Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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Defendant operated a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme out of Israel which targeted unsophisticated victims worldwide. Defendant was ultimately convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and substantive wire fraud, and sentenced to 22 years in prison.On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, Defendant raised several challenges, including that she did not commit a crime under United States law because the wire-fraud statute does not apply to hee conduct that occurred out of the county. The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's position, finding that, although the wire-fraud statute does not apply extraterritorially, the focus of the statute is on the misuse of American wires. Because Defendant's conduct involved the misuse of American wires, the statute applied to her.The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's remaining challenges, with the exception of her challenge to the district court's restitution order that went beyond victims of domestic wire fraud. View "US v. Lee Elbaz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a False Claims Act challenge against two doctors, five medical companies, and an accounting firm, collectively referred to hereinafter as Defendants. She alleged that Defendants (1) knowingly submitted false claims to Medicare following the dissolution of one company’s corporate charter and the revocation of its certificate of corporate authorization and (2) engaged in a fraudulent medical upcoding scheme.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the finding that Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact regarding the falsity of statements made by one of the defendants. And she failed to adequately allege scienter, materiality, and the presentment of false claims regarding the remaining seven Defendants.   The court explained that the False Claims Act prohibits the knowing presentment of a “false or fraudulent claim” or a “false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.” 31 U.S.C. Section 3729(a)(1)(A), (B). At common law, a false statement encompassed any “words or conduct” that “amount[] to an assertion not in accordance with the truth.” But even under the broad, common-law definition of falsity, Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding the allegedly false statement made by one of the defendants. Further, the court wrote that it doesn’t help that Plaintiff inconsistently describes what that false statement was. View "United States ex rel. Taylor v. Michael Boyko" on Justia Law

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Defendants were convicted of honest services fraud and federal funds bribery in connection with a series of payments and offers of payment, in the form of campaign contributions, made to the elected Insurance Commissioner for North Carolina. The jury found that these payments were made in exchange for the official assigning a different Deputy Commissioner to oversee the affairs of Defendant’s insurance companies. Defendants now challenge the district court’s jury instructions and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their convictions.   The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s judgment sentencing Defendants for honest services fraud and federal funds bribery. The court held that the district court erred by instructing the jury that an “official act”—an element of the crime of honest services fraud—was present as a matter of law. Further, the court found that the error was not harmless and, therefore, vacated Defendants’ convictions on Count One. The court also vacated Defendants’ convictions on Count Two because we find that the verdicts were improperly infected by the instructional error on Count One. The case is, therefore, remanded for a new trial. The court, however, did not find that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury that an official act is an element of federal funds bribery. View "US v. Greg Lindberg" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to two child pornography offenses and was sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment and ten years' supervised release. Subsequently, Defendant moved to challenge eight of his supervised-release conditions, claiming that six of the conditions restrict his liberty more than necessary and that intervening Supreme Court precedent rendered two other conditions limiting his internet use unconstitutional. The district court denied Defendant's motion, finding that it lacked jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant's first claim pertaining to six of the challenged conditions because his arguments should have been raised at sentencing. By not doing so, he deprived the district court of jurisdiction to modify them. However, regarding Defendant's second claim, the court acknowledged that Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730 (2017), created “new, unforeseen, or changed legal . . . circumstances” relevant to Defendant's internet-use conditions. Thus, the district court had jurisdiction to consider Defendant's challenge. The court remanded the case for the district court to decide whether to modify those conditions. View "US v. Sebastian Morris" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of two sex offenses in Illinois state court. Subsequently, Defendant failed to register as a sex offender and then pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to update his sex-offender registration. At a revocation hearing for a violation of supervisor release, Defendant was sentenced to 24 months of incarceration to be followed by five years of supervised release. The district court noted that this was the "statutory available sentence" and that it was also recommended under the U.S.S.G. Defendant did not object.Defendant appealed, claiming that the district court misconstrued the sentencing guidelines and that there was no mandatory minimum term of supervised release. Reviewing for plain error, the Fourth Circuit agreed with Defendant. The language of Sec. U.S.C. Sec. 3583(h) is clear and the district court's misinterpretation affected Defendant's substantial rights. View "US v. Keith Nelson" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Defendant was sentenced to 219 months of incarceration for drug conspiracy charges involving powder and crack cocaine. Defendant moved for relief under the First Step Act, which reduced penalties under the Fair Sentencing Act. The District Court determined Defendant was eligible for relief under the First Step Act but denied Defendant's motion finding that his sentence was already at the statutory minimum.The Fourth Circuit affirmed, albeit on alternate grounds. The court held that Defendant was ineligible for relief under the First Step Act. Section 404 of the First Step Act excludes defendants whose sentences previously were imposed in accordance with the Fair Sentencing Act. Defendant committed the offense before the Fair Sentencing Act became effective date but was convicted and sentenced after that date. His sentencing also came after the Supreme Court clarified, in Dorsey v. United States, 567 U.S. 260 (2012), that the Fair Sentencing Act was to be applied to pre-Act offenders, like Defendant, who had yet to be sentenced when that Act became effective. Thus, Defendant was ineligible for relief. View "US v. Leroy Goodwin" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Defendant pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon. Under the Armed Career Criminals Act, Defendant received a 15-year sentence. Included in Defendant's plea agreement was a waiver of the right to appeal and to collaterally attack his conviction for any reason aside from ineffective assistance of counsel of prosecutorial misconduct. Defendant did not appeal, but filed a Sec. 2255 petition raising prosecutorial misconduct and ineffectiveness claims. The district court denied Petitioner's petition and he was denied a certificate of appealability.Subsequently, Defendant filed a second Sec 2255 petition in the wake of Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015). The Sixth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on this issue; however, the matter was resolved against Petitioner based on the waivers in his plea agreement.Following the denial of his second Sec. 2255 petition, Petitioner filed a Sec. 2241 petition. The district court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction, finding that Sec. 2241 was unavailable to Petitioner because he could not satisfy the requirements of Sec. 2255(e), which limits federal prisoners’ access to Section 2241.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. A federal prisoner may pursue habeas relief through a Sec. 2241 petition only if it “appears that the [Section 2255] remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.” Here, the court determined that Sec. 2255 adequately provided an avenue of review, as evidenced by the Sixth Circuit's consideration of Petitioner's Johnson claim. View "Larry Slusser v. Acting Warden Vereen" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g), which prohibits a felon from possessing a firearm. Prior to sentencing, the Probation Office prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”). The PSR concluded that Defendant’s previous North Carolina conviction for felony assault inflicting physical injury by strangulation was a crime of violence that enhanced Defendant’s base offense level under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Defendant’s prior conviction stemmed from an incident where he put “his hand around [a woman’s] neck and squeez[ed]. Defendant objected to the enhancement, arguing that assault by strangulation is not a crime of violence. The district court disagreed with Defendant and imposed the enhancement.   Defendant appealed his sentence and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling and held that North Carolina crime of assault inflicting physical injury by strangulation is a crime of violence under the categorical approach. The court explained that North Carolina’s crime of assault by strangulation can only be committed with an intentional, knowing or purposeful state of mind. As such, it satisfies the mens rea required to qualify as a crime of violence. View "US v. Dennis Rice" on Justia Law

