Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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James and Levi Garrett, a father and son farming duo in South Dakota, were found guilty by a jury of making false statements in connection with federal crop insurance. The Garretts had participated in a federal crop insurance program, administrated by Crop Risk Services (CRS) and backed by the Risk Management Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They had obtained insurance for sunflower crops in 2018, and James had obtained insurance for a corn crop in 2019. The Garretts were accused of falsely certifying the number of acres of sunflowers and corn they planted in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and subsequently reporting harvest losses to CRS.The case went to trial in October 2022. The jury heard from several witnesses and examined dozens of exhibits. At the conclusion of the trial, James was convicted on two counts of making a false statement in connection with insurance for sunflower and corn crops, and Levi was convicted on one count of making a false statement in connection with insurance for a sunflower crop. The Garretts moved for judgment of acquittal, and in the alternative, a new trial, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The district court denied their motion.The Garretts appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, challenging the district court’s evidentiary rulings and its denial of their post-trial motions. They argued that the district court erred in admitting certain evidence and excluding others, and that there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that the trial record supported the jury verdict and that the district court did not err in its evidentiary rulings or in denying the Garretts' post-trial motions. View "United States v. Garrett" on Justia Law

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The petitioner, Nguyen Chi Cuong Nmn Huynh, a Vietnamese citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States, was convicted in Iowa for knowingly purchasing or possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaging in a prohibited sexual act. Following this conviction, the Department of Homeland Security sought his removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), arguing that his crime constituted "sexual abuse of a minor," an aggravated felony that warrants removal. An immigration judge found Huynh removable, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed his appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed de novo whether Huynh's state crime qualifies as sexual abuse of a minor. The court applied the "categorical approach," examining whether the state statute defining the crime of conviction categorically fits within the generic federal definition of a corresponding aggravated felony. The court found that the Iowa statute is broader than the generic federal offense of sexual abuse of a minor.The court held that the conduct criminalized by the Iowa statute, namely, knowingly possessing a prohibited image, falls outside the generic federal offense of sexual abuse of a minor. The court reasoned that none of the definitions of "sexual abuse of a minor" in the INA, reliable dictionaries, or a closely related statute captures simple possession of child pornography. The court also found that the BIA's preferred definition, which requires something more than simple possession of child pornography, does not apply to Huynh's case.The court also considered the Department of Homeland Security's charge that Huynh committed a "crime involving moral turpitude" within five years of his admission to the United States. The court found that the government could not defend the BIA's decision on this charge and granted the government's request for voluntary remand for the BIA to reconsider its decision.In conclusion, the court granted Huynh's petition for review, vacated the BIA's order, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Huynh v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Robert Maloney was convicted for his role in a Minnesota-based drug distribution ring while serving a sentence in a state prison for a terroristic-threatening conviction. He was sentenced to 262 months’ imprisonment and 5 years of supervised release. Maloney appealed, arguing that the district court had limited cross-examination of the Government’s key witness, denied his request to represent himself during closing argument, denied his request for discovery sanctions based on the Government’s alleged failure to produce audio recordings of phone conversations, and violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.The district court had denied Maloney's request to represent himself during closing arguments, stating that it was too late in the process and it would confuse the jury. The court also denied Maloney's motion for discovery sanctions, concluding that the Government did not violate Rule 16(a) as it had properly disclosed and made available for inspection all the physical evidence, including the audio files, by the deadline. The court also overruled Maloney's objection to the magistrate judge’s order denying his request for sanctions.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions. The court found that any error in limiting the cross-examination of the Government’s key witness was harmless because Maloney had the opportunity to challenge the witness’s credibility in other ways. The court also found that the district court did not err in denying Maloney’s request to represent himself at closing, as the request was untimely and would have disrupted the proceedings. The court further held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for discovery sanctions, as the Government had complied with Rule 16. Lastly, the court found no error in the denial of Maloney’s constitutional speedy trial claim. View "United States v. Maloney" on Justia Law

