Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, ten counts of distributing or dispensing a controlled substance, and three counts of bankruptcy fraud. The court held that the district court did not err by rejecting defendant's proposed jury instructions because they were either substantively incorrect or irrelevant; even assuming that the prosecutor impermissibly used defendant's husband's pre-arrest, pre-Miranda silence, there was no error because the husband does not speak for defendant; the court rejected defendant's claims of prosecutorial misconduct; the government did not improperly amend its indictment; and the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant. View "United States v. Bennett" on Justia Law

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Defendants Byron, Deloyd, and Sidney appealed their convictions of numerous felonies related to their membership in a group called Ride or Die (ROD), challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and the admission of certain evidence, the refusal to adopt proposed jury instructions, and application of the sentencing guidelines. The Fifth Circuit reversed with respect to Counts 9 and 10 (assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering in violation of Louisiana's aggravated assault statute), holding that there was insufficient evidence as to how the shooting related to Byron's membership in ROD or the charge conspiracies. The court also reversed as to Counts 13 and 14 (assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering in violation of Louisiana's aggravated assault statute), holding that there was insufficient proof regarding the relationship between the shooting and ROD or the charged conspiracies and thus a failure of proof on how the shooting was in "aid of racketeering." The court affirmed as to the remaining counts. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that defendant's claim that his sentence enhancement was no longer valid under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), was constitutionally based and warranted relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. As a preliminary matter, the government conceded that defendant's injury to a child conviction no longer counted as an ACCA predicate after Johnson, and that, if defendant's claim was constitutionally based, then his sentence exceeds the statutory maximum. In this case, the district court did not specify under which clause of the ACCA it was sentencing defendant. Texas's injury to a child offense was broader than the ACCA's elements clause, and the injury to a child conviction was necessary to sustain defendant's sentence enhancement because it was one of the three required predicate offenses. The court reasoned that this was sufficient to show that section 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) may no longer authorize defendant's sentence as that statute stands after Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 2563 (2015). The court vacated the ACCA enhancement and ordered defendant's immediate release. View "United States v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's classification of defendant as a Tier III sex offender based on his prior conviction for touching a child for lustful purposes in violation of Mississippi Code section 97–5–23. The court applied the categorical approach and held that the Mississippi statute and the federal offense of abusive sexual contact were comparable. In this case, the relevant offenses contain comparable elements, even if the body parts that were the subject of the touching were specifically listed in the federal definition. View "United States v. Young" on Justia Law

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Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b) has no notice and hearing requirement. In this case, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the Government's Rule 35(b) motion for reduction of defendant's sentence and rejected defendant's contention that he was entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard in his Rule 35(b) proceeding prior to the district court's order. The court declined to apply the reasoning in United States v. Gangi, 45 F.3d 28 (2d Cir. 1995), and concluded that the district court did not err by ruling on the Rule 35(b) motion before defendant responded. View "United States v. McMahan" on Justia Law

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Defendants Theodore Okechuku, Elechi Oti, Emmanuel Iwuoha, and Kevin Rutledge were convicted of conspiring to unlawfully distribute hydrocodone outside the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose as part of an alleged pill mill. Okechuku was also convicted of two additional firearm counts. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the convictions, holding that the evidence was sufficient to convict defendants and any errors that defendants alleged were either not errors or were harmless. View "United States v. Oti" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of a petition for habeas relief in a case where petitioner pleaded guilty in state court to failure to register as a sex offender. Based on representations by his counsel, petitioner mistakenly believed that by pleading he could receive a one-year sentence. In actuality, petitioner faced a sentence ranging from five to twenty yeras and was sentenced to twenty. The court reasoned that, even though defense counsel was ineffective in his advice about the sentence, petitioner failed to show that the state court's rejection of his claim was unreasonable because he had not shown he would have gone to trial had he known his true sentencing exposure. View "Young v. Spinner" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence after he pleaded guilty to unlawful reentry following removal. Defendant argued that the district court violated 18 U.S.C. 3582(a) and Tapia v. United States by imposing or lengthening a prison sentence to enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise promote rehabilitation. The court held that the district court did not err, let alone plainly err, when it abbreviated the sentence based on defendant's history and characteristics. In this case, the court acknowledged that the prison term might be too short for mental health and drug abuse treatment. Therefore, defendant's need for rehabilitation could not have been a dominant factor informing the sentencing decision. Nor did the district court’s subsequent Statement of Reasons offend Tapia. View "United States v. Escobar" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSCLA), 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq., charges against the contractor defendants for failure to state an offense. The court assumed arguendo that section 1350(c) may expose contractors and subcontractors to criminal liability and held that the regulations did not apply to nor do they potentially criminalize defendants' conduct. The court also held that regulations that were specifically directed at lessees and permittees did not extend penalties to contractors and individuals; because the applicable regulatory definitions unambiguously exclude contractors, more general liability provisions did not control; and no prior judicial decision countenanced this action, which was at odds with a half century of agency policy. View "United States v. Moss" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and the substantive crime. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the motion to reopen because defendant failed to provide the district court with a reasonable explanation for not exercising the opportunity to testify before closing his case. The court also held that any error in the district court's calculation of the amount of methamphetamine (actual) would not have been clear or obvious, particularly in light of the 2015 Sentencing Guidelines' example calculation. Furthermore, the district court did not clearly or obviously err by reading the percentage notations in the lab report as purity levels. Finally, even if the district court erred by giving an inadequate explanation, that error would not be reversible on plain error review. View "United States v. Martinez" on Justia Law