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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. This offense typically carries a maximum penalty of ten years incarceration. The presentence report (PSR), however, recommended sentencing Defendant pursuant to the Armed Criminal Career Act (ACCA), which would increase Defendant’s penalty to a minimum of fifteen years’ incarceration. The district court declined to do so—finding that Defendant’s prior convictions fail to satisfy the requirements of the ACCA.   The Fifth Circuit disagreed and vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court reasoned that in applying the court’s holdings in Vickers and Ochoa-Salgado to the present case, Defendant’s prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute also qualifies as a predicate offense under the ACCA. Accordingly, the court vacated the sentence because it found that three of Defendant’s prior convictions qualify as predicate offenses under the ACCA/ View "USA v. Clark" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellant, a Canadian citizen not legally present in the United States, was arrested and charged with various firearms offenses following the execution of an administrative warrant at his trailer. Appellant unsuccessfully litigated a motion to suppress, claiming that agents exceeded the scope of the administrative warrant by arresting him not in a public place -- in the threshold of his trailer. The district court concluded that Appellant was not seized until after he had exited the trailer and that he was not located on any curtilage of the trailer.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court's resolution of Appellant's motion to suppress was not clearly erroneous. “[A] person standing in the doorway of a house is ʻin a “public” place,’ and hence subject to arrest without a warrant permitting entry of the home.” Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 335 (2001). The Fifth Circuit also held that the district court did not err in finding that Appellant consented to the search of his trailer following his arrest. View "USA v. Malagerio" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His plea reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. He challenges the district court’s determination that a firearm and cell phone discovered in his car, as well as statements he made to officers, were admissible.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the officers relied on their computer records that listed Defendant’s warrants. They did not have the complaints underlying the warrants or other information that might have revealed possible invalidity. Without “deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent” conduct on the part of the police, excluding evidence has little, if any, deterrent value and is therefore unjustified. In sum, the court wrote, there is nothing in the record that would show that the officers’ reliance on the computer records was not objectively reasonable. The district court did not err in applying the good faith exception, and the officers were justified in their reliance on the traffic warrants as a basis for arrest.   Further, the only significant statement was Defendant’s answer to being asked if “there is anything [the officer] should know about” in the vehicle. Defendant responded that there is “something you might take me to jail for if I tell you,” and he then told the officer about a pistol in the console. The statement is not independently significant. Accordingly, the court rejected any prejudicial error from the admission of the statement. View "USA v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The government challenged the district court’s partial grant of Defendant’s motion to suppress. The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that the evidence at issue was obtained following a constitutionally valid investigatory stop and thus did not warrant suppression on that account.   The court explained that all three of the Navarette factors favor the government. The tipster identified himself as an eyewitness to the events in the liquor store parking lot; he professed to describe those events as they unfolded, and the setting the officers found on their arrival five minutes later tended to support that timeline; and he used the 911 emergency system, which, as reflected by the record, both traced his number and recorded his call. Accordingly, to the extent that the factor concerning the informant’s reliability tends in any direction, it leans the government’s way. Second, the court wrote, that the information provided by the informant, despite his requested anonymity, was highly specific. Third, although some discrepancies were encountered, the information conveyed by the informant was mostly consistent with what the officers discovered when they arrived on the scene. Thus, having determined that all the factors weigh in favor of the government, the court concluded that, even when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Defendant, no reasonable view of it supports the district court’s ruling. View "USA v. Rose" on Justia Law

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A grand jury indicted Defendant for being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm. Defendant moved to suppress the statements he made to the police. The district court granted Defendant’s motion to suppress in part and denied it in part. At a bench trial, the district court found Defendant guilty and later sentenced him to a within-guidelines term of 10 months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the record does not show that the officers confronted Defendant with his prewarning statements to deliberately circumvent Miranda. Instead, they “merely responded to evidence” that they acquired while investigating Defendant’s claim that he was being chased. Further, Defendant does not challenge the voluntariness of his pre-arrest statements, nor does he argue that his post-warning statements were involuntary. At oral argument, however, he argued for the first time that he could not have knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights because he was “delusional.” But Defendant conceded at oral argument that voluntariness was not the “thrust” of his brief before the district court. Generally, arguments not raised before the district court are waived and will not be considered on appeal. That applies where, as here, a party “fail[s] to raise [an argument] in its opening brief. Thus, any argument concerning voluntariness is waived. View "USA v. Fernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was convicted on all five counts of a 2011 indictment charging himself and two co-conspirators with a variety of offenses arising from a well-orchestrated scheme to circumvent American export controls designed to prevent dual-use commodities—goods with both civilian and military applications—from falling into the hands of adversaries like Iran. On appeal, Defendant seeks reversal and remand on three independent grounds.