Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Before the warrantless seizure of a firearm from a car, the driver, defendant Manuel Chavez, had driven the car at least a couple hundred feet up a private,d irt roadway and parked it outside his isolated trailer home. The district court approved just one of the government’s asserted justifications for the seizure of the firearm (a .38 special caliber Amadeo Rossi S.A.), ruling that the deputy’s seizure of the firearm was reasonable as part of an inventory of the car’s contents in preparation for impounding it. But during the inventory, a woman emerged from the trailer and satisfied the deputy that she owned the car. So the deputy left the car with her where it was parked, mere feet from her and defendant’s trailer, but the deputy kept the firearm. In denying an ensuing motion to suppress, the district court held that the deputy could lawfully seize and keep the firearm, even without admissible evidence that anyone had illegally possessed or used it. The court did not evaluate whether it mattered that the deputy never in fact impounded the car. The Tenth Circuit rejected the district court’s denying the motion to suppress on inventory-impoundment grounds. Further, the Court rejected all the government’s other asserted bases to validate the deputy’s seizing and keeping the firearm. The district court erred by denying the motion to suppress, so the Tenth Circuit reversed. View "United States v. Chavez" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Eugene Barrett moved under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his death sentence based on ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. Barrett’s death sentence was based on his intentionally killing a state trooper when drug task force officers attempted to execute a warrant at his home. The evidence at trial and at the sentencing hearing depicted him as having planned a lethal attack on police officers. In mitigation, defense counsel introduced testimony that he was a loved family member and good person who was sorry for his crime. But his counsel did not introduce evidence that he experienced abuse as a child; suffered from brain-damage, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); and struggled to exercise judgment in pressured situations. The jury recommended, and the court imposed, the death penalty. The district court denied Barrett's request to vacate his sentence. The matter was remanded for reconsideration of counsel's performance at sentencing; the district court found deficient performance but no prejudice, and again denied relief. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. In reversing, the Court concluded that, viewing the totality of the evidence at trial, sentencing, and the postconviction hearing, there was a reasonable probability at least one juror would have recommended a life sentence. As noted, “[a] reasonable probability is less than a preponderance of the evidence” and need only “undermine confidence in the outcome.” Because Barrett’s postconviction evidence shifted the balance in favor of mitigation, the Tenth Circuit was not “confiden[t]” all twelve jurors would have recommended a death sentence had defense counsel introduced this evidence. View "United States v. Barrett" on Justia Law

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Dustin Lance was denied medical treatment for priapsm at a detention center in McAlester, Oklahoma. He ultimately sued the sheriff and four jail guards; summary judgment was entered in favor of all defendants. After review of his appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed in part. Like the district court, the Court concluded that one of the jail guards, Edward Morgan, had qualified immunity because he didn’t violate Lance’s constitutional right to medical care. But the Court concluded that qualified immunity was unavailable to the three other jail guards: Mike Smead, Dakota Morgan, and Daniel Harper. And the sheriff, Chris Morris, was not entitled to summary judgment in his official capacity because the factfinder could reasonably determine that the county’s policies had violated Lance’s constitutional right to medical care. View "Lance v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Defendant Riordan Maynard, the former chief executive officer of two related companies, was convicted by a jury of twenty-six criminal counts arising out of his gross mismanagement of those companies. The district court sentenced Maynard to 78 months’ imprisonment. The district court also ordered Maynard to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and to the employee-victims. On appeal, Maynard argued: argues that: (1) the district court misapplied the Sentencing Guidelines in calculating his offense level for Counts 1 and 2 (failure to pay corporate payroll taxes); (2) his convictions on Counts 14 through 26 were not supported by sufficient evidence (theft or embezzlement of employee health care contributions); (3) the district court erred in calculating the restitution award for Counts 4 through 13 (theft or embezzlement of employee benefit plan contributions); and (4) the district court plainly erred in calculating the restitution award for Counts 14 through 26. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Maynard's convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Maynard" on Justia Law

