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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Defendant was the passenger of a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation. During the stop, the officer became suspicious, removed the men from the car, and found a firearm in a jacket on the rear floorboard of the vehicle. Initially, Defendant was charged in state court, but when it was later discovered he was an illegal alien, he was charged with a federal firearms offense.The district court denied Defendant's motion to suppress the finding that Defendant lacked standing to challenge the search. Defendant subsequently pled guilty.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress a firearm, albeit on substantive grounds. The court noted that the standing question was a difficult one, that it decided to leave for another day to address. However, because the search was a valid protective sweep, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress. View "USA v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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Defendant was a high-ranking member of the Juarez Cartel between 2000 and 2011. He was charged and convicted of three narcotics offenses, and given three life sentences. He appealed his convictions and sentences on various grounds.The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions and sentences. The district court's empaneling of an anonymous jury was justified based on concerns over juror safety. Reviewing for plain error, the court also rejected Defendant's claims pertaining to the admission of extraneous evidence. prosecutorial misconduct. The court held that the record was insufficient to address Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims and that his sentences were neither procedurally nor substantively unreasonable. View "USA v. Castillo-Rubio" on Justia Law

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Officers of the Prentiss Police Department arrested Plaintiff for aggravated assault after he and others told the officers that Plaintiff had shot the victim. Plaintiff sued the officers and the City of Prentiss under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for arresting him without probable cause. He argued that the officers lacked probable cause because he told them that he shot the victim in self-defense. The district court granted summary judgment on all claims and awarded fees to the defendants.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued, first, that the Officer and Chief arrested him without probable cause and that they are not entitled to qualified immunity. Second, the Chief intentionally or recklessly omitted material statements in the warrant affidavit, resulting in a warrant lacking probable cause. Third, the City of Prentiss is liable under Monell. Fourth, he established a material fact issue on his state-law malicious-prosecution claim. Finally, Defendants are not entitled to attorneys’ fees.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment order and award of fees to Defendants. The court reasoned it is not enough to invoke the general principle that the Fourth Amendment prohibits a warrantless arrest without probable cause. Therefore, the Officer and Chief would be entitled to qualified immunity even if they lacked probable cause for the initial warrantless arrest. Further, the court concluded that Plaintiff cannot show want of probable cause therefore, his malicious-prosecution claim cannot succeed. Finally, Plainitff has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in granting attorneys’ fees. View "Loftin v. City of Prentiss, MS" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted for conspiracy to possess methamphetamine after DEA agents executed a search warrant at his motel room, recovering more than 150 grams of methamphetamine. The indictment alleged two prior convictions to trigger a sentencing enhancement, one related to operating a methamphetamine lab and the other for possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.At trial, the government provided a detailed account of the Defendant's actions that led the DEA to obtain a search warrant, which was a controlled buy to a confidential informant. However, the officer witness who provided this testimony was not present and was merely recounting another officer's observations. Defendant was convicted.The Fifth Circuit reversed Defendant's conviction on Confrontation grounds. If the government intends to present out-of-court statements in an attempt to provide context for its investigation, use of the evidence must be “circumspect” and “limited.” Here, the witness's testimony was not limited or circumspect and provided prejudicial details that deprived him of his right to confront the witnesses against him. View "USA v. Hamann" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Petitioner initiated a postconviction proceeding in federal district court. The district court rejected all of Petitioner’s claims of trial error. Petitioner then sought a certificate of appealability.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and denied Petitioner’s habeas relief. The court held that while certain conduct by the prosecutor during the trial violated the Due Process Clause, Petitioner was not prejudiced by the violation. The court analyzed Petitioner’s collateral attack on his state criminal conviction under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Here, at the outset of custodial interrogation following his arrest, the Ranger gave Petitioner the statutorily required warning that he “ha[d] the right to terminate the interview at any time.” Petitioner immediately invoked this right. The prosecutor subsequently relied on that invocation at trial as evidence of Petitioner’s sanity. The State pointed out that, although Miranda established a right to terminate custodial questioning, this was not one of the rights of which the Court held that suspects must be apprised before questioning begins.   The court concluded that the prosecutor violated the Due Process Clause when he used Petitioner’s invocation of his right to terminate custodial interrogation as evidence of sanity. However, the court further held that the fact that Petitioner’s due-process rights were violated does not necessarily mean that he is entitled to habeas relief. Here, he failed to demonstrate prejudice or that the constitutional violation had a substantial effect on the verdict. View "Engle v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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Many Defendants belonging to the "39ers" a New Orleans gang, were convicted of various RICO-related offenses. Ten Defendants appealed their convictions on multiple grounds. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the vast majority of Defendant's convictions. However, the court reversed most of the Defendants' Sec. 924 convictions related to using a firearm during or in furtherance of a crime of violence.The district court's jury instruction permitted the jury to convict on the Sec. 924 offenses if it found that the Defendants were guilty of aggravated RICO conspiracy or drug trafficking. However, under United States v. McClaren, 13 F.4th 386 (5th Cir. 2021), aggravated RICO conspiracy is not a crime of violence. Thus, the court reversed most of the Defendants' convictions under Sec. 924. View "USA v. Perry, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendant was involuntarily committed to the emergency room for protective custody after law enforcement found he was a danger to himself or others. He remained committed for 15 days. Two weeks later, Defendant was again committed, this time for 13 days. Several years later, in 2019, Defendant bought a firearm. In doing so, he answer negatively to the question asking if he'd ever been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution. Subsequently, Defendant attempted to buy firearms two other times. An ATF warned Defendant he was ineligible to purchase a firearm, which did not deter Defendant.Defendant was arrested and charged with three counts of making false statements to a federally licensed firearms dealer and two counts of possession of a firearm and ammunition. The indictment alleged only that Defendant had been adjudicated as a “mental defective”; it did not mention commitment. However, the district court instructed the jury it could find him guilty if he was adjudicated as a mental defective or if he had been committed.The Fifth Circuit found that the district court committed plain error when it instructed the jury that it could convict the defendant if it could he had been committed. The instructions allowed the jury to convict based on uncharged conduct. Thus, the Fifth Circuit reversed Defendant's convictions. View "USA v. Tucker" on Justia Law

