Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the trial court accepting Defendant's conditional guilty plea to escape, holding that, by separately trying Defendant for criminal threatening in Sagadahoc County and then for escape in Kennebec County, the State violated Me. Rev. Stat. 17-A, 14.Defendant was arrested for criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon shortly after he allegedly left the custody of a psychiatric center without permission. A jury acquitted Defendant of the criminal threatening charge in Sagadahoc County. Thereafter, the State charged Defendant with escape in Kennebec County. Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to the charge and then appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the trial court's judgment, holding (1) Sagadahoc County was a proper venue to prosecute Defendant for escape because it was the county in which he was apprehended; and (2) the trial court's finding that Defendant's alleged threat against a family member arose from the same criminal episode was supported by the record. View "State v. Gessner" on Justia Law

by
Utah police officers discovered Defendant Tevita Tafuna sitting in a parked car with a gun he admitted to possessing. Because Defendant had a prior felony conviction, the Government charged him with unlawful possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the firearm and his confession, arguing that he was detained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and that his detention led to the incriminating evidence used against him. The district court denied the motion, and Defendant appealed. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether officers unconstitutionally seize Defendant before they found the firearm or obtained his confession? The Court concluded no, so it affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Tafuna" on Justia Law

by
The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for providing and conspiring to provide material support to Hizballah, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2339B (Counts One and Two); receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hizballah, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2339D (Counts Three and Four); contributing and conspiring to contribute services to Hizballah, in violation of 50 U.S.C. 1705(a) (Counts Six and Seven); and unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization to facilitate an act of terrorism, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1425(a) (Count Eight).The court concluded that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress confessions he made during a series of interviews with the FBI; in denying his motion claiming ineffective assistance of counsel during the 2017 interviews because his right to counsel had not yet attached; and in declining to provide defendant's requested jury instructions. The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction where the government presented evidence that corroborated defendant's statements to the FBI agents, including data on his laptop, his internet search history, and his travel history. Finally, the court held that defendant's 480 month sentence was procedurally and substantively reasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, including the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities. View "United States v. Kourani" on Justia Law

by
Defendant appealed her conviction for assaulting a federal officer stemming from a violent altercation with a United States Border Patrol Agent. Defendant argued that the district court erred by providing a written response to a jury note without affording the parties an opportunity to offer input on the response, and by orally instructing the jury to continue deliberations without sufficient cautions and guidance. The court concluded that the district court erred in both respects but that neither error rose to the level of plain error.In regard to defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the court concluded that the crime of assaulting a federal officer in violation of 18 U.S.C. 111(a)(1) and (b) is a general intent crime, and therefore counsel's performance was not deficient for failing to offer evidence showing a lack of specific intent. Nevertheless, the court concluded that further fact-finding is necessary and that the district court must conduct a hearing regarding certain decisions of defendant's counsel, including the decision not to offer expert testimony regarding her mental health condition with respect to an insanity defense. Accordingly, the court remanded the ineffective assistance of counsel claim. View "United States v. Melhuish" on Justia Law

