Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence from a warrantless search of a vehicle. In this case, a state trooper stopped defendant's rental car for a traffic violation and conducted a warrantless search of the trunk where the trooper found over 15 kilograms of a mixture or substance containing cocaine.Considering the totality of the circumstances, the court concluded that the trooper had reasonable suspicion to extend the stop where numerous facts alerted the experienced officer that criminal activity was afoot. Given the friendly atmosphere, rapport, and conversation that had developed between the trooper and defendant, coupled with defendant's characteristics, demeanor, and responses throughout the encounter, the court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in finding defendant voluntarily consented to the search. View "United States v. Gastelum" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment declining to exercise its discretion to reduce defendant's sentence under Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018. The court has repeatedly held that the First Step Act does not mandate that the district court analyze 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors for a permissive reduction in sentence. In this case, the sentencing judge was uniquely positioned to consider the many factors necessary in exercising the court's ultimate discretion and his plain statement regarding its decision not to exercise its discretion closes the matter. Defendant's remaining arguments have been clearly rejected by the court or are without merit. View "United States v. Mueller" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and 120-month sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction and thus the district court did not err in denying his motion for acquittal or a new trial. The court also concluded that the district court properly applied a sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(a)(2) based on defendant's prior controlled substance convictions under Iowa and Illinois law. View "United States v. Henderson" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order reducing defendant's sentence under section 404(b) of the First Step Act. The court concluded that the district court committed no procedural error in declining to further reduce defendant's sentence where nothing in the record indicates the district court believed it was bound to keep the sentence within the current Guidelines range, and the district court did not deny its authority to reevaluate defendant's criminal history category. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to consider relevant and significant factors supporting a discretionary sentencing reduction. Rather, the record demonstrates that the district court considered defendant's arguments and set forth a reasoned basis for exercising its sentencing discretion. View "United States v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner in an action where petitioner was found guilty of two first-degree murder counts. Although the Missouri Court of Appeals' conclusion that petitioner's counsel performed effectively relied on unreasonable determinations of fact, petitioner failed to show how the error was prejudicial. In this case, the trial court's ruling to deny severance was reasonable and did not amount to an abuse of discretion. Furthermore, even if petitioner could show a substantial probability of severance on appeal, he cannot show an overall reasonable probability of a different outcome in the case. In this case, the evidence against petitioner was convincingly incriminating on both murders and he has not met his burden of showing a reasonable probability of a different outcome in either case even if there was a severance of the cases. View "Donelson v. Steele" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm after he brandished a stolen rifle in a stranger's backyard. The court concluded that, even if justification can serve as a defense to a felon-in-possession charge, the facts in this case do not support a justification for possessing the rifle at issue. The court reversed defendant's sentence and remanded for resentencing where the government concedes that defendant's Texas conviction for aggravated-assault did not qualify as a violent felony for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act. View "United States v. Hoxworth" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's involuntary medication order under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), to maintain defendant's competency for trial. Given that the purpose of involuntary medication under Sell is to ensure the defendant is competent enough to participate in trial, the court concluded that adopting a rule that categorically prohibits the involuntary medication of a defendant who has regained competency for some period of time, but who is unable to maintain it, would frustrate that purpose where an important governmental interest is at stake. In this case, the district court did not err in concluding that it had the authority to order the involuntary medication of defendant for the purpose of rendering and maintaining his competency for trial. Furthermore, the district court's finding that involuntary medication is necessary to achieve the government's interests was not clearly erroneous. The court explained that the district court's order is narrowly and carefully tailored to minimize the intrusion on defendant's protected liberty interests. View "United States v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's revocation of defendant's supervised release and imposition of a 24 month sentence. To the extent the district court considered a deputy marshal's hearsay statements in deciding an appropriate sentence, there was no error. The court explained that the confrontation right recognized in United States v. Bell, 785 F.2d 640 (8th Cir. 1986), is limited to the question whether release should be revoked; this question was answered by defendant's possession of a controlled substance; and due process generally does not require confrontation during sentencing following a conviction and due process does not require any greater protection in the sentencing phase of a revocation proceeding. In this case, other admissible evidence supported the findings that defendant violated the provisions of his supervised release. View "United States v. Busey" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of methamphetamine. The court concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop where the record supports the district court's conclusion that defendant consented to the search within the average time for a routine traffic stop and that police obtained consent to search within the time reasonably required to complete the mission of the traffic stop. Furthermore, once police lawfully secured consent to search, any delay occasioned by the search did not constitute an unlawful extension of the seizure. The court is not convinced that the constitutional requirement of reasonableness mandates that police use only computer-generated warning tickets, and there is no showing in any event that using a computer would have produced the warning within thirty-seven seconds before defendant consented to the search. The court explained that, once defendant gave consent to search, it did not matter what method was used to generate the warning ticket, because defendant necessarily consented to an extension of the traffic stop while the search was conducted.The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(6) where it did not amount to impermissible double counting. In any event, the court concluded that the district court varied downward to offset the increase, leaving defendant no basis to complain. View "United States v. Salkil" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's 420-month sentence, following two remands for resentencing, for multiple drug and firearm counts. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in determining that defendant was responsible for a drug equivalency of 1,000 to 3,000 kilograms of marijuana, resulting in a base offense level of 30 pursuant to USSG 2D1.1(c)(5); in finding that defendant maintained a premises for manufacturing and distributing a controlled substance ("stash house") under USSG 2D1.1(b)(12); and in finding that defendant committed the offenses as part of a pattern of criminal conduct engaged in as a livelihood under USSG 2D1.1(b)(14)(E) (2014). View "United States v. McArthur" on Justia Law