Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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In 2015, Jason Vincent Bradley was convicted on multiple counts related to firearm possession and drug trafficking. He was sentenced to concurrent 120-month sentences on three counts and a consecutive 60-month sentence on the fourth count, followed by three years of supervised release. In 2021, Bradley filed a motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), citing the need to care for his minor children due to his mother's ill health and his own health conditions that increased his risk of serious illness from COVID-19.The United States District Court for the District of Colorado denied Bradley's motion for compassionate release. The court acknowledged Bradley's claims of extraordinary and compelling reasons for release but found that the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) did not support a sentence reduction. Bradley appealed the decision, arguing that the district court erred by not considering his proffered extraordinary and compelling reasons for release as part of its § 3553(a) analysis and by not accounting for his post-sentencing conduct and rehabilitation.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found that Bradley had waived his first argument by not raising it in the lower court. Regarding his second argument, the court found that the district court had considered Bradley's post-sentencing conduct and rehabilitation, and it had provided a rationale for its decision. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Bradley's motion for compassionate release. View "United States v. Bradley" on Justia Law

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In December 2021, Kevin Alonso Zamora was discovered by law enforcement officers in Taylorsville, Utah, near a car that had been reported stolen. As officers approached, all suspects except Zamora entered the vehicle and drove off, while Zamora fled on foot. During his flight, Zamora ran through a residential neighborhood and a commercial area, eventually collapsing near a Taco Bell drive-thru. Officers found a gun tucked inside Zamora's pants, which had discharged during his flight, injuring him.Zamora was indicted and later pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. During sentencing, the district court applied a two-level enhancement under § 3C1.2 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which Zamora challenged as being erroneously applied. He argued that his armed flight did not recklessly create a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to another person.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Zamora's flight from law enforcement with a loaded gun, not carried in a holster, which discharged during his flight, constituted reckless behavior. The court also found that Zamora's actions created a serious risk of bodily injury to law enforcement. Furthermore, the court noted that Zamora ran directly in front of an occupied vehicle moments before his gun discharged, creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court did not err in applying the two-level enhancement under § 3C1.2. View "United States v. Zamora" on Justia Law

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The case involves an appeal by Jamaryus Moore against his sentence imposed following a probation violation. Moore had initially pleaded guilty to a Hobbs Act robbery and, despite facing a sentencing guideline range of 51 to 63 months, requested probation. The court gave Moore a choice of a 51-month imprisonment or probation, with the understanding that a violation would lead to an 84-month sentence. Moore opted for probation, but he subsequently violated its terms, and the court imposed the previously agreed 84-month sentence. On appeal, this sentence was reversed, with a two-step sentencing process proposed. On remand, the district court applied this two-step process, resulting in an 80-month sentence. Moore appealed, arguing that the district court was wrong in applying the two-step process.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that the two-step process was not dicta and could not be disregarded under the clearly erroneous/manifest injustice exception to the law of the case doctrine. The court noted that the two-step process was integral to the initial appeal's holding that the district court had plainly erred and that the error affected Moore’s substantial rights. The court concluded that Moore had not shown that the previous decision was clearly erroneous or that applying it would result in manifest injustice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Moore" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a lower court's ruling regarding a veteran, Bruce Hay, who was convicted of ten counts of stealing government property and six counts of wire fraud. The case centered around Hay's alleged exaggeration of his disability to gain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA conducted a six-year investigation, even installing a pole camera that recorded Hay's daily activities outside his house for 68 days.Hay appealed his conviction on three grounds: insufficient evidence supporting his conviction, violation of his Fourth Amendment rights by the VA's installation of the pole camera, and wrongful admission of evidence by the district judge. The court rejected all three arguments.First, the court ruled that Hay's fraudulent acquisition of government property constituted "stealing" under 18 U.S.C. § 641 and that sufficient evidence was presented at trial to support his conviction for stealing government property and wire fraud.Second, the court held that the use of the pole camera did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment as it only captured his activities in public view.Lastly, the court rejected Hay's claim that evidence post-dating the charging period was improperly admitted, finding that the district court acted within its discretion.In conclusion, the court affirmed the district court's denial of a judgment of acquittal and the admission of contested evidence. View "United States v. Hay" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit dealt with the appeal of Youlian Zhong, who contested her mandatory minimum sentences for crimes related to her participation in a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute large quantities of marijuana. Zhong argued that the district court erred in finding that she did not qualify for the statutory safety valve for mandatory minimum sentences.Zhong and her husband, Housheng Xian, were found guilty of conspiring to grow more than 1,500 marijuana plants in their residence, intending to process and sell the marijuana. They were convicted on three counts: conspiring to manufacture and possess with the intent to distribute 1,000 and more marijuana plants, manufacturing and possessing with intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants, and using and maintaining their house for the purpose of manufacturing and distributing marijuana.Before sentencing, Zhong and Xian requested a non-guideline sentence of time served plus five years of supervised release, arguing that they met the requirements of the safety valve provisions. However, the court found that they did not provide all necessary information to the government, particularly regarding their mens rea, or intent, for the crimes for which they were convicted.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appeals court held that a defendant must provide the government with information sufficient to prove the mens rea required for the crimes of conviction to meet the requirement of providing “all information and evidence” concerning the offense for the safety valve provision to apply. The court concluded that Zhong did not provide sufficient information about her intent to commit the crimes for which she was convicted, and thus, did not meet her burden to prove that she qualified for safety-valve relief. View "United States v. Zhong" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit examined a case involving a defendant who was found sleeping in a detached garage during the execution of a search warrant. The defendant had been found with methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin on his person and was subsequently charged with possession with intent to distribute these substances. In his defense, he argued that the officers should not have entered the garage as it was not included in the search warrant. However, the court disagreed, upholding the lower court’s decision that the warrant covered the garage since it was within the curtilage of the property being searched.The court applied the four-factor test from United States v. Dunn, considering the proximity of the garage to the home, whether the area was enclosed, the nature of the uses of the area, and the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by. The court found that the garage was close to the main residence, enclosed by a chain link fence, used for intimate activities associated with home life, and shielded from public view. Therefore, it was part of the curtilage of the property, and the search was lawful.The defendant also argued that he was unreasonably detained because he was outside the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched when he was arrested. However, the court concluded that the immediate vicinity included the detached garage, making the detention reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The court affirmed the lower court's decision, upholding the defendant's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Ronquillo" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed convictions against Whitney McBride and her company, Odyssey International Inc., for fraudulent conduct in obtaining a government contract. McBride was convicted of five offenses, including wire fraud, major fraud, and making a false declaration. She appealed the convictions, arguing that they should be vacated based on a Supreme Court case decided after her conviction, Ciminelli v. United States, which dealt with the interpretation of federal fraud statutes. She also contended that her conviction for making a false declaration should be vacated due to errors in the jury instructions.The court rejected her arguments, finding that she had waived her challenges to the convictions for conspiracy, wire fraud, and major fraud because she invited error by proffering the jury instruction she now disputed. The court also found that she waived her challenges due to her numerous procedural errors, including failing to argue for plain error on appeal and failing to meet the requirements of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The court concluded that she had waived her arguments and affirmed her convictions. View "United States v. McBride" on Justia Law

