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

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Defendant appealed her sentence of 70 months after pleading guilty to two federal drug offenses. Defendant raised numerous issues on appeal. The court concluded that the district court’s step-by-step application of the 1:167 gram ratio to calculate the marijuana equivalency of the marijuana butter and the brown chunky substance, and the resulting Guidelines-sentencing range, was sound. Therefore, the court concluded that the sentence was not procedurally unreasonable. The court also concluded that defendant's sentence is substantively reasonable where her sentence was within-Guidelines and defendant's argument failed to take into account the totality of the circumstances surrounding the charged offenses. Finally, the court found no ambiguity in the controlling portions of the Guidelines that would warrant application of the rule of lenity. Here, despite defendant's harshness arguments and novel theory related to the scheme of the Guidelines, USSG 2D1.1’s directives regarding the use of the 1:167 gram ratio to calculate the marijuana equivalency of mixtures or substances containing a detectable amount of THC are clear and unambiguous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Koss" on Justia Law
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Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition and moved for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). In his section 2241 petition, petitioner challenged the sentence imposed following his conviction in 1998 for drug-related offenses, contending that he should be permitted to proceed under the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. 2255. In this case, petitioner's invocation of Apprendi v. New Jersey, Blakely v. Washington, and Alleyne v. United States, is predicated on his contention that Persaud v. United States announced a change in the law. The court concluded that, because Persaud was not a substantive decision, it does not support petitioner's contention that the particular sentencing errors he complains of are amenable to section 2241 relief in this case. Accordingly, the court denied the IFP motion and dismissed the appeal. View "Robinson v. United States" on Justia Law
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Defendant plead guilty to numerous gun and drug charges without a plea agreement and was sentenced to 300 months in prison. On appeal, defendant challenged the district court's denial of his request for appointed counsel under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), 18 U.S.C. 3006A(c), and the district court's denial of a motion to withdraw by his retained attorney. The court affirmed the judgment, concluding that the district court was not required to make a financial inquiry under the CJA regarding his financial eligibility for appointed counsel, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding good cause did not exist for appointment of new counsel. View "United States v. Austin" on Justia Law
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Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to illegal reentry. The court concluded that defendant failed to show that the district court plainly erred in determining that his prior conviction for sexual assault subjected defendant to a 20-year statutory maximum sentence. In this case, the court concluded that defendant failed to show that his substantial rights were affected where he argued that the 20 year maximum "could well have influenced the district court's selection of sentence." Because defendant's speculation does not support a finding of reversible plain error, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Castaneda-Lozoya" on Justia Law
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Defendant appealed his 35-month sentence after pleading guilty to illegal presence following removal. The court concluded that, in light of this court’s precedent, as informed by Carlesi, holding that a pardon granted for reasons other than proof of innocence does not vitiate the defendant’s prior crimes or convictions, the court held that the district court did not err in applying the 12-level crime of violence sentencing enhancement under USSG 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(ii), for the 1994 pardoned arson conviction. Accordingly, the court affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Munoz-Gonzalez" on Justia Law
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HPTA filed suit challenging SafeClear, the freeway towing program run by the City of Houston, contending that the program is preempted by 49 U.S.C. 14501 and violates its commercial-speech rights. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. HPTA has filed two previous suits challenging the program. The court concluded that HPTA has not demonstrated that there has been a change in the relevant facts undergirding its claim of federal preemption since the last suit; the nucleus of operative facts remains the same; and the claim of federal preemption is barred by res judicata. Likewise, HPTA’s commercial-speech claim is barred by res judicata. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Houston Prof'l Towing Ass'n v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of brandishing a firearm and subsequently appealed his ten-year sentence. The court concluded that there is uncertainty in the record as to whether the district court intended to impose an upward departure or variance or erroneously believed that the ten-year sentence was within the Sentencing Guidelines, and the government has not shown that any procedural error was harmless. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Juarez" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff, a contract pediatrician, filed suit against Spectrum and Distinctive for employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, alleging discrimination, hostile work environment, and accommodation claims. Addressing an issue of first impression, the court held that an independent contractor who lacks an employer-employee relationship with the defendant may sue that defendant for employment discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Because the district court did not reach the merits of plaintiff's claims, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Flynn v. Distinctive Home Care, Inc." on Justia Law

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After the American Association of Neurological Surgeons' (AANS) Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) recommended that plaintiff's membership be suspended for six months, he appealed to the AANS Board of Directors. The Board downgraded the suspension to a censure, but plaintiff subsequently resigned from the AANS and filed suit, claiming that the censure harmed his future employment opportunities as an expert witness. Plaintiff filed suit against the AANS for tortious interference with prospective business relations; breach of contract (the AANS bylaws); and impairment of an important economic interest from denial of due process. The court concluded that plaintiff received sufficient due process, including notice, a hearing, and multiple levels of appeal, before he was censured for failing to review all pertinent and available records prior to testifying. Because the district court found only one basis of the censure to be unsupported by due process, the district court was correct in setting aside only that portion of the censure. The court further concluded that no Texas court has recognized a breach of contract challenge to a private association’s disciplinary process. Therefore, plaintiff failed to state a plausible breach of contract claim on which relief could be granted, and the district court properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Barrash v. Amer. Ass'n of Neurological Surgeons" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions and sentences stemming from their involvement in a Colombian conspiracy to import thousands of kilograms of cocaine to the United States. Defendants raised numerous issues on appeal. The court rejected Defendants Cabalcante and Piñeda's challenge to the constitutionality of 21 U.S.C. 959 and 963, concluding that the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 has been upheld several times as a valid exercise of Congress's commerce power; the district court did not plainly err by applying 21 U.S.C. 959 and 963 extraterritorially because doing so is consistent with international law and does not violate due process principles where defendants were charged with acting with the intent or knowledge that drugs would be unlawfully imported into the United States; the court concluded that venue was proper and the district court did not err by declining to give two proposed jury instructions on venue; the district court properly denied the motion to suppress all wiretap conversations recorded in Colombia, the motion to reconsider, and the motion for a new trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the new trial motions where the alleged new evidence is irrelevant in this case; the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to instruct the jury on specific intent; the evidence was sufficient to convict defendants; and the court rejected defendants' remaining claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Rojas" on Justia Law
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