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 upwardly variant sixty-month sentence imposed in connection with Defendant's plea of guilty to being a prohibited person in possession of firearms and ammunition and being in possession of a machine gun, holding that the sentence was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) as to Defendant's claims of procedural error, the sentencing court did not abuse its discretion by failing to vary downward on account of Defendant's cooperation, the court's passing reference to Defendant's past arrest for a drug charge played no role in the sentencing calculus, and the court did not err by imposing an above-the-range sentence even where Defendant accepted responsibility; and (2) the sixty-month sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Diaz-Lugo" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentence for robbing an individual of a United States passport, brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant's request for substitution of counsel; (2) Defendant's conviction under 18 U.S.C. 2112 for robbery properly served as the predicate "crime of violence" for Defendant's sentence for brandishing a firearm under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A); and (3) under a plain error standard, Defendant did not establish a prima facie nonfrivolous double jeopardy claim. View "United States v. Almonte-Nunez" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motions to suppress all evidence obtained directly by a pole camera, holding that the doctrine of stare decisis controlled this case and required reversal of the district court. At issue was whether the Supreme Court's opinion in Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018), a cell phone location automatic tracking technology case, provided a basis for departing from otherwise binding First Circuit precedent in United States v. Bucci, 582 F.3d 108 (1st Cir. 2009) and Supreme Court precedent on which Bucci was based. The First Circuit held that, by departing from that precedent in granting Defendants' motions to suppress, the district court violated the vertical rule of stare decisis. The Court thus remanded with instruction to deny the motions to suppress. View "United States v. Moore-Bush" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence of 108 months' imprisonment for conspiracy to distribute cocaine after the district court applied a career-offender enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, holding that the district court properly applied the career-offender enhancement. Under the Sentencing Guidelines, the career-offender enhancement applies where a defendant has at least two prior felony convictions of a "controlled substance offense." See U.S.S.G. 4B1.1(a). The commentary to section 4B1.2 provides that such offenses include conspiracies and other inchoate crimes. The district court overruled Defendant's objection to the career-offender designation, concluding that Defendant's age, conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and predicate offenses of two prior state drug-trafficking offenses triggered the career-offender enhancement. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that because this Court has previously held the commentary to section 4B1.2 authoritative in defining a "controlled substance offense," there was no clear or obvious error in Defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence for conspiring to deal in firearms without a license and dealing in firearms without a license on a theory of aiding and abetting, holding that Defendant's challenges to his sentence were unavailing. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court committed several errors that inflated the calculation of his guideline sentencing range. The First Circuit disagreed, holding (1) the district court did not err in finding that Defendant was a "prohibited person" at the time of the offense; (2) the district court did not clearly err in finding that the offenses of conviction involved at least eight firearms; (3) the district court did not err in applying the exportation enhancement, the enhancement for engaging in firearms trafficking, and the role-in-the-offense enhancement; and (4) Defendant waived his claim that the district court erred in calculating his criminal history score. View "United States v. Ilarraza" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for carrying and using a firearm during and in relation to, and possessing the firearm in furtherance of, a drug trafficking crime (Count Three), holding that Defendant's arguments on appeal were unavailing. In determining Defendant's guilt on Count Three, the jury was asked one special interrogatory and determined that the government had not proven that the firearm was discharged. In challenging his conviction on Count Three, Defendant argued that the indictment was constructively amended in violation of the Fifth Amendment's Grand Jury Clause and that the jury's verdict on Count Three and the special interrogatory answer were irreconcilably inconsistent. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was no constructive amendment of the indictment; and (2) the jury verdict on Count Three and the special interrogatory answer were not inconsistent. View "United States v. McBride" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentence for possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes and of possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine base, holding that Defendant was not entitled to reversal on any of his claims. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the evidence of Defendant's guilt was sufficient to support the jury's verdict; (2) the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress the statements he provided to law enforcement or the evidence seized from the residence; (3) the district court did not clearly err in imposing the sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice because Defendant perjured himself; and (4) the district court did not err in rejecting Defendant's request for a reduction in his offense level based on his claimed minimal participation in the offenses. View "United States v. Mendoza-Maisonet" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's conviction for production of child pornography, holding that the district court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress a video on his cellphone under the private search doctrine. When Defendant's wife was looking through pictures on Defendant's cellphone she discovered a video of the couple's daughter masturbating Defendant. The wife brought the cellphone to law enforcement authorities and directed their attention to the video. Defendant was subsequently indicted on a charge of production of child pornography. Defendant moved to suppress the video and his ensuing confession, arguing that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by accessing the video without a warrant and prior to obtaining his consent. The district court denied the motion to suppress. Defendant was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a 360-month term of immurement. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) under the circumstances, the officers initially could not be said to have conducted a "search" of Defendant's cellphone, and two reexaminations of the video fell within the protections of the private search doctrine; and (2) there was no procedural error at Defendant's sentencing, and the sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Rivera-Morales" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Petitioner's successive federal habeas petition, holding that the sentencing judge did not rely on Petitioner's career-offender designation in setting Petitioner's term of imprisonment. In 1998, pursuant to a plea agreement, Petitioner was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for drug dealing. The above-Guidelines sentence reflected Petitioner's role in two uncharged violent crimes. In 2018, Petitioner filed his successive federal habeas petition claiming that his status as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines impacted his sentence. Basing his argument on intervening Supreme Court caselaw holding the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) unconstitutional, Petitioner claimed that the new precedent on the ACCA also invalidated the Guidelines classification and requested resentencing to a lesser term of imprisonment. The habeas court denied the petition for habeas relief for failure to show actual prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the habeas court did not commit clear error that Petitioner had not shown a reasonable probability that his sentence would have been different absent the career-offender designation. View "Bartolomeo v. United States" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions for three Hobbs Act robberies, conspiring to commit a Racketeer Influenced an Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) violation, and other offenses but vacated the district court's sentence and remanded for the limited purpose of reducing Defendant's sentence for the Hobbs Act and RICO counts, holding that the district court exceeded the statutory maximum for these offenses. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the district court erred in providing a medical care instruction to the jury, but the error was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence of Defendant's guilt; (2) as to Defendant's remaining challenges to his convictions, the district court did not plainly err or abuse its discretion; but (3) Defendant's 360-month sentence for the Hobbs Act and RICO counts exceeded the statutory maximum of 240 months for these offenses, and therefore, the case is remanded for resentencing for these counts. View "United States v. Lopez-Soto" on Justia Law