds. The Eighth Circuit affirmed discerning no reversible error.   The court explained that an officer’s observance of a traffic violation, no matter how minor, gives the officer probable cause to initiate a stop. Here, the officer reasonably concluded that the driver’s following distance was not reasonable and prudent. He thus had probable cause for a traffic stop, and the district court properly denied the motion to suppress. Further, the court wrote that the district court abuse its discretion in concluding that a jury reasonably could infer that Defendant sought to flee the patrol car because he recognized that officers were on the brink of discovering his unlawful possession of firearms in the trunk of the rental car. Defendant’s efforts to escape coincided with the officer’s search of the Altima’s trunk and with Defendant’s anxious statements about that search. Thus, the evidence was properly admitted.   Further, Defendant objects that much of the evidence is “merely circumstantial,” but circumstantial evidence can support a conviction, and the combination of direct and circumstantial evidence here was sufficient to support a finding that Defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, the district court’s finding that he constructively possessed the guns is not clearly erroneous in light of the record as a whole. View "United States v. Drake Banks, Sr." on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon. He appealed the district court’s conclusion that his prior Arkansas burglary convictions were separate offenses, rendering him an armed career criminal subject to an enhanced sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”).The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the ACCA mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for a defendant who has been convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a felon following “three previous convictions by any court . . . for a violent felony . . . committed on occasions different from one another[.]” 18 U.S.C. Section 924(e)(1) In determining whether prior convictions are separate and distinct, at least three factors are relevant: “(1) the time lapse between offenses, (2) the physical distance between their occurrence, and (3) their lack of overall substantive continuity, a factor that is often demonstrated in the violent-felony context by different victims or different aggressions.” United States v. Pledge, 821 F.3d 1035.   Here, Defendant committed three residential burglaries—each on different days, in different locations, and against different victims—over an approximate three-week span. The court held that these offenses qualify as separate and distinct criminal episodes committed on occasions different from one another. View "United States v. Jeremy Robinson" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged in a one-count indictment with possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine (actual). 21 U.S.C. Sections 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A). He pleaded guilty without a plea agreement. The district court sentenced him to 96 months in prison. Defendant appealed arguing the court procedurally erred by denying a mitigating role adjustment, see USSG Section 3B1.2, and abused its discretion in imposing a substantively unreasonable sentence.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the sentencing record established that Defendant was “deeply involved” in the possess-with-intent-to-distribute offense to which he pleaded guilty. He helped arrange for cross-country travel from his home in California to Nebraska with instructions to pick up and hold a large quantity of methamphetamine. As in United States v. Garcia, he offered no evidence establishing the relative culpability of participants other than his cousin. Thus, the district court did not clearly err in finding that Defendant was not “substantially less culpable than the average participant” and therefore did not warrant a mitigating role adjustment. Further, Defendant’s “dissatisfaction with a district court’s balancing of the Section 3553(a) factors does not indicate that the district court abused its discretion.” View "United States v. John Beridon, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to one count of malicious mischief, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 1363, 1153, for driving a stolen vehicle into a lake on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The district court sentenced Defendant to 21 months imprisonment and 3 years supervised release, and it ordered him to pay restitution totaling $30,845.50. On appeal, Defendant challenged the restitution amount as violative of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) and asserts that the government breached his plea agreement. The government moved to dismiss his appeal, citing the waiver of appellate rights in the plea agreement.The Eighth Circuit denied the government’s motion and vacated the order of restitution. The court explained that the district court erred by failing to properly follow the procedure set forth in the MVRA, albeit under the leading of the government. The MVRA denies courts discretion as to “the point in time when property should be valued,” requiring that a district court review the value of the property either on the date of damage or the date of sentencing. Because the relevant conduct serving as the basis for Defendant’s offense was him receiving the stolen vehicle and driving it into the lake, the district court should have considered the value of the vehicle when he received the stolen vehicle and before he drove it into the lake, not when the vehicle was originally stolen from the dealership lot by someone else. The record, however, provides no indication that the district court used these relevant dates when determining the vehicle’s value. View "United States v. Timothy Beston, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendant believes that the statute criminalizing reentry into this country after removal violates his equal-protection rights. See 8 U.S.C. Section 1326(a), (b). He did not raise this issue before the district court. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and denied the pending motion for judicial notice.   The court explained that even constitutional arguments can be forfeited. Forfeiture occurs when a party has an argument available but fails to assert it in time. The court wrote that failure to raise an equal-protection challenge before the district court is a classic example of forfeiture. During the six months before he pleaded guilty, Defendant filed more than a dozen motions raising all sorts of issues, but not one of them questioned the constitutionality of the illegal-reentry statute or mentioned equal protection. Had he done so, the district court would have had an opportunity to potentially correct or avoid the alleged] mistake in the first place.   The court explained that under these circumstances, Defendant’s constitutional argument receives, at most, plain-error review. Here, to succeed, Defendant’ had to show, among other things, that there was a clear or obvious error under current law. In this case, there is one district court case on his side, see Carillo-Lopez, 555 F. Supp. 3d at 1001, but at most it shows that the issue is subject to reasonable dispute. The court explained that picking one side of a reasonable dispute cannot be clearly or obviously wrong. View "United States v. Salvador Nunez-Hernandez" on Justia Law