Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Defendant-Appellant Archie Manzanares appealed a district court’s denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging his sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). Under the ACCA, an offense qualified as a violent felony by satisfying at least one of three definitions, which have come to be known as the Elements Clause, the Enumerated Clause, and the Residual Clause. Manzanares asserted that without the Residual Clause, his underlying New Mexico convictions (armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and aggravated battery) no longer qualified as violent felonies. The district court denied the motion, concluding that all three underlying convictions satisfied the Elements Clause. Manzanares appealed the classification of the armed robbery conviction as a violent felony to the Tenth Circuit, and sought to expand the certificate of appealability to allow him to appeal the decision regarding the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery convictions. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Manzanares’s 2255 motion, and denied his motion to expand the COA. View "United States v. Manzanares" on Justia Law

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Defendant Fernando Samora borrowed his ex-girlfriend's care and drove it alone to a restaurant. When Defendant left the restaurant and approached the vehicle, the officers from a multi-agency task force converged to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. Defendant fled on foot and a chase ensued. After the officers caught and arrested Defendant, they searched the vehicle he had been driving and found a loaded firearm inside the center console. The Government charged Defendant with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant proceeded to trial where the district court gave an erroneous instruction on constructive possession. A jury returned a guilty verdict and Defendant appealed, arguing: (1) the Government presented insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction; and (2) even if the Government presented sufficient evidence, the failure to properly instruct the jury constitutes plain error requiring remand for a new trial. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review that the trial court plainly erred in its jury instructions. It therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "United States v. Samora" on Justia Law

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Defendant–Appellant John Mayville pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and possession of an unregistered firearm silencer. Exercising his right under the plea agreement, Defendant challenged the district court’s denials of his motions to suppress evidence of drugs and firearms seized from his car by Utah Highway Patrol troopers during a traffic stop. On appeal, Defendant argues the troopers violated his Fourth Amendment rights described in Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015), because they unjustifiably prolonged the traffic stop beyond the time needed to complete the tasks incident to the stop’s mission. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. "This is because reasonableness—rather than efficiency—is the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment." Because the Court determined the traffic stop here did not exceed the time reasonably required to execute tasks relevant to accomplishing the mission of the stop, Defendant's nineteen-minute roadside detention did not offend the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Mayville" on Justia Law

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Brandon Finnesy appealed his conviction and sentence for escape from custody. As to his conviction, which was entered upon his guilty plea, Finnesy contended he should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty plea because the magistrate judge who conducted his plea colloquy lacked “jurisdiction” to accept his plea. As to his sentence, he contended the district court erred in applying the United States Sentencing Guidelines relevant to his case. Finding no reversible errors, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Finnesy's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Finnesy" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jimmie Wellmon sought to set aside his state court convictions for attempted first-degree murder, assault, menacing, and witness tampering. The Tenth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability so Petitioner could appeal whether he validly waived his right to counsel and, if so, whether the state trial judge reasonably rejected his pretrial motion to retract his waiver. The federal district court rejected Petitioner’s claims and dismissed his petition. Acknowledging that Congress has given federal appellate courts an ability to review state criminal convictions, federal courts' power to grant relief was "limited to correcting extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems," the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no reversible error in the district court's decision to dismiss Petitioner's petition in this case, and affirmed judgment. View "Wellmon v. CDOC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-Appellant John Chatman, Jr. was convicted by a jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition (Count One), obstruction of justice by attempting to kill a witness (Count Two), and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (Count 3). He was sentenced to 480 months’ imprisonment and five years’ supervised release. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting Count Two arguing that the government failed to provide sufficient evidence in accordance with Fowler v. United States, 563 U.S. 668 (2011). Under Fowler, “the [g]overnment must prove (1) a killing or attempted killing, (2) committed with a particular intent, namely, an intent (a) to ‘prevent’ a ‘communication’ (b) about ‘the commission or possible commission of a Federal offense’ (c) to a federal ‘law enforcement officer or judge.’” Under the facts of this case, the Tenth Circuit determined the statute (quoted in Fowler) did not fit the crime. The Court remanded this case to the district court to vacate and dismiss Chatman’s convictions under both Counts Two and Three and resentence him under Count One alone. View "United States v. Chatman" on Justia Law

