Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Defendant and several others were indicted on various healthcare fraud offenses stemming from a scheme in which Defendant and others would pay TRICARE beneficiaries to order certain creams and vitamins. At a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of receiving an illegal kickback payment, and six counts of making illegal kickback payments. The District Court sentenced Defendant to 240 months imprisonment.On appeal, Defendant challenged, among other things, the sufficiency of the evidence pertaining to his convictions for paying illegal kickbacks. The Fifth Circuit agreed with Defendant's reasoning that he did not "induce" TRICARE beneficiaries to order the substances by paying them because the substances were for their own use. Thus, the court reversed Defendant's convictions for paying illegal kickback payments. The court affirmed Defendant's other convictions and remanded for resentencing. View "USA v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, conspiracy to solicit and receive healthcare kickbacks, and two counts of false statements relating to healthcare matters. On appeal, Defendant challenged the sufficiency of evidence and her sentence.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction and sentence. The court explained that the government was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt “(1) an agreement between two or more persons to pursue an unlawful objective; (2) the defendant’s knowledge of the unlawful objective and voluntary agreement to join the conspiracy; and (3) an overt act by one or more of the members of the conspiracy in furtherance of the objective of the conspiracy.” The evidence was sufficient to prove that Defendant made an agreement to and did receive $60 kickbacks in exchange for home healthcare certifications. Thus, it was not unreasonable for the jury to conclude that the $60 payments were kickbacks, rather than legitimate co-pays, based on the evidence that patients rarely paid the fee, and that Defendant charged a uniform $60 fee regardless of the services rendered.   In Defendant’s challenge to the PSR’s calculation of the loss amount and its effect on her Sentencing Guidelines range, the court held that the district court did not err by overruling Defendant’s objection to the inclusion of Medicare Part A claims in the loss amount. However, the district court did err by overruling Defendant’s objection to the inclusion of the non-certification Medicare Part B claims in the loss amount because absent the fraud Medicare would have paid for these claims. Nonetheless, this error was harmless. View "USA v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to transporting an alien within the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. Section 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii) and (a)(1)(B)(i). At sentencing, the district court enhanced his total offense level for reckless endangerment pursuant to Section 2L1.1(b)(6) and for reckless endangerment while fleeing pursuant to Section 3C1.2. Defendant did not object and was sentenced at the bottom of the guideline range to 37 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court plainly erred by enhancing his total offense level pursuant to Section 2L1.1(b)(6).The Fifth Circuit held that the district court plainly erred by enhancing Defendant’s total offense level pursuant to Section 2L1.1(b)(6). Here, in support of the Section2L1.1(b)(6) enhancement, the presentence report cited the CBP agents’ findings that Defendant was transporting five undocumented aliens, four of whom were unrestrained, plus himself in a vehicle with a seating capacity of five. In support of the Section 3C1.2 enhancement, the PSR cited the 14-mile chase where Defendant reached speeds of up to 105 miles per hour at night. Because the district court enhanced Defendant’s sentence under both provisions, the Section 2L1.1(b)(6) enhancement cannot be based on his conduct while fleeing from the CBP agents. Thus, any support for the Section 2L1.1(b)(6) enhancement must come from his pre-flight activity. Defendant’s pre-flight activity does not support a Section 2L1.1(b)(6) enhancement, even under plain error review. View "USA v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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Defendant was sentenced to 36 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release after pleading guilty to illegal reentry. As a special condition of release, the district court required that Defendant be turned over to immigration authorities upon his release and that he be deported to Mexico. If immigration authorities were unwilling to take Defendant, the court required he self-deport.Defendant challenged the special condition of release requiring he self-deport. The government conceded that the district court committed plain error. The Fifth Circuit remanded for entry of a new written judgment without the special condition requiring Defendant to depart the United States. View "USA v. Badillo" on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested and indicted on federal drug charges following the seizure of 400 grams of heroin 26 minutes into a traffic stop. At trial, Defendant unsuccessfully litigated a motion to suppress and then entered a conditional guilty plea. Defendant then appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress. The traffic stop leading to the discovery of the narcotics was justified at its inception because Defendant was speeding, driving on the shoulder of the road, and littered a cigarette out his window. The court also held that the length of the traffic stop was justified. While a traffic stop must be temporary and last no longer than necessary, upon the development of reasonable suspicion, officers can extend the stop. Here, three minutes into the stop the officer determined Defendant's license was suspended. The officer could have arrested Defendant at this point for driving on a suspended license. However, as the stop progressed, the officer developed reasonable suspicion that Defendant was involved in the sale of heroin, leading to the permissible extension of the stop. View "USA v. Henry" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of five counts of sex trafficking. He appealed his conviction, arguing that his right to a speedy trial was violated, that there is insufficient evidence to support one count of his conviction, and that the prosecutor made an improper remark in her closing argument.