Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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In this appeal, the Fifth Circuit addressed the application of the two-level reckless endangerment enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3C1.2 to a certain category of offenses known as "groupable" offenses. Defendant objected to the enhancement on the ground that his reckless flight was related only to the second drug trafficking count, and therefore not related to the offense of conviction.The court concluded that, when it comes to certain groupable offenses such as the drug trafficking offense at issue in this case, the court applies the reckless endangerment enhancement even when the defendant is not convicted for the specific crime from which he recklessly flees—so long as the crime for which he is convicted is part of the "same . . . common scheme or plan." The court affirmed the district court's application of the two-level enhancement because the facts of this case demonstrably satisfy the "same common scheme or plan" standard. View "United States v. Deckert" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Sentencing Commission's compassionate-release policy statement does not bind district courts in considering prisoners' motions under the First Step Act.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment concluding otherwise. The court concluded that the district court's jurisdictional concerns were misplaced and that the district court plainly had jurisdiction over defendant's 18 U.S.C. 3582 motion. In this case, the district court concluded that an exception to the rule of finality did not apply (on the merits), and then the district court purported to dismiss the motion (rather than deny it). The court also concluded that neither the policy statement nor the commentary to it binds a district court addressing a prisoner's own motion under section 3582. The court stated that the district court on remand is bound only by section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) and, as always, the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a). Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Shkambi" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court in light of Davis v. United States, 140 S. Ct. 1060, 1061 (2020), which requires that unpreserved claims of factual error be reviewed under the full plain error test, the Fifth Circuit again affirmed defendant's sentence because he failed to show that the district court committed a clear or obvious error.The court concluded that, because the district court's implicit finding that the two state offenses were not relevant to the federal offense is plausible in light of the record as a whole, defendant's arguments related to his prior state convictions must fail. Furthermore, the district court's implicit finding that the pending state charges were not relevant to the federal offense is also plausible in light of the record as a whole, and defendant's argument that the district court erred in declining to concurrently run his sentence with the anticipated state sentences fails as well. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err by failing to explain its decision to deny defendant's request to run his federal sentence concurrently with the uncharged state sentence. Even assuming the district court's failure to state the reasons for running the sentence consecutively was an error that was clear or obvious, defendant has not shown that the error affected his substantial rights. The court further concluded that any additional explanation of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, or the imposition of the maximum 262-month sentence of the guidelines range, would not have changed his sentence. View "United States v. Horton" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's 120-month sentence for wire fraud where he defrauded the victim out of his life savings. Defendant told the victim that he would invest the money in a "high-performing fund called Blueshare Capital Fund" but no such fund existed. The court concluded that defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court applied an eighty-seven-month variance based on the devastating impact of defendant's crime on the victim. In this case, defendant's crime took all of the victim's life savings, forcing the victim to live off of government assistance for the rest of his life. The district court also relied on the need to deter defendant from future crimes and to promote respect for the law. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion purely based on the length of the sentence. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in choosing how much weight to give the sentencing factors and, at bottom, by determining that defendant's promise to pay was not credible in light of his fraud. View "United States v. Navarro-Jusino" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after she violated her conditions of supervised release. In this case, the district court considered an incorrect advisory range, but defendant failed to object. Applying plain error review, the court declined to exercise its discretion in remedying the error because defendant's sentence on revocation does not undermine the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. View "United States v. Mims" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for one count of receiving material containing child pornography. Even applying stricter de novo review, the court concluded that receipt of pornographic computer files is properly chargeable as receipt of material containing child pornography under 8 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2)(B).The court rejected defendant's contention that the evidence at trial permitted the judge to conclude only that five files contained child pornography, and the dates of receipt proven for those files materially vary from the dates alleged in the indictment. Rather, the court concluded that the evidence at trial indicated that far more than five files contained child pornography and, even if there were only five files, the dates of receipt defendant points to for those files do not materially vary from the dates alleged in the indictment. The court remanded for the district court to correct a clerical error in the judgment, which mistakenly indicated that defendant pleaded guilty instead of being found guilty after a bench trial. View "United States v. Knowlton" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a legal permanent resident, was twice charged as removable by the federal government, once in 2012 and once in 2016. Petitioner challenged the second removability charge as barred by res judicata. The Fifth Circuit agreed with the BIA's determination that res judicata did not bar the second removability charge because it was based on a different statutory provision and was unavailable to the Government when the first charge was brought. Petitioner also argued that the Government failed to meet 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii)'s statutory requirements and that the BIA denied him due process of law. The court concluded that these two issues have not been addressed by the BIA in the first instance and thus they are not ripe for disposition. Accordingly, the court dismissed in part and denied the petition in part. View "Rodriguez v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for wire fraud, concluding that the district court did not improperly consider defendant's socio-economic status. Rather, the court considered only defendant's "good" childhood and upbringing in justifying the upward variance. In this case, the district court considered that defendant did not grow "up in abject poverty" or "surrounded by violence," and it considered his parents' occupations in law enforcement. The court explained that these considerations do not constitute defendant's socioeconomic status, but are part of his background. View "United States v. Burney" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's 60 month sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to illegal reentry after removal from the United States in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326(a) and (b)(1). In this case, the parties agree that the district court committed ex post factor error under United States v. Martinez-Ovalle, 956 F.3d 289 (5th Cir. 2020), when it applied the more onerous 2018 Guidelines in effect at the time of defendant's sentencing, rather than the more lenient 2016 Guidelines in effect at the time of his illegal reentry offense.The court concluded that the government has satisfied its heavy burden of proving that the district court's ex post facto error was harmless. The court also concluded that defendant failed to show that the district court committed any error, much less clear or obvious error, affecting his substantial rights in its reliance on the presentence report's description of defendant's sexual assault arrest where it was not a "bare arrest record." View "United States v. Reyna-Aragon" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with conspiracy to violate 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(l) and (b)(l)(C), namely to possess with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing more than 50 grams of methamphetamine. However, the information cited the wrong part of section 841(b)(1): Subparagraph B—not C—criminalizes possession of a substance containing more than 50 grams of meth. In this case, the parties agree that subparagraph C is a lesser-included offense of subparagraph B. Despite that initial error and without any plea agreement, defendant pleaded guilty to subparagraph B, referencing it nine times.The Fifth Circuit concluded that jeopardy does not always attach upon acceptance of a guilty plea; explained the framework for analyzing attachment under Ohio v. Johnson, 467 U.S. 493 (1984); and concluded that there was no double jeopardy violation in this case. The court explained that Johnson abrogated United States v. Sanchez's, 609 F.2d 761, 762 (5th Cir. 1980), statement about attachment; defendant's counterarguments are not persuasive; and the rule of orderliness does not preclude that conclusion. Furthermore, defendant's finality interest is low and there is no evidence of prosecutorial overreach. Therefore, jeopardy did not attach upon the district court's acceptance of defendant's guilty plea and there is no violation. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 2D1.1(b)(5) for an offense involving the importation of methamphetamine. View "United States v. Brune" on Justia Law