Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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A Nigerian citizen, Okwuchukwu Jidoefor, pleaded guilty to mail fraud. As part of the plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota agreed to send a letter to immigration authorities outlining Jidoefor’s cooperation in prior cases. After the sentencing hearing, the Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) sent the agreed letter to immigration authorities. However, due to an internal mistake, the U.S. Attorney sent a second letter stating the first letter was not the office’s official position. Upon discovering the mistake, the U.S. Attorney sent a third letter retracting the second letter and reaffirming the first one. Jidoefor moved to remedy the government’s breach of the plea agreement, which the district court denied, finding the third letter an adequate remedy. Jidoefor appealed this decision.The District Court for the District of Minnesota found that the government's third letter was an adequate remedy for the breach of the plea agreement. Jidoefor appealed this decision, arguing that the district court erred in not providing a remedy. He also separately appealed the district court’s sentence and its order for restitution.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the government's third letter, which retracted the second letter and reaffirmed the first one, was an adequate remedy for the breach of the plea agreement. The court also found that the district court did not err in calculating Nationwide’s losses and imposing the $22,028 restitution obligation. Furthermore, the court dismissed Jidoefor's challenge to the length of his sentence as moot, as he had already served the sentence. View "United States v. Jidoefor" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Darion Thomas, was arrested at a hospital in Iowa while accompanying his sick child and the child's mother, Tyliyah Parrow. During the arrest, law enforcement found a gun on Thomas and a backpack containing drugs. The backpack was searched after Parrow gave her consent. Thomas's cell phone, which was in Parrow's possession, was also seized and searched after a warrant was obtained five days later. Thomas was charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He pleaded guilty but reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from the backpack and cell phone.The district court denied Thomas's motion to suppress the evidence, ruling that Parrow had the authority to consent to the search of the backpack and that her consent was voluntary. The court also found that the five-day delay in obtaining a search warrant for the cell phone was reasonable. At sentencing, the court applied a two-level enhancement based on text messages that showed Thomas had supervised a minor in drug transactions.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Thomas argued that the district court erred in its rulings on the search of the backpack, the delay in obtaining the search warrant for the cell phone, and the application of the two-level enhancement. The appellate court affirmed the district court's decisions, finding no clear error in its factual findings or legal conclusions. The court held that Parrow's consent to the search of the backpack was voluntary, the delay in obtaining the search warrant for the cell phone was reasonable, and the application of the two-level enhancement was justified based on the evidence presented. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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In March 2021, Jeffrey A. Winder and Heather Durbin rented a room at a motel. During check-in, the motel manager, Gary McCullough, warned Winder that any illegal activity would result in eviction. The next day, McCullough entered the room for cleaning and discovered a backpack containing what appeared to be methamphetamine. He immediately called 911 and informed the responding officers about his discovery. Upon the officers' arrival, McCullough granted them permission to enter the room, which led to them finding more drugs and a handgun. Winder and Durbin were later arrested when they returned to the motel; another gun and more drugs were found in their vehicle.Before trial, Winder moved to suppress all the evidence obtained from the warrantless search of the motel room, arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. A magistrate judge recommended that the motion to suppress be denied. The district court adopted this recommendation, ruling that Winder had been evicted at the time of the search and that the officers had probable cause to search the backpack based on McCullough's account. Winder pleaded guilty conditionally to one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the motion to suppress. The court found that Winder was lawfully ejected from the motel room prior to the officers' entry, thus eliminating his expectation of privacy. The court also ruled that the officers' search of the backpack did not violate the Fourth Amendment as it did not exceed the scope of McCullough's private search. Consequently, the use of a drug dog and the subsequent seizure of evidence did not violate Winder's Fourth Amendment rights. Therefore, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "United States v. Winder" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Cody Wayne Hopkins, was charged with Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). The accusation revolved around an online conversation Hopkins had with a government agent posing as a 13-year-old girl. Despite knowing her age, Hopkins continued the conversation, making explicit sexual remarks, and arranging to meet her at a nearby high school. Upon arriving, Hopkins