Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

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Dalvin Latham was convicted by jury of robbery. He was sentenced to serve five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Latham appealed, arguing that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in two ways: (1) by failing to object to the admission of an overly suggestive photographic lineup; and (2) by refusing the trial court’s proffered jury instruction C–8: an instruction concerning the accuracy and reliability of the victim’s out-of-court identification of Latham as one of the persons who robbed her. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found Latham failed to show the victim’s out-of-court identification was unreliable, and Latham failed to rebut the strong presumption that his trial counsel’s refusal of jury instruction C–8 was anything other than tactical and strategic. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed Latham’s conviction and sentence, and dismissed his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim with prejudice. View "Latham v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In February 2019, Gregory “Peanut” Walker was convicted of one count of fondling and two counts of sexual battery. Walker was sentenced to serve fifteen years on Count I, twenty-five years on Count II, and twenty-five years on Count III. These three sentences were made to run concurrently. Walker appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict only on Count II, digital sexual penetration. Walker contends also that his due process rights and his right to a fair trial were violated because the State adduced testimony regarding Walker’s post-Miranda silence. Finding the evidence sufficient to sustain Walker's convictions, and that Walker "opened the door" for the State when he testified he had refused to give a statement to the police, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Walker v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Kozerski owned two construction companies in Detroit. He formed the second one, CA, to bid on Veterans Administration contracts set aside for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. Kozerski does not have a service-related disability. He convinced J.R., a service-disabled veteran, to pretend to be the company’s owner. CA handled six contracts. Kozerski forged J.R.’s signature and sent the government emails supposedly from J.R.. For five contracts, Kozerski did not pay J.R. anything, lying to him that CA did not receive any contracts after the first one. The government eventually discovered the scheme and charged Kozerski with wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343. Kozerski pleaded guilty. The PSR recommended a loss amount of $9.5 million to $25 million, calculated by adding the amounts the government paid CA on all six contracts without crediting the value of the work performed on the contracts: $11,891,243.45, resulting in a Guidelines range of 37-46 months. Kozerski argued the loss should be the amount of profit a qualifying veteran-owned business would receive from the contract, yielding a guidelines range of eight-14 months. The district court adopted Kozerski’s formula and sentenced him to a year and a day. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court’s calculation of the loss as the aggregate difference between Kozerski’s bids and the next-lowest bids, about $250,000. View "United States v. Kozerski" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for making false statements to obtain federal workers' compensation benefits under 18 U.S.C. 1920 and for theft of public money under 18 U.S.C. 641. The court assumed without deciding that it was clear error to admit the testimony about the general honesty of workers' compensation patients, and held that the error was harmless because it did not affect plaintiff's substantial rights. The court also held that the district court's jury instruction was not erroneous where the alternative verbs in the first paragraph of Section 641 are means of committing the offense, not elements. View "United States v. Coffman" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for obstruction of justice and interstate travel in aid of extortion. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his involvement in an armed standoff between agents of the BLM and a group of private militia members that rallied behind Nevadan Cliven Bundy. On appeal, defendant argued that the district court violated the Sixth Amendment during his trial when it terminated his right to represent himself and appointed standby counsel to represent him instead. The panel held that defendant's conduct was not sufficiently disruptive to justify termination of his right to self-representation. In this case, defendant was not defiant and did not engage in blatantly outrageous conduct, such as threatening a juror or taunting the district judge. To the contrary, defendant merely asked a question prejudicial to the government. Furthermore, he remained calm and ultimately acquiesced in the district court's decision to revoke his right to self-representation. The panel also held that a violation of a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to self-representation is structural error. Therefore, the panel must vacate the conviction and remand for a new trial. View "United States v. Engel" on Justia Law

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Defendant, two of his sons, and sixteen other persons were charged in an indictment with obstructing federal law enforcement officials carrying out lawful court orders. In this case, defendant and hundreds of armed supporters forced federal officials to abandon the BLM's impoundment plan of defendant's cattle for a failure to pay federal grazing fees. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal with prejudice of the indictment based on violations of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The panel held that a district court is imbued with discretion in the supervision of proceedings before it and may dismiss an action when, in its judgment, "the defendant suffers substantial prejudice and where no lesser remedial action is available." The panel held that the withheld evidence -- the surveillance-camera evidence, the FBI 302s Regarding Snipers, the TOC Log, and the Threat Assessments -- substantially prejudiced the defense; the district court's findings of substantial prejudice and flagrant misconduct in relevant part were not clear error; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing with prejudice. View "United States v. Bundy" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's determination that petitioner's California conviction was "categorically one for an aggravated felony offense relating to obstruction of justice," and dismissal of his appeal. Because the panel in Valenzuela Gallardo I applied the Chevron framework to the BIA's construction of the aggravated felony of an offense relating to obstruction of justice, and the panel does not believe any exceptions to the law of the case doctrine apply here, the panel must proceed to Chevron Step One. The panel explained that both a de novo interpretation of the obstruction of justice provision utilizing traditional tools of statutory interpretation and a Chevron Step One analysis lead to the same conclusion. The panel held that "obstruction of justice" under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(S) is unambiguous in requiring an ongoing or pending criminal proceeding, and the Board's most recent interpretation is at odds with that unambiguous meaning. Furthermore, because "obstruction of justice" under section 1101(a)(43)(S) unambiguously requires a nexus to ongoing or pending proceedings, and California Penal Code section 32 does not, petitioner's state criminal conviction is not a categorical match with the aggravated felony offense charged in his Notice to Appear. Therefore, the panel vacated the removal order. View "Valenzuela Gallardo v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon. The court held that the district court did not err by declining to accept defendant's proposed amendment to the jury instruction defining "possession;" the district court's jury instructions were accurate and defendant was not entitled to a particularly worded instruction as long as the instructions were fair and adequate; and the district court correctly informed the jury that constructive possession requires knowledge of the thing possessed. The court also held that there was no plain error warranting relief based on the indictment or jury instructions; any Rehaif error did not affect defendant's substantial rights warranting relief; and there was sufficient evidence on the knowledge-of-status element to sustain the verdict. View "United States v. Gilmore" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Arkansas prisoners who are or were on death row for capital murder convictions, filed suit alleging that Arkansas' method of execution violated the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiffs served subpoenas on several state correctional departments, seeking information about the existence of known and available alternatives that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain. NDCS objected and asserted that the subpoena violated Nebraska's right to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. In In Re Missouri Dep't of Nat. Res., 105 F.3d 434 (8th Cir. 1997), the Eighth Circuit stated that there is no authority for the position that the Eleventh Amendment shields government entities from discovery in federal court. Therefore, the district court properly determined that Missouri DNR disposes of the sovereign immunity issue. Although Missouri DNR involved a petition for a writ of mandamus, the court found that the breadth of the decision controlling and applicable in this de novo review context as well. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "McGehee v. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order declining to impose a reduced sentence under the First Step Act of 2018. The court rejected defendant's suggestion that the district court mistakenly deemed him ineligible because it focused on the wrong drug quantity in determining whether the statutory penalties for his offense were modified by the Fair Sentencing Act. To the contrary, the district court properly rejected defendant's argument that he was entitled to a hearing and then acknowledged that the First Step Act vests discretion in the sentencing court to look at the facts and procedural history of each case when deciding whether to exercise discretion to reduce a sentence. In this case, the district court exercised discretion under the First Step Act, but determined that the existing sentence was appropriate. View "United States v. Haynes" on Justia Law