FindLaw Opinion Summaries - Criminal

Daily criminal law and procedure case summaries, brought to you by FindLaw.com.

US v. Pinkham

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed a 240-month sentence for drug trafficking. The defendant, who had pleaded guilty, argued that the district court held him responsible for an incorrect drug quantity and, in addition, improperly counted two prior convictions when calculating his criminal history score, but the First Circuit was not persuaded by either argument.
Posted: July 18, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Caballero-Vazquez

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed sentences for possessing ammunition as a convicted felon and for possessing a machine gun where the defendant, who had pleaded guilty to both crimes, had appealed on procedural and substantive grounds.
Posted: July 18, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Romero

(United States First Circuit) - Vacated a sentence of unlawful re-entry into the U.S. because the presentence report contained an error. On appeal of his sentence, the defendant pointed out for the first time that the presentence report had erroneously applied an enhancement that rated his offense in a U.S. Sentencing Guidelines advisory range of 46-57 months instead of 30-37 months. The First Circuit agreed that this was plain error and vacated and remanded for resentencing.
Posted: July 18, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Morales-De Jesus

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed the imposition of a longer sentence for a drug offense than recommended in a plea agreement in a case where the defendant pleaded guilty to leading a large drug distribution conspiracy in housing projects and to a related firearm offense and faced a total sentence of 228 months' imprisonment, longer than the 180 months recommended in the plea agreement. On appeal, the First Circuit found no error.
Posted: July 18, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Rose

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed a motion to vacate sentences imposed under the Armed Career Criminals Act. The four defendants argued that, in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. US, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), that their convictions for the Rhode Island offense of Assault with a Dangerous Weapon no longer qualified as predicate convictions triggering the ACCA's mandatory 15-year sentence. On appeal, the First Circuit agreed with them and held that the district court properly granted their motions to vacate, set aside, or correct their sentences.
Posted: July 18, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Arif

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed a conviction and sentence for wire fraud for operating websites that sold non-prescription drugs as snake-oil cures based on fraudulent representations such as altered clinical studies. The defendant argued that he was prosecuted under the wrong statute because prosecutions such as his must be pursued exclusively by the Federal Trade Commission as false advertising cases, and not by the Department of Justice as wire fraud charges, which carry a higher penalty, an argument that was rejected by the First Circuit.
Posted: July 18, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Frates

(United States First Circuit) - Vacated a sentence for federal armed bank robbery to allow the district court to reconsider it in light of changes to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The defendant argued that his sentence as a career offender should be vacated in light of a recently enacted amendment to the Guidelines. While finding no error with the district court's application of the Guidelines, the First Circuit exercised its discretion to vacate the sentence and remand to allow the district court to consider the U.S. Sentencing Commission's current policy position on who qualifies as a career offender.
Posted: July 18, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Koback

(California Court of Appeal) - Affirmed a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, where the makeshift weapon was making a tight fist around a car key and taking a swing at another person. The defendant argued that he did not use the car keys in a manner that was capable of inflicting great bodily injury. The Fourth Appellate District rejected his argument, emphasizing that a car key wielded with the key sticking out between the knuckles is capable of puncturing skin and causing serious harm.
Posted: July 17, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Gibbs

(United States Fourth Circuit) - Affirmed a sentence for violating the conditions of supervised release in a case where the defendant contended that the 24-month sentence he received was plainly unreasonable because the district court did not adequately address his arguments in favor of a downward variance. But in a 2-1 decision affirming the sentence, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court had adequately addressed the defense arguments for a downward variance.
Posted: July 16, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Powell

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed the denial of a request to withdraw a guilty plea to production of child pornography. On appeal, the defendant argued that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because his counsel had provided him ineffective assistance by failing to file a motion to suppress certain evidence. However, in affirming the denial of his request, the First Circuit found that he failed to show that the suppression motion would have been meritorious, so there was no error.
Posted: July 16, 2018, 8:00 am