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that because of the Government’s diligence and Defendant’s evasiveness, the first two factors in the Barker balancing test weigh decidedly against Defendant’s speedy trial claim. The court wrote this is a case where a defendant who took steps to avoid being caught now faults the Government for not catching him sooner. Further, Defendant’s efforts to avoid apprehension cut against his speedy trial assertion in another way, as well—they betray a lack of diligence in asserting the right. Thus, because the Barker balancing test weighs overwhelmingly against Defendant, the district court was correct to deny his motion to dismiss for lack of speedy trial.   Finally, because the Sixth Amendment does not require a district court to render a particularized dissertation to justify a partial courtroom closure that is reasonable, neutral, and largely trivial (i.e., requiring spectators to watch and listen on live stream rather than in-person), the district court’s partial closure of Defendant’s jury trial was not unconstitutional. View "USA v. Ansari" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to transporting illegal aliens for financial gain. At his original sentencing, the district court applied an enhancement for intentionally or recklessly creating a risk of death or serious bodily harm to another person and then sentenced Defendant to twenty-seven months of imprisonment. Defendant appealed, and the Fifth Circuit vacated the sentence.   Relying on the new evidence, the district court again applied the enhancement and sentenced Defendant to the same sentence that he had received before. Defendant appealed, arguing both that the district court exceeded this court’s mandate by agreeing to hear new evidence and that the new evidence introduced by the Government is still insufficient to warrant the imposition of the enhancement.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that Carales-Villalta binds the court and is dispositive here. Moreover, even under Defendant’s preferred approach, the district court did not err in hearing additional evidence related to the Section 2L1.1(b)(6) enhancement on remand. Further, the court has previously held that transporting aliens in a manner that significantly hinders their ability to exit the vehicle quickly creates a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury. In other words, on resentencing the Government proved an aggravating factor that was not considered by this court during Defendant’s first appeal. The presence of that aggravating factor is dispositive here, as its presence is sufficient for the application of Section 2L1.1(b)(6) enhancement. View "USA v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his 28 U.S.C. Section 2241 habeas corpus petition for lack of jurisdiction. The Fifth Circuit explained that because Petitioner could have raised all his present claims in a Section 2255 motion, he may not raise them in a Section 2241 petition. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s denial of Section 2241 relief.   The court explained that Section 2255 provides for a one-year statute of limitations. All of the pieces that comprise Petitioner’s claim were in place well before that period expired. Congress had amended the statute at issue. The Supreme Court had decided the cases on which he relies. Because a Section 2255 motion could have accommodated the challenge, a Section 2241 petition is foreclosed. View "Hammoud v. Ma'at" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his guilty plea conviction for attempted bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 2113(a). Defendant contends that the district court violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1) by improperly involving itself in plea negotiations and that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation. Defendant, now represented by counsel, asserts that the district court violated Rule 11(c)(1) by participating in plea negotiations before the parties reached an agreement. Second, he contends that his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation was violated during the plea-bargaining process.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed holding that Defendant failed to show reversible error. The court held that the district court’s participation in negotiations here was far less egregious than that in other cases requiring reversal under the harmless error standard. Here, Defendant indicated that he understood the plea agreement, that it was voluntarily entered, and that his decision to plead guilty was based on conversations between himself, standby counsel, and the prosecution. These facts fall short of demonstrating manifest injustice.   Further, the court concluded, that Defendant was not deprived of his right to self-representation. From April 29, 2020, the date Defendant elected to proceed pro se, to January 8, 2021, the date of the plea discussions at issue. The court could not say Defendant was deprived of his right to self-representation by virtue of his exclusion from this one conference. At all times, Defendant maintained “actual control” over the plea negotiations. View "USA v. Mamoth" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was sentenced to death. He did not appeal or pursued state habeas relief. However, he subsequently filed for a Certificate of Appealability with the Fifth Circuit on several grounds. The Fifth Circuit rejected two of the grounds based on current precedent. However, the Fifth Circuit granted the Certificate of Appealability on the following issues:(1) Did Petitioner's state habeas counsel render inadequate assistance by conceding that Petitioner was competent to waive review?(2) Can the court reach that conclusion based on evidence consistent with Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez, 142 S. Ct. 1718 (2022)?(3) If Petitioner's state habeas counsel rendered inadequate assistance, was the inadequate assistance a cause external to Petitioner? View "Mullis v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law