Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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The case involves Dr. Peter Bolos, who was convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, and felony misbranding as part of a complex scheme. Bolos purchased an interest in Florida-based pharmacy Synergy Pharmacy Services in 2013 and became the managing partner. Synergy signed an agreement with HealthRight, a telemarketing firm, to generate business. HealthRight used social media advertisements and large phone banks to generate potential clients for Synergy. The information collected from potential clients was forwarded to a licensed doctor in the patient’s home state for review. Most of these decisions were made without the doctor ever seeing or speaking to the patient. The doctors then sent the prescriptions to Synergy for filling.The District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee convicted Bolos on all counts after a four-week trial. Bolos appealed, arguing that his actions were not unlawful and that he was being unfairly held criminally culpable for contractual violations and others’ misconduct.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed with Bolos and affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Bolos and Synergy leadership knew of the deficiencies in their business practices and either actively facilitated and furthered them or turned a blind eye, all in an effort to induce Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) to pay Synergy. The court also held that the federal healthcare-fraud statute requires the government to prove that Bolos knowingly devised a scheme or artifice to defraud a health care benefit program in connection with the delivery of or payment for health care benefits, items, or services. The court found ample evidence in the record to support the jury’s finding that Bolos conspired to create a scheme with the intent to defraud the PBMs of their money. View "United States v. Bolos" on Justia Law

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Richard Whitman was convicted of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm in an Ohio state court. The case revolved around whether Whitman acted in self-defense when he shot and killed David Eadie during a physical altercation at his sister's home. Whitman requested a jury instruction on the "castle doctrine," which would have informed the jury that a person lawfully in their residence has no duty to retreat before using force in self-defense. The trial court denied this request, and Whitman was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 21 years to life in prison.Whitman appealed his conviction to the Ohio Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on the castle doctrine. The appeals court upheld his conviction, ruling that any error did not affect Whitman's substantial rights. Whitman then sought to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing for the first time that the trial court's error violated his federal due process right to a complete defense. The Ohio Supreme Court denied discretionary review.Whitman then turned to federal court, petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus. He claimed that the state court's denial of the castle doctrine instruction violated his federal due process rights. The district court denied Whitman's petition, deeming the castle doctrine issue a state law question and not a due process violation. Whitman appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The court found that Whitman had procedurally defaulted his claim because he did not properly argue the merits of his due process claim in state court and is now barred from further review there. The court also noted that Whitman did not argue that he could satisfy the cause and prejudice standard which might otherwise overcome the default. The court concluded that enforcing Whitman's procedural default was justified by the interests of preservation, judicial economy, and comity. View "Whitman v. Gray" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dorian McMullen, who was found by police in a high-crime neighborhood, sitting in his car with his legs sticking out the open door. As police approached in an unmarked vehicle, they observed McMullen reaching for something on the car's floorboard, which they suspected to be a gun. McMullen exited his car and engaged in a brief conversation with the police, during which he allegedly admitted to having a gun and crack cocaine in his car. The police then searched the car, finding a loaded pistol and narcotics. McMullen was arrested and later charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.McMullen moved to suppress the gun evidence, arguing that it was seized in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The district court denied the motion, finding that the police had reasonable suspicion to temporarily stop and question McMullen, based on factors such as the high-crime neighborhood, proximity to a gang member's car, and McMullen's reaching motion towards the car's floorboard. The court also found that the police lawfully frisked McMullen and searched his car due to officer-safety concerns. McMullen pleaded guilty and appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the police had a valid basis for initiating a Terry stop, considering the totality of the circumstances. The court also found that the police took reasonable protective measures during the stop, including searching McMullen's car, which did not violate his constitutional rights. The court rejected McMullen's argument that the gun in his car was not immediately accessible to him at the time of the search, stating that a weapon is not necessarily inaccessible just because it is temporarily behind a closed door. View "United States v. McMullen" on Justia Law