Shorter v. Baca

(United States Ninth Circuit) - Granted a pretrial detainee a new trial on her claims that she had been subjected to unlawful conditions of confinement at a detention facility. According to the detainee, the trial judge should not have instructed the jury to give deference to jail officials in deciding her claims alleging unconstitutional conditions of confinement and humiliating and invasive strip searches. On appeal the Ninth Circuit agreed that the jury instruction was improper, and held that she was entitled to a new trial on her Section 1983 civil rights claims.
Posted: July 16, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Dhirane

(United States Fourth Circuit) - Affirmed the convictions and sentences for providing support to a foreign terrorist organization following a bench trial where the district court found that the two defendants had collected money to assist a foreign terrorist organization's activities. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit rejected the defendants' argument that the district court, among other things, should have suppressed evidence obtained pursuant to warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Posted: July 16, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Barbosa

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed the sentencing of a defendant as a career criminal upon his conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defendant argued that he should not have been sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act and that the district court should have ordered a pretrial hearing to test the sufficiency of the probable cause allegations undergirding the arrest warrant. The First Circuit rejected both of these contentions.
Posted: July 16, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Thompson

(United States Second Circuit) - Affirmed a defendant's conviction for prostituting two minors and employing a minor in the creation of a sexually explicit video. In appealing his conviction, the defendant argued that 18 U.S.C. section 1591 is unconstitutionally overbroad and that his indictment under that statute was deficient. He also argued, as to his conviction under 18 U.S.C. section 2251, that venue was not proper in the Eastern District of New York, but the Second Circuit rejected all of his challenges.
Posted: July 13, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Buenrostro

(United States Ninth Circuit) - Affirmed the denial of a motion for a sentence reduction and a motion to vacate a sentence filed by a defendant who had previously been granted a commutation from a life sentence to 360 months in prison. With his motions, the defendant sought further modification of his sentence under 18 U.S.C. section 3582(c)(2), but in rejecting his argument, the Ninth Circuit held that the statute was inapplicable because he was originally sentenced based on a statutory mandatory minimum, not based on a sentencing range.
Posted: July 13, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. McCoy

(United States Fourth Circuit) - Affirmed a conviction and sentence for federal drug trafficking conspiracy where a defendant pleaded guilty and waived his right to appeal except on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. Defendant's appeal argued that a factual basis did not support his guilty plea, which he could argue as this type of challenge falls outside the scope of a valid waiver. However, in affirming the Fourth Circuit held that a factual basis did, in fact, support his plea.
Posted: July 13, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. McCoy

(United States Fourth Circuit) - Affirmed a conviction and sentence for federal drug trafficking conspiracy where a defendant pleaded guilty and waived his right to appeal except on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. Defendant's appeal argued that a factual basis did not support his guilty plea, which he could argue as this type of challenge falls outside the scope of a valid waiver. However, in affirming the Fourth Circuit held that a factual basis did, in fact, support his plea.
Posted: July 13, 2018, 8:00 am

Abdul-Salaam v. Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

(United States Third Circuit) - Reversed the denial of habeas relief by a petitioner who was convicted in state court of murder and sentenced to death. The petitioner argued ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase as his trial counsel could not have had a strategic reason for failing to investigate his school and juvenile records, to acquire a mental health evaluation, or to interview more family members about his childhood abuse and poverty. In reversing the denial of relief, the Third Circuit determined that there was a reasonable probability that the un-presented evidence would have caused at least one juror to vote for a sentence of life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.
Posted: July 12, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Torres

(California Court of Appeal) - Reversed a conviction due to lack of a Miranda warning in a case where an initially non-custodial interrogation became custodial when police essentially told the defendant they would not leave, and he could not go home, until he told them the truth about whether he had molested a five-year-old girl. In reversing, the appeals court determined that a motion to suppress the defendant's confession under Miranda likely would have succeeded.
Posted: July 12, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Spencer

(Supreme Court of California) - Affirmed the death sentence of a defendant who was convicted of murdering a man while robbing him and burglarizing his place of business. The California Supreme Court found no reversible error in the conviction and sentence.
Posted: July 12, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Pepe

(United States Ninth Circuit) - Vacated a criminal conviction and the sentence of a U.S. citizen who allegedly drugged and raped several children while he was residing in Cambodia. In reversing, the Ninth Circuit held that the defendant was improperly convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. section 2423(c) because the version of that statute in effect during the relevant time period was inapplicable to U.S. citizens living abroad unless they were traveling (as opposed to residing) in the foreign country when they committed the sexual acts that the statute prohibits.
Posted: July 11, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Joyce

