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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant challenges two conditions of his sentence, 1.) that he refrain from excessive alcohol consumption, and 2.) that he take all mental-health medications that are prescribed by his treating physician. The government conceded that condition 1 should be struck because it was not orally pronounced by the district court. However, the Fifth Circuit rejected the government's claim that the district court's general discussion of the importance of mental health treatment was sufficient to meet the notice requirement. Thus, the court struck both conditions. View "USA v. Prado" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud, in violation of 15 U.S.C. Sections 78j(b) and 77ff. The district court sentenced Defendant to 168 months in prison and imposed roughly $6.8 million in restitution. In exchange for Defendant's plea, the Government agreed to dismiss five other counts, which carried a maximum term of 100 years in prison. As part of his agreement, Defendant waived his right to appeal.Defendant subsequently filed notice of appeal, challenging the application of a sentencing enhancement and the court's restitution award. The Fifth Circuit dismissed Defendant's appeal, finding that he waived the right to appeal when he signed the plea agreement. View "USA v. Meredith" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin. This offense carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) calculated the advisory imprisonment range as 135 to 168 months, or if Defendant received a three-point reduction for acceptance of responsibility, 97 to 121 months. But because of the mandatory minimum, the PSR elevated its calculated guideline range to 120 to 121 months. Palomares objected to the PSR, arguing that she was eligible for relief under the safety valve. In particular, she argued that a plain reading of Section 3553(f)(1) only requires mandatory minimum sentences for defendants whose history meets all three disqualifying criteria listed in subsections (A)– (C)—not just one. And because only one of the disqualifying criteria applied to her, she argued that she was eligible for relief.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court held to be eligible for safety valve relief, a defendant must show that she does not have more than 4 criminal history points, does not have a 3-point offense, and does not have a 2-point violent offense. Because Defendant had a previous 3-point offense, she is ineligible for safety valve relief. The court held that the phrase “does not have” independently applies to each subsection in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(f)(1), rendering criminal defendants ineligible for safety valve relief if they run afoul of any one of its requirements View "USA v. Palomares" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner is scheduled for execution on November 9, 2022. Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 for the capital murder of his mother. In early September of 2022, when there was no pending litigation, Petitioner moved the district court under 18 U.S.C. Section 3599(e) to compel the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to unshackle his hands during expert evaluations that his counsel had scheduled for later in September. The district court dismissed the motion for lack of jurisdiction. Petitioner appealed and filed a concurrent motion to stay his execution.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court and denied as moot Petitioner’s motion for stay. The court explained that intentional delay tactics near execution dates are commonplace enough that our court has a rule specifically addressing the timing of challenges to death sentences and/or execution procedures. Here, the court reasoned that because Petitioner has provided no legitimate justification as to why this appeal is anything but a delay tactic, the district court would not have abused its discretion in denying relief even if section 3599 could grant jurisdiction to make that decision. View "Beatty v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his conviction under Section 912, claiming that the district court erred in adopting the Government’s jury instructions. Defendant also appealed his sentence, arguing that the district court erred in applying the cross-reference provision in U.S.S.G. Section 2J1.4(c)(1).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction under Section 912, but vacated the district court’s application of U.S.S.G. Section 2J1.4(c)(1) and remanded for resentencing. The court held that that the jury instruction was satisfactory, but the facts do not support the application of the cross-reference provision to the drug-trafficking sentencing guidelines. The court explained that the record fully support’s Defendant’s conviction under Section 912. (1) Defendant intentionally and falsely pretended to be an FBI agent doing fieldwork in Texas; (2) he completed numerous overt acts consistent with his FBI agent impersonation; and (3) he completed the impersonation and overt acts with the “intent to deceive to act differently than he would have acted absent the deception.” Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s desired jury instruction or reversibly misstate an element of his offense in its adoption of the Government’s.   However, the record fails to support the Government’s argument that Defendant attempted to traffic fentanyl. For the Government to prevail on its theory that Defendant’s false impersonation was done in the facilitation of violating Section 841(a), it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant had the requisite state of mind to be guilty of that offense. View "USA v. Ferris" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner’s filed a petition in the district court under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254 challenging his state convictions for armed robbery, kidnapping, and purse snatching on various constitutional grounds. The district court dismissed the petition as time-barred and denied Petitioner a certificate of appealability (COA). Petitioner then asked our court to grant him a COA on both the district court’s procedural ruling as well as the substantive claims in his Section 2254 petition.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the COA and dismissed the appeal. The court explained that Petitioner’s “procedural-only” COA is barred by Section 2253. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that such a COA is invalid because it says nothing at all about the Constitution. The court further reasoned that while it can also issue a valid COA in place of the invalid one, that does not apply here. Here, having examined the constitutional claims in Petitioner’s Section 2254 petition, the court cannot say he has made a substantial showing as to any of them. View "Pierre v. Hooper" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants were convicted of numerous crimes stemming from their participation in a violent New Orleans street gang. Defendants filed timely notices of appeal, raising a number of issues. The Fifth Circuit affirmed their convictions in large part, vacated them in part, and remanded. The court explained that because the jury may have improperly relied on the charged RICO conspiracy as a predicate for Defendants’ Section 924 convictions, the court vacated some of the Defendants’ convictions under Counts 3, 6, 8, 11, 13, 16, and 18 and remanded for further proceedings. For similar reasons, the court vacated some of the Defendants’ restitution orders and remanded. Otherwise, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "USA v. Hankton" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant of three counts of producing, distributing, receiving, and possessing an obscene visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1466A(a)(1); five counts of using an interactive computer service to transport obscene matters, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1462(a); and one count of engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matters, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1466(a). On appeal, Defendant challenged his conviction and sentence.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed convictions on Counts 2 through 9, reversed the conviction on Count 1, and remanded for resentencing. The court explained that the fact that the charged drawings here do not depict real minors does not render Arthur’s convictions on Counts 1, 8, and 9 unconstitutional. However, as to Count 1, the court wrote it was not satisfied that the charged image, which was admitted at trial as Government’s Exhibit 10A, is “patently offensive.”   While the charged images in Counts 8 and 9 are both detailed, color, cartoonlike drawings depicting pre-adolescent girls being forced to perform fellatio on disembodied and engorged male genitalia, the charged image in Count 1 is a simple black and white pencil or charcoal drawing with minimal detail depicting an adolescent girl alone, reclining and apparently masturbating. Importantly, unlike the children depicted in the images in Counts 8 and 9, there is no indication that the subject of the image in Count 1 is being forced to perform a sexual act. View "USA v. Arthur" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained by federal agents after a hotel manager opened the door to a room containing Defendant. Defendant moved to suppress the fruits of the hotel-room search, arguing that the hotel manager was acting as a Government agent and that the Government lacked a warrant that authorized the search. The district court held a suppression hearing and denied the motion. Defendant thereafter pleaded guilty to illegal reentry under 8 U.S.C. Section 1326, reserving his right to challenge the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court properly found that this search was a private search. As private searches do not implicate the Fourth Amendment, the district court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search in question.   The court explained that the district court correctly found that the Government did not affirmatively encourage the hotel manager to open the door and thus did not acquiesce to the manager’s search. These findings are supported by the record and, given that the district court was in the best position to evaluate the credibility and context of witness statements, are not clearly erroneous. View "USA v. Cordova-Espinoza" on Justia 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