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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his below-Guidelines 35 year sentence for his role in a carjacking with fellow gang members when he was 16 years old. The carjacking resulted in two murders. The Fifth Circuit held that defendant's sentence did not violate Miller v. Alabama, which prohibits sentencing a juvenile to mandatory life without parole, because defendant received a discretionary sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) rather than a mandatory sentence; he was sentenced to 35 years in prison rather than life without parole; and he failed to demonstrate a violation of Miller's substantive requirements. Furthermore, defendant was afforded far more than the minimum procedure necessary to conduct a proper section 3553(a) analysis, and Miller did not add procedural requirements over and above section 3553(a). The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by applying two points to defendant's offense level for obstructing justice under USSG 3C1.1, and denying him a two point reduction for accepting responsibility under USSG 3E1.1. View "United States v. Sparks" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit held that the Texas burglary statute, Penal Code 30.02(a)(3), is generic. Therefore, defendant's three prior felonies were qualifying predicates for a sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The court held that the Supreme Court's intervening decisions in Quarles v. United States and United States v. Stitt foreclosed defendant's principal grounds for contesting his sentence. The court rejected defendant's claim that section 30.02(a)(3) lacks a requirement that an offender form a specific intent to commit another crime; that generic burglary requires a plan to commit another crime, while section 30.02(a)(3) requires only that one commit or attempt to commit a felony, theft, or an assault; that generic burglary requires breaking and entering or similar unlawful activity, while section 30.02(a)(3) requires none; and that "burglary," as used in the ACCA, is unconstitutionally vague. Accordingly, the court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Herrold" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner was granted a certificate of appealability (COA) to address whether the district court abused its discretion in failing to grant relief to petitioner on his claims for denial of the right to a speedy trial, on claims of violation of due process based on the suppression of evidence, and on the claim that he was entitled to substitute counsel. Petitioner had pleaded guilty to the offense of injury to a child and received a twenty-year sentence. The Fifth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction over the appeal but did not reach the merits on the grounds that petitioner, on appeal, has waived any argument related to the issue upon which he was granted appellate review. View "Webb v. Davis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed a special search condition of supervised release, holding that the record supported the condition and there was no clear error adversely impacting defendant's substantial rights. In this case, not only did the district court expressly adopt the findings of the presentence report (PSR), which included defendant's extensive criminal history, but the condition was a mechanism for enforcing other conditions prohibiting defendant's possession of drugs or firearms by facilitating the detection of evidence of other supervised release violations. Furthermore, the reasonableness of the conditions was evident from the very background of defendant's appeal, which stemmed from a crime he committed while on parole. View "United States v. Dean" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit dismissed defendant's appeal of the denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment. In this case, defendant cited the illegality of Mathew Whitaker's designation as Acting Attorney General as the basis for his motion to dismiss. The court held that the denial of defendant's motion was not an appealable collateral order and thus the court did not have jurisdiction over his appeal. View "United States v. Valencia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that the district court did not err by increasing defendant's criminal history level based on his prior state court conviction for use of methamphetamine in violation of California Health and Safety Code 11550(a). The court rejected defendant's contention that his conviction was similar to a conviction for "public intoxication" and should have been exempt under USSG 4A1.2(c)(2). The court held that all of the common-sense factors show differences between (a) Use/Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance and (b) "public intoxication" laws; other circuits have rejected defendant's arguments regarding the instant statute; and California has an offense that is more similar to "public intoxication." View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's sentence after defendant pleaded guilty to providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. The court held that the district court committed procedural error in concluding, as a matter of law, that the terrorism enhancement did not apply and therefore failed to determine whether, as a factual matter, the enhancement applies. Because the error was not harmless, the court vacated the original sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Khan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The burden of proof for the four factor test that prosecutors must satisfy before a court may compel the medication of the accused in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), is by clear and convincing evidence, not just by the preponderance of the evidence. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, because it was not clear from the record what burden of proof the district court applied and in light of the sensitivity of the interest involved. The court remanded for the district court to apply the clear and convincing evidence standard. View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of attempted aggravated robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court rejected petitioner's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney failed to conduct a sufficient pretrial investigation. In this case, petitioner failed to show prejudice under Strickland v. Washington or other clearly established federal law, because he did not allege what a sufficient investigation would have uncovered or how it would have changed his trial outcome. View "Adekeye v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for several health-care-related offenses in connection with recruiting and transporting individuals to Texas Tender Care (TTC) for treatment. The court held that the district court did not err by applying a two-level sentencing enhancement for offenses involving more than ten victims under USSG 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)(i); an eighteen-level enhancement for losses of more than $3.5 million under USSG 2B1.1(b)(1)(J); and a three-level enhancement for loss to a government healthcare program of more than $7 million under USSG 2B1.1(b)(7)(B)(ii). View "United States v. Ainabe" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law