Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The Fourth Circuit held that defendant's prior conviction for assaulting with intent to rob, steal, or purloin a postal employee and placing their life in jeopardy by use of a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2114(a), constitutes a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)'s force clause. The court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence, holding that the aggravated offense contained in the second clause of section 2114(a) may apply to any of the basic offenses listed in the first clause of the statute, including assault with intent to rob, steal, or purloin. The court also held that the aggravated offense contained in section 2114(a), which requires that the defendant wound or put the victim's life in jeopardy by use of a dangerous weapon during the commission of the basic offense, is categorically a crime of violence under the force clause of section 924(c)(3)(A). View "United States v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, alleging that corrections officers at a correctional center violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment by subjecting her to a strip search during her visit with an inmate. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the corrections officer, because the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that plaintiff was attempting to pass contraband to the inmate and therefore the strip search was lawful. In this case, the officers knew that the inmate had been transferred to the correctional center earlier in the year after attempting to smuggle contraband into a different Virginia prison. Furthermore, before plaintiff's visit, one of the officers received a tip that the inmate was smuggling drugs. Under the totality of the circumstances, the court held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to justify their search. View "Calloway v. Lokey" on Justia Law

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On rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and remanded the case for further proceedings. Defendant argued that if he had been properly informed of his sentencing exposure, there was a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty. Defendant also argued that his intervening decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), rendered his guilty plea involuntary, because he did not understand the essential elements of the offense to which he pleaded guilty. Considering the totality of the circumstances relevant to defendant's potential sentence, the court held that the required warning about defendant's Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) exposure would have had a significant effect on his assessment of his strategic position. Furthermore, the government conceded, and the court agreed, that the magistrate judge plainly erred in accepting defendant's guilty plea based on this pre-Rehaif understanding of the law. Therefore, given the procedural and factual circumstances of this case, the magistrate judge's failure to properly advise defendant of his ACCA exposure, together with the Rehaif error, in the aggregate were sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the proceeding. View "United States v. Lockhart" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider defendant's interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's denial of his Faretta motion. In this case, defendant was charged with four federal child pornography counts and wants to represent himself at trial. The court explained that, given the narrowness of the collateral order doctrine in criminal cases, the Supreme Court has only held that four types of orders are immediately appealable: orders denying a Double Jeopardy Clause challenge, orders denying a Speech or Debate Clause challenge, orders denying a motion to reduce bail, and orders allowing for the forced medication of criminal defendants. The court pointed to the strongly worded dictum in Flanagan v. United States, 465 U.S. 259, 263 (1984), in which the Supreme Court specifically cited a Faretta order as an example of a decision that would be effectively reviewable on appeal from a final judgment. The court concluded that it was bound by this stricter interpretation and therefore solely relied on collateral order jurisprudence within the criminal context. View "United States v. Sueiro" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment allowing defendant to withdraw his guilty plea and dismissing the aggravated identity theft count. The court held that 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1) prohibits the unauthorized use of the means of identification of deceased, as well as living, victims. In light of its plain, ordinary meaning and the statutory context, the court held that the term "person" is unambiguous and includes deceased persons as victims of identity theft. Furthermore, the legislative history bolsters the court's interpretation of the term. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. George" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the state's motion for summary judgment and rejected petitioner's claim that a state post-conviction court unreasonably applied Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), when evaluating evidence disclosed to him for the first time thirty years after his trial. The court held that, although petitioner showed that the state court's summary conclusion misstated the burden of proof for Brady claims, that error did not entitle petitioner to habeas relief. In this case, the state court found the cumulative effect of any new evidence with any value was so minimal that it would have no impact on the outcome of the trial. The court held that the state court's reasonable finding supported the state court's decision that any newly disclosed evidence fell short of the kind of materiality that Brady required. View "Long v. Hooks" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and sentenced to 51 months in prison. The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction, holding that the district court's failure to give a limiting instruction sua sponte and its decision to permit the government to cross-examine defendant did not constitute plain error. However, the court vacated defendant's sentence, holding that defendant's prior conviction for robbery under Maryland law was a violent felony under the force clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The court also held that Maryland possession with intent to distribute constitutes a controlled substance offense under the sentencing guidelines. Because the district court erred in holding otherwise, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment denying his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas corpus relief. Petitioner alleged due process violations stemming from a prison disciplinary proceeding that resulted in the revocation of twenty days of his good-time credits. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of petitioner's claim regarding the DHO's failure to review the requested surveillance video during his hearing, because there was no clearly established violation of petitioner's right at the time. Therefore, the North Carolina Supreme Court did not act unreasonably in denying petitioner's claim. However, the court vacated the district court's determination that petitioner's conviction was supported by "some evidence" in the record. The court held that this case presented the exceedingly rare circumstance where the record contained no probative evidence to support petitioner's conviction. Therefore, petitioner's disciplinary conviction amounted to a violation of his due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to grant habeas relief as to the good-time credits. View "Tyler v. Hooks" on Justia Law

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Defendants Peterson and Bun appealed their convictions for crimes related to their involvement in a methamphetamine distribution ring in prison. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the indictment without prejudice, having carefully weighed the relevant set of non-exclusive factors set out in the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IADA). The court explained that, by affording district courts substantial discretion over this determination, Congress sought to ensure that violations of the IADA's anti-shuttling provision would not needlessly encumber federal prosecutions. Therefore, the court rejected defendants' claim that the district court should have dismissed their initial indictment with prejudice because they were improperly transferred from federal to state custody. The court joined every federal court to address the question and held that a superseding indictment filed 30 days after an arrest does not violate 18 U.S.C. 3161(b) so long as the original indictment was filed within the Speedy Trial Act's 30-day window. The court found defendants' remaining claims regarding their speedy trial rights and claims of evidentiary error were without merit. View "United States v. Peterson" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit granted the government's motion to dismiss defendant's appeal after he pleaded guilty to identity theft and fraud. The court held that Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b)'s deadline was a mandatory claim-processing rule that must be strictly applied and thus the district court's error in failing to advise defendant of his right to appeal could not excuse defendant's untimely filing and equitable doctrines were unavailable to extend the deadline. The court noted, however, that its conclusion did not render Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(j) a nullity. Rather, defendant may seek to remedy the district court's error in a collateral proceeding. View "United States v. Marsh" on Justia Law