Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's restitution order imposed after defendant pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography, one count of transporting child pornography, and one count of possessing child pornography. Defendant was sentenced to 600 months in prison and ordered to pay $1,443,619.63 in restitution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 2259. Defendant argued that the restitution order contravened Paroline v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1710 (2014), because the district court failed to determine whether his conduct proximately caused the victims' alleged losses. In this case, the fact that the district court entered a legally binding restitution order without ensuring that the amount was authorized by statute was sufficient to warrant the court's exercise of discretion under the fourth prong of plain error review. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Winchel" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendants Smith and Washington were convicted of sex trafficking involving a fourteen-year-old girl. The Fifth Circuit affirmed Washington's conviction and sentence, holding that sufficient evidence supported the trial judge's conclusion that defendant was guilty; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying her motion for severance; and her 292 month sentence was procedurally and substantively reasonable. The court held, however, that the district court erred by denying Smith's motion for counsel and thus violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Therefore, the court reversed Smith's convictions and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to suppress after they pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The court held that the totality of the circumstances supported the denial of the motion to suppress where the border patrol agent had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle while on roving patrol of an area known to be used for smuggling; the vehicle at issue stood out from the typical truck or SUV used by local ranch vehicles; and the driver was going well below the posted speed limit, was tapping the brakes as though lost or searching for something along the road, pulled over at a known pickup point, and looked into the distance; and when the agent saw the vehicle a short time later, numerous additional passengers had appeared. View "United States v. Robles-Avalos" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging, among other things, that the initial bite from a police dog and the continued biting were excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the initial bite claim on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion and denied summary judgment to the officer. The Fifth Circuit held that there was no Fourth Amendment violation because the totality of the circumstances and the Graham factors established that the officer's use of force was not objectively unreasonable. In this case, police were chasing plaintiff after he assaulted his wife, they were informed that they would have to kill plaintiff to get him, he had a knife, and was bitten by the dog until he was fully handcuffed by the police. Therefore, the court reversed the denial of qualified immunity to the officer. The court dismissed the cross-appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remanded. View "Escobar v. Montee" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of Texas's motion for summary judgment on the basis that petitioner's habeas corpus petition was time-barred. Petitioner argued, and the state conceded, that his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition was timely because his state conviction became final on July 16, 2014—90 days after the TCCA refused his petition for discretionary review on April 16, 2014 and his time to file a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court expired. The court held that, because petitioner filed the application on November 12, 2015 -- before the November 25, 2015 deadline -- his section 2254 application was timely. View "Erickson v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendants Ledezma and Cepeda's convictions of interstate stalking and conspiracy to commit murder for hire. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Cepeda's motions to sever where both defendants were charged together, for the very same crime, committed at the same time. The court also held that Ledezma's evidentiary challenges were both meritless and insufficiently developed. View "United States v. Ledezma-Cepeda" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's order dismissing an indictment with prejudice. The indictment charged defendant, the owner and operator of an adoption agency, for fraud. The court held that there was no Brady violation where the evidence clearly was not suppressed; discovery violations did not warrant imposed sanctions where the district court failed to impose the least sever sanction and the government's violations of the discovery deadlines did not warrant dismissing the indictment with prejudice; and defendant failed to demonstrate prejudice sufficient to support the district court's severe sanction and thus the district court abused its discretion when it dismissed defendant's indictment with prejudice. The court remanded for reassignment of the case to a different district judge. View "United States v. Swenson" on Justia Law

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One 21 U.S.C. 851(a) information suffices for a trial on a superseding indictment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's life sentence for, among other things, conspiracy to posses with intent to distribute cocaine. The court held that the government complied with the notice requirements of section 851(a). The court also held that the district court did not err by treating defendant's drug convictions as separate convictions for purposes of applying a sentencing enhancement under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A). View "United States v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Petitioner sought review of the denial of his motion to reopen his application for cancellation of removal. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review and held that petitioner effectively conceded that he was convicted of felony possession of a controlled substance and thus the court had jurisdiction over only constitutional claims or questions of law. In this case, the BIA and IJ denied the motion to reopen as untimely and not subject to equitable tolling because petitioner had not shown ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC). Therefore, insofar as petitioner raised a constitutional claim of IAC, the court held that it had jurisdiction to resolve both that question of law and any factual questions necessary to its resolution. However, petitioner failed to show IAC because, if nothing else, he failed to show that he was prejudiced by any ineffectiveness where he was unlikely to obtain cancellation of removal. View "Diaz v. Sessions" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 1425(a), which prohibits knowingly procuring citizenship contrary to law, the district court revoked his citizenship as part of his sentence. While defendant's appeal was pending the Supreme Court issued Maslenjak v. United States, 582 U.S. —, 137 S. Ct. 1918 (2017), in which it (1) clarified the Government's burden of proof in a Section 1425(a) prosecution and (2) held that qualification for citizenship, notwithstanding any materially false statement, is a complete defense to prosecution. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment, holding that, even post-Maslenjak, the indictment and factual resume provided a sufficient factual basis for defendant's plea and for all statutory elements of Section 1425(a), the offense of conviction. In the alternative, even if the court assumed that the district court's acceptance of the plea was plain error, defendant failed to show that the error affected his substantial rights. View "United States v. Nepal" on Justia Law