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

Articles Posted in Criminal 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 and accomplices stole millions of dollars in a transcontinental business email compromise scheme. A jury convicted him of fraud, money laundering, and identity theft for his role in the operation. On appeal, Defendant challenged his sentence for the fraud and laundering convictions, arguing that the district court erred by including five enhancements when calculating his Sentencing Guidelines range. He argued that the district court should not have added two points to his offense level for a crime that involved sophisticated means. He further faulted the district court for applying a two-level enhancement for an offense involving "the possession or use of any . . . authentication feature." Finally, he claimed that the district court misapplied the four-level aggravating role enhancement.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction and held that the district court did not err when including five enhancements when calculating his Sentencing Guidelines range. The court concluded that Defendant’s conduct falls within the definition of "sophisticated means." The court reasoned that he created at least forty fraudulent bank accounts in the names of real and fictitious persons and business entities to receive funds from his victims. He then transferred the funds between those accounts and eventually to accounts in his true name; together these actions constitute sophisticated means. Further, the scheme involved multiple participants across two continents and several states. The text of the Guideline and its commentary supports the application of the enhancement and confirms that the enhancement applies "regardless of whether the defendant actually was associated with the organization." View "USA v. Aderinoye" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A grand jury charged Defendant with two counts of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. As his criminal case proceeded, medical examiners diagnosed Defendant with paranoid schizophrenia. Defendant moved to discontinue or modify his conditional release. The district court denied Defendant’s motion and gave a thorough explanation of its reasons for doing so. The district court also issued an order modifying Defendant’s conditions of release, which included an order requiring Defendant to receive monthly injections of Haldol at his previously prescribed dosage.   On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred by denying his motion for unconditional release and by ordering his healthcare provider to administer psychiatrist medication at a dosage he finds neither acceptable nor necessary.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s request to discontinue or modify his conditional release. The court reasoned that reversal for clear error is appropriate only where “the entire evidence” leaves the reviewing court “with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Here, the Government exhaustively recounted the testimony of two witnesses who lend considerable support to the district court’s factual findings. The court found that it is reasonable to defer to the district court’s superior knowledge of the defendant’s situation in cases where an insane defendant is released from custody under a medical regimen designed to promote his recovery and protect society. View "USA v. Brooks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal 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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Defendant was arrested after he and a co-defendant attempted to sell narcotics to an undercover police officer. Defendant was indicted for distributing narcotics. During trial, at the conclusion of the government's evidence, Defendant unsuccessfully moved for judgment of acquittal. During jury deliberations, jurors sent six notes to the judge, several of which indicated they could not reach a unanimous decision. The district court eventually provided an Allen instruction, to which Defendant's attorney verbally expressed he had no objection. The jury ultimately convicted Defendant.Defendant challenged the sufficiency of the indictment, the sufficiency of the evidence and the district court's decision to provide an Allen instruction to the jury. Applying plain error review, the Fifth Circuit rejected each of Defendant's appellate issues, affirming his conviction.Regarding Defendant's Allen claim, the court held that Defendant waived his ability to challenge the issue on appeal because his attorney failed to object at the time it was issued. Although Defendant's waiver was through counsel, a defendant's attorney is his agent in the proceedings. The court noted that deciding whether to object to an Allen jury instruction is a tactical decision. View "USA v. Cabello" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law