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The case involves Dr. John Stanton, who served as the medical director for a pain clinic in Tennessee. The federal government alleged that the clinic operated as a pill mill, and charged Dr. Stanton with conspiring to violate federal drug laws. Despite numerous red flags indicating the clinic's operation as a pill mill, Dr. Stanton continued to sign off on state compliance reports and prescribe narcotics to patients who failed drug screens. The government indicted Dr. Stanton, along with the clinic's owner and two patient sponsors, for conspiring to distribute controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, where Dr. Stanton was found guilty by a jury. At sentencing, the court concluded that Dr. Stanton had prescribed a converted drug weight of at least 21,524 kilograms, leading to a recommended minimum sentence of 188 months. The trial court, however, varied downward to 120 months.Upon appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Dr. Stanton challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict and several rulings by the trial court. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that Dr. Stanton knowingly agreed to help the clinic and its owner illegally distribute controlled substances. The court also found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decisions, including the allowance of a new expert witness for the government, the instruction to the jury on deliberate ignorance, and the response to the jury’s questions about the jury instructions. The court also upheld the drug weight calculation at sentencing. View "United States v. Stanton" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Roy Christopher West, who is serving a life sentence without parole for a conviction that the district judge has attributed to a sentencing error. West was indicted in 2010 on a charge of conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire. He was tried twice, and during the second trial, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. However, the indictment did not include any allegation that personal injury or death resulted from the conspiracy, and the jury was not instructed that death was an element of West's offense. The district court sentenced West under the federal murder-for-hire statute, which imposes a life sentence in cases where "death results." The court concluded that sentencing West to life imprisonment under these circumstances violated West's constitutional rights.West initially moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate a causation defense. The district court denied that motion. West then moved for compassionate release, arguing that his unconstitutionally imposed life sentence, combined with his rehabilitation while incarcerated, created an extraordinary and compelling circumstance that warranted a sentence reduction. The district court agreed and reduced his sentence to time served. However, the Government appealed, and the appellate court reversed, holding that compassionate release could not be used as a vehicle for second or successive § 2255 motions.West then sought relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). The district court construed West's motion as a second or successive § 2255 motion and transferred it. West opposed the transfer and asked the appellate court to remand to the district court for a ruling on the merits of his Rule 60(b) motion. The appellate court vacated the district court's order construing West's motion as a second or successive § 2255 motion and remanded the motion to the district court to consider under Rule 60(b). View "In re: West" on Justia Law

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Emmanuel Merritt was convicted for being a felon in possession of firearms and was sentenced to 120 months in prison. Prior to his guilty plea, Merritt had spent several months evading authorities, leading the district court to deny him a two-point reduction in his total offense level for not accepting responsibility. Additionally, the district court increased Merritt's criminal history score by three points due to a past state offense that included a total prison sentence of 870 days. Merritt contested both decisions, arguing that his sentence was only 330 days due to credits he received.The United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan disagreed with Merritt's objections. It found that Merritt had not clearly demonstrated acceptance of responsibility and that his criminal history score was calculated correctly. Merritt was sentenced to a within-Guidelines sentence of 120 months in prison.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that the district court did not err in denying the two-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, given Merritt's history of evading authorities. The court also upheld the district court's calculation of Merritt's criminal history score, ruling that the Guidelines required the addition of three points for Merritt's past state offense. View "United States v. Merritt" on Justia Law

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Keita Jerrod Hayden was convicted for violating the terms of his supervised release for the second time. The district court imposed a seven-month term of incarceration followed by an eight-year term of supervised release. Hayden challenged his supervised-release term on two grounds: first, that it is longer than his statute of conviction allows, and second, that the district court violated his right to be present at sentencing by imposing the mandatory and standard conditions by reference.The district court had previously sentenced Hayden to a ten-year prison term and eight years of supervised release for knowingly and intentionally possessing with the intent to distribute a mixture containing cocaine base. Hayden violated the terms of his supervised release twice, first by driving under the influence of alcohol, and second by being intoxicated in a public place. Each time, the district court sentenced him to imprisonment followed by an eight-year supervised-release term.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The court found that the district court did not exceed the statutory-maximum term of supervised release and provided Hayden with sufficient notice of the conditions to satisfy due process. The court also determined that the district court did not violate Hayden's due-process right by incorporating the standard supervised-release conditions by reference. The court concluded that the district court had followed an appropriate procedure in imposing four special discretionary conditions upon Hayden during his supervised release. View "United States v. Hayden" on Justia Law