(United States Ninth Circuit) - Affirmed a criminal conviction for violating antitrust laws where the defendant was convicted of conspiring to suppress and restrain competition by rigging bids. Defendant argued that the matter should be adjudicated under a rule-of-reason analysis. However, because bid rigging is a per-se violation of the Sherman Act, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err by refusing to allow evidence of the alleged ameliorative effects of his conduct.
Posted: July 11, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Ahmed

(California Court of Appeal) - Reversed a conviction for the sale of marijuana in a case where the defendant operated a business selling medical marijuana products in Livermore, which has a municipal ordinance prohibiting marijuana dispensaries. The defendant contended that the trial court erred by denying him the ability to assert a medical-marijuana defense. The appeals court agreed and overturned his conviction, holding that the trial judge's ruling that barred him from raising a medical-marijuana defense violated his constitutional right to present a defense.
Posted: July 11, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Jimenez

(United States Second Circuit) - Affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss a criminal indictment in the case of a dishonorably discharged U.S. Marine who was convicted for possessing ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 922(g)(6). In its decision, the Second Circuit held that the Marine's Second Amendment right was not infringed by the law which prohibits dishonorably discharged service members from possessing firearms or ammunition, provisions that withstood intermediate scrutiny.
Posted: July 10, 2018, 8:00 am

Williams v. Annucci

(United States Second Circuit) - Reversed summary judgment and revived a state prison inmate's claims where the inmate sought accommodations under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act for the dietary restrictions imposed by his Nazarite Jewish faith. In reversing summary judgment, the Second Circuit determined that the district court failed to appreciate the substantial showing that the government must make to justify burdening an individual plaintiff’s practice of a sincerely held religious belief in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct. 853 (2015).
Posted: July 10, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Hurlic

(California Court of Appeal) - Reversed and remanded. A California law that went into effect in 2018 known as Senate Bill No. 620 grants a trial court the discretion to waive certain firearm sentencing enhancements that were previously mandatory. Under the new law, which is retroactive, a criminal defendant who had earlier pleaded no contest to attempted murder and accepted a 20-year mandatory sentencing enhancement for the personal discharge of a firearm was not required to obtain a certificate of probable cause from the trial court to challenge the sentence enhancement on appeal, the Second Appellate District concluded.
Posted: July 9, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Pagan-Romero

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed the denial of a criminal defendant's motion for a new trial. Even though the jury should not have been permitted to have a dictionary in the jury room during deliberations, enabling it to look up the definitions of words such as “knowingly,” the judge thoroughly investigated the impact of the error and properly concluded that there was no prejudice to the defendant, a medical doctor whom the jury convicted of insurance fraud.
Posted: July 9, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Obendorf

(United States Ninth Circuit) - Affirmed an Idaho farmer's criminal conviction for illegally baiting ducks in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Although the farmer denied he was baiting ducks and argued he was simply farming his land, an agricultural practice exception set forth in 50 C.F.R. section 20.21(i)(1) applies to unlawful taking, but not unlawful baiting, and thus did not immunize his conduct under the century-old law whose purpose is to protect migratory birds.
Posted: July 9, 2018, 8:00 am

Holland v. Rosen

(United States Third Circuit) - Affirmed the denial of motion for a preliminary injunction where the plaintiffs sought to enjoin state officials from implementing the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act. The Act replaced the state's former monetary bail system with a new framework that prioritizes the use of non-monetary conditions of pretrial release. Because the plaintiffs failed to show a violation of any federal constitutional right to cash bail or corporate surety bonds under the Fourth, Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment, the appeals court determined that the district court properly denied the requested preliminary injunction.
Posted: July 9, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Hernandez

(United States Second Circuit) - Affirmed. A criminal defendant unsuccessfully challenged the jury instruction given on his affirmative defense, which claimed that as a member of a gang he participated in the shootings in question under duress. The appeals court affirmed the conviction and sentence.
Posted: July 6, 2018, 8:00 am

