Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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Defendant appealed his conviction of eight counts related to sex trafficking and child pornography. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court should have suppressed the evidence from defendant's cellphone, and the error was not harmless because the remaining evidence did not satisfy the elements of the two child pornography counts. The court held, however, that the district court did not err in admitting the hearsay statements. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's conviction as to the two child pornography counts and affirmed the other six counts, vacated defendant's sentence, and remanded to the district court. View "United States v. Pratt" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that defendant was a sexually dangerous person within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 4247(a)(5). The court held that the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 did not require a diagnosis with a paraphilic disorder, and the appellate record supported the district court's conclusion. The court also held that the district court did not clearly err when it found that the government established the criteria for commitment by clear and convincing evidence and ordered defendant committed to the custody of the United States Attorney General. View "United States v. Charboneau" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for armed bank robbery and related crimes following a successful petition vacating his original sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Defendant argued that he received no benefit from the plea agreement because his previous conviction for a New York robbery offense did not count as his third strike. The court held, however, that the text and structure of 18 U.S.C. 3559(c) showed a congressional intent to encompass state laws such as the New York robbery offense in this case, which shared the essential characteristics of the enumerated robbery offenses under federal law. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, which was imposed more than ten years ago in 2008. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that defendant's prior South Carolina felony conviction for assaulting, beating, or wounding a law enforcement officer while resisting arrest was not a violent felony predicate under the Armed Career Criminal Act because it could be committed without the use, attempted use, or threatened use of violent physical force. Therefore, defendant did not have the three predicate convictions required to be properly designated as an armed career criminal. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motions to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement officers during their encounter with him prior to his arrest. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the officers received voluntary consent from defendant's fiancee to enter his residence. Therefore, the entry did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court also held that defendant's freedom of action was not curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest, and thus he was not in custody and Miranda warnings were not required. Accordingly, the district court did not err in concluding that defendant was not subject to custodial interrogation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. View "United States v. Azua-Rinconada" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254 after he was convicted of crimes related to the murder of his ex-girlfriend and sentenced to death. The district court denied or stayed all of petitioner's claims, except Ground Six, which asserted a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel resulting from trial counsel's failure to investigate potentially mitigating evidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that counsel's investigation into potentially mitigating evidence of FAS failed to meet an objective standard of reasonableness. Therefore, the postconviction relief court erred in concluding that petitioner had failed to establish deficient performance by counsel. Furthermore, the district court correctly determined that petitioner had established prejudice under Strickland v. Washington. Therefore, the postconviction relief court's prejudice determination was contrary to or an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, or an objectively unreasonable factual determination. View "Williams v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of petitioner's federal habeas petition, claiming actual innocence of his first degree murder conviction. The court held that no reasonable juror would likely find petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt if it knew the high likelihood that he was misidentified both outside and inside the courtroom as a murder suspect because of impermissibly suggestive procedures. The court held that petitioner has overcome the exacting standard for actual innocence through sufficiently alleging and providing new evidence of a constitutional violation and through demonstrating that the totality of the evidence, both old and new, would likely fail to convince any reasonable juror of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Finch v. McKoy" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that the government did not breach its plea agreement with defendant by disclosing relevant and accurate information to the sentencing court. However, the court held that the government's conduct at the sentencing hearing denied him the benefit of the bargain. In this case, the government crossed the line and breached its plea agreement when it failed at sentencing to honor its drug conduct stipulation. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Edgell" on Justia Law

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Brandishing a firearm in connection with a "crime of violence," as defined in 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(B), is unconstitutionally vague. The Fourth Circuit reversed defendant's conviction under section 924(c)(3) and held that neither the statutory language nor controlling precedent offered any support for the Government's proposed reinterpretation of "crime of violence." In this case, the text, structure, and context of section 924(c)(3)(B) clearly mandated use of the ordinary-case categorical approach, as do all relevant precedents. The court held that section 924(c)(3)(B) effectively required judges to define the scope of criminal liability, and it directed them to do so using an unmoored, subjective abstraction that deprived the public of fair notice. View "United States v. Simms" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for two counts of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. The court held the district court failed to address defendant's non-frivolous mitigation arguments and to properly explain its rationale for his term of confinement and his special conditions. The court remanded for the district court to provide a sufficient explanation for the significant deprivation of liberty defendant faced as a result of his criminal conduct. Finally, the court made no assessment regarding the fairness or propriety of defendant's term of confinement or special conditions of supervised release. View "United States v. Ross" on Justia Law