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

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Defendant appealed his 84-month sentence for distribution of child pornography. He argued that the district court procedurally erred when it applied two enhancements which increased the suggested sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s application of that enhancement, vacated Defendant’s sentence, and remanded for resentencing.   The five-level exchange-for-value enhancement under Section 2G2.2(b)(3)(B) of the Sentencing Guidelines. In applying this enhancement over Defendant’s objection, the district court looked to the Fourth Circuit’s 2013 decision in United States v. McManus, 734 F.3d 315. Defendant argued that this was an error because McManus does not provide the proper test for defendants, like him, who were sentenced after a 2016 amendment to the Guidelines took effect.   The Fourth Circuit held that the district court procedurally erred when it applied two enhancements that increased the suggested sentencing range under the Sentencing Guidelines. Specifically, one of those enhancements is a five-level increase under Section 2G2.2(b)(3)(B) of the Guidelines. The court reasoned that the 2016 Guidelines amendment abrogated its holding in McManus for defendants sentenced after the effective date of the 2016 Guidelines. In light of the new standard imposed by the 2016 Guidelines, the district court’s application of the enhancement was an error, and that error was not harmless. View "US v. Jonathan Morehouse" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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White Coat Waste Project (“WCW”) tried to run an advertisement denouncing animal experimentation with the Greater Richmond Transit Company (“Richmond Transit”) the ad was denied for being impermissibly “political.” WCW sued, challenging that denial as a violation of its First Amendment rights. Richmond Transit responded that, as a private company, it is not bound by the First Amendment, and even if it were, its policy passes constitutional muster because it only restrains speech in a nonpublic forum.   The district court disagreed on both counts, concluding that Richmond Transit is a state actor subject to constitutional constraints and that its policy violates the First Amendment right to free speech. But the district court granted WCW only partial summary judgment, holding that it could not provide the facial relief WCW sought because public-transit political-advertising bans can sometimes accord with the Constitution.   The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court correctly identified Richmond Transit as a state actor and held that Richmond Transit’s policy is not “capable of reasoned application” and is therefore unconstitutionally unreasonable. Further, the court held that the district court erred in denying facial relief. Even if another public-transit political-advertising ban may be constitutional, this ban is incapable of reasoned, constitutional application in all circumstances. Thus, it is facially unconstitutional and warrants facial relief. View "White Coat Waste Project v. Greater Richmond Transit Co." on Justia Law

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8 U.S.C. Section 1226(a) permits the Attorney General to detain aliens pending their removal hearings. Under those procedures, an alien is given notice and three opportunities to seek release by showing they are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.   A district court determined that a class of aliens had a likelihood of establishing that those procedures violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. That court then issued a preliminary injunction ordering, on a class-wide basis, that to continue detaining an alien under Section 1226(a), the government must prove by clear and convincing evidence that an alien is either a flight risk or a danger to the community. The district court also required immigration judges to consider an alien’s ability to pay any bond imposed and consider alternatives to detention.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s preliminary injunction order and held that under Section 1252(f)(1), the district court lacked jurisdiction to issue class-wide injunctive relief that enjoined or restrained the process used to conduct Section 1226(a) bond hearings. Further, the detention procedures adopted for Section 1226(a) bond hearings provide sufficient process to satisfy constitutional requirements. The court concluded for that reason-the aliens are unable to establish a likelihood of success on their due process claims. Nor have they shown that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in their favor or that an injunction is in the public interest. View "Marvin Miranda v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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8 U.S.C. Section 1226(a) permits the Attorney General to detain aliens pending their removal hearings. The Attorney General has adopted procedures for making that discretionary decision. Under those procedures, an alien is given notice and three opportunities to seek release by showing they are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. A district court determined that a class of aliens had a likelihood of establishing that those procedures violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. That court then issued a preliminary injunction ordering that to continue detaining an alien under 1226(a), the government must prove by clear and convincing evidence that an alien is either a flight risk or a danger to the community. The district court also required immigration judges to consider an alien’s ability to pay any bond imposed and consider alternatives to detention.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s preliminary injunction order and held that under 8 U.S.C. Section 1252(f)(1), the district court lacked jurisdiction to issue class-wide injunctive relief that enjoined or restrained the process used to conduct Section 1226(a) bond hearings. Further, the court held that as for the individual relief issued by the district court, the detention procedures adopted for 1226(a) bond hearings provide sufficient process to satisfy constitutional requirements. Thus, the aliens are unable to establish a likelihood of success on their due process claims. Nor have they shown that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief. View "Marvin Miranda v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a former federal prison guard, was indicted for sexually assaulting a prisoner twice and then lying to law enforcement about it. A jury convicted Defendant only of making a false statement to law enforcement while acquitting him of the more substantial sex-crime charges. Following that verdict, the district court made two decisions that increased Defendant’s sentence. First, it imposed an enhanced statutory maximum that was neither charged nor submitted to the jury. Second, it varied upward to impose the sentence Defendant would have faced if he had been convicted of sexually abusing the prisoner. On appeal, Defendant challenged his false-statements conviction.   The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant’s challenge to his false-statement conviction. The court held that sufficient evidence supported that conviction, and any arguable inconsistency with the jury’s acquittal on other counts does not invalidate the false-statement conviction. The court reasoned that sufficient evidence supported the finding that both of Defendant’s statements were false for the reason charged—that is, Defendant had performed a sexual act on an inmate.   Further, the court agreed that the district court judge improperly imposed an enhanced statutory maximum penalty based on a judicial finding not in the indictment or found by the jury. However, the court found the error harmless, reasoning that although Defendant could have been charged, he was not. And absent a charge and conviction, Defendant was not subject to the 8-year statutory maximum sentence. Finally, the court held that the district court did not impose an unreasonable sentence. View "US v. Chikosi Legins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his felon in possession of a firearm conviction and sentence. Regarding his conviction, Defendant challenged the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress statements he made to the police, without the benefit of counsel, about the gun involved in the felon-in-possession charge. Regarding his sentence, he argues that the district court’s application of a Sentencing Guidelines enhancement, based on its finding that Defendant used the firearm to commit a carjacking, violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because it was based on acquitted conduct.   The Fourth Circuit rejected Defendant’s Sixth Amendment violation claims and affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that the district court did not violate Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel by admitting the uncounseled statements that he made to Maryland police after he was appointed counsel in his D.C. case. The court reasoned that Defendant did not request his attorney, ask for the interview to stop or say anything that a reasonable police officer in the circumstances would understand to be a request for an attorney.   Further, the court held that Defendant’s Sixth Amendment challenge to the use of acquitted conduct as the basis for his Guidelines sentence enhancement is foreclosed by Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit precedent. Finally, the district court did not err by enhancing Defendant’s sentence when it found, based on a preponderance of the evidence, that he used the firearm in connection with the carjacking at issue. View "US v. Jovon Medley" on Justia Law