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In June 2021, Leonard Haskins was stopped by police in Jonesboro, Arkansas for a traffic violation. Upon approaching the vehicle, officers smelled marijuana, leading to a search of the vehicle. They found a 9mm pistol in the glovebox, various drugs including methamphetamine and ecstasy, digital scales, and a box of 9mm ammunition in a backpack behind the passenger seat. Haskins admitted ownership of the pistol and the contents of the backpack. He was subsequently indicted for four drug and firearm violations, including being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Haskins pleaded guilty to the first count, and the government dismissed the other counts.The Presentence Investigative Report calculated an advisory guidelines range of 51 to 63 months imprisonment. At sentencing, the district court adopted the report without objection and granted Haskins a three-level acceptance reduction, reducing the guidelines range to 46 to 57 months imprisonment. However, the court advised that an upward variance may be appropriate given the nature of the offense and Haskins' criminal history. After extensive argument and allocution, the district court sentenced Haskins to the statutory maximum of 120 months, a 63-month upward variance from the top of the advisory guidelines sentencing range. Haskins appealed, arguing the sentence was substantively unreasonable.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court noted that it reviews a defendant’s challenge to substantive reasonableness under a highly deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the statutory maximum sentence. The court had given the applicable guidelines careful consideration, but concluded that the sentencing factors warranted a substantial upward variance. The court had considered the mitigating factors noted by defense counsel but found them outweighed by the need for specific deterrence, promotion of respect for the law, and protection of the public from further crimes. The appellate court concluded that disagreement with how the district court weighed the relevant sentencing factors does not justify reversal. View "United States v. Haskins" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Luis Antonio Flores Atilano, was found guilty of being an alien in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(5)(A) and 924(a)(8), and was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment. The case arose when law enforcement officers were dispatched to a motel room in South Dakota, where they found Atilano. Upon searching him and his belongings, they discovered three firearms and ammunition. Atilano, who was born in Mexico and entered the U.S. in 2008, claimed that he believed he was lawfully in the U.S. due to paperwork completed by his wife, and that he had the firearms for self-protection due to threats from gang members.The district court held a one-day bench trial, during which the government presented evidence including law enforcement witnesses, Atilano’s recorded interview with law enforcement, and various other exhibits. The court found Atilano guilty of being an alien in possession of three firearms and eight rounds of ammunition. Atilano was subsequently sentenced to a within-Guidelines sentence of 36 months’ imprisonment.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Atilano argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew he was an alien unlawfully present in the U.S. and that he was acting under duress at the time of the offense. The court, however, affirmed the district court's decision. It found that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable factfinder to conclude Atilano knew he was in the U.S. unlawfully. The court also rejected Atilano's duress defense, stating that his evidence consisted of a generalized and speculative fear of violence and he failed to show that he had no reasonable legal alternative to committing the crime. View "United States v. Atilano" on Justia Law

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Mykel Lee McMillion was charged with knowingly possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year. The charge stemmed from an incident where police officers responded to a call from a security guard at an apartment complex, who reported that a car was parked in a restricted area and one of the occupants had a gun. The officers arrived and stopped the car, noticing a man in the backseat who matched the description given by the security guard. The man, identified as McMillion, was removed from the car, handcuffed, and searched, leading to the discovery of a concealed handgun.The district court granted McMillion's motion to suppress the evidence of the firearm, reasoning that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car. The court argued that the time and location of the incident, as well as the report of a man swinging a gun, were irrelevant to the reasonable suspicion analysis, as open carry is legal in Iowa.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the car and conduct a pat-down search for weapons. The court considered the totality of the circumstances, including the high-crime area, the time of night, the report of a man with a gun, and the behavior of the car's occupants when they became aware of the officers' presence. The court concluded that these factors, taken together, provided sufficient grounds for reasonable suspicion, and thus, the district court erred in granting the motion to suppress. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. McMillion" on Justia Law

