Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Hill drove Henderson, to a controlled drug buy, where Henderson sold an undercover officer 83.5 grams of methamphetamine. Two weeks later, Henderson met an undercover investigator at a hotel for another controlled purchase and called Hill to bring the drugs to the hotel. Hill’s sister drove Hill to the hotel, where police surrounded their vehicle. They recovered five ounces of crystal methamphetamine from Hill’s person.Hill pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, stipulating that he had been convicted of felonies under Michigan law, that he served over 12 months in prison for each felony, and that his release from prison for each offense was within 15 years of the charged offense. He acknowledged that he had “at least one ‘serious drug felony’ conviction” under 21 U.S.C. 802(57). Hill unsuccessfully objected to the PSR’s imposition of the career-offender enhancement and failure to apply the mitigating-role adjustment. The court calculated Hill’s initial guideline range as 262-327 months, applied a downward departure based on substantial assistance, and imposed a sentence of 144 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Hill should not have been classified as a career offender because his past Michigan convictions do not qualify as controlled substance offenses under USSG 4B1.1 and that he should have been given an offense-level reduction for being a minor participant under USSG 3B1.2. View "United States v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Willis was charged in Kentucky state court with murder, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, and first-degree possession of a controlled substance. The gun charge was severed from the other charges before trial. Willis obtained a directed verdict on the drug charge and was acquitted on the murder charge; he was convicted of the lesser offense of reckless homicide and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. The federal government indicted Willis as a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. 922(g) the following month. The Commonwealth dismissed the state gun charge. Willis filed an unsuccessful motion to dismiss for prosecutorial vindictiveness, then moved to dismiss based on double jeopardy, reasoning that he was previously convicted of committing reckless homicide with the same handgun.The district court denied that motion, holding that neither double jeopardy nor collateral estoppel applies when two sovereigns prosecute a defendant based on the same underlying conduct. Willis was not the victim of a “sham prosecution,” an exception to the dual sovereignty doctrine. The Sixth Circuit dismissed Willis’s appeal. In addition to his double jeopardy claim being barred by the dual sovereignty doctrine, Willis did not have a colorable claim because the federal offense and the state crime have different elements. View "United States v. Willis" on Justia Law

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Budzynski pleaded guilty to five counts related to fraudulently obtaining Social Security benefits totaling $48,306 in overpayments. She was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay restitution and a special assessment. Months later, the probation office discovered Budzynski withdrawing money at a casino. Budzynski acknowledged that she frequently visited casinos. The district court imposed new conditions prohibiting Budzynski from gambling and requiring her to submit to searches when there is a reasonable suspicion that she violated a condition of her probation.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Discretionary conditions of probation must be “reasonably related to the factors set forth in section 3553(a)(1) and (a)(2)” and “involve only such deprivations of liberty or property as are reasonably necessary for the purposes indicated in section 3553(a)(2), 18 U.S.C. 3563(b). The no-gambling condition is reasonably related to the “nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.” The provisions were directed at securing Budzynski’s restitution payments and were not overly broad. Budzynski had yet to make a full payment toward restitution in the three months since her probation began. Preventing her from gambling obviously serves to preserve her ability to meet the restitution obligation resulting from her fraud. View "United States v. Budzynski" on Justia Law

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While burglarizing a garage, Pollini was confronted by Zeigler and fled. Zeigler alerted Pruitt that a burglar was in the area. Pollini had left his tools in Zeigler’s garage. Plank drove him back to the garage. Pruitt approached their car with a flashlight. Pollini fired a gun into the dark, killing Pruitt. Plank’s attorney prepared a transcript of Plank’s statement to the police. The court admitted an audiotape of the statement but denied admission of the transcript. The jury, with access to only the audiotape, had difficulty understanding some of Plank’s statement and asked the judge for a transcript, Without communicating with the parties, the judge responded: “There’s none available.” This ex parte jury communication violated Kentucky Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.74. The jury found Pollini guilty. During the sentencing phase, the jury responded in the affirmative to: Was Pollini in the process of committing burglary when he killed Pruitt?Pollini argued that there was insufficient evidence to justify his life sentence because he was not committing a burglary when he killed Pruitt. The Kentucky Supreme Court remanded for resentencing without the inclusion of the aggravating circumstance. Pollini did not raise Rule 9.74.On collateral review, Pollini asserted ineffective assistance of counsel, citing the Rule 9.74 violation. The Sixth Circuit remanded the denial of relief. While Pollini’s claim fails the prejudice prong of Strickland, he did not procedurally default the claim. By the time of his collateral attack, Rule 9.74 violations were reviewed under a fundamental fairness standard, more favorable to the Commonwealth. The Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision to apply that standard was not “contrary to clearly established Federal law.” The court’s Implicit finding that the jury had the correct tape and that the tape was working was not an unreasonable determination of the facts View "Pollini v. Robey" on Justia Law

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Thompson sold heroin to a confidential informant. After the second controlled buy, police obtained a warrant to search the apartment where the transactions occurred. On their way to execute the warrant, police encountered Thompson and a passenger driving away from the apartment, stopped the vehicle, and arrested Thompson. During their search of the vehicle, officers found multiple bags of heroin and cocaine. Officers later discovered a loaded handgun under the back seat’s folding mechanism. Thompson’s fingerprints were not found on the gun. A Michigan jury convicted him of three drug crimes and four gun crimes. The Michigan Court of Appeals concluded that a rational jury could infer Thompson constructively possessed the gun. Citing the “well-known relationship between drug dealing and the use of firearms as protection,” the court found that the gun’s proximity to both Thompson and the drugs sufficed to create a jury question.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Thompson’s federal habeas petition, rejecting his insufficient-evidence claim and claims of ineffective assistance and the denial of an impartial jury. Thompson, as the SUV’s driver “is held to a higher level of accountability" for its contents. Considering Thompson’s proximity to the gun and the evidence of his drug dealing, the Michigan Court of Appeals provided more than enough support for a fair-minded jurist to conclude that a rational jury could convict him of constructively possessing the gun. View "Thompson v. Skipper" on Justia Law

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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