Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Defendant, operator of a tax preparation business, was convicted of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the administration of the tax code and of three counts of filing fraudulent tax returns. The Fifth Circuit upheld the convictions and amount of the restitution award, but modified the judgment so the restitution obligation was limited to the supervised release term that was the only period during which restitution can be imposed for a tax offense. View "United States v. Westbrooks" on Justia Law

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Brickhouse appealed a default judgment in a trademark dispute between the parties. The court held that it had appellate jurisdiction in this case because a motion to recall the mandate and a motion to reopen the case have the same effect; the clerk had the power to recall the mandate here; and its order reopening the case did recall the mandate. The court rejected Brickhouse's claim that service of process was invalid; held that service was unremarkable in this case; and affirmed the default judgment. View "BHTT Entertainment v. Brickhouse Cafe & Lounge" on Justia Law
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Where there is no relevant evidence of drug use, the essential characteristic of a defendant that makes surveillance for drug use reasonable and appropriate is absent. Defendant appealed the district court's reimposition of a special condition of supervised release. The Fifth Circuit vacated the drug surveillance special condition, holding that the district court abused its discretion in imposing the condition on defendant where there was no record evidence that she engaged in personal drug use. The court otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Ramos-Gonzales" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. 1983 pro se complaint as frivolous and for failure to state a claim. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), was moot after his transfer to a different detention center; plaintiff's First Amendment claim failed because, other than not being allowed to attend Jumu'ah prayer services, he has not identified any other restrictions on his ability to express or exercise his faith; plaintiff's claims regarding the denial of medical care, negligent or deliberately indifferent infliction of injury, interference with his mail/denial of access to the courts, denial of equal protection, and retaliation were either not briefed at all or not adequately briefed; and plaintiff filed a formal motion requesting leave to file his proposed third amended complaint, and his "proposed order" accompanying that complaint did not qualify as such a motion. The court denied plaintiff's motion for a proposed settlement, and noted that the dismissal of this complaint counts as a strike under 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). Because plaintiff has at least three other strikes, he is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis. View "Coleman v. Lincoln Parish Detention Center" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged a detention order that was issued because he was caught violating the conditions of pretrial release set by a federal magistrate judge in California. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the evidence supported the detention order. In this case, defendant was on pretrial release for about a month, during which he tested positive for drugs and was arrested for drug-related crimes; he has four drug convictions, no ties to the Eastern District, and no verifiable legitimate employment; and the facts surrounding his arrest established probable cause that he committed a felony while on release, creating a rebuttable presumption that he was a danger to the community. The court also held that the district court's interpretation of Eastern District of Louisiana Local Criminal Rule 5.2 did not constitute plain error; even if the district court erred, that error was neither clear or obvious; defendant's challenge to an email sent by a law clerk was foreclosed because defendant never moved to supplement the record with the email; and defendant's claim that he had a constitutional right to an evidentiary hearing was waived for lack of adequate briefing. View "United States v. Moreno" on Justia Law
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Two former sheriff's deputies were terminated for violating the Sheriff's Code of Conduct because they moved in with each other's wife and family before getting divorced from their current wives. The district court held that the Code policies invoked against the deputies were supported by the rational grounds of preserving a cohesive police force and upholding the public trust and reputation of the Sheriff's Department, and that the Code was not unconstitutionally vague as written or enforced. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of defendants, holding that the district court made no reversible error of fact or law. The court explained that Obergefell v. Hodges does not alter applicable law, and did not create "rights" based on relationships that mock marriage. View "Coker, v. Whittington" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to Hobbs Act robbery, and possessing and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's firearm conviction because Hobbs Act robbery falls within the definition of crime of violence; vacated his sentence for the Hobbs Act robbery count because the district court erred by imposing the physical restraint enhancement where defendant did not do anything with his firearm that went beyond what would normally occur during an armed robbery; and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law
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Even in light of Amendment 794's clarifying guidance to USSG 3B1.2, it is proper for a sentencing court to consider the "critical" or "essential" nature of a defendant's role when assessing application of section 3B1.2. However, a sentencing court may not deny the adjustment on this ground alone. In this case, defendant appealed his 155 month sentence after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The district court's explanation at sentencing for its denial of the mitigating-role reduction strongly suggested that the district court made outcome determinative its finding that defendant's role was "critical." Furthermore, this error pretermitted the district court's application of section 3B1.1 and the applicable commentary. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Sanchez-Villarreal" on Justia Law
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Petitioner challenged the Commission's determination that the federal offense most analogous to defendant's crime was second-degree murder. Petitioner, an American who killed his girlfriend in Mexico, was sentenced for "qualified homicide committed with advantage" under the Baja Penal Code. Second-degree murder under United States law requires a finding that a human being was killed with malice aforethought. The Fifth Circuit held that the Commission did not clearly err in finding that defendant acted with malice when he hit his girlfriend in the face with a hammer a few times and then strangled her to death. In this case, there was scant evidence of provocation; defendant fabricated a story to deflect attention from his malicious crime; and there was evidence that the heat of passion had time to cool when defendant walked down and up a flight of stairs to obtain the hammer and then strangle the victim. View "Frascarelli v. USPC" on Justia Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, and aiding and abetting retaliation against a witness in a crime investigation. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress, because even if the Ping Order for authorization to obtain the locations of cell site towers being accessed by a cellular device was issued in violation of federal or state law, defendant was not entitled to suppression. The court explained that suppression is not a remedy for a violation of either the federal pen-trap statute or the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. In the alternative, even if accessing prospective cell site data did constitute a Fourth Amendment search, DPS's actions were covered by the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion to suppress, and dismissed as moot defendant's request for remand for resentencing regarding his aiding and abetting conviction. View "United States v. Wallace" on Justia Law
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