Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for two counts of child pornography. The court held that the government met its specific-intent requirement by providing sufficient proof that one of defendant's "dominant purposes" was to create a visual depiction of his sexual acts with the victims. The court also held that there was no error in allowing defendant's ex-girlfriend to testify that he recorded them having sex too, and that she was 17 years old and in high school when they started dating. Furthermore, there was no error in allowing an FBI task force officer to describe some of the videos and photos from defendant's collection. Finally, defendant's argument -- that his conduct was beyond the reach of Congress to regulate under the Commerce Clause because every action he took was in Minnesota and neither he nor the images crossed state lines -- was foreclosed by precedent. View "United States v. Fortier" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence of a firearm. The court held that the officers acted in their community caretaking function when they entered the home of defendant's girlfriend without a warrant in response to a domestic disturbance phone call from the girlfriend's daughter. Once the officers arrived at the scene, they learned further details that indicated a serious concern for the safety of the girlfriend and the children who were inside the house. The court also held that the scope of the encounter was carefully tailored to satisfy the officers' purpose for entry. Furthermore, a warrant was not needed to search areas that may conceal the gun, because the daughter told officers that defendant had a gun. Therefore, the officer had an objectively reasonable belief that a gun was inside the house. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by applying a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice under USSG 3C1.1, and the district court did not err in refusing to reduce defendant's applicable Guidelines range to account for acceptance of responsibility. View "United States v. Sanders" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm. The court held that defendant was not denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel during a critical stage of the proceedings, because he clearly and unequivocally asserted his right to self-representation. Furthermore, the district court did not err in allowing defendant to proceed pro se with his public defender as stand-by counsel. Even assuming that defendant was denied his right to counsel, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, defendant was without counsel during the direct examination of one witness at the motion to suppress hearing. The court concluded that defendant failed to point to any deficiencies in counsel's cross-examination of the first witness or her examination of the subsequent witnesses, nor does he argue that his motion to suppress would have been granted had counsel performed the initial cross-examination of the Government's witness. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for nine counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. The court held that the district court did not plainly err by finding that defendant's consent to search the vehicle was voluntary. In this case, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's finding that although defendant was being watched by deputies while on the property, did not have access to a phone, and was told that a warrant would be sought whether or not he consented to a search of his truck, his consent was not mere acquiescence to government authority. The court rejected defendant's contention that the government failed to prove venue was proper in the District of Minnesota where a reasonable jury could find that it was more likely than not that the emails at issue were sent from or received in Minnesota. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing defendant, and his sentence was not substantively unreasonable. The court also held that the $2.1 million personal money judgment forfeiture did not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines. Finally, the court rejected defendant's arguments in two pro se appeals as without merit. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of his vehicle. The court held that the officers lawfully continued their investigation after they determined defendant was not carrying a gun because, during the pat down, defendant admitted that he had threatened to shoot a woman. In this case, the officers' request for defendant's identification was a reasonable and lawful extension of their initial investigatory stop. The court also held that the officers then had probable cause to search defendant's vehicle because one of the officers smelled marijuana when defendant opened the car door. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The court held that defendant failed to meet his burden of establishing a fair and just grounds for withdrawal and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion. In this case, the plea hearing transcript belies any contention that defendant did not knowingly and voluntarily enter his plea, the record contained no evidence that defendant's medication had an effect on his competency, and the timing of defendant's attempted withdrawal was after the presentencing report was prepared. View "United States v. Eller" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine with intent to distribute and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The court held that the district court did not err, plain or otherwise, in applying a criminal offender enhancement under USSG 4B1.1(a). The court held that when a defendant has more than four prior sentences that could be counted, the plain language of the Guideline gives the district court discretion to choose among them. Because there is no ambiguity here, the court held that the rule of lenity is not applicable. View "United States v. Morris" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, money laundering, and two counts of conspiring to launder money. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions; the court was not convinced that the district court's drug-quantity finding was mistaken; and there was no error in imposing sentencing enhancements for defendant's role in the offense under USSG 3B1.1(a) and for committing the offense as a part of a pattern of criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood under USSG 2D1.1(b)(15)(E). View "United States v. Sainz Navarrete" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his sentence on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations before trial. In this case, defendant alleged that his attorney's performance was constitutionally deficient because counsel advised defendant to decline a plea offer based on a sentencing enhancement that any reasonable counsel should have known was inapplicable. The court held that the record did not conclusively refute defendant's claim at this juncture in the proceedings. Furthermore, the question is not developed on the question of prejudice. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mayfield v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The court held that the district court did not violate defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice by denying the motion to continue the trial and to substitute counsel. In this case, there was no evidence of a sudden exigency or unforeseen circumstances which would weigh in favor of continuing the trial. Furthermore, the last-minute nature of defendant's motion, without some compelling justification, undermines the district court's interest in the orderly administration of justice. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions. View "United States v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law