Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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In this case, Kenneth Kelley pled guilty to twenty-eight counts arising from a fatal car accident that resulted in the death of five people. The charges ranged from manslaughter by auto to driving with an expired license. Kelley later argued that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because he wasn't informed of the nature and elements of the offenses to which he was pleading guilty. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected this argument. The Court held that Kelley was informed of the offenses' elements as he testified at his plea hearing that he had read the indictment, his attorney had discussed the matter thoroughly with him, and he had signed a waiver acknowledging that he understood the charges and their elements. The Court also noted that the judge at the plea hearing had explained the charges to Kelley and that the prosecution had read its factual basis into the record at the plea hearing. The Court therefore concluded that Kelley's plea was knowing and voluntary. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded with instructions to deny Kelley's habeas corpus petition. View "Kelley v. Bohrer" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the defendant, a registered sex offender, was convicted for knowingly failing to update his registration as required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The appellant argued that as he was mobile without a fixed abode, he was not required to register anywhere under SORNA. He also contested the district court's jury instruction on SORNA’s definition of “resides,” claiming it expanded the definition. Furthermore, he argued that SORNA, as applied to him, violated the Tenth Amendment. He also contested two aspects of his sentence: an eight-level enhancement for his third degree sexual abuse of a minor and possession of child pornography, and his lifetime term of supervised release.The court held that the district court correctly instructed the jury on the meaning of “resides” and “habitually lives” under SORNA and that SORNA, as applied to the appellant, did not violate the Tenth Amendment. The court also affirmed the district court’s sentence as procedurally and substantively reasonable. It concluded that the appellant, who was required to register as a sex offender due to a previous conviction, failed to update his registration while residing in West Virginia, thus violating SORNA. The court found that his argument of not having a fixed abode did not exempt him from the registration requirements of SORNA. View "United States v. Kokinda" on Justia Law

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The case in question originated from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The appellant, Carlos Emanuel Kinard, had been convicted on twelve counts related to a drug and racketeering conspiracy in 1994. One of the counts was for the use of a firearm during and in relation to a "crime of violence" under § 924(c), with the predicate offense arising under the violent crimes in aid of racketeering statute (VICAR) for VICAR assault with a dangerous weapon, which incorporated the North Carolina statutory crime of assault with a deadly weapon. In 2016, Kinard moved to vacate his sentence under § 2255, arguing that the VICAR assault offense was not a "crime of violence" as per the definition in Johnson v. United States. The district court rejected this as untimely and meritless.In 2019, Kinard moved for authorization to file a successive habeas petition based on the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Davis, which held that the residual clause of § 924(c) is unconstitutionally vague. Kinard argued that the VICAR assault offense is not categorically a "crime of violence" as it could be committed without the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another and could be committed negligently or recklessly. The district court denied this motion, leading to Kinard's appeal.The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the VICAR assault with a dangerous weapon, incorporating the North Carolina assault offense, qualifies as a § 924(c) "crime of violence". The court relied on its recent decision in United States v. Thomas to conclude that the purposeful or knowing conduct element of the VICAR assault offense satisfies the mens rea requirement for a "crime of violence" under § 924(c). Thus, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "US v. Carlos Kinard" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, six men affiliated with the transnational criminal organization MS-13 were convicted of sex trafficking a thirteen-year-old girl by force, fraud, or coercion, and conspiracy to do the same. The accused appealed the district court’s denial of their motions to suppress evidence obtained from Facebook warrants, arguing the warrants failed the probable cause and particularity requirements of the Fourth Amendment. One of the accused also appealed the district court’s denial of his motion for acquittal, contending that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction.The court held that the Facebook warrants were supported by probable cause, as they were based on substantial evidence linking the accused’s use of Facebook to their criminal activities. The court also held that the warrants were sufficiently particular as they identified the items to be seized by reference to the suspected criminal offenses and confined the officers’ discretion by restricting them from rummaging through the accused’s social media data in search of unrelated criminal activities. However, the court noted that future warrants enhance their claims to particularity by requesting data only from the period of time during which the defendant was suspected of taking part in the criminal conspiracy.The court rejected one appellant's sufficiency challenge to his conviction and affirmed his convictions, finding that substantial evidence supported the jury’s conclusion that he was guilty of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor under fourteen or of a minor by force, fraud, or coercion, and of conspiracy to transport a minor in interstate commerce with intent for the minor to engage in prostitution or illegal sexual activity.Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all respects. View "United States v. Zelaya-Veliz" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions of Maurice Owen Wiley, Jr., for conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, attempted Hobbs Act robbery, and conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence. Wiley and his coconspirators planned to rob the owners of a restaurant, believing the owners kept the business's profits at their home. Wiley drove the group to the owners' home, where they exchanged gunfire with the owners, resulting in the death of one of the owners. Wiley appealed his convictions on several grounds.First, he argued that his indictment for conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of a crime of violence failed to state an offense and that the district court constructively amended it. The court rejected this argument, stating that the indictment alleges the statutory conspiracy offense proscribed by § 924(o) by mirroring the statute’s wording, and the government is not required to specify a predicate crime of violence offense in an indictment for a § 924(c) offense.Second, Wiley contended that the district court erred in denying his Batson challenges (claims that the prosecution excluded jurors on the basis of race). The court found no clear error in the district court's denial of Wiley's Batson claim.Third, Wiley argued that the district court violated his due process rights by not allowing him to define “reasonable doubt” in his closing argument. The court rejected this argument, stating that the district court has broad authority to limit closing argument to ensure that it doesn’t impede the fair and orderly conduct of the trial.Lastly, Wiley challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. The court found there was sufficient evidence that Wiley entered into an agreement that contemplated both Hobbs Act robbery and using a firearm to execute the robbery. Additionally, the court found there was sufficient evidence to show that Wiley and his coconspirators targeted the proceeds of a business engaged in interstate commerce. View "US v. Wiley" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit considered a case involving Gerald Wayne Timms, who was civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, following his sentence for a child pornography conviction. During his civil commitment, Timms was convicted of and sentenced for two separate federal crimes. After serving the prison terms for these offenses, his civil commitment continued. Timms argued that his civil commitment should have ended when his first criminal sentence started, and he claimed that certain conditions of his criminal confinement violated the requirements of the Act. He also contended that the application of the Act violated his constitutional rights.However, the court held that a person ordered to be civilly detained after a finding of sexual dangerousness remains committed until a court finds that he is no longer sexually dangerous and that an intervening criminal sentence has no impact on the civil commitment. The court also held that the Attorney General did not fail to meet his statutory obligation to detain Timms in a suitable facility and that the Attorney General was not required to seek recommitment following Timms' sentences. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of Timms' petition for habeas corpus relief. View "Timms v. U. S. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had to decide whether a defendant could waive his right to be physically present at a resentencing hearing, and whether such an order denying his request for resentencing in absentia is immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine. The defendant, Heverth Castellon, argued that he could waive his right to be present at the resentencing hearing per Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 43(c)(1)(B), which allows a defendant who is voluntarily absent during sentencing to waive his right to be present. The district court had ruled that the Rule allows a defendant to exercise this right only by "absconding or disrupting the [sentencing] proceedings."While the court explained that the text of the Rule and their previous precedent suggest that a noncapital defendant can voluntarily waive his right to be present at sentencing, the court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. This is because the district court's order compelling the defendant's presence at resentencing did not meet the requirements for immediate appeal under the collateral order doctrine. The court concluded that the defendant’s right to waive his presence at resentencing was not an "important right" that would be lost irreparably if review awaited final judgment, which is a necessary condition for invoking the collateral order doctrine. Therefore, the court could not entertain the defendant's appeal until after the imposition of a sentence. View "US v. Castellon" on Justia Law

