Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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In 2021, Hugo Escudero was investigated as a suspected wholesale cocaine dealer based on information provided by a confidential informant. The informant claimed that Escudero and his brother were selling large amounts of cocaine and used a runner, M.G., to deliver the drugs. Law enforcement officers corroborated this information through surveillance and obtained a GPS tracking warrant for Escudero's vehicle. This led to additional search warrants for Escudero's apartment and music studio. In September 2021, officers arrested Escudero and M.G. when they arrived with a kilogram of cocaine for a controlled buy.Escudero was indicted and filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the tracking and search warrants. A federal magistrate judge recommended denying Escudero's motions to suppress, and the district court adopted this recommendation. During the trial, Escudero posted a message on M.G.'s Facebook page, which the court admitted into evidence as it was "probative of the consciousness of guilt" and not unfairly prejudicial. The jury found Escudero guilty of possessing five or more kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute, and he was sentenced to 216 months of imprisonment.On appeal, Escudero challenged the legitimacy of the tracking warrant, the admission of his Facebook message, and the sufficiency of evidence for his guilty verdict. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied to the tracking warrant, the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Escudero's Facebook message and witness list comment, and the evidence was sufficient to convict Escudero of possession. View "United States v. Escudero" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Antjuan Dante Britton, was convicted of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 240 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release. Britton appealed the denial of his pretrial motion to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his vehicle.Prior to his arrest, law enforcement received information from a tipster and two women arrested for possession of methamphetamine, all of whom identified Britton as their source of the drug. The information provided by these individuals was corroborated by law enforcement, including details about Britton's rental vehicle and his stays at a local hotel. A controlled buy was arranged with Britton, but the deal fell through. However, Britton was arrested at the location of the planned deal, and his vehicle was searched, leading to the discovery of a pound of methamphetamine.Britton argued that his arrest and the subsequent search of his vehicle were not supported by probable cause. The United States District Court for the District of North Dakota denied his motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search. The court found that the corroborated information from the tipster and the two women, along with Britton's arrival at the planned drug deal, provided probable cause for his arrest and the search of his vehicle.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court agreed that the totality of the circumstances, including the corroborated information and Britton's actions, provided probable cause for his arrest and the search of his vehicle. The court noted that a warrantless arrest and a vehicle search under the automobile exception are permissible if supported by probable cause. View "United States v. Britton" on Justia Law

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Tyrone Cameron was convicted of being a felon in possession of ammunition following a three-day trial. The district court sentenced him to 120 months' imprisonment and a three-year term of supervised release. Cameron appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction, that his conviction violated the Second Amendment, that the district court should not have admitted his prior felony convictions involving firearms into evidence, and that the government engaged in prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments.The district court had reviewed the evidence, including surveillance footage and testimonies, and found sufficient circumstantial evidence to support Cameron's conviction. The court also admitted Cameron's prior felony convictions into evidence, which were relevant to show that Cameron knew he was a felon and knowingly possessed ammunition.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that a reasonable jury could have found there existed ample circumstantial evidence to support Cameron’s conviction. The court also rejected Cameron's Second Amendment challenge, noting that the Supreme Court's decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen did not cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons. The court found no error in the district court's admission of Cameron's prior felony convictions, as they were relevant to the case and not unfairly prejudicial. Lastly, the court found no prosecutorial misconduct, as the government's remarks during closing arguments were permissible interpretations of the evidence. View "United States v. Tyrone Cameron" on Justia Law

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Devonte Veasley was charged with possessing a firearm while using a controlled substance, following an incident where he shot at his drug dealer. Veasley pleaded guilty to the charge. However, after the Supreme Court ruled in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen that a New York law requiring "proper cause" to carry a firearm violated the Second Amendment, Veasley sought to withdraw his plea or have the indictment dismissed. He argued that the federal statute under which he was charged, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3), which criminalizes the possession of a firearm by someone using or addicted to a controlled substance, was facially unconstitutional. The district court did not allow him to withdraw his plea or dismiss the indictment.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected Veasley's facial challenge to the statute. The court reasoned that the prohibition of firearm possession by drug users or addicts does not always violate the Second Amendment. The court drew analogies to historical regulations that restricted the rights of certain groups, such as the mentally ill and those who used firearms to terrorize others, to bear arms. The court concluded that, at least for some drug users, the statute imposes a comparable burden on the right to bear arms and serves a comparable justification. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Veasley" on Justia Law

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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