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Late one night, Fabian Sanchez was approached by two police officers who suspected him or attempting to break into a vehicle sitting the back area of a hotel parking lot. He was wearing a trench coat with a loaded gun in the pocket. After routine questioning, he was caught in a lie and fled. During the chase, his trench coat ended up on the ground after one of the officers unsuccessfully tased Sanchez, but he kept running. He eventually ran back toward his trench coat but was tackled by the officers before he could get there. Sanchez was arrested, and the loaded gun was discovered in his trench coat. Charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, Sanchez moved to suppress the gun. The district court denied the motion and granted the government's motion in limine to admit an incriminating statement Sanchez made after his arrest. Sanchez pleaded guilty on the condition that he could appeal these rulings. He was then sentenced pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). On appeal, Sanchez argued: (1) the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to seize him and lacked probable cause to arrest him, violating his Fourth Amendment rights; (2) the officers searched his trench coat without a warrant even though he did not voluntarily abandon it, violating his Fourth Amendment rights; and (3) his incriminating statement was the product of custodial interrogation without Miranda warnings, violating his Fifth Amendment rights. Sanchez also contended his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntarily made, and that the district court erred in arriving at his sentence under the ACCA. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Robert Allen appealed his conviction for depredation of government property. arguing his conviction violated both the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and separation of powers principles. Allen also appealed the district court’s restitution order of $20,300, claiming the order included restitution for uncharged conduct, and that the district court erred in applying the procedural framework of the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA) by placing the burden on him to disprove the amount of loss contained in the presentence report and by ordering a restitution amount unsupported by evidence. After the parties completed briefing on this case, the government filed a notice of concession, acknowledging that the restitution order was erroneous and suggesting remand for resentencing on restitution. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Allen’s conviction, vacated the district court’s restitution order, and remanded the case to the district court to recalculate restitution. View "United States v. Allen" on Justia Law

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In March 2018, Francisco Ybarra Cruz, a former confidential informant in federal drug investigations, was stopped for a New Mexico traffic violation. After obtaining consent to search, the officer found more than ten pounds of methamphetamine in Ybarra Cruz’s truck. After being indicted, Ybarra Cruz moved to suppress the methamphetamine evidence and his Mirandized statements and admissions. The district court denied this motion, and a jury later convicted him for possessing the methamphetamine with an intent to distribute it. On appeal, Ybarra Cruz argued the district court: (1) erred by not granting his motion to suppress, on grounds that the police officer lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop; (2) erred by not acquitting him based on his public-authority defense (that he reasonably believed he was acting with government authority in transporting the methamphetamine); (3) abused its discretion by not granting him a new trial on grounds that the jury might not have understood that crediting his public-authority defense would require acquittal on both counts; and (4) abused its discretion by not sua sponte instructing on the affirmative defense of duress. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit rejected each of these arguments and affirmed. View "United States v. Ybarra Cruz" on Justia Law

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Melvin Roshard Alfred was convicted by jury of coercion and enticement (Count 1) and facilitating prostitution (Count 2). Using a social media website, “Tagged,” Alfred attempted to convince a person he believed to be a nineteen-year-old woman living in Colorado to engage in prostitution. In fact, Alfred was communicating with FBI agents. Before trial, the government indicated it intended to admit eight “memes”: Alfred had posted the memes on Tagged in or before 2015, three years prior to Alfred’s contact with the FBI-run profile. The memes contained laudatory references to pimping and pimping culture and also contained graphic depictions suggesting dire consequences of engaging in prostitution without a pimp. The district court concluded the memes were admissible as intrinsic evidence of the crimes charged and that the probative value of six of the eight memes was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The district court excluded the other two memes under Rule 403. On appeal, Alfred argued the district court abused its discretion in finding the memes were intrinsic evidence of the charged counts and in finding the probative value of the six memes admitted was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Finding no such abuse of discretion, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Alfred" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Johnny Delano was convicted in 1993 of armed bank robbery, sentenced to 262 months in prison, and ordered to pay $11,558 in restitution. The restitution was ordered pursuant to the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 (“VWPA”). After Delano was released from prison, he began serving a five-year term of supervised release. Delano’s supervised release was revoked in 2017 and he was sentenced to serve an additional twenty-seven months’ incarceration. He was also ordered to pay the unpaid balance of the restitution imposed in 1993. Delano challenged the restitution portion of his current sentence, arguing his obligation to pay restitution under the VWPA expired twenty years after his original sentence was imposed and the plain language of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”) precluded the district court from reviving or reimposing restitution. The Tenth Circuit concluded, in light of the plain language of the MVRA, Congress clearly stated that the MVRA had only prospective application. The district court’s error was therefore plain, and the Court reversed the part of Delano’s sentence ordering him to pay restitution in the amount of $5,159.59. View "United States v. Delano" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellants Guillermo Martinez-Torres and Jesus Gomez-Arzate entered conditional pleas of guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, reserving a right to appeal the district court’s denial of their motions to suppress physical evidence and statements made during a traffic stop. Each was sentenced to 63 months' imprisonment and five years of supervised release. On appeal, they contend that their initial traffic stop was invalid, the resulting detention was unlawfully extended and without valid consent, and the deputies’ search of their car exceeded the scope of consent. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed. View "United States v. Gomez-Arzate" on Justia Law