was arrested, and in a subsequent interview, admitted to knowing the girl was underage but claimed his intention was only to talk to her.During his trial, Hopkins claimed he was severely sleep-deprived during the interview, which led to confusion. However, the prosecution implied that he was lying about this assertion since it was not mentioned in the interview's transcript, which was redacted and given to the jury. Furthermore, the prosecution argued that Hopkins intended to entice a minor into engaging in illegal sexual activity based on his explicit text messages, despite Hopkins's claims of merely wanting to talk.The jury found Hopkins guilty, and he moved for a new trial citing prosecutorial misconduct. He argued that the prosecution had attacked his credibility based on untrue facts - that he had not mentioned sleep deprivation during the interview - and had repeatedly misstated the elements of the charged crime. However, the district court denied his motion for a new trial.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found no plain error in the prosecution’s conduct that would affect Hopkins' substantial rights, as the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming. The court also did not find any exceptional circumstances warranting reversal due to the prosecutor's alleged misstatement of the elements of the crime during the closing argument. Lastly, the court concluded that the cumulative effect of the alleged prosecutorial misconduct did not deny Hopkins a fair trial. View "United States v. Cody Hopkins" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Roads was convicted of transporting and accessing child pornography, and received a 324-month prison sentence. He appealed, alleging conflicts of interest among his defense counsel and the presiding judge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit previously vacated Roads's sentence and ordered a lower court to determine whether a conflict of interest among Roads's defense counsel may have affected his substantial rights. After re-assignment of the case to a different judge and changes in counsel, Roads's motions for disclosure of information and recusal were denied. His motion to withdraw his guilty plea was also denied, and he was re-sentenced to the same term of imprisonment.On appeal to the Eighth Circuit, Roads argued that the district court erred in denying his motions and in applying a two-level obstruction enhancement during sentencing. He claimed that a reasonable person may question the impartiality of the court due to perceived personal relationships with federal officials or court employees who had been threatened by another individual, Justin Fletcher.However, the Appeals Court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Roads's motions. It found that Roads had failed to provide any information suggesting the court could not be impartial. The court also found that Roads's reasons for recusal were based on inaccurate "facts" and mere speculation. The court denied Roads's motion to withdraw his guilty plea as he failed to show a fair and just reason for withdrawal. It concluded that the district court was correct in applying the obstruction enhancement, as Roads had attempted to destroy evidence. Therefore, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, upholding Roads's sentence. View "United States v. Roads" on Justia Law

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Jonathan Weber Arrington, the defendant, was employed by Recon Roofing and Construction to handle their finances. He was found guilty of wire fraud, having embezzled a total of $315,835 from the company between August 2019 and March 2021. Arrington appealed his sentence and the related restitution order. He argued that the district court erred by assigning him the burden of proof regarding any offset to the restitution amount. The defendant also contended that the court didn't account for the value of payments he made towards the loss, and that the imposed sentence was unreasonably harsh.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the sentence but vacated the restitution order. The Appeals Court stated that the district court was correct in assigning Arrington the burden of proof for any offset to the amount of restitution. However, it was determined that the district court had erred in not reducing the restitution amount by the value of shares sold by the defendant back to the company. Therefore, the restitution amount was reduced by $50,000 to $265,835. The court found the prison sentence to be reasonable, considering the factors such as Arrington's position of trust within the company, the extent of the fraud, his attempt to cover it up, and his prior federal fraud conviction. View "United States v. Arrington" on Justia Law

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The case revolved around Darron Mayo, who was appealing the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a hidden camera placed by police officers across his apartment door. The evidence from this camera was used to obtain a search warrant for Mayo's apartment, where police found drugs, paraphernalia, cash, a loaded pistol, and an iPhone containing incriminating photographs and videos.Mayo argued that the footage from the hidden camera violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that the search warrant was deficient after removing evidence obtained from the camera. He also contended that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule did not apply. