Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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In 2019, Jones pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute and distribution of cocaine base and was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment. Jones filed a pro se emergency motion, seeking compassionate release because of the pandemic. Jones may have respiratory issues, is over 40 years old, and is obese. One out of every four prisoners has tested positive for COVID-19 in the prison where Jones is incarcerated.District courts may reduce the sentences of incarcerated persons in “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances, 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). Previously, only the Bureau of Prisons could file motions for compassionate release. The Bureau rarely did so. The 2018 First Step Act allows incarcerated persons to file their own motions.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Jones’s motion. In making sentence-modification decisions under section 3582(c)(1)(A), district courts must find both that “extraordinary and compelling reasons" warrant the reduction and that the "reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission” before considering relevant 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)sentencing factors. Sentencing Guideline 1B1.13, which has not been amended to reflect the First Step Act, is not an “applicable” policy statement in cases where prisoners file their own motions. District courts must supply specific factual reasons for their decisions. Here, the court found for the sake of argument that an extraordinary and compelling circumstance existed but that section 3553(a)'s factors counseled against granting release. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Tisdale, Davis, and Hill held prominent positions in Detroit's "Playboy Gangster Crips," which committed hundreds of home invasions. On January 31, 2017, Tisdale and other gang members approached a house on Stout Street, threw a brick through the window, and left. They met with Davis and drove back to rob the house. As they exited their Jeep, someone shot at them from the house. Tisdale returned fire. A bullet from the house hit Tisdale’s leg. The gang members left. Federal agents obtained a warrant to search Tisdale’s home and discovered incriminating evidence. Tisdale, Hill, Davis, and 11 others were indicted. Many pleaded guilty; a jury convicted Tisdale, Hill, and Davis of racketeering conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), and convicted Tisdale of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and of using a firearm during a crime of violence, sections 1959(a)(3), 924(c). The district court sentenced Tisdale to 252 months, Hill to 246 months, and Davis to 144 months.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the affidavit used to support the search warrant lacked probable cause; that the court should have granted Davis’ motion to sever; that the court should have granted a mistrial after jurors inadvertently saw the defendants in the hallway escorted in handcuffs by marshals; that the court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense; and that the court erred by instructing the jury that firing a gun qualifies as “brandishing.” View "United States v. Tisdale" on Justia Law

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Mukes was arrested after a dispute with his girlfriend, Davis. He pled guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Davis claimed that Mukes had fired the gun into the air four times. Mukes denied ever firing or threatening Davis. Officers had observed Mukes walking away, holding a handgun, and told Mukes to drop the gun. Mukes fled and was quickly caught. Officers recovered the loaded handgun. The arrest record stated that Mukes threw the weapon while fleeing. The affidavit of complaint stated that Mukes dropped the firearm before he ran. Mukes insisted that he dropped the gun in response to police commands before running. The PSR stated that Mukes dropped the firearm after he ran and recommended a four-point enhancement for using a firearm in connection with another felony offense, “Reckless Endangerment-Deadly Weapon,” and a two-point enhancement for recklessly creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to another person while fleeing from a law officer. Mukes argued that he should not be penalized for contesting the enhancements when he accepted responsibility for the crime.The district court applied both enhancements, declined to grant Mukes a reduction for acceptance of responsibility, and sentenced Mukes to the statutory maximum, 120 months' imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The government failed to demonstrate that either enhancement was applicable; on remand, the court should consider whether Mukes may receive the two-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility. View "United States v. Mukes" on Justia Law

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Federal prisoner Grant was detained at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center NEOCC while awaiting sentencing for armed robbery. NEOCC, a privately owned and operated prison, contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service to house federal detainees before trial and/or sentencing. Grant punched a prison guard and ultimately pleaded guilty under 18 U.S.C. 111, which criminalizes assaulting federal officers and those who assist them. Grant contends that section 111 does not apply because the assault victim was a private contractor, not a federal employee, and, at the time of the assault, the contractor was not assisting a federal employee.The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction. Section 111 encompasses circumstances where a private employee performs the same federal duties a federal employee would otherwise fulfill. View "United States v. Grant" on Justia Law

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Clancy and a partner went to rob a Memphis store. Clancy wore a white hoodie, red pants with white letters, red shoes, a black mask, black gloves, and had a gun. His partner wore a black hoodie, black pants, a black mask, and also carried a gun. Clancy aimed his weapon and said: “You know what time it is.” Within seconds, shots rang out. The manager and another employee grabbed their guns and returned fire. The robbers fled. One employee was shot in the knee. Within 15 minutes of the robbery, a car arrived at the hospital. Two men dressed in black summoned an emergency technician, who found Clancy laying across the backseat with a gunshot wound. The other men left. Clancy wore a light-colored jacket, red pants with a white lettering, red shoes, and a black glove. Officers, walking into the emergency department, found Clancy, and saw his clothing on the floor, visible from the hallway. Crime scene investigators arrived and found Clancy’s bloodied clothes in a plastic bag.Clancy was convicted of attempted Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951, and use of a firearm related to a crime of violence, section 924(c). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding the denial of a motion to suppress the clothing evidence, citing the plain-view doctrine. The court also upheld an instruction that required the jury to find that Clancy, “while being aided and abetted by others unknown,” used a firearm. View "United States v. Clancy" on Justia Law