Bakran v. Sec'y, US Dep't of Homeland Security

(United States Third Circuit) - Summary judgment affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part with directions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. A convicted sex offender unsuccessfully brought constitutional and other challenges to the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, 8 U.S.C. section 1154(a)(1)(A)(viii)(I), which restricts the ability of a sex offender to sponsor an immediate relative's immigration application.
Posted: July 5, 2018, 8:00 am

MAZ Partners LP v. Shear

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed the multi-million-dollar disgorgement order in favor the plaintiff and the take-nothing verdict in favor of the defendant. Plaintiff sought disgorgement based on findings that the defendant was not only a director but also a controlling shareholder. The court held that disgorgement was an available remedy and found no abuse of discretion when the district court made such an order that was designed to ensure defendant would not profit from such an order.
Posted: July 2, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Mora & Rangel

(Supreme Court of California) - Affirmed judgment on an automatic appeal in a death penalty case where defendants argued that there were several errors in the guilt and penalty phases of their trial. The Supreme Court agreed that there was an instructional error, but ruled the error harmless because of overwhelming evidence supporting defendants' convictions.
Posted: July 2, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Jesus Alejandro Chavez

(United States Fourth Circuit) - Affirmed the convictions of the defendants for all crimes charged against them, including violent crimes in the aid of racketeering. Defendants alleged errors and Brady violations. The court held that a Brady claim must establish evidence that was favorable to the accused, suppressed, and material to the verdict, but did not find that there was any such evidence rising to the level of a Brady exclusion.
Posted: July 2, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Gasperini

(United States Second Circuit) - Affirmed the judgment where a defendant challenged his conviction for misdemeanor computer intrusion on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally vague while also challenging the district court's denial of his suppression motion. The Second Circuit held defendant did not raise the vagueness challenge below and therefore declined to review it on appeal and that the suppression motion fails because even though the evidence was obtained in Italy through an Italian subpoena it could still be used in a US court. The appeals court also found that evidence obtained through a Wayback Machine website was authenticated.
Posted: July 2, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Acosta-Joaquin

(United States First Circuit) - Affirmed a conviction for fraudulent use of a social security number (SSN) where the defendant illegally came to this country in 2005 from the Dominican Republic and adopted the name and SSN of a US Citizen. Defendant alleges that he never falsely represented that the SSN number was his but always to the assumed identity. The court held that when defendant assumed the identity of another, he sought to deceive and avoid deportation, which precisely fits the language of the statute against the fraudulent use of a SSN.
Posted: July 2, 2018, 8:00 am

Gonzalez v. Sessions

(United States Fourth Circuit) - Petition granted; reversed and remanded the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals which had found that payment of court costs qualified as a conviction under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Plaintiff entered the US illegally and then several years later pled guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana charge where the court withheld adjudication of guilt and assessed $100 in court costs. The Fourth Circuit held that the assessment of court costs was not a punishment and therefore there was not a conviction.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

Sexton v. Beaudreaux

(United States Supreme Court) - Reversed and remanded to the Ninth Circuit in a case where Plaintiff was tried and convicted of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree robbery. After being denied a state habeas petition for ineffective assistance of counsel due to the failure to file a motion to suppress identification testimony, plaintiff filed a federal habeas motion which the district court denied, but the Ninth Circuit reversed. In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court held that ineffective assistance analysis requires showing, in addition to deficient performance and prejudice, an appropriate level deference to the state court decision, which the Ninth Circuit did not show.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Lopez

(Supreme Court of California) - Affirmed the judgment of an automatic death penalty case. The defendant argued cumulative errors during the trial and coercion in reaching the verdict. On appeal, the court found no such errors or coercion.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Littlefield

(California Court of Appeal) - Affirmed the trial court's dismissal of defendant's appeal of a victim restitution order which was made 16 years after the order was issued and after defendant had served his forgery sentence. The appeals court affirmed the dismissal reasoning that a trial court lacks jurisdiction to resentence after a criminal defendant has begun his sentence.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

In re A.R.