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The case involves Anthony Willis, who was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Willis requested to represent himself in court, a request that was granted by the magistrate judge after a hearing confirmed Willis was competent to do so and had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel. Willis was warned that his right to self-representation could be revoked if he conducted himself in an obstructive or disruptive manner. Throughout the pretrial proceedings, Willis repeatedly asserted "sovereign citizen" arguments and defenses.The district court revoked Willis's right to represent himself on the morning of the trial after he ignored a warning and again asserted his sovereign citizen theories and defenses. Willis was then represented by standby counsel, and a jury convicted him. Willis appealed his conviction and sentence, arguing that the district court erred by revoking his right to represent himself on the morning of the trial.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the district court’s decision to revoke Willis’s right of self-representation de novo. The court concluded that the record at the time the district court revoked Willis’s right to represent himself does not reflect that he had engaged or would engage in the “serious and obstructionist misconduct” that Faretta and controlling precedents require. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Willis" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of grocery store owner-operators and their related company, Anchor Mobile Food Markets, Inc. (AMFM), who sued Onex Partners IV, Onex Corporation, Anthony Munk, and Matthew Ross (collectively, Onex) for violations of Missouri common law and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The owner-operators had invested in the discount grocery chain Save-A-Lot and its independent licensee program, which turned out to be a disastrous investment. They alleged that Onex, which had acquired Save-A-Lot, had fraudulently induced them into the investment.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri had granted summary judgment to Onex. The court found that the owner-operators had signed multiple contractual releases and anti-reliance disclaimers before opening their stores, which barred their claims. The owner-operators and AMFM argued that these releases and disclaimers were fraudulently induced.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the owner-operators failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact that they were fraudulently induced to enter the releases. The court also found that the releases were valid and barred the owner-operators' claims. The court further found that AMFM's claims against Onex failed, as neither Save-A-Lot nor Onex had contracted with AMFM. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the owner-operators and AMFM's request for leave to amend their complaint. View "SBFO Operator No. 3, LLC v. Onex Corporation" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an incident involving Corey Fisherman, an inmate at Minnesota’s maximum-security prison, and David Launderville, a prison guard. Fisherman was being transferred to a more restrictive area after a shank was found in his cell. During the transfer process, Fisherman initially refused to undergo a strip search, leading to the intervention of the A-Team, a group of guards trained to handle noncompliant inmates, which included Launderville. After the search, Fisherman objected to kneeling and placing his hands through a small opening in his cell door. Once he complied, he was handcuffed. Fisherman alleges that Launderville kneed him six times, three times each in the face and body, while another guard kneeled on his legs. Launderville, however, claims he struck Fisherman twice in the leg because he was resisting.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. The magistrate judge identified a potential jury issue: whether Launderville struck a restrained inmate six times in the face and body or a partially unrestrained one just twice in the leg. The district court adopted the report and recommendation, leading to an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, denying Launderville's claim of qualified immunity. The court found that a reasonable jury could conclude that the repeated blows to Fisherman's head and body were "malicious and sadistic." The court also determined that the law was clearly established that repeatedly striking a fully restrained inmate violates the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, the court concluded that every reasonable official in Launderville's position would have understood that kneeing a restrained inmate several times in the face and body violated that right. View "Fisherman v. Launderville" on Justia Law

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Sergio Rosas-Martinez, who had been living in the United States since he was nine years old, was arrested in 2019 for possessing illegal drugs. Following his conviction, the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings. Rosas-Martinez applied for deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture (CAT), arguing that if he returned to Mexico, the Sinaloa Cartel would kill or capture him because he lost their drugs when police arrested him. An immigration judge granted his CAT application, but the Board of Immigration Appeals reversed the decision. Rosas-Martinez then filed a motion for reconsideration with the Board, which was also denied.The Board of Immigration Appeals reversed the immigration judge's decision to grant Rosas-Martinez's CAT application. The Board found clear error in the immigration judge's predictive findings and legal error in the application of the law. The Board used the factual findings to show that the immigration judge clearly erred in predicting that Rosas-Martinez would be tortured if he returned to Mexico. The Board also justified its decision that the Mexican government would not acquiesce to or be directly involved in any torture of Rosas-Martinez, citing evidence of Mexico's recent efforts to purge corruption from its ranks.Rosas-Martinez then petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to review the Board's reversal of the immigration judge's decision and its denial of his motion for reconsideration. The court denied both petitions for review, holding that the Board correctly applied its standard of review and refrained from independent fact finding. The court also found that the Board provided sufficient justification for its determination that the immigration judge erred in predicting that Rosas-Martinez would be tortured if he returned to Mexico and that the Mexican government would acquiesce to or be directly involved in his torture. View "Sergio Rosas-Martinez v. Garland" on Justia Law