Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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In 2004, petitioner-appellant Wade Lay and his so Chris attempted to rob a Tulsa bank, the money from which was going to fund a patriotic revolution against the federal government akin to what the Founding Fathers had done. A bank security guard was killed in the process; the Lays did not get away with any money, and they were apprehended later that day. The Lays were tried together. Chris was represented by counsel; the elder Lay proceeded pro se. Both were found guilty by a jury. Chris received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Wade was sentenced to death. A district court stayed habeas proceedings pending a psychiatric evaluation for Wade. The Supreme Court decided Ryan v. Gonzales, and in response, the district court lifted the stay, found no evidentiary hearing was necessary following Wade’s psychiatric evaluation, and denied habeas relief. The Tenth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability (COA) on whether the district court should have ordered a temporary stay of the underlying habeas proceedings until Wade Lay could be restored to competency. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Lay v. Royal" on Justia Law

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Jorge Carillo pleaded guilty to, inter alia, conspiring to distribute at least 100 grams of heroin. On appeal, he argued the district court’s acceptance of his guilty plea was at odds with Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(1)(G)-(I) and 11(b)(3). At his initial appearance, Carillo acknowledged he received a copy of the indictment and understood the charges against him. Carillo pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge without the benefit of a plea agreement. At the change-of-plea hearing, the district court reminded Carillo the drug count charged him with “conspiring with others to distribute more than a hundred grams of heroin.” The district court, however, did not otherwise elucidate the nature or specifics of the charge or discuss the elements of conspiracy. Nevertheless, Carillo told the district court he understood the charges against him. In reciting the penalties Carillo faced, the prosecutor mistakenly stated Carillo was subject to a maximum term of imprisonment of twenty years. The district court did not mention the applicable mandatory minimum term. After confirming he had enough time to consult with his lawyer, and was satisfied with his attorney’s advice and representation, the district court accepted Carillo’s guilty plea, finding he was aware of the nature of the charges he was facing and that the guilty plea was supported by sufficient facts. Carillo did not object to the penalties that were recited by the prosecutor, the factual basis the prosecutor provided, or to the court’s finding that sufficient facts supported the guilty plea. Ultimately, the district court imposed the mandatory minimum sixty-month sentence on the conspiracy count and forty-eight month sentences on two firearms counts, with all three sentences to run concurrently. At no point during the sentencing hearing did Carillo contest the validity of his guilty plea. Carillo asserts on appeal, for the first time, that his guilty plea was not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered because the plea colloquy did not comply with the dictates of Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b). In particular, Carillo asserts the district court failed to: (1) inform him of the applicable minimum and maximum sentences; (2) adequately explain the nature of the charge to which he was pleading; and (3) establish a factual basis for the guilty plea, in violation of Rule 11(b)(3). The Tenth Circuit concluded Carillo satisfied his burden of demonstrating the district court’s Rule 11(b)(3) error affected his substantial rights. "There is no doubt that failing to correct that error would seriously affect the fairness and integrity of judicial proceedings." The matter was remanded the district court for further proceedings. View "United States v. Carillo" on Justia Law

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The government allowed a prisoner's SAMs to expire, and could not proffer a compelling argument to that continuing one such measure was not the least restrictive means of furthering a governmental interest. Plaintiff-appellant Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was a prisoner at the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (“ADX Florence”). He was subjected to Special Administrative Measures (“SAMs”) that limited his contact with the outside world due to past terrorist activities and his connections with terrorist groups. One of the restrictions included a prohibition against participating in group prayer. Acting pro se, plaintiff challenged the legality of his numerous restrictions. He requested a declaratory judgment proclaiming that the government’s imposition and enforcement of the restrictions violated numerous constitutional provisions as well as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (“RFRA”). He also sought an injunction ordering the government to permit his participation in group prayer. The district court dismissed his suit for failure to state a claim. While his case was on appeal, the government allowed plaintiff's SAMs to expire. But he was still prohibited from participating in group prayer due to the housing restrictions at ADX Florence. The Tenth Circuit found that the government did not meet its burden to affirmatively demonstrate that continuing to deny plaintiff the right to freely exercise his religion one a week furthered a compelling governmental interest in the least restrictive manner. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court granting the government's motion to dismiss plaitniff's SAMs claims, and remanded this case with instructions to dismiss those claims as moot. View "Ghailani v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jason Gutierrez was serving a 192-month term in federal prison. After the United States Sentencing Commission amended several of the guidelines under which he was sentenced, defendant filed a motion under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2), asking the district court to reduce his sentence to 168 months. Instead, the district court reduced his sentence to 188 months, concluding it lacked authority to go any lower. Finding no abuse of discretion or reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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The government appealed the sentence imposed in this kidnapping case. Defendant Joseph DeRusse, while suffering from then-undiagnosed mental health issues, kidnapped his ex-girlfriend with a BB gun, and drove her several hundred miles away from her parents’ home in Austin, Texas, intending to keep her at a bed-and-breakfast in Kansas for three weeks while he attempted to convince her to marry him. About eight hours into the kidnapping, Defendant was apprehended by a police officer on the interstate freeway in Kansas. Defendant served approximately seventy days in jail before he was released on bond. He entered a plea of guilty to the single count of kidnapping. The court announced its intention to sentence Defendant to a term of time served, to be followed by five years of supervised release. Ultimately, the government simply disagreed with the way in which the district court weighed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors and decided to impose a sentence of time-served followed by a five-year period of supervised release. The Tenth Circuit acknowledged that a valid argument could be made for a longer sentence than was imposed here. However, after a thorough review of the record on appeal, the Court could not say that the court’s thoughtful sentencing determination fell outside the range of rationally permissible choices available at sentencing. View "United States v. Derusse" on Justia Law

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James Pavatt was convicted by an Oklahoma jury of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, for which he received the death penalty, plus ten years' imprisonment for the conspiracy conviction. After exhausting his state-court remedies, he filed an application for relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The district court denied the application, and also denied a certificate of appealability (COA). Pavatt sought a COA from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, raising several issues. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of relief with respect to his conviction, but reversed denial of relief with respect to his sentence, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Pavatt v. Royal" on Justia Law

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Brett Williamson was charged with and convicted of various child pornography offenses. Prior to trial, it came to light that his defense counsel and the prosecutor trying the case had a history together: they were divorced and shared custody of their child. For that and numerous other reasons, Williamson asked for new counsel, but the district court denied his request. Williamson proceeded without an attorney and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal of his conviction, Williamson argued the district court should have inquired into his defense counsel’s potential personal conflict of interest to determine if the relationship might have affected his right to a fair trial, and that failure to do so requires automatic reversal. The Tenth Circuit concluded Williamson failed to make a showing that his counsel was laboring under an actual conflict of interest, so it rejected his conflict of interest argument based on his defense counsel’s personal relationship with the prosecutor. The Court also rejected Williamson’s alternative arguments for new counsel: that his filing of a criminal complaint against his counsel constituted an actual conflict of interest, and that Williamson demonstrated a complete breakdown of communications between his attorney and himself. View "United States v. Williamson" on Justia Law