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The case involves Lance Tobias, who ran an operation shipping and receiving drugs and cash for dealers and their customers. He pleaded guilty to crimes involving the possession and distribution of fentanyl. The district court denied Tobias “safety-valve” relief, an offense-level reduction for defendants who make full disclosures to the government, citing Tobias’s failure to disclose any information regarding his customers. As a result, Tobias qualified for a ten-year mandatory minimum under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). The court imposed the mandatory minimum and a $100,000 fine without calculating Tobias’s sentencing range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Tobias appealed the district court’s denial of safety-valve relief and his sentence.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court found that the district court’s denial of safety-valve relief was supported by the record. The court also found that any sentencing error survives plain-error review. The court held that Tobias failed to provide the government with enough information to warrant safety-valve relief. The court also found that the district court’s failure to calculate Tobias’s Guidelines range before imposing the statutorily mandated minimum term of imprisonment and a $100,000 fine did not affect Tobias’s substantial rights. View "United States v. Tobias" on Justia Law

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The case involves Brian Dewayne Darden-Mosby, who was convicted of two federal drug-dealing offenses. During the investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents executed a search warrant for Darden-Mosby’s house and car, discovering an unregistered firearm, a money counter, drug ledgers, marijuana, and a backpack containing cocaine. They also seized $112,690 in cash found in various locations in his bedroom. After the search, police pulled over one of Darden-Mosby’s cocaine suppliers and found Darden-Mosby in the passenger seat with a bank envelope containing $2,500 in cash and two cashier’s checks totaling nearly $150,000.The United States prosecuted Darden-Mosby for various crimes based on the drugs and guns found in his house. As part of the prosecution, the government initiated criminal-forfeiture proceedings against the cash from Darden-Mosby’s bedroom, the two cashier’s checks, and the $2,500 found in Darden-Mosby’s pocket. Darden-Mosby sought to suppress the cashier’s checks and $2,500, arguing the detective’s search violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the motion. The government ultimately opted not to introduce that evidence at trial, and it dismissed the criminal forfeiture claims against the two checks.A jury convicted Darden-Mosby of two drug-dealing offenses. The government declined to prosecute the forfeiture of the $2,500 in cash from the traffic stop any further but continued to pursue criminal forfeiture of the $112,690 from Darden-Mosby’s house. After a hearing and additional briefing, the court concluded the cash was connected to Darden-Mosby’s drug dealing and ordered the criminal forfeiture of the money.Separate from the government’s criminal-forfeiture actions, the DEA commenced administrative-forfeiture proceedings against the two cashier’s checks and the $2,500. These proceedings resulted in the administrative forfeiture of all three assets.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court affirmed the district court’s criminal-forfeiture order with respect to the $92,470 found in the safe and shoebox at Darden-Mosby’s house but reversed with respect to the $20,220 found in and on the dresser. The court found that Darden-Mosby offered credible evidence that the $20,220 found on and in the dresser had legal sources and purposes. However, the court found that Darden-Mosby’s evidence was considerably weaker when it came to the $92,470 in the safe and shoebox. View "United States v. Darden-Mosby" on Justia Law

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The case involves Tommy Kirtdoll, who was under investigation by a multijurisdictional task force in southwest Michigan for leading a drug-trafficking organization. After several undercover drug deals, the task force obtained a search warrant for Kirtdoll's house, which was described in detail in the warrant application. Upon executing the warrant, officers found drugs and distribution equipment, leading to Kirtdoll's indictment on multiple drug offenses.Kirtdoll challenged the validity of the search warrant, citing three errors: the address listed was not his, the tax identification number was incorrect, and the property owner's name was not his. He argued that these mistakes rendered the warrant unconstitutional due to lack of particularity, as required by the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied Kirtdoll's motion, ruling that the warrant's other accurate descriptors were particular enough to satisfy the Fourth Amendment. Kirtdoll pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal the district court's decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reviewed the warrant's particularity de novo. The court held that the Fourth Amendment does not require perfection in search warrants, but rather enough detail for the executing officer to identify the intended place with reasonable effort. The court found that despite the errors, the warrant contained three descriptors that indisputably applied only to Kirtdoll's house and clearly identified it as the premises to be searched. These included the house's geographic location, a detailed description of the house, and a unique identifier - a red star affixed to its west side. The court concluded that the warrant for Kirtdoll's house was specific enough to meet the Fourth Amendment's particularity requirement, and thus, the district court properly denied Kirtdoll's motion to suppress. The court affirmed the district court's decision. View "United States v. Kirtdoll" on Justia Law