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In this appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the defendant, Paul Curtis Pemberton, contested his federal conviction for a murder committed in McIntosh County, Oklahoma in 2004. The case was influenced by the Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020), which confirmed that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation covered a larger area of eastern Oklahoma than previously acknowledged by state and federal governments. This ruling impacted many crimes that had been prosecuted in state courts but were actually committed within tribal jurisdictions. Pemberton, an enrolled member of the Creek Nation, argued that his crime fell within this category and should have been prosecuted in federal court under the Major Crimes Act.The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, ruling that the state officers involved in Pemberton’s arrest and the subsequent collection of evidence had acted in good faith, based on the prevailing legal understanding at the time. The court noted that the officers could not have known that the Major Crimes Act barred state jurisdiction over the crime as the reservation boundaries were not clarified until the McGirt decision in 2020.The court also rejected Pemberton’s argument that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation during his sentencing. The court found that Pemberton's request to represent himself was made with the intention to delay the proceedings and was not related to the sentencing hearing. Therefore, the lower court's decision to deny his request was affirmed. View "United States v. Pemberton" on Justia Law

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The case involved Garrett Joseph Hurst, who was charged with knowingly engaging in a sexual act with a minor, in violation of various sections of the United States Code. At sentencing, the district court imposed the maximum term of imprisonment of 180 months, followed by a thirteen-year term of supervised release, which was higher than the advisory Guidelines imprisonment range.Hurst appealed, arguing that the district court erred in rejecting a Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement proposed by the parties, incorrectly concluded that he was ineligible for a two-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence, and committed plain error by failing to explain why it selected a thirteen-year term of supervised release.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. The court held that the district court had not erred in rejecting the plea agreement, correctly concluded Hurst was ineligible for a two-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, and did not impose a substantively unreasonable sentence. The court also found that while the district court had erred in failing to explain its reasons for the term of supervised release, this error did not affect Hurst's substantial rights. View "United States v. Hurst" on Justia Law

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This case concerned an appeal by Matthew Ware, a former correctional officer, against the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Ware was convicted by a jury of two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and was sentenced to concurrent terms of 46 months of imprisonment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed this sentence.Ware was a correctional officer at the Kay County Detention Center in Oklahoma. The charges against him arose from two incidents where he was found to have abused his power and caused harm to inmates. In one incident, Ware ordered the transfer of two inmates to a different level of the detention center, despite knowing that this would likely result in a fight, which it did. In another incident, Ware ordered a detainee to be handcuffed in a painful position for an extended period of time.Ware appealed his sentence, arguing that the court did not give adequate weight to his personal history and lack of criminal record. However, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had thoroughly weighed each of the sentencing factors and detailed its reasoning. The Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Ware to 46 months of imprisonment, and affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Ware" on Justia Law