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, however, affirmed the decision of the District Court, ruling that the probable cause affidavit remained sufficient even when the evidence from the hidden camera was omitted.The court cited four sets of related facts supporting this conclusion. First, various drugs, a scale, and stolen handguns were found in a car associated with Mayo. Second, Mayo's fingerprints were found on a handgun magazine, and a video linked him to the vehicle. Third, during a traffic stop, Mayo gave a false name, marijuana was found in the car, and he made incriminating phone calls recorded by a police dash camera. Fourth, utilities in Mayo's name connected him to the apartment in question. These facts indicated a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime would be found in his apartment. Therefore, the court held that the hidden camera footage was not necessary to establish probable cause. View "United States v. Mayo" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed two cases where the district courts did not impose a $5,000 special assessment fee mandated by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act on defendants Jason Wesely and Jesus Diaz-Figueroa. The Act stipulates that non-indigent individuals convicted of sexual exploitation of a child must pay this fee, but both defendants were deemed indigent.The Court of Appeals assessed the financial situations of both defendants. In Wesely's case, the court upheld the original decision, concluding that the district court did not err in recognizing Wesely's indigence. At the time of sentencing, Wesely had minimal assets and was facing uncertain future income, largely due to prison time and potential suspension of his military disability benefits.In contrast, the appellate court reversed and remanded the district court's decision regarding Diaz-Figueroa. At the time of sentencing, Diaz-Figueroa had a net worth of approximately $120,000, even when accounting for court-ordered restitution. Given his positive net worth, the Court of Appeals concluded that the district court's finding of Diaz-Figueroa's indigence was clearly erroneous. Thus, the court concluded that Diaz-Figueroa was not indigent and should have been required to pay the $5,000 special assessment. View "United States v. Wesely" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the defendant Nolan Ryan Morin, who had pleaded guilty to a false-statements charge, a class D felony, faced the revocation of his supervised release multiple times. After his initial violation of supervised release, he was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release. After two more violations, his supervised release was revoked and he was sentenced to 18 months' and then 24 months' imprisonment, respectively.Morin appealed his most recent 24-month revocation term of imprisonment, arguing that the "all or part" clause in 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3), which governs the revocation of supervised release, requires a sentencing court to credit previous revocation terms of imprisonment up to a maximum of the term of supervised release authorized by statute for the underlying offense. In Morin's case, he claimed that the total length of all revocation imprisonment he may serve based on his false-statements conviction was capped at 3 years, and as he had already served 30 months on his first two revocations, the district court was only authorized to impose a maximum of 6 months on the present revocation.The Eighth Circuit disagreed with Morin's interpretation. The court held that the "all or part" clause imposed a per-revocation limit and did not require the court to consider or aggregate prior revocation terms of imprisonment. Moreover, the court opined that the clause expanded the sentencing court's authority by removing the limitation that a prison term imposed could never be longer than the term of the revoked supervised release. Thus, the court affirmed the 24-month term of revocation imprisonment Morin received as it was authorized by statute. View "United States v. Morin" on Justia Law

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The petitioner, Loing Yar, a native and citizen of South Sudan who entered the United States as a refugee, appealed an order of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that denied his claim under the Convention Against Torture for deferral of his removal to South Sudan. Yar was convicted of distributing methamphetamine in the United States, which is considered an aggravated felony, leading to the initiation of removal proceedings against him. Yar sought relief from removal, claiming he would be likely tortured if he was returned to South Sudan due to his membership in the minority Nuer tribe and his relationship to his father, an advocate for South Sudanese independence who died under suspicious circumstances.An immigration judge initially granted deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture, but the BIA vacated this decision, concluding that the potential harm identified by the immigration judge did not rise to the level of torture, as defined by the law. The BIA further asserted that the likelihood of detention or imprisonment alone does not amount to torture, and the indeterminate "chance" of future upheaval or ethnic cleansing did not meet the legal standard of "more likely than not" under the regulations implementing the Convention.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied Yar's petition for review, affirming the BIA's decision. The court found no error in the BIA's legal conclusion that Yar failed to establish a likelihood of torture upon return to South Sudan. The court agreed with the BIA's interpretation of the Convention Against Torture, emphasizing that the definition of torture is a legal issue and whether a predicted factual outcome meets the definition of "torture" is a question of law. View "Yar v. Garland" on Justia Law