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When Defendant was released from prison and began his term of supervised release for racketeering he assaulted his then-girlfriend N.D. In light of this assault the district court revoked supervised release and sentenced him to time served and a new eighteen-month supervised release term with the same terms as those previously imposed. His probation officer then filed a petition to revoke supervised release based on these convictions and his failure to report to counseling. N.D. — now Combs’ ex-wife — did not appear at the revocation hearing that followed. But at the hearing, the district court twice referred to N.D.’s out-of-court statements.   Defendant appealed his sentence, arguing the district court erred by admitting N.D.’s out-of-court statements during the revocation hearing. He contends the district court violated Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 32.1(b)(1)(B) and (C) by admitting her statements without balancing the interests of the parties, requiring a showing of good cause, or first disclosing the statements to Defendant.   The court rejected the Government’s argument that Rules 32.1(b)(2)(B) and (C) do not apply to the sentencing phase of a revocation proceeding and concluded that the district court erred in introducing N.D.’s statements without balancing the interests of the parties. However, notwithstanding its disagreement with the Government’s arguments regarding the applicability of Rule 32.1(b)(2) to sentencing — and assuming that the district court plainly erred here in violating those provisions the court concluded that Defendant has not shown a reasonable probability that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different absent consideration of the undisclosed statements. View "US v. Thomas Combs" on Justia Law

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A Virginia jury convicted Petitioner of involuntary manslaughter after his car crashed into a tree killing the front seat passenger. The jury concluded that Petitioner was driving under the influence at the time of the crash. Petitioner subsequently sought post-conviction relief in Virginia state court, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. Petitioner, who insisted he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, asserted that his lawyer failed to investigate evidence of the operation and use of the driver’s seatbelt. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Virginia, after considering the full record, held that, although the counsel’s performance fell below the standard of care, that failure did not prejudice Petitioner. Crockett brought a federal habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Petitioner’s Section 2254 petition. The court reasoned that The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) precludes a federal court from granting habeas relief on a claim decided on the merits in a state court unless it determines the state court’s decision was contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the record evidence. That standard of review proves fatal to Petitioner’s habeas claims. While one might reasonably come to a different conclusion than the Supreme Court of Virginia, the court’s decision was far from unreasonable. View "Cameron Crockett v. Harold Clarke" on Justia Law