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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for harboring illegal aliens. The court held that defendant's duplicity argument is waived; even if the district court erred by applying the reckless endangerment and bodily injury sentencing enhancements, the errors were harmless; the district court did not impermissibly delegate judicial authority through the wording of two special conditions of supervised release; and defendant failed to show error, plain or otherwise, in the district court's imposition of his within-Guidelines sentence. View "United States v. Medel-Guadalupe" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendants Shelton Barnes, Michael Jones, Henry Evans, Paula Jones, and Gregory Molden's convictions and sentences for offenses related to Medicare fraud. In regard to Barnes, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; the district court correctly concluded that the prosecution's remarks during rebuttal were improper, but they did not affect defendant's substantial rights; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to admit the proffered consent forms into evidence; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to read Barnes's proffered instructions to the jury.The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support Michael Jones's convictions. In regard to Henry Evans, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to support his convictions; there was no error in allowing a certain expert witness to testify; and the district court did not procedurally or substantively err in sentencing him. In regard to Paula Jones, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to support her convictions; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to grant her severance motion; and the district court did not procedurally err when calculating the total-loss amount applicable to her sentence and restitution order. In regard to Gregory Molden, the court held that the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to read the proffered instructions to the jury; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the expert witness at issue to testify. View "United States v. Barnes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The judge may not delegate to the probation officer the decision to require inpatient, rather than outpatient, treatment because of the liberty interests at stake. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's modification of defendant's conditions of supervised release to include a provision that he participate in an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program supervised by defendant's probation officer. The court held that the option to require inpatient rehabilitation delegates to the probation officer the judicial decision to significantly restrict defendant's liberty during treatment. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Martinez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence of 300 months in prison for healthcare fraud. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his involvement as a medical doctor in Medicare fraud. The court held that taking the Amex and QC/EverBright schemes together, the district court correctly calculated the loss amount and correctly increased defendant's offense level by 26 points; the district court did not err by increasing defendant's offense level under USSG 2B1.1(b)(11)(C)(i) and 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)(i); and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant a hearing at sentencing. View "United States v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit granted the petition for panel rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and substituted the following opinion.The court held that when a court order disposes of a habeas claim on procedural and, in the alternative, substantive grounds, a Rule 60(b) motion contesting this order inherently presents a successive habeas petition. The court affirmed the district court's conclusion that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner's Rule 60(b) motion -- facially challenging a procedural ruling and implicitly challenging a merits determination -- because it was a successive habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's inherent prejudice claim, because petitioner failed to overcome the arduous standard of review in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). In this case, petitioner identifies no clearly established law that the CCA misapplied, nor any unreasonable factual determinations on which the court based its holding. View "Will v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Petitioner argues, under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), that the prosecution unlawfully withheld impeachment evidence concerning an eyewitness's prior federal conviction for lying on a firearms application. The court concluded that the undisclosed evidence of the eyewitness's conviction for lying does not "directly contradict" or undermine his assertions at trial; fairminded jurists could disagree as to whether the eyewitness's testimony was sufficiently corroborated to sustain confidence in the verdict; and the eyewitness's undisclosed conviction was cumulative of other evidence disclosed to the defense—including the assault and battery conviction that was revealed to the jury during the eyewitness's cross-examination. Therefore, the court found that the state court's Brady determination did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law. The court also rejected petitioner's argument that the state court's decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts under section 2254(d)(2). View "Reeder v. Vannoy" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a federal prisoner, sought postconviction review of his conviction for money laundering under 28 U.S.C. 2241, rather than 28 U.S.C. 2255. Petitioner acknowledged that he cannot successfully file a section 2255 motion because he has previously filed and lost several of them.The Fifth Circuit dismissed the petition as an abuse of the writ, holding that there are two circumstances where a section 2241 application should be dismissed as an abuse of the writ: first, a petitioner can abuse the writ by raising a claim in a subsequent petition that he could have raised in his first, regardless of whether the failure to raise it earlier stemmed from a deliberate choice; and second, it is an abuse of the writ for a prisoner to raise the same claim a second time. The court held that both circumstances apply to petitioner's section 2241 application. In this case, petitioner filed a section 2241 application in the Northern District of Ohio in 2012—almost four years after Cuellar v. United States, 553 U.S. 550 (2008)—but did not include a Cuellar claim. Furthermore, he raised his Cuellar claim in his second second 2241 application to the Northern District of Ohio. View "Beras v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was convicted of two counts of theft of public funds, based on two fraudulent tax refunds (Count I and II), as well as aggravated identity theft (Count III). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment with respect to Counts I and II and held that the district court did not err in failing to give a unanimity of theory instruction as to the location of the crime. In this case, the Government does not dispute that defendant's conduct in Dallas and his conduct in Kenya could have theoretically constituted two separate violations of 18 U.S.C. 641, but the Government maintains that it sought to convict defendant on Count I based only on his conduct in Dallas. Therefore, the two offenses are based solely on the one Dallas transaction.However, the court held that the evidence was insufficient to support defendant's conviction on Count III because the Government presented no conclusive evidence showing that defendant had ever used the 139 IP address, much less that he used it to file (or help file) the Eipper tax refund. Accordingly, the court vacated as to Count III and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Sila" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Defendant admitted to selling 122 grams, but his sentence was based on the sale of 1,023.5 grams as a result of the conversion of $14,658 to 852.2 grams in calculating the drug quantity.The court held that the district court did not clearly err by implicitly finding that the amount of drugs seized did not reflect the scale of the offense and by inferring that the $14,658 came from the sale of 852.2 grams of meth. The court rejected defendant's claim that the inclusion of the $14,658 in the drug-quantity calculation on the ground that any drug sales connected to the cash were not relevant conduct. Rather, the court held that there is ample evidence to satisfy the factors in United States v. Rhine, 583 F.3d 878, 886 (5th Cir. 2009). In this case, although there is no direct evidence of what drugs were involved in sales earning the money, the fact that the police seized meth when it took the money is sufficient circumstantial evidence for the district court to conclude the cash resulted from meth sales as well. Furthermore, the police seized the money only two months before the first controlled buy. The court explained that the temporal proximity is a particularly strong indicator of relevance that is enough to overcome weakness in another factor. View "United States v. Barry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess child pornography. The district court sentenced defendant to 70 months in prison and ten years of supervised release; a $25,000 fine, a $100 mandatory special assessment, a $5,000 special assessment under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA); and a $5,000 assessment under the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018 (AVAA).The court held that the district court did not err in assessing a monetary penalty under the AVAA, because a monetary penalty under the AVAA is separate and distinct from restitution, and a special assessment under 18 U.S.C. 2259A does not require identification of a victim and proof of losses. The court also held that no discrepancy exists between the orally pronounced special assessment and the written judgment, and thus no modification of the sentence is warranted. Finally, the court held that the district court did not err by denying a downward variance for time served in state custody and imposing a sentence within the advisory guidelines range. View "United States v. Madrid" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law