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After the Supreme Court overturned Plaintiff’s Louisiana capital murder conviction, Plaintiff brought Section 1983 and 1988 suits against the state prosecutor and a sheriff’s detective, alleging that they fabricated evidence that deprived him of due process and a fair trial. Defendants, District Attorney and Livingston Parish Sheriff’s, each moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(c) based on assertions of absolute prosecutorial immunity. The district court denied the motions, holding that neither defendant was entitled to absolute immunity for fabricating evidence by intimidating and coercing a juvenile to adopt a false narrative the defendants had concocted out of whole cloth.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings, holding that a police officer is not entitled to absolute immunity reserved for a prosecutor. The court held that neither the Detective nor the District attorney is owed absolute immunity under the facts alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint. The court reasoned that the Supreme Court has made clear that police officers, even when working in concert with prosecutors, are not entitled to absolute immunity. Nor are prosecutors when they step outside of their role as advocates and fabricate evidence. The facts and actions alleged by the complaint are fundamentally investigatory in nature, and therefore absolute immunity is not warranted. View "Wearry v. Foster" on Justia Law

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On the panel's initial hearing of the case, Judge Higginson concluded that the restrictions on the President's removal authority under the Consumer Financial Protection Act are valid and constitutional. Judge Higginson found that neither the text of the United States Constitution nor the Supreme Court's previous decisions support appellants' arguments that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutionally structured, and thus he affirmed the district court's judgment.More than two years later, and after conducting a vote among the circuit judges, the Fifth Circuit vacated its previous opinion and elected to hear the case en banc. View "CFPB v. All American Check Cashing, et al" on Justia Law

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In a consolidated appeal, Plaintiffs challenged the district court’s application of the independent intermediary doctrine to dismiss their Fourth Amendment false arrest claims. Plaintiffs are motorcyclists who had gathered at a meeting and were eventually arrested following a shootout for Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity (“EIOCA”). All were arrested pursuant to the same “form warrant affidavit” that was presented as the basis for the arrest warrants. Following their arrests, Plaintiffs filed multiple individual Sec. 1983 actions asserting similar false arrest claims, which were premised on alleged defects in the form affidavit used to secure the arrest warrants. The district court granted in full the motion to dismiss the false arrest claims, but it did not discuss the merits of the claims.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and found in favor of Plaintiffs in their challenge of the district court’s application of the independent intermediary doctrine to dismiss their Fourth Amendment false arrest claims. The court held that the district court erred in its application of the independent intermediary doctrine. The court reasoned that an adequately pled Malley or Franks claim will also suffice to functionally apply the taint exception to the magistrate’s decision, if a plaintiff adequately pleads that a second intermediary, such as a grand jury, has been misled in a similar fashion, then the taint exception will apply to that intermediary’s decision as well. The court declined to decide whether Plaintiffs have adequately pleaded a Franks violation with respect to any of the named defendants. View "Miller, et al v. Stroman, et al" on Justia Law