Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence of more than three years in prison imposed in connection with his violation of supervised release, holding that the district court did not commit reversible error when she tagged Defendant's drug offense with an A Grade. After seven years in federal prison, Defendant was arrested first for possessing drugs with intent to distribute then for domestic abuse under Puerto Rico law. The federal district judge found Defendant committed a "crime of violence" and a "controlled substance offense" as defined in the federal sentencing guidelines. These crimes, the judge found, were Grade A violations of Defendant's supervised release carrying the stiffest guideline penalties. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was sufficient evidence for the district judge to call Defendant's crimes Grade A violations. View "United States v. Garcia-Cartagena" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated Defendant's sentence of thirty months in federal prison for violating the terms of his supervised release, holding that the district judge misapplied the Guidelines in concluding that Defendant's crime was a Grade A violation under U.S.S.G. 7B1.1(a)(A)(i). Six months after Defendant completed his sentence for federal drug crimes and began his six-year term of supervised release Defendant was charged on "information and belief" with committing aggravated domestic abuse under Puerto Rico law. The complaint did not indicate why the police believed Defendant committed the offense. Defendant pled down to a lesser offense, but, based on the complaint, the federal district court found that Defendant committed the more serious crime, which was a "crime of violence" and a Grade A violation. The First Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing, holding that the district judge's Grade A finding, based only on unsubstantiated allegations in a charging document, was clear error that affected the sentence imposed. View "United States v. Colon-Maldonado" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of possession of child pornography, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motions to suppress and for a hearing pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). After agents executing a search warrant of Defendant's residence discovered digital files containing images and videos of child pornography on Defendant's computers Defendant filed a motion to suppress and, in the alternative, for a Franks hearing. The district court denied both motions. Defendant then entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of child pornography. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was no evidence that the affidavit contained egregious misrepresentations sufficient to necessitate a Franks hearing to attack the warrant application, let alone to render the warrant invalid due to a misrepresentation; and (2) the warrant was adequately supported and the evidence obtained was admissible. View "United States v. Larson" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence entered upon Defendant's guilty plea to one count of possessing child pornography, holding that the district court's decision not to impose a below-guidelines sentence was neither procedurally nor substantively unreasonable. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his possession of approximately 13,000 child pornography images. The district court sentenced Defendant to ninety-seven months' imprisonment and twenty years' supervised release, a sentence that was at the low end of the Guidelines Sentencing Range. The First Circuit affirmed the sentence, holding that the sentence was not procedurally unreasonable and that Defendant failed to overcome the presumption that the sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Gomera-Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions for one count of conspiracy to make false statements and to conceal in connection with healthcare benefit programs and two counts of false statements in connection with healthcare benefit programs, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress or in instructing the jury. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress data that the government had acquired pursuant to a warrant because even if the government's conduct violated the Fourth Amendment there was nothing in the record to show that any of the evidence introduce at trial should have been suppressed; and (2) the district court did not err in instructing the jury about the inferences that it could draw from the fact that a particular witness was not called to testify. View "United States v. Aboshady" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) sentence, holding that the district court did not err in determining that Defendant's prior conviction for second-degree murder and two prior convictions for attempted murder were violent felonies, thus triggering the ACCA's fifteen-year mandatory minimum. Defendant was convicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The presentence investigation report stated that the ACCA applied, meaning that Defendant was subject to a statutory minimum of fifteen years' imprisonment. The district court sentenced Defendant to fifteen years. After the Supreme Court declared the residual clause of the ACCA's definition of "violent felony" unconstitutional the Supreme Court vacated Defendant's sentence and remanded to determine whether the ACCA still applied. On remand, the district court determined that second-degree murder and attempted murder are violent felonies and again sentenced Defendant to fifteen years. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant's conviction for second-degree murder and his two convictions for attempted murder satisfied the ACCA's three-predicate-felony rule. View "United States v. Baez-Martinez" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's federal drug-trafficking conviction and his twenty-year mandatory minimum recidivist sentence, holding that Defendant's claims on appeal lacked merit. A federal grand jury sitting in the District of New Hampshire indicted Defendant on a charge of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of the conspiracy charge. The district court imposed a twenty-year mandatory minimum recidivist term of immurement. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not entitled to a new trial because one of the seated jurors was not a New Hampshire resident; and (2) Defendant's claims of sentencing error were unavailing. View "United States v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court decision denying Appellant's petition for habeas corpus relief, holding that the state court's evaluation of Appellant's constitutional claim was not contrary to, nor involved an unreasonable application of, federal law. Appellant was convicted in Rhode Island state court on felony assault and firearms charges. The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed. Appellant then applied for postconviction relief based on the ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial justice denied relief, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Appellant later filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The district court concluded that Appellant's counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient but that the state Supreme Court's conclusion that Appellant had failed to satisfy the prejudice prong was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the Rhode Island Supreme Court's use of the incurable prejudice standard did not lead to a decision "contrary to" federal law; and (2) the Supreme Court's application of Strickland was not unreasonable. View "Chum v. Coyne-Fague" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute oxycodone, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. The motion to suppress centered around a series of five search warrants federal law enforcement officers executed as part of an investigation into an oxycodone-distribution conspiracy involving Defendant. The officers obtained location data for Defendant's cell phones and recovered a significant amount of cash stored in a hidden compartment in Defendant's vehicle. This information led to charges that Defendant was the New York-based oxycodone supplier for his co-conspirators' Massachusetts operation. Defendant filed, without success, a motion to suppress, arguing that the first warrant for cellular location data, which served as the foundation for the subsequent warrants, was not supported by probable cause. Defendant was subsequently convicted. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the warrant for Defendant's vehicle was properly issued, and therefore, the evidence seized from the vehicle was properly admitted at trial. View "United States v. Bregu" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for conspiracy to commit kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1201(c), for which Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment, holding that Defendant's challenges to his conviction were unavailing. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence that law enforcement authorities seized from Defendant's apartment; (2) Defendant's challenges to the validity of the search warrant were without merit; (3) the district court did not err in barring a certain witness from testifying due to the "irrelevant, cumulative, or confusing" nature of the testimony that he would provide; (4) the district court did not reversibly err in admitting into evidence a transcript of a recording of statements by one of Defendant's co-conspirators; (5) the district court's challenged statement in an instruction to the jury was not sufficiently prejudicial to constitute reversible error; and (6) the remainder of Defendant's challenged were either without merit or waived. View "United States v. Veloz" on Justia Law