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 for illegal reentry after removal. Defendant makes a collateral attack on his 2008 removal, arguing that failure to provide him a Spanish interpretation of his Notice of Intent deprived him of the ability to challenge the government's decision to classify him as an aggravated felon, and thus depriving him of the opportunity to seek voluntary departure. The court held that, assuming that defendant was not an aggravated felon, he was not reasonably likely to have received preconclusion voluntary departure at the time of his removal in 2008. Therefore, defendant cannot show prejudice as required by 8 U.S.C. 1326(d)(3), and the district court properly denied his motion to dismiss the indictment. In this case, defendant failed to present compelling positive equities, like close relatives who are United States citizens or legal permanent residents, and defendant failed to reference a single case where an alien convicted of a felony sexual offense has received pre-conclusion voluntary departure. In light of defendant's serious and recent felony convictions and the lack of a sufficiently compelling counter-balancing factor at the time of his removal, the court concluded that it is not reasonably likely that he would have received pre-conclusion voluntary departure. View "United States v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition to reduce defendant's sentence under the First Step Act of 2018. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to reduce defendant's sentence due to the quantity of drugs, his obstruction of justice and his use of a firearm. Furthermore, the district court considered defendant's arguments and had a reasonable basis for its decision. View "United States v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by applying a four-level sentencing enhancement for possessing a firearm in connection with a felony drug offense pursuant to USSG 2K.2.1(b)(6)(B). In this case, defendant was carrying a loaded gun in his pocket, and had with him a backpack containing illegal drugs. View "United States v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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On appeal, defendant argued for the first time that the district court failed to inquire about his past convictions, claiming prejudice because, by his interpretation of the First Step Act of 2018, he has only one conviction, not two. The Eighth Circuit first held that defendant did not waive his right to a 21 U.S.C. 851(b) inquiry. The court also held that, because defendant received and served "a term of imprisonment of more than 12 months" for two serious drug felonies—even though he served them concurrently—he has two, not one prior convictions. The court explained that a section 851(b) inquiry would not have changed his mandatory minimum, and a section 851(b) error is harmless. The court also held that the rule of lenity does not apply here. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Corona-Verduzco" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of multiple drug and firearm offenses. In this case, a police detective received a reliable tip that defendant was selling crack cocaine in the Kansas City area and that defendant was driving a white Dodge Avenger. Police officers then stopped defendant when he committed a traffic violation. Defendant had a suspended driver's license and a blank rental-car agreement, and officers found a glove containing more than 50 grams of crack cocaine after the search of the car's hood. The court held that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress where defendant failed to establish that his own Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the challenged search and seizure because he did not have lawful possession of the vehicle; there was no Confrontation Clause error in admitting the telephone conversations between defendant and two confidential informants; and the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction for two firearm offenses. View "United States v. White" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for sentencing relief under the First Step Act of 2018. In resolving the matter, the district court did not have the benefit of the United States v. McDonald, 944 F.3d 769, 771 (8th Cir. 2019). Applying McDonald, the court held that defendant's conviction meets the three prerequisites of a covered offense, and defendant is eligible for relief under the First Step Act. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to consider whether to exercise its discretion under section 404 of the Act and reduce defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Birdine" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a sentencing reduction to defendant under the First Step Act. Unlike the factual scenario in U.S. v. McDonald, 944 F.3d 769, 771 (8th Cir. 2019), the district court here addressed its discretion under the Act particularly, conducting the appropriate second step contemplated by the Act. Therefore, the court found that although the district court erred regarding defendant's eligibility under step one, remanding on the basis of that error would be an exercise in futility. In this case, the district court was the original sentencing court and thus was uniquely positioned to consider the many factors necessary in exercising its ultimate discretion. Furthermore, the court explained that the district court's plain statement regarding its decision not to exercise its discretion under the Act closes the matter. View "United States v. Howard" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for making a false material declaration before a jury. The court held that the district court properly excluded evidence of defendant's duress defense where she failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that she faced a present, imminent, and impending threat. She also failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding that she had no reasonable, legal alternative to giving false testimony. The court also held that the district court did not err in applying a cross-reference under USSG 2X3.1, which resulted in a 20 base level offense for the underlying offense. Furthermore, the district court did not err by applying the four-level specific offense characteristic for the criminal offender's possessing the gun in connection with another felony offense. View "United States v. Myles" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography. The court held that ample evidence showed that defendant knowingly distributed child pornography and the distribution enhancement was properly applied; defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court did not err in weighing the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors; and the six special conditions of supervised release were reasonably related to defendant's offense, history, characteristics, and were needed to protect the public from a dangerous child sexual predator. View "United States v. Cramer" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of movant's motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 based on the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. Movant was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to receipt and distribution of a visual depiction involving the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. The court held that movant's sentencing argument under USSG 2G2.2(b)(1) had no merit, and counsel was not ineffective in declining to advance it. The court held that, in view of the risks involved in pursuing the alternative course, and the limited potential reward, there is ample reason to conclude that counsel's decision to withdraw the objection to the two-level distribution enhancement pursuant to 2G2.2(b)(3)(F) was objectively reasonable. Finally, because the reasonableness of counsel's performance is an objective question, it was permissible for the district court to resolve the motion without testimony from counsel about his subjective reasoning on this point. View "Haney v. United States" on Justia Law