Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted a motion for stay pending appeal brought by fourteen judges in a class action against Harris County and its officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the County's system of setting bail for indigent misdemeanor arrestees violates Texas statutory and constitutional law and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court entered a stay of Sections 7, 8, 9, and 16 pending plenary resolution of this appeal by a merits panel. In this case, the expansive injunction entered on remand repeated the mistake of the original injunction because it amounted to the outright elimination of secured bail for indigent misdemeanor arrestees. View "O'Donnell v. Harris County" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence after he pleaded guilty to being unlawfully present in the United States after removal following his conviction for an aggravated felony. The court held that the district court did not plainly erred by applying a 10 level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2L1.2(b)(2)(A) based on an aggregate sentence of five years. View "United States v. Ponce-Flores" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for father and girlfriend in an action brought by stepfather, alleging malicious-prosecution and intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress (IIED) claims under Louisiana law after father reported sexual misconduct inflicted on his child by stepfather. The court held that the independent investigation conducted by the STPSO broke the chain of causation between father and girlfriend's complaint and the criminal proceedings initiated against stepfather. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on the malicious-prosecution claim. The court also held that stepfather provided only cursory reference to the contention that the district court improperly dismissed his IIED claim. View "James v. Woods" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendants Peter Hoffman, Michael Arata, and Susan Hoffman challenged their convictions for crimes related to the submission of fraudulent claims for tax credits related to the film industry in Louisiana. The government challenged defendants' convictions. The Fifth Circuit rejected defendants' contention that the Louisiana tax credits are not "property" covered by the federal fraud statutes. The court held that the district court correctly found the tax credits were property subject to prosecution under the mail and wire fraud statutes, and this prosecution alleging the use of fabricated invoices and misleading bank transactions to obtain a financial benefit lies at the historic core of the federal fraud statutes and neither offends due process nor exceeds federal power. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to convict Peter of 21 counts, Arata of 10 counts, and Susan of 3 counts. Furthermore, no ruling during the trial caused a miscarriage of justice. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of defendants' motions to dismiss the indictment; affirmed the denial of defendants' motion for judgment of acquittal; affirmed in part and reversed in part the grant of defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal; and affirmed the denial of defendants' motion for a new trial. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's forfeiture; vacated Peter's sentence and remanded for resentencing; affirmed Susan's sentence; and vacated Arata's sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Arata" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for drug trafficking and killing while engaged in various drug-trafficking crimes. Defendant was a hitman for a violent drug cartel and his charges stemmed from efforts to kidnap, torture, and kill numerous people in order to carry out the cartel's purpose. The court held that, because the underlying drug-trafficking crimes reached extraterritorial conduct, 21 U.S.C. 848(e)(1), which punishes killing while engaged in certain major drug-trafficking crimes, did too. The court found clear congressional intent to punish the killing in addition to the underlying drug trafficking, and therefore held that no double jeopardy violation occurred when a defendant was convicted for both. Finally, the court held that defendant's claims of error regarding the jury instructions were without merit. View "United States v. Vasquez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and issued the following opinion. The court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for distributing child pornography and possessing child pornography. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the amount of restitution; the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to declare a mistrial; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by including, as a condition of supervised release, that defendant shall not utilize any sex-related telephone numbers. View "United States v. Romero-Medrano" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Defendant owned and operated a company that originated loans insured by the FHA. The court held that signing the loan application in the Eastern District established venue there. The court also held that there was no constructive amendment or variance because there was no difference between the jury concluding that the supporting documents were false and it deciding that the application contained those same falsehoods; the evidence supported the verdict where it did not matter that the loan application did not expressly affirm the veracity of the supporting documents; and the government's closing argument was not improper where the prosecution did not err in telling the jury that it had to "decide the truth," which after all was what the "verdict" means. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's request for $500 in funding under 18 U.S.C. 3599 for a preliminary review of DNA evidence. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying funding where neither in the district court nor in his briefing on appeal did petitioner explain how further review and DNA testing could conceivably support claims for relief or a case for clemency. View "Crutsinger v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner where he was convicted of murder with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 45 months in prison. The court held that the state court's resolution of petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. In this case, petitioner could not prevail on his claim that counsel performed deficiently by advising him that, by pleading guilty, he would be eligible for court-ordered community supervision, when he was in fact ineligible. The court held that petitioner failed to allege that going to trial would have given him a reasonable chance of obtaining a more favorable result and thus he failed to demonstrate prejudice. Furthermore, petitioner's second ineffective assistance of counsel claim, based on counsel's alleged failure to inform him that the State offered a 15-year plea deal, failed to demonstrate that counsel performed deficiently. View "King v. Davis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for three counts of conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and four counts of conspiracy to cause travel in foreign commerce in the commission of murder-for-hire. Defendant was the leader of the Velasco Gurrola Criminal Enterprise (VCE). The court held that defendant's Sixth Amendment rights were not violated during voir dire; the court rejected defendant's evidentiary rulings on hearsay objections; the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the government's evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 403; the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal and/or a new trial where the government presented ample proof of overt acts supporting all seven convictions; the district court's omission of an explicit overt act instruction was not plain error; the court declined to invoke the cumulative error doctrine; and the district court did not err by amending the final restitution order more than 90 days after the sentencing hearing. View "United States v. Gurrola" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law