Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The Fourth Circuit denied the petition for review of the BIA's decision dismissing petitioner's appeal of the IJ's finding that petitioner is statutorily ineligible for cancellation of removal because, during his first seven years of continuous residence after admission to the United States, he committed an offense listed in 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2) that rendered him inadmissible.The Supreme Court held, in Barton v. Barr, 140 S. Ct. 1442 (2020), that conviction of an offense listed in Section 1182(a)(2) renders a lawful permanent resident "inadmissible" for purposes of Section 1229b(d)(1) even if he is not seeking admission. In this case, because petitioner committed such an offense during his initial seven years of residence after admission to the United States, and was later convicted of that offense, the court held that he is ineligible for cancellation of removal. View "Argueta v. Barr" on Justia Law

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This criminal case stemmed from Defendant Terry and Brenda Millender's involvement in the Victorious Life Church. The district court granted Brenda's motion for a judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence to support her convictions for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The district court also conditionally ordered a new trial. The government appealed.The Fourth Circuit dismissed Terry's cross-appeal after his death and remanded the judgment against Terry to the district court for further proceedings. The court reversed the judgment of acquittal as to Brenda's convictions and held that the district court erred in concluding that no reasonable juror could find that Brenda knew of the fraud perpetrated by Micro-Enterprise and Kingdom Commodities; the district court relied on this ground alone to override the jury's guilty verdict as to two counts of wire-fraud conspiracy and two counts of money-laundering conspiracy; a reasonable jury could find that the Millenders not only spent the money but also tried to conceal its nature; and no more is required to sustain the jury's verdict on the three substantive counts of money laundering. The court also vacated the grant of a new trial where, on the record, the court cannot see whether the district court appreciated the limits on its discretion in making the decision. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Millender" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress child pornography images that were seized from his computer pursuant to a search warrant issued by a state magistrate judge. The court held that, even if the Fourth Amendment might require more specificity as to the place to be searched or the items to be seized in some computer searches, defendant failed to convince the court that the Fourth Amendment demanded that the descriptions of the place to be searched and the things to be seized needed to be more specific in this case.The court also affirmed the district court's ruling that the constitutionality of the warrant was unaffected by the superfluous language included at the end of the warrant; affirmed the district court's application of the plain view doctrine to the evidence of child pornography; and rejected defendant's belated request that the court not follow its own prior holding in United States v. Williams, and hold instead that ordinary principles of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, including the plain view doctrine, should not apply to computer searches. View "United States v. Cobb" on Justia Law

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After defendant was captured and transported to a detention center in Iraq, the FBI Assistant Legal Attaché for Iraq interviewed defendant to gather intelligence about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) without providing him Miranda warnings. Ten days later, a different team of FBI agents interviewed defendant for purposes of a potential United States criminal prosecution. Defendant was subsequently convicted of conspiring to provide material support or resources to ISIL; providing material support or resources to ISIL; and possessing, using, and carrying firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence. On appeal, defendant challenged the admission of his statements to the second team of FBI agents, contending that the midstream Miranda warnings he received were ineffective.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress his Mirandized statements and held that, even assuming the FBI deliberately used a two-step interview strategy, the agents undertook sufficient curative measures to ensure that a reasonable person in defendant's position would understand the import and effect of the Miranda warnings and waiver. However, the court vacated defendant's firearm conviction under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) in light of United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), because defendant's conspiracy offense is not a predicate crime of violence. The court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Khweis" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from wiretaps. Defendant argued that because the wiretap orders did not include the name of each authorizing official, the orders were statutorily insufficient and therefore all evidence derived from them should have been suppressed.The court held that the wiretap orders were sufficient under the Wiretap Act because (1) the applications were in fact appropriately authorized by persons authorized by the Wiretap Act; (2) the orders on their face identified, albeit not by name, the Justice Department officials who authorized the applications; (3) the applications themselves, to which the orders on their face referred, did contain both the title and name of the official authorizing the application; and (4) the applications and proposed orders were submitted together as one package to the judge who signed the orders and later to defendant, whose communications were intercepted, such that both the judge and defendant actually knew both the title and name of the official authorizing each application. Furthermore, even if the court were to assume that the omission of the name of the authorizing official in the orders was a defect, it would not be the type of defect that rendered the orders "insufficient" under Section 2518(10)(a)(ii) of the Wiretap Act. View "United States v. Brunson" on Justia Law

