Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendant Martinez and Warren's convictions and sentences for multiple federal charges for their roles in a telemarketing timeshare-exit scam that bilked millions from owners eager to escape timeshares they could no longer afford.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support Martinez's convictions for conspiracy (Count One), mail fraud (Counts Two through Six), and wire fraud (Counts Seven and Eight); the district court did not err or abuse its discretion by permitting the timeshare owners to testify about their conversations with telemarketers; the district court did not err by imposing consecutive six-month sentences under 18 U.S.C. 2326(1); the district court did not clearly err in determining that Warren was a "manager or supervisor" and applying a three-level increase to his offense level under USSG 3B1.1(b); and Martinez's contention that the district court's restitution order violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is foreclosed by circuit precedent. View "United States v. Warren" on Justia Law

by
Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his motion for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act (FSA). On remand from the Fifth Circuit, the district court determined that defendant was not eligible for a sentence reduction and that, even if he were eligible, the district court would not reduce his sentence.The Fifth Circuit agreed with defendant that he is eligible for a sentence reduction because his indictment charged him with possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. The court explained that section 404 of the FSA gives district courts the discretion to apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to reduce a prisoner's sentence for a "covered offense." In this case, section 2 of the FSA amended defendant's statute of conviction under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A), by increasing the 50-gram threshold of cocaine base to 280 grams, and similarly amended section 841(b)(1)(B) by increasing the threshold quantity from five to 28 grams of cocaine base. Because defendant committed his section 841(b)(1)(A) offense in September 2005, and the statutory penalties for that offense were modified by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, the court concluded that defendant's offense is a "covered" one and thus he is eligible for a reduction in sentence under the FSA.However, the court held that defendant has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for a sentence reduction where the district court did not disregard the Fifth Circuit's mandate by denying a sentence reduction; the district court articulated its reasons and addressed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors; and the district court was not required to consider defendant's post-sentencing growth. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Whitehead" on Justia Law

by
In 1998, Brown was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. Before Brown’s anticipated 2011 release, the state obtained a civil commitment order under the Texas Sexually Violent Predator Act. The Act required civilly committed persons to “reside in a Texas residential facility under contract with" OVSOM or another approved location and to participate in OVSOM-provided “treatment and supervision.” While confined at Fort Worth, Brown was indicted for violating his commitment terms and confined at the Tarrant County Jail as a pre-trial detainee. Brown posted bond and was transferred to the Cold Springs Jail, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding with OVSOM’s predecessor: Tarrant County (Sheriff Anderson) would provide “housing, meals, and other usual services” in the Work Release Program; OVSOM's predecessor had responsibility for “obtaining and paying for all programs" required for its clients. Brown, acquitted of violating his commitment terms, did not receive sex offender treatment at Cold Springs.Brown filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint, based on the 20-day confinement without sex offender treatment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims against Tarrant County and Anderson. Anderson is entitled to qualified immunity and Brown states no claim against the county. At the time of the challenged conduct, there was a circuit split on whether sexually violent or dangerous offenders have a due process right to treatment. Anderson’s failure to provide Brown with sex offender treatment did not violate clearly established law. View "Brown v. Tarrant County" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to dealing methamphetamine, holding that the district court did not clearly err in calculating the drug quantity attributable to defendant. The court concluded that the district court did not clearly err in attributing to defendant twenty-four kilograms of meth from a text transaction. The court also concluded that the district court did not clearly err in its conversion of cash seized from defendant's residence and from a coconspirator's into a corresponding amount of meth. View "United States v. Lucio" on Justia Law

by
Herndon pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Florida to bank fraud with an agreed loss amount of over $3 million. Before sentencing, Herndon was diagnosed with cancer and underwent extensive medical treatment. In 2013, she was sentenced below the guidelines range of 78–97 months to 60 months' imprisonment, supervised release, and $3,008,437 in restitution. Because Herndon needed additional medical treatment, the district court agreed to allow her to voluntarily surrender one year later; Herndon was released to home confinement and obtained several extensions. Ultimately, a warrant was issued and Herndon was taken into custody in April 2015.Herndon learned that the Bureau of Prisons calculated her sentence from the date she had entered custody (April 2015), rather than the March 2013 date she had been sentenced, and calculated her anticipated release date as August 2019. Herndon filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion in the Southern District of Florida asking the court to amend the judgment to reflect its oral pronouncement, which she asserted had awarded her credit for the time she would spend on home confinement. Herndon then filed a section 2241 motion in the Northern District of Texas. While her section petition was pending, Herndon was released in July 2019. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition as moot. Herndon had already received the sole relief sought in her petition: release from confinement. View "Herndon v. Upton" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's 120-month sentence for failing to register as a sex offender, holding that defendant's sentence is both procedurally and substantively reasonable. In regard to defendant's claims of procedural error, the court held that the district court did not err in considering a contested account contained in the PSR that was drawn from a police report, because this evidence bears sufficient indicia of reliability. Furthermore, the district court did not reversibly err by considering the opinion of a TDCJ psychologist that defendant's likelihood of reoffending was high. The court gave deference to the district court's application of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and concluded that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable in light of his history of sexual violence and considerations for public safety. View "United States v. Parkerson" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the summary dismissal of defendant's pro se 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, in which he challenged his sentence for revocation of supervised release that resulted in an 18-month prison sentence to run consecutively with his sentence for illegal reentry. Defendant claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that his due process rights were violated.The court held that a district court does not err in declining to offer sua sponte a section 2255 movant an opportunity to amend. In this case, defendant never moved for leave to amend, and United States v. Martinez, 181 F.3d 627 (5th Cir. 1999), does not establish a requirement to offer sua sponte a movant the opportunity to amend. Furthermore, defendant failed to state how he would cure his section 2255 motion if given the chance to amend. View "United States v. Hernandez-Zavala" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the written amount of restitution imposed after defendant pleaded guilty to one count of financial aid fraud. Defendant asserts that, at sentencing, the district court orally pronounced restitution of $63,221, but the written judgment mandates $106,744. The court concluded that, although the oral pronouncement was ambiguous, it does not conflict with the written judgment. In this case, the district court stated several times that the "correct" or "net" amount owed in restitution was $106,744—the amount it imposed in its written judgment. The court acknowledged that the district court could have been clearer, but that the record confirms that the district court intended to order restitution in the amount of the written judgment. View "United States v. Tanner" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's request for compassionate release from prison on account of his underlying health issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. Defendant had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that there were no extraordinary and compelling reasons to warrant compassionate release. The court acknowledged that defendant's chronic illnesses place him at a higher risk of severe symptoms should he contract COVID, but agreed with the district court that it is uncertain that defendant is at a significantly higher risk than is the general inmate population. In this case, defendant can point to no case in which a court, on account of the pandemic, has granted compassionate release to an otherwise healthy defendant with two, well-controlled, chronic medical conditions and who had completed less than half of his sentence. View "United States v. Thompson" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for bribery-related offenses carried out in connection with his duties as a judge on the 93rd Judicial District in Hidalgo County, Texas. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction for federal program bribery (Counts Two through Four) and conspiracy (Count One). The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction for using a phone in connection with the charged federal program bribery offenses in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(3) (Counts Five through Seven). Finally, sufficient evidence supports defendant's conviction for obstruction of justice (Count 8).The court rejected defendant's contention that the district court incorrectly calculated "the benefit received" in return for the bribe payments under USSG 2C1.1(b)(2) and 2B1.1(b)(1), and affirmed the district court's application of a six-level sentencing increase to defendant's Guidelines offense level. View "United States v. Delgado" on Justia Law