Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing heroin and cocaine with intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The court held that defendant abandoned his challenge to the government's contention that the warrantless search was valid as a search incident to the arrest. Even if defendant had not abandoned his argument, the court held that police may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle incident to a lawful arrest when it was reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle. In this case, after finding a bag of white power, and observing a suspicious baggie and a large amount of cash in plain view, the officers had a reasonable basis to believe they might find additional drugs in the vehicle. The court held that a conspiracy conviction under 21 U.S.G. 846 is a categorical mismatch to the generic crime of conspiracy enumerated in USSG 4B1.2(b). Therefore, the district court erred by applying a six-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(a)(4)(A). However, the error was not plain under United States v. McCollum, 885 F.3d 300, 308 (4th Cir. 2018), and there was no basis for reversal. View "United States v. Norman" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for distributing 1.2 grams of methamphetamine. The court held that the district court erred in relying on the interstate nature of defendant's offense because nothing in the record, except defendant's out-of-state residency, indicated that his offense involved the interstate transportation of methamphetamine. The court remanded for resentencing and, to ensure the appearance of impartiality, ordered the case be reassigned to a different judge. View "United States v. McCall" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1201(a) and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c). The district court sentenced defendant to 324 months imprisonment on the kidnapping charge, followed by 84 months imprisonment for brandishing the firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Defendant appealed his section 924(c) conviction. The Fourth Circuit held that, because settled law of the Supreme Court and this circuit have expressly held that section 924(c)(3)(B), the residual clause, was unconstitutionally vague, the district court clearly erred by finding that defendant violated that section. The court also clearly erred in holding that defendant violated section 924(c)(3)(A), because kidnapping clearly does not categorically qualify as a crime of violence under the force clause. Finally, these errors affected defendant's substantial rights as well as the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of judicial proceedings. Accordingly, the court vacated defendant's conviction under section 924(c) and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained under a warrant and sought under a Franks hearing. Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of receiving child pornography after he clicked on a link appearing on a secretive online message board. The court held that the magistrate judge had a substantial basis for concluding that searching defendant's address would uncover evidence of wrongdoing. In this case, although the search relied on a "single click" of an internet link, the click was to a video of child pornography in circumstances suggesting the person behind that click plausibly knew about and sought out that content. Furthermore, the court found the warrant valid even though it was issued five months after the underlying events took place. Finally, the court noted that regardless of the warrant's validity, suppression would be inappropriate because the government obtained a warrant and reasonably relied on it to execute the search. View "United States v. Bosyk" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions and sentences for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and related offenses based on an extensive online dating fraud scheme that induced elderly victims to transfer money to defendants' bank accounts based on postured romantic relationships. The court held that the district court did not err in denying Defendant Mojisola's motion to suppress, holding that admission into evidence of data from her phone, which was the fruit of her opening it, presented no risk that coerced statements would be used against her at a criminal trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting into evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 1006 a series of charts detailing selected deposits made into their bank accounts; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant Mojisola and Babatunde's motions for severance. The court rejected defendants' numerous claims of evidentiary errors and held that the district court did not err in giving the challenged jury instructions. Finally, the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions and defendants' claims of sentencing errors failed. View "United States v. Oloyede" on Justia Law

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Defendants, members of a violent street gang known as the Double Nine Goon Syndikate, appealed their convictions and sentences for crimes related to their gang activities. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court's decision to empanel an anonymous jury was supported by a preponderance of the evidence and was therefore not an abuse of discretion; the admission of the challenged inculpatory co-conspirator statements did not violate defendants' rights under the Confrontation Clause; there was no defect, plain or otherwise, in the indictment; even if the district court's jury instruction was improper, defendants could have cured any such error but did not; defendants' convictions under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) that was predicated on their violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity convictions for kidnapping under Virginia law must be vacated, because Virginia law did not qualify categorically as a crime of violence under the force clause; and sufficient evidence supported defendants' remaining convictions. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Mathis" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), which prohibits anyone who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV), from possessing a firearm. The court held that, in enacting section 922(g)(9), Congress sought to protect victims of domestic abuse from the risk of gun violence posed by their abuser. Therefore, the legislature has forbidden anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. In this case, defendant has admitted to committing such a crime -- made in the form of a guilty plea -- with representation by counsel, under no inappropriate pressure from the state, in a forum where there was no right to a jury trial. Accordingly, the court held that the guilty plea stands, and defendant's possession of the firearm was illegal. View "United States v. Locke" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit granted defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition and held, as a preliminary matter, that the appeal waiver in defendant's plea agreement did not bar the court from reaching the merits of his Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) claim. The court held that defendant's 1976 Georgia burglary conviction did not qualify as a violent crime under the ACCA where the Georgia burglary statute, as construed by the applicable Georgia court at the time of defendant's conviction, was overbroad compared to the generic burglary crime in the enumerated clause of the ACCA. Therefore, defendant's 1976 burglary conviction was not a "violent felony" for purposes of the ACCA sentencing enhancement. The court also held that defendant's North Carolina controlled substance convictions did not qualify as serious drug offenses under the ACCA, because it was not a "serious drug crime" under the ACCA. View "United States v. Cornette" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions stemming from their involvement in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substance analogues. The Fourth Circuit held that, either under the de novo or abuse of discretion standard of review, the district court wrongly quashed the subpoena of the DEA expert, and the court therefore reversed the district court's materiality ruling as to this issue. On the merits of defendants' remaining evidentiary challenges, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding a special agent's testimony as irrelevant and affirmed that evidentiary ruling. However, with regard to an attorney and Defendant Ritchie's testimony, however, the court vacated the district court's exclusion of that evidence and remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the court declined to reassign the case on remand. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated, and remanded. View "United States v. Galecki" on Justia Law

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A defendant must meet a high bar before he may challenge the veracity of a facially valid search warrant affidavit. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's refusal to hold a Franks hearing after defendant was convicted of federal drug and firearm offenses. Defendant argued that a police officer's trial testimony contradicted her search warrant affidavit that had led to evidence used at his trial. In this case, defendant failed to show that the mere imprecision of the warrant affidavit showed falsity. Even assuming the affidavit was false, defendant failed to show intentional falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth by the officer. Furthermore, defendant's additional challenges to the affidavit failed the rigorous plain error standard. View "United States v. Moody" on Justia Law