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The Government initiated a civil commitment proceeding under 18 U.S.C. 4248, seeking the commitment of appellee to the custody of the Attorney General as a "sexually dangerous person."The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the section 4248 civil commitment certification as untimely. The court held that once the Maryland district court determined appellee was incompetent to stand trial, appellee could remain committed to the Attorney General for only an additional reasonable period of time until his charges were disposed of in accordance with law. Absent a creditable explanation of the reasonableness of appellee's commitment post-December 2018 -- two years after his initial commitment and six full months after the Unrestorability Determination -- the statutory language and the court's precedent in United States v. Searcy, 880 F.3d 116, 122 (4th Cir. 2018), and United States v. Timms, 664 F.3d 436, 451–52 (4th Cir. 2012), compel the court to hold that appellee could no longer be considered legitimately committed to the Attorney General's custody in June 2019. View "United States v. Wayda" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals challenging the dismissal of petitioner's three habeas petitions, the Eleventh Circuit held that petitioner adequately alleged that his due process rights were violated by (1) inadequate notice of the basis for revoking his suspended sentence, (2) undue delay in seeking revocation based on the violation, and (3) incarceration when he was previously adjudged not guilty by reason of insanity and civilly committed to receive treatment in a mental health hospital. Accordingly, the court vacated the dismissals and remanded with instructions to the district court to consider the merits of petitioner's due process and ineffective assistance of counsel claims. View "Farabee v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of state officials on petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition for writ of habeas corpus. The court held that the state postconviction court reasonably denied petitioner's exhausted Strickland claims on the grounds that capital sentencing counsel thoroughly investigated and presented his available evidence in mitigation, and did not neglect a viable Confrontation Clause objection to his disciplinary record. The court also held that the district court properly denied petitioner's Strickland claim as insubstantial under Martinez v. Ryan, 566 U.S. 1 (2012). View "Owens v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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On rehearing en banc, at issue was whether the Fourth Amendment's exigent circumstances doctrine justified the suspicionless seizure of defendant. In this case, the police seized defendant responding to several gunshots that were fired in or near an apartment complex less than a minute earlier. When the police arrived at the scene, they encountered five to eight men, including defendant, calmly and separately walking in the public area behind the complex, as well as several other people standing around closer to the apartments and another man walking toward the rear of the officers' patrol car.The court held that the stop was not justified by exigent circumstances and thus was not reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to suppress a firearm and other evidence based on the unreasonableness of the seizure that led to its discovery. The court explained that, to hold otherwise would create a sweeping exception to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The court stated that the exigent circumstances exception may permit suspicionless seizures when officers can narrowly target the seizures based on specific information of a known crime and a controlled geographic area. The court further stated that, by allowing officers to bypass the individualized suspicion requirement based on the information they had here—the sound of gunfire and the general location where it may have originated—would completely cripple a fundamental Fourth Amendment protection and create a dangerous precedent. View "United States v. Curry" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the SEC initiated enforcement proceedings in the District of Arizona against appellant for illegitimate investment activities. In 2017, appellant entered into a consent agreement with the SEC, and the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ultimately held appellant liable for disgorgement in the amount of $4,494,900. Then the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment charging appellant with, inter alia, securities fraud and unlawful sale of securities, based in part on the same conduct underlying the SEC proceeding. Appellant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which the district court denied.The Fourth Circuit joined with every other circuit to have decided the issue in holding that disgorgement in an SEC proceeding is not a criminal penalty pursuant to the Double Jeopardy Clause, such that an individual cannot be later prosecuted for the conduct underlying the disgorgement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of appellant's motion to dismiss the indictment. View "United States v. Bank" on Justia Law