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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for carjacking, conspiracy to commit carjacking, and destruction of government property. The court held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal on the carjacking and conspiracy charges, because there was sufficient evidence to support the charges; motion to suppress evidence related to a cell phone search, because the district court's inference that defendant abandoned his phone while fleeing was reasonable; and motion to excuse and question two jurors, because defendant failed to show that the extrajudicial communications or contacts at issue were more than innocuous interventions. View "United States v. Small" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff, an inmate at a state prison, filed suit against officials at the VDOC under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, alleging that the VDOC was denying him the ability to practice central tenets of his Muslim religion. The district court granted summary judgment to the VDOC. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded, holding that the VDOC's stated justifications for denying plaintiff access to a Friday prayer service known as Jum'ah and interfering with his ability to maintain a four-inch beard were invalid under both RLUIPA and the First Amendment. The court commended for consideration by the VDOC in further proceedings the full practical effect of observations made by former correctional officials that providing robust support for inmates' genuine religious exercise would actually enhance prison security and inmate rehabilitation. View "Greenhill v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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A Maryland law requiring newspapers, among other platforms, to publish on their websites, as well as retain for state inspection, certain information about the political ads they decide to carry, violates the First amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunctive relief awarded by the district court and explained that, while Maryland's law tries to serve important aims, the state has gone about this task in too circuitous and burdensome a manner to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court agreed with the district court that the law is a content-based law that targets political speech and compels newspapers, among other platforms, to carry certain messages on their websites. The court declined to decide whether strict or exacting scrutiny should apply to a disclosure law like the one at issue, and held that the law failed under the more forgiving exact scrutiny standard. View "The Washington Post v. McManus" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm by a felony, holding that the district court did not err by denying his motion to suppress. The court held that the evidence presented to the district court supported a finding that the firearm inevitably would have been discovered during an inventory search of the plastic bag. The court declined to address the government's alternative argument that the firearm was discovered during a valid search incident to arrest. View "United States v. Seay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of appellants' motion to compel arbitration. The complaint alleged claims that were predicated on a massive insurance contract steering and kickback fraud conspiracy that spanned the period from 2001 to 2016. The court held that the district court failed to resolve -- in the proper manner -- factual disputes regarding whether Berkeley Schools agreed to arbitrate the claims alleged in the complaint. Accordingly, 9 U.S.C. 4 requires that those disputes must be resolved in trial proceedings and thus the court remanded. View "Berkeley County School District v. HUB International Limited" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to one count of assault resulting in bodily injury to a victim under 16 years of age. The court held that defendant's sentence of five years probation and 200 hours of community service was procedurally unreasonable, because the district court failed to provide an explanation in support of its sentence sufficient to permit meaningful appellate review. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Provance" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A conviction under South Carolina's voyeurism statute constitutes a sex offense requiring registration under the Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORNA). The Fourth Circuit declined to apply the section 2246 definitions of "sexual act" and "sexual contact" outside of their place in Title 18 Chapter 109A, in the absence of statutory language to do so. Rather, the court chose to define SORNA's use of these terms in accordance with their ordinary meaning. Consequently, the court explained that a violation of the voyeurism statute—which does not require physical contact, but does require the voyeuristic act to be in furtherance of "arousing or gratifying sexual desire"—is a criminal offense involving a "sexual act" or "sexual contact" that requires registration under SORNA. Accordingly, the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss was proper and the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Helton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for drug conspiracy and related offenses. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence a state court record concerning defendant's 2013 state conviction, because it was intrinsic to the drug conspiracy and not subject to a Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) inquiry. The court rejected defendant's Napue claim, because he failed to show that the witness's testimony was false. View "United States v. Bush" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiring to distribute fifty grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine, holding that the evidence was sufficient to establish that defendant conspired to distribute the threshold drug quantity of fifty grams of methamphetamine. The court also held that, although the district court's jury instructions on the drug conspiracy offense constituted plain error, the error did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings. Finally, the court held that defendant's Sixth Amendment confrontation rights were not violated by the admission of business record certifications from Facebook, Google, and Time Warner Cable; the district court did not err by admitting the bad acts evidence relating to his prior threats and assaults; and defendant's remaining contentions of error were rejected. View "United States v. Denton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit dismissed the petition for judicial review of the BIA's order denying petitioner's application for asylum. The court held that the BIA's July 9 remand order did not constitute a final order of removal within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. 1252, and thus the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the petition. In this case, the BIA remanded petitioner's case to the IJ for background checks, and thus the BIA order underlying the petition for judicial review was not a final order. View "Kouambo v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law