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Hall was convicted of 11 counts of bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344(1), and one count of identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1). During her trial, Hall admitted that she signed her children’s, niece’s, and sister’s names and altered her sister’s paystubs to obtain student loan money. She maintained that she thought all her actions did not violate the law and that her family members orally gave her permission to apply for the loans.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. Even if the indictment was duplicitous because it included both sections 1344(1) and (2) in each count related to one loan, rather than separating out section 1344(1) as one count for a particular loan and section 1344(2) as another count for that same loan, the government elected to rely on section 1344(1), and the district court only instructed on the elements for section 1344(1). Challenged statements made by the prosecutor were not so flagrant to merit reversal; the defense did not object to the remarks and overwhelming proof of guilt existed. View "United States v. Hall" on Justia Law

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FBI agents arrested Alebbini, a Jordanian national who immigrated to the U.S. in 2009 and became a permanent resident in 2014, at the Cincinnati Airport, suspecting that he was attempting to travel to Turkey and then Syria to join ISIS, a designated foreign terrorist organization. Alebbini had previously shouted a threat while being escorted away from the Turkish Embassy and, during the ensuing investigation, told FBI agents that Facebook deactivated his account because he had posted pro-ISIS videos, that he agreed with ISIS’s overall goals but not necessarily with their means, that he attempted to join the U.S. Military to fight Syrian forces, and that he was not a terrorist, but that he “would be the perfect recruit for ISIS.” An informant had recorded conversations in which he expressed pro-ISIS views. His relatives believed he was planning to travel to join ISIS.Alebbini was convicted of attempting and conspiring to provide material support and resources to ISIS, 18 U.S.C. 2339B(a)(1). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence for both of his convictions. A rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The court noted evidence contradicting Alebbini’s assertion that he had disavowed his plan. View "United States v. Alebbini" on Justia Law

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An informant told the DEA that Ruffin planned to drive to Columbus to purchase heroin from Mexican drug traffickers. She described the SUV, provided the license plate number, and stayed in contact throughout the trip. Agents watched Ruffin and the informant enter the house. Two Hispanic men entered the house briefly. The informant messaged the agents from inside the house that Ruffin had purchased a plastic bag of heroin, and, holding a plastic bag, had gone into the bathroom, where he stayed for about 20 minutes. Agents followed Ruffin until he committed a traffic infraction, then pulled him over. A drug dog alerted on the car. Searches of the car and Ruffin’s person yielded no evidence. The agents suspected that Ruffin had concealed the drugs inside his body. An Ohio magistrate issued a warrant for a body cavity search. Police took Ruffin to the hospital where a nurse conducted a finger-search of Ruffin’s rectum, with Ruffin shackled at the legs and one agent remaining in the room. The nurse’s notes say that she felt something in the anal cavity. The nurse then inserted an instrument to visually examine the inside of Ruffin’s rectum. The nurse’s notes indicate that she saw a foreign object. The physician ordered an X-ray, saw three objects, and ordered soap suds enemas until Ruffin released three bags of heroin and fentanyl.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Ruffin’s motion to suppress the drugs. The facts created a “fair probability” that Ruffin had concealed the drugs in his body, so the magistrate did not “arbitrarily exercise” his discretion in finding probable cause. Although the search could have been handled better, the presence of a warrant, the absence of any safety risk, and the police’s need for evidence make this search reasonable. View "United States v. Ruffin" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Gatewood was convicted of two counts of kidnapping and one count of robbery affecting interstate commerce. The court determined that Gatewood’s four prior Arkansas robbery convictions qualified as serious violent felonies and imposed a life sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3559(c), the federal three-strikes statute.In 2016, Gatewood moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that his robbery convictions had been deemed serious violent felonies only under the residual clause. The Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) residual clause had been found unconstitutionally vague in the Supreme Court’s 2015 “Johnson” decision. Gatewood filed his motion within a year of Johnson. The government argued that Johnson could not render the motion timely because it applied only to ACCA. The government also argued procedural default. The Supreme Court decided “Davis” in 2019, finding the 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(B) residual clause, which is nearly identical to the three-strikes residual clause, unconstitutionally vague.The district court denied Gatewood’s motion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. While the government concedes that Gatewood’s motion was timely in light of Davis, Gatewood procedurally defaulted the vagueness claim by failing to raise it on direct review. Gatewood cannot establish cause by showing that his claim cut against circuit precedent at the time of his appeal. From Gatewood’s sentencing to the 2002 conclusion of his appeal, the tools to construct his present vagueness claim existed; no Supreme Court precedent foreclosed it. View "Gatewood v. United States" on Justia Law

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On July 24, 2020, the district court denied Payton’s motion for compassionate release or a reduction of his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A). A notice of appeal, dated August 9, was filed in the district court on August 10. A defendant’s notice of appeal in a criminal case must be filed in the district court no later than 14 days after the challenged judgment or order is entered. Fed. R. App. P. 4(b)(1)(A). A section 3582(c) motion is a continuation of the criminal proceedings, so the 14-day deadline applies. Rule 4(b)(1)(A)'s deadline is not jurisdictional but is a claims-processing rule; the government can waive an objection to an untimely notice. If the government raises the issue of timeliness, the court must enforce the time limits.In response to the government’s motion to dismiss, Payton asserted that the prison has been “on an institution-wide lockdown and getting copies in this environment is problematic” and argued excusable neglect. Rule 4(b)(4) authorizes the district court to extend the time for filing an appeal for up to 30 days if the court finds “good cause” or “excusable neglect.” The Sixth Circuit remanded for the limited purpose of allowing the district court to determine whether Payton has shown excusable neglect or good cause. View "United States v. Payton" on Justia Law