Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Petitioner, convicted of federal drug and firearms offenses, appealed the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion for habeas relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, petitioner claimed that his counsel's performance was deficient because she failed to bring to the attention of the trial court the fact that, before the trial began, a member of the jury approached petitioner's father while entering the courthouse and told him that "everything would be alright" and that he needed to give his son "a good kick in the butt," thereby allegedly demonstrating bias against petitioner. The court concluded that counsel's response fell within the range of competent representation required by the Sixth Amendment because the juror's alleged statement did not sufficiently indicate actual bias against petitioner but was instead ambiguous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Powell" on Justia Law

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Movant sought leave to file a second or successive 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition challenging his conviction for first-degree murder. The court found that when a prisoner's successful habeas petition results in a new, intervening judgment, the prisoner's first habeas petition to challenge that new judgment is not second or successive within the meaning of section 2244(b), regardless of whether the petition challenges the prisoner's sentence or underlying conviction. In this case, the petition is not second or successive because it will be the first to challenge the intervening judgment that was the basis for Movant's confinement. Accordingly, the court denied the motion to file a second or successive petition as unnecessary and directed the district court to consider Movant's second-in-time section 2254 petition as the first challenge to the new judgment. View "In Re: William Gray, Jr." on Justia Law
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Plaintiff, currently confined as a sexually dangerous person, filed suit against BOP, alleging various claims related to BOP's failure to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for medical appointments and other important interactions, its refusal to provide him with access to a videophone, and its failure to otherwise accommodate his deafness. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of BOP. The court concluded that plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to satisfy the objective and subjective components of the deliberate-indifference inquiry. Therefore, the district court erred by granting summary judgment on plaintiff's claim that BOP failed to provide him with constitutionally adequate medical care. The court also concluded that the district court erred by granting summary judgment as to plaintiff's claim that he was unreasonably denied access to the TTY device. Finally, the court agreed with plaintiff that the district court erred by relying on BOP's voluntary, post-litigation actions to reject his remaining claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Heyer v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

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Defendants Hill and Dodwell pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute at least 500 grams of cocaine. On appeal, defendants challenged the district court's denial of their motion to suppress. The court affirmed the judgment based on the narrow ground that the traffic stop did not violate the court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence at the time it occurred. The court concluded that the district court did not err in finding that, under existing precedent, any pre-ticket delay did not warrant suppression. The court also concluded that defendants waived their challenge to any post-ticket extension by failing to specifically object on those grounds before the district court. View "United States v. Hill" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff brought an as-applied Second Amendment challenge to Maryland's firearms regulatory scheme, arguing that the scheme is unconstitutional as applied to him. Plaintiff is a convicted felon in Virginia who has had his civil rights restored by the Governor of Virginia and his firearms rights restored by the Virginia courts. Currently a resident of Maryland, plaintiff wants to obtain a permit for a handgun and possess a long gun, both of which he is unable to do in Maryland absent a full pardon from the Governor of Virginia. The district court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim. The court held that a state law felon cannot pass the first step of the United States v. Chester inquiry when bringing an as-applied challenge to a law disarming felons, unless that person has received a pardon or the law forming the basis of conviction has been declared unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful. The court further held that evidence of rehabilitation, the likelihood of recidivism, and the passage of time may not be considered at the first step of the Chester inquiry as a result. Therefore, the court concluded that plaintiff failed at step one of the Chester analysis. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Hamilton v. Pallozzi" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his 45-month sentence after pleading guilty to mailing a threatening letter in violation of 18 U.S.C. 876(c). Defendant's conviction stemmed from him sending a threatening letter to a federal courthouse that was covered with white powder. The court concluded that defendant failed to establish that any lack of notice of the district court's intention to depart from the advisory Guidelines range affected his substantial rights. The court rejected defendant's claim that the severity of the sentence rested on improper sentencing factors and unfounded factual findings. In this case, the inferences drawn by the district court were within the bounds of its discretion. Because defendant's sentence was procedurally and substantively reasonable, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Spencer" on Justia Law
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Petitioner seeks review of the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief. Defendant argued that his petition was not time-barred because it was filed within one year of his discovery of his petitions' factual predicates -- his incorrect blood type and factual findings in the Zain III report -- which he argues could not have been discovered sooner. The court found, however, that had petitioner exercised due diligence, he would have discovered the factual predicates far earlier. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the petition. View "Gray v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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Defendant plead guilty to one count of Hobbs Act robbery, one count under the carjacking statute, 18 U.S.C. 2119, and one count of discharging a firearm during a carjacking. On appeal, defendant challenges the district court's ruling that the federal offense of carjacking qualified as a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c). The court affirmed the judgment, agreeing with the district court that the carjacking statute qualifies as a crime of violence under Section 924(c), because the carjacking statute "has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another." View "United States v. Evans" on Justia Law
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Defendant appeals her conviction for one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and mail fraud and ten counts of bank fraud for her role in originating and submitting fraudulent mortgage loan applications. Defendant raised several issues on appeal. The court concluded that defendant failed to establish any Sixth Amendment error where the district court allowed the government's pretrial seizure of defendant's assets where the seizure did not prevent defendant from being represented by her counsel of choice; the evidence was sufficient to support the conspiracy conviction; the court rejected defendant's evidentiary challenges; the evidence was sufficient to support the bank fraud convictions; the court rejected defendant's argument that the government constructively amended the indictment; the district court had jurisdiction to enter the preliminary and final forfeiture orders after the October 3 hearing; and the court rejected defendant's challenge to the district court’s substitute property order. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Chittenden" on Justia Law

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After defendant pled guilty to distribution of a quantity of cocaine base, he appealed the district court's application of the modified categorical approach when it determined that his prior state court attempt conviction qualified as a controlled substance offense under USSG 4B1.2. Defendant also argued that West Virginia’s general attempt statute criminalized more conduct than a generic controlled substance offense. The court concluded that the district court erred in applying the modified categorical approach to the West Virginia general attempt statute; held that sentencing courts must compare the state and generic elements of such statutes as well as the elements of the underlying substantive statutory offense when determining whether a prior attempt conviction qualifies as a controlled substance offense; and concluded that the district court failed to make these required comparisons. The court explained, however, that under the correct approach, defendant's attempt conviction properly constitutes a controlled substance offense under USSG 4B1.2. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Dozier" on Justia Law
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