Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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Eason pleaded guilty as a felon in possession of a firearm. The statutory range for such a violation is zero to 10 years’ imprisonment but under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1), a defendant convicted under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) who has three prior convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 months. Eason had five prior felony convictions for the promotion of methamphetamine manufacture. Eason argued that an ACCA “serious drug offense” is defined as “an offense under State law, involving manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance,” and that, under the Tennessee statute, his prior offenses could have been based on no more than the purchase of an ingredient that can be used to produce methamphetamine with reckless disregard of its intended use. The district court agreed with Eason. Without the ACCA enhancement, Eason was sentenced to 46 months’ imprisonment, the top of the guideline range. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Purchasing ingredients needed to make methamphetamine, and consciously disregarding an unjustifiable risk regarding how those products will be used, “indirectly,” if not “directly,” connects with methamphetamine’s “production, preparation, propagation, compounding or processing” and is a serious drug offense under ACCA. View "United States v. Eason" on Justia Law

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Lee was a member of the Summit County Council. The FBI obtained wiretaps and investigated the relationship between Lee and Abdelqader, a store owner, after complaints that Abdelqader “was insisting on monthly cash payments from other local businesses” that he would give to Lee in exchange for political favors. Abdelqader’s nephews were arrested for felonious assault. Abdelqader called Lee for help; they discussed Lee’s financial problems. Abdelqader promised that they would “work it out.” Lee placed calls to the juvenile court bailiff and the judicial assistant; Lee subsequently deposited 200 dollars in her bank account and placed calls to the judge who was handling the case. Lee also took payment for attempting to intervene in an IRS investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Lee’s convictions on four counts of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, honest services mail fraud, Hobbs Act conspiracy, and Hobbs Act extortion, 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, 1346, 1349, and 1951 and two counts concerning obstruction of justice and false statements to law enforcement, 18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2); 18 U.S.C. 1001 and her 60-month sentence. The court rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to the sufficiency of her indictment in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 “McDonnell” decision. At a minimum, the indictment supports an inference that Lee agreed to perform an official act or pressure or advise other officials to perform official acts in exchange for gifts or loans from Abdelqader. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Officer Minard pulled over Cruise-Gulyas for speeding. He wrote her a ticket for a lesser, non-moving violation. As she drove away, she made a vulgar gesture at Minard, who then stopped her again and changed the ticket to a speeding offense. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Minard’s motion for dismissal of Cruise-Gulyas’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, in which she alleged unconstitutional seizure, restriction of her liberty, and retaliation. Cruise-Gulyas did not break any law that would justify the second stop and at most was exercising her free speech rights. Qualified immunity protects police from personal liability unless they violate a person’s clearly established constitutional or statutory rights; the rights asserted by Cruise-Gulyas meet that standard. Minard’s authority to seize her in connection with the driving infraction ended when the first stop concluded. Cruise-Gulyas’s crude gesture could not provide that new justification. Any reasonable officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment. An officer who seizes a person for Fourth Amendment purposes without proper justification and issues her a more severe ticket clearly commits an adverse action that would deter her from repeating that conduct in the future. View "Cruise-Gulyas v. Minard" on Justia Law

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Jackson, Palmer, Taylor, Dillard, and Rembert were charged with multiple violations of 18 U.S.C. 2119(2), carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury, and 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(ii), using, carrying, or possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. Palmer was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). Rembert and Taylor entered guilty pleas pursuant to agreements that required that they testify against their co-defendants. Dillard later entered a guilty plea but did not testify. Palmer unsuccessfully moved to have the felon-in-possession charge severed from the other charges against him to avoid undue prejudice from the introduction of evidence of his prior felony convictions, then pleaded guilty to the felon-in-possession charge. Before trial, the government moved for leave to introduce background evidence of defendants’ gang activities, including their involvement in several retaliatory drive-by shootings under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). The court allowed Rembert's testimony regarding the relationship between co-defendants as well as the motive for the carjacking. Rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Palmer’s conviction and 175-month sentence. The court vacated one of Jackson’s firearms convictions and remanded for resentencing; the district court had imposed a 771-month term of imprisonment. The district court reasonably found that the gang evidence was admissible as evidence of motive under Rule 404(b) and was not substantially more prejudicial than probative. View "United States v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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Chaney pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Because his criminal history included convictions for one “serious drug offense” and two “violent felon[ies],” Chaney was sentenced as an armed career criminal, subject to the Armed Career Criminal Act’s 15-year mandatory minimum, 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(1). On collateral review, Chaney argued that one of his three predicate convictions (a 1981 Michigan conviction for attempted unarmed robbery) did not qualify as a “violent felony” after the Supreme Court’s 2015 invalidation of the ACCA’s residual clause (Johnson). The Sixth Circuit rejected his argument, finding that Chaney’s conviction qualifies as an ACCA-enhancing violent felony under the elements clause, which continues to apply notwithstanding Johnson. Michigan unarmed robbery (as it existed in 1981) counts as a violent felony under the ACCA’s elements clause even though the statute extends to “putting [a victim] in fear,” because under Michigan law “putting in fear” means “putting in fear of bodily injury from physical force.” View "Chaney v. United States" on Justia Law