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Jose Lira-Ramirez was indicted on a charge of illegally reentering the United States, an element of which was the existence of a prior removal order. Though Lira-Ramirez had been removed in earlier proceedings, he moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the immigration judge lacked jurisdiction over the earlier proceedings because the notice to appear was defective under Pereira v. Sessions, 138 S. Ct. 2105 (2018). The district court denied the motion to dismiss the indictment, and Lira-Ramirez appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, concluding that precedents foreclosed Lira-Ramirez’s jurisdictional challenge: “[T]wo precedential opinions that [the time and date] omission does not create a jurisdictional defect.” The Court thus affirmed denial of Lira-Ramirez’s motion. View "United States v. Lira-Ramirez" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the FBI deployed a Network Investigative Technique (“NIT”) to identify the Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses of computers accessing “Playpen,” a child pornography website. One of those IP addresses belonged to Defendant-Appellant Wesley Wagner. Agents executed a warrant for his Kansas residence, where they interviewed him and found evidence of child pornography on a laptop computer. He would be indicted for receipt and possession of child pornography. Wagner moved to suppress the NIT's identification of his IP address, the pornography evidence in his home, and statements he made to agents. he district court denied his motions. Following a three-day trial, a jury convicted him of both counts. On appeal, Wagner argued the district court erred in denying his motions to suppress and motion to dismiss the indictment. He also contended an erroneous evidentiary ruling required a new trial and that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Wagner's convictions. View "United States v. Wagner" on Justia Law

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On March 3, 2018, a man called 911 to report that he witnessed two men in a Honda shoot at another car. The caller followed the Honda and dialed 911 within “two to three minutes” of observing the gunfire. During the approximately thirteen-minute 911 call, the caller discussed the shooting, his continuing observations of the Honda and its occupants, and his safety, often in response to the 911 operator’s questions. Shortly thereafter, responding police officer Levi Braun (“Officer Braun”) located a Honda matching the caller’s description. With Officer Braun in pursuit, the Honda slowed down and Defendant Daniel Lovato jumped out of the passenger’s side of the moving car. Officer Braun stopped to detain Defendant, who volunteered that he had a gun on him. Officer Braun then retrieved a .22 caliber pistol from Defendant’s waistband, along with thirty-two rounds of .22 caliber ammunition from Defendant’s left front pants pocket. At the time of this incident, Defendant had prior felony convictions. The government ultimately charged Defendant with three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition: one each for possessing the .22 caliber pistol, thirty-two rounds of .22 caliber ammunition, and canister full of additional ammunition. At trial, Defendant objected to the admission of the 911 call on hearsay grounds. The district court overruled the objection and admitted the 911 call into evidence under the present sense impression exception to the rule against hearsay. A jury convicted Defendant as charged, and the district court sentenced Defendant to 100 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. On appeal, Defendant alleged the district court abused its discretion in admitting the 911 call. Finding no reversible error as to Defendant's conviction, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Court vacated a special condition and remanded on that issue for further proceedings. View "United States v. Lovato" on Justia Law

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After committing crimes when he was seventeen years old, defendant Atorrus Rainer was convicted of two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree burglary, and one count of aggravated robbery. For these crimes, the district court sentenced Mr. Rainer to 224 years in prison. On direct appeal, the convictions were affirmed. But the Colorado Court of Appeals ordered modification of the sentences, concluding that the prison terms for attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault should have run concurrently, rather than consecutively, because the crimes could have been based on identical evidence. The Colorado Court of Appeals thus modified Mr. Rainer’s sentences to run for 112 years. After the direct appeal, the Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), that the Eighth Amendment prohibited life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes. Under Graham, these juveniles were entitled to a meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. Defendant sought habeas relief, claiming the State of Colorado deprived him of this opportunity by imposing the 112-year sentence for the crimes he committed as a juvenile. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the State provided defendant with the required opportunity through the combination of the Juveniles convicted as Adults Program, and the general parole program. View "Rainer v. Hansen" on Justia Law