Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing, withdrew its prior opinion, and substituted the following opinion. The court affirmed defendant's convictions for four counts of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy. The court held that the seizure of the cellphone was "close enough to the line of validity" to permit the officer to prepare the second warrant that led to the search of the cellphone; the district court did not violate defendant's Confrontation Clause rights by prohibiting defendant from questioning one of the minor victims about a purported aggravated assault charge; even if the special findings made by the jury were supported by insufficient evidence, defendant's convictions would be unaffected; and the court refused to vacate his convictions based on a grand jury clause violation because there was substantial evidence against him. View "United States v. Fulton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions stemming from their involvement in a fraudulent scheme to collect disaster assistance. Defendant Walter was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eleven counts of wire fraud, two counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds, and three counts of money laundering; Defendant Rosie was convicted of the conspiracy count, ten counts of wire fraud, and a money laundering count; and Defendant Anita was convicted of the conspiracy count. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to convict defendants. The court also held that the district court did not misapply a two-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2B1.1(b)(9)(A) to Rosie's sentence where the offense involved a misrepresentation that the defendant was acting on behalf of a charitable, educational, religious, or political organization, or a government agency. The court vacated the no-new-credit special condition and remanded for the district court to reform the written no-new-credit condition to match the one implied by the oral sentence of restitution. The court also vacated the no-gambling special condition, because it was not so clearly consistent with an oral pronouncement of restitution as to be reasonably encompassed within that pronouncement. The court affirmed the remaining two challenged conditions. View "United States v. Diggles" on Justia Law

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USSG USSG 2K2.1(b)(4) requires only that one serial number be altered or obliterated on a firearm, even if others are clearly legible. The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that the district court did not err by applying a four-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(4), for an altered or obliterated serial number on the firearm. In this case, the metal serial-number plate had been removed from the frame of the handgun, but it had a legible serial number on its side. Therefore, the metal serial number plate altered or obliterated the serial number. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that the special condition of supervised release imposed by the district court for defendant to participate in a mental health treatment program was not supported by the record. In this case, the district court's reasoning was scant and the court's independent review of the record determined that the district court could have imposed a less restrictive alternative. Therefore, the district court committed reversible plain error and the court modified the sentence by striking the condition. The court otherwise affirmed the sentence as modified. View "United States v. Bree" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's acceptance of defendant's guilty plea to possessing a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon. The court first considered the entire record in assessing the sufficiency of the factual basis. In this case, assuming arguendo that the factual basis contained a viable justification defense, the record plainly established that defendant knowingly possessed a firearm. Therefore, the court held that the factual basis demonstrated that defendant's conduct satisfied all elements of the offense. View "United States v. Ortiz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to illegal reentry into the United States after being previously removed. The court held that defendant failed to prove error affecting his substantial rights where nothing about the classification of his prior sex offenses altered the district court's focus on his contumacy. The district court determined that defendant's earlier conviction failed to deter defendant, because he quickly reentered the United States after his most recent illegal reentry conviction. In this case, the district court never cited the sexual assault convictions in explaining its chosen sentence. Rather, the district court's explanation made clear that the judge based the sentence on factors independent of the Guidelines. View "United States v. Sanchez-Hernandez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner a certificate of appealability (COA), dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction, and sanctioned him for appealing his collateral attack on his conviction. The court held that a denial of a motion to quash a writ of execution under 28 U.S.C. 1291 is a final decision. The court affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's request to quash the government's writ of execution. The court held that the statutes governing restitution granted petitioner the right to reduce his restitution order based on subsequent civil judgments. However, the court rejected petitioner's collateral attack on the restitution order and held that he did not meet the evidentiary requirements of 18 U.S.C. 3664(j)(2). View "United States v. Parker" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit treated respondent's petition for rehearing en banc as a petition for panel rehearing and granted it, withdrawing the court's prior opinion and substituting the following. The court affirmed the district court's denial of petitioner's federal application for post-conviction relief and denial of further investigative funding. The court held that no Supreme Court precedent holds that Miranda violations are not subject to harmless-error analysis, and the Court of Criminal Appeals' (CCA) decision to apply harmless-error analysis did not conflict with clearly established federal law. Furthermore, the CCA did not unreasonably apply Chapman v. California. Finally, the district court did not improperly deny petitioner investigative funding under 18 U.S.C. 3599(f) where the district court viewed the request for additional funding as effectively seeking a full retrial of the issues already litigated in the state court. View "Jones v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress and held that defendant was not in custody for purposes of Miranda. Considering all the circumstances of the interview and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, the court held that defendant was not "in custody," because a reasonable inmate in defendant's position would not expect to be required to stay in the office after the termination of the interview. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to instruct the jury on a statute of limitations defense where there was no evidence that immigration authorities had actual or constructive knowledge of defendant's presence in the United States. Finally, the court held that defendant's challenge to jury selection was unavailing and defendant failed to show a clear or obvious Confrontation Clause error. View "United States v. Arellano-Banuelos" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The district court held that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' application of Witherspoon v. Illinois and its progeny was unreasonable because the state trial court violated petitioner's constitutional right to an impartial jury under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when it excluded a member of the venire for having moral, conscientious, or religious objections to the death penalty. The State appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that the state court proceedings concerning the exclusion of the member as a juror did not result in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. Furthermore, the state court proceedings did not result in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding. However, the district court did not give appropriate deference to the TCCA's determination that the trial court did not violate the federal constitution when it removed the member for cause. The court also held that petitioner was not entitled to habeas relief on this claim of ineffective assistance of counsel where, even assuming counsel's performance was deficient, petitioner failed to establish prejudice. Finally, petitioner failed to cite any decision of the Supreme Court holding that the severely mentally ill are ineligible for execution. Accordingly, the court reversed in part to the extent that the district court conditionally granted habeas relief to petitioner on his first claim of relief and otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "Smith v. Davis" on Justia Law