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Caldwell pleaded guilty to murder and an unrelated aggravated robbery in two separate cases in the same court on the same day. He initially filed an unsuccessful 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas petition challenging his murder conviction. He then challenged both convictions in a second section 2254 petition. The district court transferred Caldwell’s petition to the Sixth Circuit, which held that the petition is second or successive only to the extent it re-attacks his murder conviction. To the extent it challenges his aggravated-robbery conviction for the first time, the court returned it to the district court for consideration as an initial petition. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act limits “second or successive” applications for habeas relief but Caldwell had no obligation to challenge both convictions in his initial habeas petition. A petition qualifies as second or successive only if it challenges a previously challenged judgment. The court declined to authorize Caldwell’s second petition, challenging his murder conviction; Caldwell did not identify a new rule of constitutional law supporting any of his claims nor did he identify any factual predicates for these claims that could not have been discovered previously and that would establish his actual innocence. View "In re Caldwell" on Justia Law

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Martirossian, a citizen of Armenia now living in China, refused to answer criminal charges, relating to money-laundering and conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. 1956, in the Southern District of Ohio. When his lawyers moved to dismiss the indictment, the court declared him a fugitive and refused to rule on the motion until he submitted himself to its jurisdiction. Martirossian appealed and in the alternative filed a mandamus petition asking the Sixth Circuit to order the district court to rule on his motion. The Sixth Circuit held that, because the district court’s decision is not a final order, it lacked jurisdiction over Martirossian’s appeal. Martirossian did not meet the high bar for granting the “extraordinary writ” of mandamus. Federal courts do not play “catch me if you can.” If a defendant refuses to appear to answer an indictment, ignores an arrest warrant, or leaves the jurisdiction, the court may decline to resolve any objections to the indictment in his absence. The “fugitive disentitlement doctrine” generally permits a federal court to insist on a defendant’s presence in the jurisdiction before it resolves challenges to the criminal charges. View "United States v. Martirossian" on Justia Law

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Sampson is serving a life sentence in a Michigan prison. He sued Wayne County, state court officials, and private attorneys under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging they conspired to deprive him of trial transcripts, exhibits, and other records to frustrate his constitutional right to access the court. The district court dismissed Sampson’s pro se complaint, concluding that several defendants are immune from suit or are not state actors and that the Supreme Court’s 1994 holding, Heck v. Humphrey, bars his access-to-the-court claim because its success “would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Heck was intended to channel what amount to unlawful-confinement claims to the place they belong: habeas corpus; the reasoning applies to an access-to-the-court claim alleging state interference with a direct criminal appeal. Sampson could prevail on his claim only if he showed that the information he sought could make a difference in a nonfrivolous challenge to his convictions; he could win only if he implied the invalidity of his underlying judgment. A favorable judgment on Sampson’s access-to-the-court claim would necessarily bear on the validity of his underlying judgment, because that is exactly what he says the defendants kept him from contesting fairly. View "Sampson v. Garrett" on Justia Law

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Five federal prisoners filed habeas corpus petitions under 28 U.S.C. 2241, arguing that their respective sentences are too long under federal law. Each paid the $5 habeas filing fee in the district court and each lost his petition on the merits. Each man moved to proceed as a pauper on appeal, seeking to avoid prepaying the $505 appellate filing fee. The statute, 28 U.S.C. 1915(a)(1), says that a federal court “may authorize the commencement, prosecution or defense of any suit, action or proceeding, civil or criminal, or appeal therein, without prepayment of fees” by a person who “is unable to pay such fees.” After examining each petitioner’s financial status, the district courts granted the motions in part, requiring each petitioner to make a one-time, partial prepayment of the fee, ranging from $50 to $400. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Nothing in the statute deprives a district court of discretion to require partial prepayment of appellate filing fees, and nothing about it alters the pre-1996-amendment practice of doing so. View "Samarripa v. Ormond" on Justia Law

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Bradley worked as the general contractor on Ingersoll’s project converting an old Michigan church into a charter school, Bay City Academy (BCA). Ingersoll had previously misappropriated state funding meant for a charter school he already ran, Grand Traverse Academy, and used the funding for the new charter school project to cover his tracks. At trial, Bradley was shown to have conducted fraudulent transfers of the newly misappropriated money, failed to report the resulting sizeable deposits into his accounts in his 2011 tax filing and underpaid his taxes, and failed to file W-2s reporting his BCA employees’ wages to the IRS and to provide them with 1099s. Bradley was convicted of conspiring to defraud the United States, 18 U.S.C. 371. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Bradley’s arguments that testimony that he underpaid his 2011 taxes constituted a prejudicial constructive amendment or variance to the indictment; that the government made improper arguments during its opening statement and rebuttal, and that the court improperly refused to instruct the jury on a lesser-included offense. The evidence of his tax filing constituted a presentation of additional evidence to substantiate charged offenses, which did not include facts materially different from those charged. The prosecutor’s statements were improper but did not constitute flagrant prosecutorial misconduct. View "United States v. Bradley" on Justia Law