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In a federal case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the petitioner, James Rosemond, appealed a district court's dismissal of his habeas corpus petition. Rosemond, who was serving multiple life sentences for offenses related to drug trafficking and murder, claimed that his continued detention was unconstitutional because then-President Donald Trump had commuted his sentence to time served during a phone conversation with two of Rosemond's supporters, Jim Brown and Monique Brown. The Browns signed declarations stating that during the December 2020 call, they believed President Trump had decided to commute Rosemond's sentence. However, no clemency warrant or official record of clemency for Rosemond exists, and his clemency petition is still listed as "pending" on the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney website.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Rosemond’s petition. The court held that while a written document is not constitutionally required for a presidential commutation, the evidence provided by Rosemond, namely the Browns' declarations, did not establish that President Trump actually commuted his sentence. The court found that President Trump's alleged statements during the phone call were forward-looking and indicative of a desire to commute Rosemond's sentence in the future, rather than a declaration of a completed act of clemency. The court also noted the established practice of documenting acts of presidential clemency, which was consistently followed by President Trump throughout his presidency, and emphasized the constitutional separation of powers, which vests the clemency power exclusively in the President. View "Rosemond v. Hudgins" on Justia Law

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In this case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the appellant, Ricky Demarco Robinson, challenged the enhanced sentence he received for possession of a firearm by a felon. The enhancement was based on U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(a)(2), which increases the advisory sentencing range when the defendant has at least two prior felony convictions qualifying as either a “crime of violence” or a “controlled substance offense.” Robinson argued that his prior conviction for North Carolina assault inflicting physical injury by strangulation should not be deemed a "crime of violence," even though a previous ruling (United States v. Rice) had categorized it as such. Robinson claimed that the Rice decision was no longer binding because it relied on an analysis that the Supreme Court later prohibited in United States v. Taylor. The Taylor decision rejected an analysis that depends on survey evidence as to how the crime is “normally committed or usually prosecuted.”The Court of Appeals disagreed with Robinson's contention. It concluded that the Rice decision remains valid and binding because it was based on an interpretation of the text of the North Carolina assault by strangulation legislation and on North Carolina case law. The court stated that the Rice decision’s reference to survey evidence was only used to confirm the holding and was not fundamental to it. Consequently, the court affirmed Robinson’s enhanced sentence, ruling that his prior North Carolina conviction for assault by strangulation qualifies categorically as a conviction for a crime of violence. View "US v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the defendant, Adonis Perry, was arrested in 2017 for possessing a firearm as a felon and for possessing marijuana after he was found with both during a traffic stop. While awaiting trial, Perry repeatedly tried to convince his girlfriend, a key witness for the government, to refuse to cooperate, leading to four witness-tampering and obstruction-of-justice charges. Perry was found guilty on all counts and was sentenced to 210 months and three years of supervised release. Perry appealed his conviction and sentence on several grounds, including that his Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights were violated, and that his sentence was substantively unreasonable.The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence. They found that Perry was not unconstitutionally seized during the traffic stop, his girlfriend had authority to consent to the search of his phone, the charges against him should not have been dismissed due to the failure to preserve dashcam footage, the evidence supporting his convictions was sufficient, his convictions did not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy, his counsel was not constitutionally ineffective, and his sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "US v. Perry" on Justia Law