Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Detective Shockley, investigating whether methamphetamine was being sold at Alexander's mother's house, learned that Alexander’s driver’s license was suspended. Shockley saw Alexander drive away, stopped him and saw a bank deposit bag on the passenger seat and a safe in the backseat. Shockley arrested Alexander for driving on a suspended license and conducted a search, finding a baggie with methamphetamine residue, drug paraphernalia, and $11,000 in cash. Shockley found 35 grams of methamphetamine in Alexander’s waistband. The SUV was towed. The next day, Shockley obtained a warrant for the safe and discovered a loaded pistol. Days later, Shockley saw Alexander leave the house in a Lincoln and called another officer, who stopped him. Shockley arrested Alexander. After Alexander said, “I don’t care,” Shockley searched the vehicle, and found 113 grams of methamphetamine. Charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, and possession of a firearm as a felon, Alexander unsuccessfully moved to suppress both stops. Classified as a career offender, he was sentenced to 216 months’ incarceration. The Sixth Circuit upheld the denial of the motion to suppress. The inventory search exception did not apply absent evidence of standardized procedures but the inevitable-discovery doctrine salvaged the first search. Alexander consented to the second search. The court vacated the sentence; the government conceded that the case should be remanded for resentencing without the career-offender enhancement. View "United States v. Alexander" on Justia Law

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State Trooper King saw Lott’s vehicle slow down on I-75 as it came into view; Lott was driving with “arms locked out.” King interpreted that as a sign of nervousness. King followed Lott for three-fourths of a mile in the left lane while vehicles passed on the right, then pulled Lott over. King stated that he was not going to issue a citation but ran Lott’s driver’s license for outstanding warrants and flagged down Trooper Reams, who had a K-9 in tow. Based on Lott’s nervousness and proximity to the roadway, King asked him to step out of the vehicle. King did not check the warrant search. Lott refused King’s request for consent to search his vehicle. King stated that “we’re going to utilize the K-9.” According to King, Lott responded, “I have a little bit of marijuana in the console.” The K-9 alerted after a “free air sniff.” King located marijuana in the console, then searched the vehicle. In the trunk, King found heroin, other drugs, and money. The Troopers estimated that five-10 minutes elapsed between the stop and the K-9 sniff. Lott was charged under 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of his motion to suppress. The traffic stop was initiated constitutionally and was not impermissibly extended. Lott did not dispute that he was impeding traffic; the marijuana admission occurred within the temporal scope of the tasks incident to the traffic stop. View "United States v. Lott" on Justia Law

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In 2017, a jury found Austin guilty of drug and gun crimes. The district court sentenced him to 255 months of imprisonment plus five years of supervised release. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While Austin’s appeal was pending, he filed a pro se “Motion to Request Audio Recordings,” seeking permission to access the backup audio recordings for his arraignment and sentencing hearing. He believed that the certified, written transcripts were erroneous. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. When an audiotape is merely a backup to the court reporter’s stenographic record (as here), the audiotape is the personal property of the court reporter and there is no public entitlement to the audiotapes except for “arraignments, changes of plea, and sentencings filed with the clerk of court.” The court reporter must file either a transcript or an electronic recording; a litigant is not automatically entitled to both. A transcript is presumed to be a correct representation of the proceedings, 28 U.S.C. 753(b). Austin did not provide the district court with any reason to distrust the accuracy of the transcripts. View "United States v. Austin" on Justia Law

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Torres was a long-time employee at Vitale’s Italian Restaurants located throughout Western Michigan. Although Torres and other Vitale’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, they allege that they were not paid overtime rates for those hours. Vitale’s required the workers to keep two separate timecards, one reflecting the first 40 hours of work, and the other, reflecting overtime hours. The employees were paid via check for the first card and via cash for the second. The pay was at a straight time rate on the second card. Torres alleged that employees were deprived of overtime pay and that Vitale’s did not pay taxes on the cash payments. Torres sought damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961. The district court dismissed, holding that the remedial scheme of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, precluded the RICO claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The claims based on lost wages from the alleged “wage theft scheme” cannot proceed. However, the FLSA does not preclude RICO claims when a defendant commits a RICO-predicate offense giving rise to damages distinct from the lost wages available under the FLSA. The court remanded Torres’s claim that Vitale’s is liable under RICO for failure to withhold taxes. View "Torres v. Vitale" on Justia Law

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Craig was involved in a high-speed shootout in the streets of Akron, Ohio and was apprehended wearing a shoulder holster and with gunshot residue on his hands. His DNA was identified on a firearm discovered in the backseat of one of the vehicles. Craig was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Craig admitted that he possessed a firearm while being a felon but testified that he possessed the gun only long enough to defend himself and his friends during the firefight. On cross-examination, the prosecution played for the jury a video depicting a masked individual (allegedly Craig) rapping and wielding a firearm that was similar to the gun for which he was charged. Craig denied that he was the individual in the video. The prosecution did not attempt to introduce the video into evidence. The district court never issued a limiting instruction about whether or how to consider the video. The prosecution referenced the video in closing arguments. The Sixth Circuit vacated Craig’s conviction. The prosecution had no legal basis to publish the unadmitted and unauthenticated exhibit to the jury, and the error was not harmless. The prosecution did not have a “‘good faith basis’ for cross-examination under Rule 608(b).” View "United States v. Craig" on Justia Law