by
Harbor filed a pre-indictment motion under Rule 41(g) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, seeking return of documents seized by the United States in five searches of Harbor locations and offices. The district court had exercised discretionary jurisdiction for a time to oversee the implementation of protective process to screen Harbor's privileged information. However, the district court declined to exercise its equitable jurisdiction further and dismissed the case.After determining that it has jurisdiction to consider this appeal, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in its assessment of the pre-indictment harm resulting from an allegedly unlawful seizure of privileged material. The court explained that the district court erred in its understanding of the four factors under Richey v. Smith, 515 F.2d at 1243–44, in determining whether to grant a pre-indictment motion for return of property and therefore abused its discretion by declining to further exercise its equitable jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Harbor Healthcare System, LP v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court convicting three defendants of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) conspiracy with a special finding that defendant Noe Salvador Perez-Vasquez participated in the murder of one man and special findings that they each participated in the murder of another man, holding that the majority of Defendants' challenges lacked merit.Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions; (2) there was no error in the district court's challenged evidentiary rulings; (3) the district court did not manifestly abuse its discretion in denying Hector Enamorado's motion for a mistrial based on Perez-Vasquez's closing argument; (4) the government's statements during its closing argument were not improper or prejudicial; (5) there was no error in the jury instructions; (6) Defendants' sentences were not procedurally unreasonable; and (7) Luis Solis-Vasquez's challenge to the district court's restitution order will be discussed in a later opinion. View "United States v. Perez-Vasquez" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a motion brought by plaintiffs, four affiliated Chinese companies, seeking to dismiss an indictment charging violations of the criminal provisions of the Economic Espionage Act. The Pangang Companies moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that they are "instrumentalities" of the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and are therefore entitled to sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).After determining that it had appellate jurisdiction, the panel concluded that, in moving to dismiss the indictment, the Pangang Companies failed to carry their burden to make a prima facie showing that they are instrumentalities of a foreign sovereign within the meaning of the FSIA. In this case, the allegations of the indictment, standing alone, are insufficient to establish that the Pangang Companies were instrumentalities of the PRC on the date they were indicted. The panel explained that, because the Pangang Companies relied solely upon the indictment’s allegations, and presented no evidence to support their motion to dismiss, they necessarily failed to establish a prima facie case that they were foreign states entitled to immunity under section 1604 of the FSIA. Therefore, the motion to dismiss was properly denied. View "United States v. Pangang Group Co." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's decision denying cancellation of removal to petitioner.The panel incorporated by reference the factual and procedural background of Marinelarena I that conspiracy under California Penal Code 182(a)(1) is overbroad but divisible as to the target crime, and that sale and transport of a controlled substance under California Health and Safety Code 11352, is overbroad and divisible as to controlled substance. The panel concluded that Pereida v. Wilkinson, 141 S. Ct. 754 (2021), is consistent with Marinelarena I, and that Petitioner failed to establish that her conviction did not involve a federally controlled substance. In regard to divisibility, the panel noted that no developments in the California Supreme Court since Marinelarena I undermined the panel's earlier divisibility analysis, and that the jury instructions relating to the conspiracy offense, as well as petitioner's underlying statute of conviction, support divisibility. In regard to the burden of proof, the panel explained that Marinelarena I is consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Pereida and that petitioner failed to establish that her conviction did not involve a federally controlled substance. The panel declined petitioner's invitation to remand to present additional evidence. Finally, the panel reaffirmed its conclusion that a conviction expunged under CPC 1203.4 remains a "conviction" for federal immigration purposes. View "Marinelarena v. Garland" on Justia Law

by
Hollins-Johnson pleaded guilty to student loan fraud and theft of government funds, conspiracy to commit those crimes, making false statements to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and witness tampering. The Sixth Circuit dismissed her appeal based on the appellate-waiver provision in Hollins-Johnson’s plea agreement, rejecting her argument that her plea agreement does not expressly cover a challenge to “the manner in which a sentence is to be served and the timing of the sentence.” Hollins-Johnson did not argue that the appellate waiver was not knowing or voluntary and the sentence imposed did not exceed the statutory maximum for any of Hollins-Johnson’s crimes. Her waiver is not ambiguous. Hollins-Johnson agreed to waive her right to challenge her sentence on any grounds so long as she was not sentenced above the statutory maximum. View "United States v. Hollins-Johnson" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for fifteen counts related to his numerous drug trafficking and gun crimes arising out of three separate incidents. The court affirmed the denial of defendant's suppression motion and concluded that defendant has not established that the district court clearly erred in its finding that an officer pulled defendant over for a traffic stop because he abruptly swerved into his lane, nearly hitting his car.The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions for drug possession with intent to distribute, drug distribution, and firearm possession in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense; the district court acted within its discretion by denying defendant's motion to sever; there was no error on the shackling issue, let alone plain error; defendant failed to show prejudice from the Confrontation Clause violation; and because defendant knowingly waived his right to counsel and then declined, after he was given multiple opportunities by the district court, to withdraw his prior waiver and reassert his right to counsel, the district court did not err by allowing him to represent himself. Finally, the court denied defendant's ineffective assistance claim without prejudice to his raising the claim on collateral review. View "United States v. Sharp" on Justia Law