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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon. The court was bound by its prior decision in United States v. Mungro, 754 F.3d 267, 272 (4th Cir. 2014), holding that the North Carolina breaking and entering statute "sweeps no more broadly than the generic elements of burglary" and therefore its violation qualifies as an Armed Career Criminal Act predicate conviction. Therefore, defendant's previous conviction for breaking and entering, in violation of North Carolina General Statutes 14-54, qualifies as an ACCA predicate conviction under 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii). View "United States v. Dodge" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence of a firearm after defendant conditionally pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon. The court held that the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity when he stopped and frisked defendant. In this case, a bystander called 911 to report a large fight and assault, with a victim knocked out laying on the ground; the area was known to be a problem area; and officers could reasonably infer from the report that the person with the gun was involved in the fight. The court rejected defendant's contention that the tip from the bystander was unreliable and that the tip insufficiently alleged illegal conduct. View "United States v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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MSI filed suit challenging Maryland Senate Bill 707 banning "rapid fire trigger activators" - devices that, when attached to a firearm, increase its rate of fire or trigger activation -- as violating the Takings Clause of the United States Constitution as well as Maryland's takings provisions. MSI also alleged that the statute is void for vagueness. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on MSI's lack of standing. The court held that MSI lacked organizational standing; the district court properly dismissed the pre-enforcement vagueness challenge for lack of standing; appellants failed to state a claim that the statute violates the Takings Clause; and the district court properly determined that SB-707 does not violate Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The court explained that, although SB-707 may make the personal property economically worthless, owners are aware of that possibility in areas where the State has a traditionally high degree of control. In this case, SB-707 does not alter the rights appellants possessed when they purchased their rapid fire trigger activators, nor does it impose new liability back to the date of purchase. Rather, appellants had fair notice of the change in law, because SB-707 was passed six months before it first went into effect. View "Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Hogan" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendants Gutierrez, Baxton, and Gilmore's convictions and sentences for various charges related to their membership in the United Blood Nation (UBN) gang. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by empaneling an anonymous jury; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying recusal; the district court did not abuse its discretion in regard to jury selection; the district court properly denied Gilmore's motion to suppress; the evidence was sufficient to support defendants' convictions for conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise; the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to issue a special jury verdict form; and the district court properly instructed the jury. The court upheld the district court's denial of Gilmore's motion for a new trial; held that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's civil forfeiture findings; and held that defendants' respective sentences were not procedurally and substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner, a native and citizen of El Salvador, petitioned for review of the BIA's final order of removal affirming the IJ's denial of his application for asylum and other forms of relief. Petitioner claimed that he was persecuted and fears future persecution on account of his family ties. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the petition for review in part, holding that petitioner's jurisdictional argument -- that because his initial notice to appear did not include a time or date for a hearing, the immigration court lacked jurisdiction over his removal proceeding -- is squarely foreclosed by the court's recent opinion in United States v. Cortez, 930 F.3d 350, 355 (4th Cir. 2019), which was issued only after the parties' briefing in this case. The court denied the petitioner for review in part, holding that substantial evidence supports the determination of the IJ and BIA that petitioner has not met his burden of showing eligibility for asylum. In this case, the record does not compel the conclusion that family membership was at least one central reason why petitioner was threatened by his brother's attackers. Therefore, petitioner cannot satisfy the nexus requirement and is not eligible for asylum. View "Cedillos-Cedillos v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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Plaintiffs, twelve record companies, filed suit against defendant alleging claims for five separate violations of the Copyright Act. Plaintiffs are Delaware corporations, with eight having their principal place of business in New York, three in California, and one in Florida. Defendant, born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, is a Russian citizen who still resides in Rostov-on-Don. Defendant owns and operates websites that offer visitors a stream-ripping service through which audio tracks may be extracted from videos available on various platforms and converted into a downloadable format. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss, holding that defendant's contacts sufficiently show he purposefully availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in Virginia. Therefore, the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(1) is appropriate if it is constitutionally reasonable. Because the district court did not perform a reasonability analysis in the first instance, the court remanded for the district court to do so. View "UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Kurbanov" on Justia Law

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By an interim order dated April 2, 2020, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's decision denying defendant's motion for a reduced sentence, ruled that defendant was eligible for relief under the First Step Act, and remanded for the district court to consider whether to exercise its discretion under the Act to impose a reduced sentence. This opinion explains the reasons for the court's order. The court held that when the Fair Sentencing Act changed the quantities of crack cocaine to which 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(C) applies, it "modified" the statutory penalties of that subsection for purposes of crack cocaine offenders within the meaning of the First Step Act. In this case, defendant's sentence under subsection 841(b)(1)(C) was imposed for a "covered offense," and he is eligible for a First Step Act sentence reduction. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Woodson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants Campbell, Shropshire, Wells, and Washington were convicted of charges related to their participation in a heroin-distribution conspiracy and related substantive-drug-distribution offenses. Washington was convicted of distributing heroin that resulted in the death of a young woman. The court held that the district court acted well within its discretion by admitting expert testimony on J.L.'s cause of death over Washington's objection; the district court acted within its discretion in rejecting Washington's proposed instruction; the evidence of the home-invasion robbery was properly admitted by the district court; Shropshire failed to show that clear prejudice resulted from the joint trial and the district court did not abuse its discretion; the court declined to address Shropshire's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim; and the district court acted within its discretion in denying the motion for a mistrial after mitigating any risk of prejudice with a cautionary instruction. View "United States v. Campbell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After the tax court determined that petitioners failed to report approximately $41.2 million of compensation income that they realized when certain restricted stockholdings that they owned became substantially vested in January 2004, the tax court upheld the Commissioner's decision to impose accuracy-related penalties for negligence and substantial understatement of tax liability, and denied petitioners' post-trial attempt to offset their underreported income with various net operating loss carrybacks. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the tax court, holding that the tax court did not err in holding that petitioners each realized and were required to report $45.7 million of taxable income when their UMLIC S-Corp. stock substantially vested in taxable year 2004. In this case, even if the Surrender Transactions could somehow be seen as rescinding petitioners' employment and compensation agreements with UMLIC S-Corp., the court agreed with the tax court's conclusion that those transactions were totally devoid of economic substance and must be disregarded for federal income tax purposes. The court also held that the tax court did not err in upholding the accuracy-related penalties imposed by the Commissioner. Finally, the court rejected petitioner's claim that the tax court erred in refusing to consider their net operating losses (NOL) carryback claim during post-trial computation proceedings conducted pursuant to Tax Court Rule 155. View "Estate of Arthur E. Kechijian v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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Citynet filed a qui tam action against West Virginia officials, alleging that defendants defrauded the United States when obtaining federal funding for a program to improve broadband connectivity for West Virginia residents, in violation of the False Claims Act (FCA). Specifically, Citynet alleged that Defendants Gianato and Given, respectively the Director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the State Technology Officer, along with other defendants, knowingly submitted false statements and records to the United States as part of their application for funding under the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and, once the funding was obtained, made false claims in drawing down funds under the Program. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's immunity ruling and remanded with instructions to deny Gianato and Given's claim of qualified immunity. Because the district court's ruling was contingent on the answer to the threshold legal question of whether qualified immunity may be invoked as a defense to FCA claims, the court exercised appellate jurisdiction and held that qualified immunity does not apply to protect government officials from claims against them for fraud under the Act. View "United States ex rel. Citynet, LLC v. Gianato" on Justia Law