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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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After defendant was charged with illegal reentry and failure to register as a sex offender, he argued that his underlying convictions for three counts of indecent liberties with a child under North Carolina law were unconstitutional in light of Padilla v. Kentucky. Padilla held that the Sixth Amendment requires a defense attorney to advise a non-citizen client of the immigration risks of a guilty plea. A North Carolina court, relying on Padilla, did vacate defendant's convictions in 2015. The court concluded that the alleged constitutional deficiency in defendant's state convictions had no effect on his subsequent prosecution for illegal reentry. The court explained that because Padilla does not apply retroactively to defendants like defendant, convicted before the case was decided, defendant's convictions remain valid today as a matter of federal law, and his attempt to collaterally attack his 2009 removal is unavailing on that ground alone. Because the district court properly denied defendant's motion to vacate the 2009 removal order and to withdraw his guilty plea to the charge of illegal reentry, and because there is no error in the district court’s reliance on the vacated state convictions in determining defendant's sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Moreno-Tapia" on Justia Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of structuring cash transactions to evade reporting requirements and agreed to forfeit significant assets. The court concluded that the district court did not err in calculating defendant's sentencing range by applying a two level enhancement for his leadership role under USSG 3B1.1(c), and a two-level enhancement for his abuse of a position of trust under USSG 3B1.3. The court also concluded that the district court fully informed defendant of the terms of the plea agreement and its provision for waiver of any challenge to his agreement to forfeit assets. In any event, defendant failed to establish that his substantial rights were affected. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Agyekum" on Justia Law
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Petitioner, a native of Belarus, seeks review of the BIA's final order of removal based on petitioner's Virginia involuntary manslaughter offense, which the agency deemed a categorical crime involving moral turpitude. The court explained that an involuntary manslaughter conviction can be secured in Virginia without proving a conscious disregard of risks attendant to the offender’s conduct; such a conviction can be predicated on proof that the offender failed to appreciate or be aware of the risks emanating from his conduct. Therefore, the court concluded that Virginia’s involuntary manslaughter offense is not categorically a crime involving moral turpitude. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review and vacated, remanding for further proceedings. View "Sotnikau v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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Defendant, the former chairman and CEO of Massey, appealed his conviction for violating federal mine safety laws and regulations. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his involvement in a tragic mine accident that caused the death of 29 miners. The court concluded that the district court did not err in refusing to dismiss the superseding indictment; the district court did not reversibly err in denying defendant an opportunity to engage in recross-examination of a Massey employee; the district court properly instructed the jury that it could conclude that defendant “willfully” violated federal mine safety laws if it found that defendant acted or failed to act with reckless disregard as to whether the action or omission would lead to a violation of mine safety laws; the first, second, and third jury instructions reflect the “bad purpose” mens rea discussed in Bryan v. United States because they required that the jury conclude that defendant took actions that he knew would lead to violations of safety laws or failed to take actions that he knew were necessary to comply with federal mine safety laws; and the district court did not reversibly err in providing the two-inference instruction. The court noted that, although it disapproved of the two-inference instruction, the district court's use of that instruction in this case does not amount to reversible error. The court directed the district courts not to use the two-inference instruction going forward. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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Defendant signed a plea agreement in which the government agreed to seek a sentence at the lowest end of the “applicable guideline range.” After the government recommended a sentence at the lowest end of the guideline range found by the district court, defendant appealed. The court held that, in this case, the phrase “applicable guideline range” only obligated the government to recommend a sentence at the lowest end of the guideline range found by the district court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Tate" on Justia Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to traveling in foreign commerce and engaging in illicit sexual conduct, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2423(c). The district court agreed with defendant that, as a matter of law, he did not travel in foreign commerce in connection with his illicit sexual conduct and is thus actually innocent of the offense. The court concluded, however, that defendant is not actually innocent of the section 2423(c) offense because defendant was still traveling in foreign commerce from the time he departed the United States until the time of his illicit sexual conduct in Cambodia. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Schmidt" on Justia Law
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Defendant Muldrow and Gomez were convicted of drug offenses in unrelated cases. In this appeal, defendants challenge the district court’s determination that the Guidelines commentary -- as amended by United States Sentencing Guideline Amendment 759 -- requires a district court at resentencing to calculate the “applicable guideline range” without applying any departures or variances from a defendant’s original sentencing range. The court concluded that Amendment 759’s clarifying definition is consistent with the text of USSG 1B1.10, and the court saw no inconsistency between the Guidelines and the commentary as revised by Amendment 759. The court joined its sister circuits and held that Amendment 759 binds sentencing courts. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Muldrow" on Justia Law
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After a jury trial in 2009, Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to distribute fifty grams or more of cocaine base and a related firearms conspiracy. The district court applied the maximum base offense level for drug-trafficking crimes under the Guidelines given the quantity of cocaine base attributable to Defendant. Following the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, the Sentencing Commission amended the Guidelines with respect to cocaine base offenses by increasing the minimum quantity of cocaine base necessary to trigger the maximum base offense level from 8.4 to 25.2 kilograms. In 2015, Defendant moved for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). The district court denied the motion, concluding that the quantity of controlled substance in the offense of conviction rendered Defendant ineligible for a sentence reduction under the retroactive crack amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court adequately explained why it found Defendant ineligible; and (2) the district court did not err by finding Defendant responsible for at least 25.2 kilograms of cocaine base. View "United States v. Peters" on Justia Law
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Petitioner, a native and citizen of El Salvador, seeks review of the BIA's decision finding him removable based on his conviction for “Third Degree Sex Offense” under Maryland Criminal Law Article 3-307. The court concluded that the BIA erred as a matter of law, and held that petitioner's conviction does not constitute the aggravated felony of “sexual abuse of a minor” under the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(A), because Maryland Criminal Law Article 3-307 proscribes more conduct than does the generic federal offense. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the order of removal, and ordered his immediate release from DHS custody. View "Larios-Reyes v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-208.6(4) and 14-208.7(a) requires persons convicted of certain reportable sex offenses to register as “sex offenders.” Under N.C. Gen. Stat. 14-208.18(a), for persons convicted of a subset of those reportable sex offenses, North Carolina restricts their movement relative to certain locations where minors may be present. Plaintiffs filed suit challenging these statutes as unconstitutional. The district court permanently enjoined enforcement of section 14- 208.18(a)(2) and section 14-208.18(a)(3). The court concluded that neither an ordinary citizen nor a law enforcement officer could reasonably determine what activity was criminalized by subsection (a)(3). Consequently, that subsection does not meet the standards of due process because it is unconstitutionally vague. In regards to subsection (a)(2), the court concluded that the State failed to prove that, while all parties agree North Carolina has a substantial interest in protecting minors from sexual crimes, subsection (a)(2) was appropriately tailored to further that interest. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "John Doe #1 v. Cooper, III" on Justia Law