Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Fields was charged with possession of 500 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). The indictment alleged that Fields had two prior Kentucky “final conviction[s] for . . . serious drug felon[ies]” for which he served over a year in prison and was released within 15 years of the instant offense: “Trafficking in a Controlled Substance in the First Degree,” and “Unlawful Possession of a Methamphetamine Precursor and Persistent Felony Offender,” The trial was bifurcated into two phases to prove the substantive drug offense and to prove that Fields had previously been convicted of two serious drug felonies.The Sixth Circuit vacated Fields’ 25-year mandatory-minimum enhanced sentence, rejecting one of the “serious drug offense” predicates. Kentucky’s meth-precursor statute applies when a defendant was not yet capable of manufacturing methamphetamine and does not “necessarily entail” manufacturing under section 924(e)(2)(A)(ii). The court rejected challenges to the procedure used to impose the enhancement, including arguments that 21 U.S.C. 851(b), which governs procedures for imposing the enhancement, facially violated the Fifth Amendment by compelling defendants to testify regarding previous convictions and that section 851(c) facially violates the Sixth Amendment by requiring judges to determine facts—the length and recency of incarceration—that the Constitution requires to be decided by a jury. View "United States v. Fields" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants, two jail officers, and dismissing Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims that Defendants caused his injuries, holding that Plaintiff failed to establish that either defendant violated his constitutional rights.Plaintiff was booked into Boone County Detention Center on nonviolent drug charges and was placed in a cell with Jordan Webster, a fellow detainee. Webster attacked and beat Plaintiff during the night. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to protect him from the risk of harm posed by Webster. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to establish that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious risk of harm by failing to protect him from Webster. View "Stein v. Gunkel" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the order of the district court denying Appellant's motion to suppress, holding that there was no violation of Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights under the circumstances of this case.Defendant entered a conditional plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant subsequently brought this appeal challenging the district court's order denying his motion to suppress, arguing that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to initiate the traffic stop leading to the search of his car and unconstitutionally prolonged the stop. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to warrant a prudent person in believing Defendant had violated 4511.431(A); and (2) the officer had probable cause to detain Defendant, investigate the source of a marijuana odor, and continue search the entire vehicle for marijuana. View "United States v. Stevenson" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court denying Defendant's motion to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. 2255, holding that the district court erred by denying Defendant's request to vacate his 18 U.S.C. 924(j) conviction.Defendant pled guilty to discharging a firearm during a crime of violence that resulted in death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(j), and illegally possessing a firearm as a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that the Court should vacate his crime-of-violence conviction under section 924(j) because of the Supreme Court's decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 2191 (2019). The Sixth Circuit agreed and vacated that conviction, holding that, given Davis, Defendant did not violate section 924(j) because his attempted robbery did not qualify as a crime of violence under the constitutional portion of section 924's definition. View "Wallace v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the order of the district court vacating its previous judgment, in which it granted Defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion and vacated his sentence, and reinstating Defendant's original sentence, holding that the district court did not enjoy the discretion to resentence Defendant de novo.More than a decade ago, Defendant pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon. In part because Defendant had prior Tennessee convictions for aggravated burglary the district court designated sentenced Defendant under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Defendant later moved to vacate his sentence under section 2255, arguing that his prior Tennessee convictions for aggravated burglary did not constitute violent felonies given recent developments in Armed Career Criminal Act jurisprudence. The district court granted the motion and vacated Defendant's sentence. Due to intervening Supreme Court caselaw decided before resentencing, the district court vacated the order granting Defendant's section 2255 motion, denied the motion, and reinstated the original sentence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Defendant lacked any viable section 2255 claim. View "Mitchell v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion for relief from his first-degree murder conviction, holding that there was no merit to any of Appellant's claims on appeal.In his section 2255 petition, Appellant claimed that he was deprived of the effective assistance of trial counsel (IAC). The Sixth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on Appellant's IAC claim concerning an alleged conflict of interest, a Brady claim, an IAC claim regarding the investigation at the guilt stage, and a final IAC claim regarding the presentation of mitigation evidence at the penalty phase. The district court denied the petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that Appellant was not entitled to relief on any of his claims of error. View "Gabrion, II v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and vacated in part the district court's denial of Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that, in Tennessee, ineffective assistance of post-conviction counsel can establish cause to excuse a defendant's procedural default of a substantive claim of ineffective assistance at the motion-for-a-new-trial stage of the proceedings.Appellant was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, aggravated kidnapping, rape of a child, and criminal impersonation. The jury sentenced Appellant to death. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed. Appellant later filed a habeas petition, which the district court denied. The Sixth Circuit (1) affirmed the district court with respect to the guilt phase of Defendant's trial; (2) held that Appellant's counsel rendered ineffective assistance at the sentencing phase, requiring remand with instructions to grant habeas on this claim as to the penalty phase; and (3) vacated the district court's findings that Appellant failed to overcome his procedural default on certain claims; and (4) reversed the court's finding that the Martinez-Trevino exception to procedural default cannot excuse a procedural default when the underlying ineffective assistance occurred in a motion for a new trial. View "Rogers v. Mays" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court denying the government's motion to admit records documenting a terrorist group's organizational structure, logistics, and activities as statements of co-conspirators under Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E), holding that the district court erred.A grant jury indicted Defendant for his ISIS-related activities. Before trial, the government identified certain exhibits recovered from various ISIS facilities and moved to admit the documents as statements of co-conspirators admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E). The district court denied the government's motion. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the government adequately defined the scope of the conspiracy that it claimed existed, and the district court clearly erred in ruling otherwise. View "United States v. Musaibli" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court sentencing Defendant to 120 months for his federal drug trafficking and firearm offenses, holding that a procedural error in calculating the Guidelines range did not affect the district court's selection of the sentence.Defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute controlled substances and two firearm possession offenses. The district court imposed concurrent sixty-month sentences on counts one and two followed by a mandatory consecutive sixty-month sentence on count three. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court erred in finding that one of Defendant's prior Ohio Robbery offenses was a predicate offense warranting a career-offender enhancement under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines; but (2) the error did not warrant a remand because it was harmless. View "United States v. Butts" on Justia Law

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Jarvela drank several rum-and-cokes, then drove his Silverado to a Shell station to buy cigarettes. Afterward, the store clerk called the police to report that “a drunk guy" had just left driving a black Silverado. In a nearby police cruiser, Officer Trevino spotted the Silverado, speeding and drifting over the road’s center line. Trevino activated his lights and pursued the truck. Jarvela led Trevino on an extended chase. After about five minutes, the road turned to gravel and the Silverado struck a tree. Jarvela fled on foot into a darkened wooded area. Trevino called for backup. Deputy Houk and his service dog, Argo, arrived and began searching with Argo leashed. After about five minutes, Argo found clothing. Moments later Jarvela was visible in the weeds, wrestling with Argo, who was clinging to Jarvela’s arm. Jarvela tried to injure Argo. Houk delivered seven blows to Jarvela's back, yelling “Let go of the fucking dog.” Trevino shot his taser at Jarvela, who rolled onto his back. Trevino again deployed his taser.In Jarvela’s excessive force suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Sixth Circuit held that Houk had no constitutional duty to shout out a warning to Jarvela before searching for him with the dog and was entitled to summary judgment. View "Jarvela v. Houk" on Justia Law