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Armes pled guilty to five counts of producing, two counts of distributing, and one count of possessing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), 2252A(a)(2), 2252A(a)(5)(B). The images showed him molesting two members of his family--an infant and a toddler. The presentence report related that in 2005 Armes pled guilty to two counts of Kentucky third-degree rape: “According to the Indictment, the defendant engaged in sexual intercourse with a victim that was less than 16 years old . . . while the defendant was over 21 years old.” Armes did not object to those statements. Normally, the minimum prison terms for producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography are 15, five, and zero years (respectively). Those numbers rise to 25, 15, and 10 years for repeat sex offenders, including those with a past conviction under state law “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, [or] abusive sexual contact involving a minor or ward.” The district court applied the enhancement, making Armes’s minimum sentence 25 years. The Sentencing Guidelines recommended the maximum possible sentence—350 years. The government asked for 75 years. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Armes’s 50-year sentence as reasonable. His Kentucky rape convictions triggered the sentencing enhancement; the district court had enough information to determine the particular crime of conviction; that crime categorically qualifies for the enhancement. View "United States v. Armes" on Justia Law

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Marshall pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute oxycodone and was sentenced to 118 months of prison plus six years of supervised release. Although required to serve his supervised release in Kentucky, Marshall moved to Illinois, violating a release condition. The district court briefly revoked Marshall’s release. Marshall moved, with permission, to Michigan. For the next year, Marshall made progress. The probation office recommended an early end to his supervised release. Marshall filed an unopposed motion to end the supervision. The court denied his request, reasoning that Marshall had completed little of the release term and had violated the conditions before. The Sixth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Marshall never appealed his original or his new sentence; the district court did not issue a new sentence or an amended sentence before this appeal. On rehearing, the Sixth Circuit acknowledged its jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291, which provides a general grant of appellate jurisdiction to review “final” judgments. The court affirmed the denial of the motion on the merits. View "United States v. Marshall" on Justia Law

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Allen was convicted of aggravated robbery and murder for the death of 84-year-old English, whom he knew through a prison ministry. Allen’s thumbprint was found on England’s glasses. Cigarette butts consistent with Allen’s brand and saliva were found in English’s trash. The coroner put English’s time of death between before six a.m. on January 25, 1991. A bus driver remembered picking up Allen near English’s home around six a.m. that day. Allen was sentenced to death. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed. State courts denied post-conviction relief. Allen claimed he was denied due process because a juror, Worthington, initially indicated that she was not sure that she could be impartial. Worthington stated her brother had been killed two years earlier, that the man charged with the murder was acquitted, and she did not feel justice was done. The judge asked whether she could reach a verdict based solely on the evidence; Worthington said she could. Allen’s counsel stated that witnesses from the coroner’s office who testified at her brother’s trial would testify at Allen’s trial. Worthington stated that she was a bit anxious but denied that her reaction might substantially impact her ability to concentrate on Allen’s case. The Ohio Supreme Court held that the finding that Worthington was unbiased was supported by her testimony and that the judge could legitimately validate her statements because he saw and heard her. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief. The determination of whether to seat a juror is an exercise of discretion by the trial court. The Ohio Supreme Court did not unreasonably apply established Supreme Court precedent. View "Allen v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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McKinney reported that she had returned home to find her ex-boyfriend, Jones, inside her house, refusing to leave. Jones chased her outside, throwing items. McKinney was hit by a bottle of dish soap. McKinney saw Snipes drive Jones away in a white “Tahoelike vehicle.” Paducah Officer Parrish took steps to corroborate McKinney’s story. McKinney stated that Jones had threatened to kill her and could easily obtain a gun. She repeatedly stated that she planned to get an emergency protective order and that she feared Jones would return once the officers left. Parrish stayed in his car near the house and saw two black males in a white Chevy Suburban at the nearby intersection. Parrish stopped the vehicle. A pat-down of Jones revealed nothing. Parrish arrested him for assault (a fourth-degree misdemeanor) and placed him in the back of his squad car. Jones yelled that the cuffs were too tight. When Parrish checked the cuffs, he spotted a firearm in the back of his cruiser that he had not seen before. Jones, a convicted felon, was indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm. The district court suppressed the firearm, reasoning that the Fourth Amendment bars investigatory stops prompted by a completed misdemeanor. The Sixth Circuit reversed: the Fourth Amendment contains no such rule. The court noted the problems inherent in requiring officers to make the bright-line distinction. The proper inquiry looks at the nature of the crime, how long ago it was committed, and the ongoing risk to public safety. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Hobbs pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), which forbids felons to possess firearms. The indictment listed three predicate felonies: Assault on a Peace Officer, Attempted Felonious Assault, and Aggravated Robbery with Firearm Specification. Hobbs had served a six-year sentence for the aggravated robbery conviction. The district court determined that Hobbs was an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. 924(e) and sentenced him to the statutory minimum, 15 years’ imprisonment. After Hobbs filed his appeal, the Supreme Court decided Rehaif (2019), which held that to obtain a conviction under section 922(g), “the Government must prove both that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and that he knew he belonged to the relevant category of persons barred from possessing a firearm.” Hobbs’s indictment did not expressly allege the knowledge element and the district court did not advise him of it when taking his guilty plea. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence, rejecting arguments that the indictment was deficient and that the plea was not knowing and voluntary. Hobbs was unable to show a reasonable probability that he would not have entered his plea if he had been told of section 922(g)’s knowledge-of-status requirement. View "United States v. Hobbs" on Justia Law