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court explained that under the Speedy Trial Act the federal government must file an information or indictment against the defendant “within thirty days from the date on which such individual was arrested or served with a summons in connection with such charges” otherwise the charges must be dismissed. Defendant argues that the Speedy Trial Act clock must include his detention by state authorities as the state charges were a “ruse” to avoid its reach in that State and federal authorities cannot “collude” to detain a defendant “solely for the purpose of bypassing the requirements of the Speedy Trial Act.” Here, the court held that the state had a legitimate and independent reason to detain Defendant and was not holding him primarily as a ruse for the federal government’s eventual arrest, Defendant was not denied his right to a speedy trial under the Speedy Trial Act. Further, Defendant was unable to show that the length of the delay was prejudicial. View "USA v. Mearis" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted in Texas state court of the felony offense of injury to a child, in violation of Texas Penal Code Section 22.04(a)(3). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) served Petitioner with a Notice to Appear (NTA), charging him with removability under 8 U.S.C. Section 1227(a)(2)(E)(i), as an alien who, at any time after admission, was convicted of a crime of child abuse. After a hearing, the IJ denied Petitioner’s request for cancellation of removal, ordered him removed, and denied his request for voluntary departure. The BIA dismissed Petitioner’s appeal, denied his requests for cancellation of removal or voluntary departure, and ordered his removal. Petitioner then submitted a petition for review to the Fifth Circuit.   The Fifth Circuit denied in part Petitioner’s petition. Petitioner’s motion to terminate “squarely presented” the issue of the statute’s divisibility. Thus, the court held that the BIA did not err in rejecting Petitioner’s claim that the IJ impermissibly ruled on the divisibility issue. Further, based on Section 22.04(a)’s text, relevant state court cases, Texas’ pattern jury instructions, and the record of prior conviction itself, the court held that Section 22.04(a) is divisible as to victim class. Because the statute is divisible, the court applied the modified categorical approach to see which offense, under Section 22.04(a), is the crime of conviction. In so doing, the court looked to Petitioner’s indictment and the judicial confession entered on his guilty plea. Reviewing those documents, it is apparent that Petitioner was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, causing bodily injury to a child. View "Monsonyem v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1349. He was sentenced to one year and one day of imprisonment and ordered to pay $229,717.30 in restitution.   The government served Petitioner with a notice to appear, charging him with removability pursuant to 8 U.S.C. Section 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) as an alien convicted of an aggravated felony. Specifically, the government invoked Section 1101(a)(43)(M) & (U), alleging that Petitioner was convicted of “an offense that involves fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000,” and “an attempt or conspiracy to commit an offense described in section 101(a)(43)(M) of the Act.” Petitioner applied for withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).   Petitioner appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA found no error in the IJ’s decision and dismissed the appeal. The Fifth Circuit denied Petitioner’s petition in part and dismissed in part.   The court explained Pursuant to Section 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), “[a]ny alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after admission is deportable.” Section 1101(a)(43)(M) defines an “aggravated felony” as “an offense that—(i) involves fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000,” and § 1101(a)(43)(U) extends the definition of “aggravated felony” to “an attempt or conspiracy to commit an offense described in this paragraph.” Here, Petitioner’s order of restitution for $229,717.30—which reflects the amount owed within the judgment for his fraud conspiracy conviction— provides clear and convincing evidence of the losses to his victims. View "Osei Fosu v. Garland" on Justia Law

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A certificate of appealability to the Fifth Circuit was granted on two issues: 1.) Was Defendant’s sentence enhanced under the unconstitutional residual clause found in 18 U.S.C. Section 16(b)? and 2.) Is Defendant entitled to collateral relief under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255? The Fifth Circuit held that Defendant’s Section 2255 motion is not barred by AEDPA’s res judicata provision and the motion was properly authorized under Section  2255(h)(2). The court reasoned that the court denied Defendant’s request for authorization to file his motion. That means he never actually filed the underlying motion. And it also means that AEDPA’s absolute bar on previously presented claims is inapplicable. Further, the court held that Section  2255(h)(2) requires the court to conclude that Defendant’s underlying claim relies on “[1] a new rule of constitutional law, [2] made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that [3] was previously unavailable.” Turning to the merits question, the court held that Defendant’s Section 2255 motion is timely. The court next found that Defendant procedurally defaulted his void-for-vagueness claim. And he cannot excuse that default because he cannot show either (A) cause and prejudice or (B) actual innocence. Thus, the court found no reversible error in the district court's judgment because Defendant failed to preserve his void-for-vagueness claim. And there’s no persuasive reason to excuse that default. View "USA v. Vargas-Soto" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sections 846, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). The probation officer determined that Defendant was a career offender under Section 4B1.1(a) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines because the instant offense, as well as Defendant’s prior convictions for possession with intent to distribute amphetamine and conspiracy to possess with intent to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine, qualified as controlled substance offenses. The district court overruled Defendant’s objection to the career-offender enhancement and sentenced him to 188 months of imprisonment.   Defendant argued that the district court erred in treating his instant and prior conspiracy convictions as controlled substance offenses. He asserted that even if Lightbourn was previously binding for the proposition that Section 4B1.2’s inchoate-offense commentary is subject to deference, that is no longer the case because Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S. Ct. 2400 (2019), fundamentally altered the deference afforded to the Guidelines commentary under Stinson v. United States, 508 U.S. 36 (1993).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, holding that it cannot say Kisor unequivocally overruled the court’s precedent holding that Section 4B1.1’s career offender enhancement includes inchoate offenses like conspiracy. The court reasoned that mere “hint” from the Court as to how it might rule in the future is not enough to circumvent the rule of orderliness and disregard circuit precedent. View "USA v. Vargas" on Justia Law