(California Court of Appeal) - Affirmed a judgment committing defendant-minor to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice. Defendant argued that the court abused its discretion because the placement would not be a benefit and that less restrictive placement would be effective. The appeals court reasoned defendant's history showed less restrictive measures would be ineffective.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Almanza

(California Court of Appeal) - Affirmed in part and remanded a firearm sentence enhancement. Plaintiff was convicted of 1st degree murder and assault with a firearm but after the sentence there was a retroactive change in the law for the firearm sentence. In remanding the court directed that defendant's sentence be reviewed to consider the change.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Anderson

(Supreme Court of California) - Affirmed as modified, affirmed the death penalty of an automatic death penalty case. Defendant's appeal argued procedural and instructional errors as well as a challenge to the death penalty. The Court held that the errors were not prejudicial, but that the sentencing enhancement for a prior conviction was in error and should be corrected. The court struck the one-year enhancement for a prior prison term and directed the trial court to amend the abstract of judgment. The Court found the California death penalty as a whole provides adequate safeguards and is not arbitrary.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

In re S.O

(California Court of Appeal) - Affirmed a restitution order confirming that defendant, a minor, had to pay restitution for economic losses incurred because of criminal conduct as well as additional losses from evidence of uncharged conduct. The court reasoned that the juvenile court has authority over a minor for probation and may impose all reasonable conditions.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

USA v. Hohag

(United States Ninth Circuit) - Affirmed the imposition of supervised release condition requiring the defendant to participate in a sex offence-specific assessment, which may include a polygraph test. The Ninth Circuit held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion as the conditions for supervised release are not particularly burdensome and do not rest solely on the defendant's 27-year old rape conviction.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Olvera

(California Court of Appeal) - Affirmed the denial of a motion to vacate due to insufficiency of counsel. Defendant sought to vacate his judgment and withdraw his plea of no contest for drug charges claiming that his counsel failed to advise him of immigration consequences. The court reasoned that there was no deficiency of counsel where the defendant was advised in writing of the immigration consequences for his plea.
Posted: June 28, 2018, 8:00 am

People v. Bussey

(California Court of Appeal) - Vacated in part; affirmed in part; and remanded. Defendant was found guilty by a jury of the unauthorized taking or driving a vehicle and receiving a stolen vehicle. On appeal, the defendant claims trial court ignored his pretrial request to act in propria persona and that his felony convictions should have been deemed misdemeanors because of the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The appeals court held that a defendant must make an unequivocal request before trial to represent himself or waives the issue; the unauthorized taking of a vehicle worth less than $950 is subject to a redesignation of his offense. Defendant did not make an unequivocal request and thus waived. There was no finding of the vehicles worth and the unauthorized taking or driving a vehicle is reversed and sentence vacated. In all other aspects the judgment is affirmed.
Posted: June 27, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Fernandez-Jorge

(United States First Circuit) - Plaintiffs were found guilty of possessing firearms in a school zone. All plaintiffs moved for acquittal and the trial court denied as to all but one plaintiff. The plaintiffs who were denied acquittal appealed and the government also appealed the single acquittal. The appellate court held that sufficient evidence supported plaintiffs' school zone possession convictions; the district court gave erroneous jury instructions which required Count Three of the convictions to be vacated; and that the evidence did not support convictions for possession of a firearm as convicted felons, which required reversal of the count for those convictions.
Posted: June 26, 2018, 8:00 am

US v. Martoma

(United States Second Circuit) - Affirmed. Defendant was convicted of securities fraud and insider trading. After conviction defendant argues that the jury was not properly instructed and that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction. The 2nd Circuit held that the jury instructions were inconsistent with US v. Newman (2014) 773 F.3d, but that the instructional error did not affect defendants substantial rights. In addition, the 2nd Circuit held that sufficient evidence was presented.
Posted: June 25, 2018, 8:00 am

Tanvir v. Tanzin

(United States Second Circuit) - Reverse and remand. Plaintiff claims that in retaliation for Plaintiffs refusal to serve as informants they were placed on the No-Fly List in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The district court held that the RFRA does not permit recovery of money damages against federal officers in their individual capacities. The 2nd Circuit held that the RFRA does permit such recovery and reversed and remanded the decision.
Posted: June 25, 2018, 8:00 am