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Defendant operates an acute care facility as well as a vocational and career-training program intended to help individuals facing barriers to employment find jobs. Disabled individuals who complete the program are eligible for job placement, possibly as janitors for Social Security Administration facilities. The Union sought to represent all janitors; however, Defendant objected, claiming that the janitors have a "rehabilitative" relationship and not an employment relationship. The NLRB determined the janitors are statutory employees. After a vote, the Union passed, but Defendant refused to recognize it.The Fourth Circuit held that the Board's determination that the janitors were statutory employees was supported by the evidence. Thus, the NLRB had jurisdiction to certify the Union and, by refusing to acknowledge the Union, Defendant violated labor laws. View "Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Inc. v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Petitioner is serving a life sentence upon a South Carolina conviction for assault and battery with intent to kill. One claim in Petitioner’s state habeas petition alleged that his state appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to file a Petition for Rehearing in the Court of Appeals. The district court granted Section 2254 relief, but not on the ground Petitioner raised. Instead, the district court determined Petitioner was entitled to relief because his appellate counsel (1) failed “to timely advise him of the adverse decision of the Court of Appeals on his direct appeal and of his right to seek further appellate review,” and (2) sent a letter containing counsel’s “forged signature” that “inaccurately informed Petitioner that his state court appellate rights had been exhausted.” South Carolina appealed, arguing that the district court’s judgment conflicts with the rigorous standards that apply when a state prisoner seeks to challenge the constitutionality of his state sentence in federal court.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and denied Petitioner’s writ of habeas corpus. The court held that no ineffective assistance of counsel claim can arise based on conduct relating to discretionary, subsequent appeals. The court reasoned that the district court impermissibly altered the claim presented in Petitioner’s sec. 2254 petition. As for the claim Petitioner actually raised, the district court properly held that he had not shown that he was entitled to relief under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). View "Clinton Folkes v. Warden Nelsen" on Justia Law

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Defendant used counterfeit $20 bills to purchase a firearm and ammunition. A federal grand jury indicted Defendant on possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon and passing counterfeit money. Defendant subsequently pled guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, and the government dismissed the other count.At sentencing, the district court applied a sentencing enhancement under Section 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) of the Sentencing Guidelines based on the fact that used the firearm "in connection with another felony offense." The court then sentenced Defendant to sixty-two months’ imprisonment and three years of supervised release. Defendant appealed, challenging the application of the Section 2K2.1(b)(6)(B) enhancement, claiming he did not use the firearm in connection with the offense of passing counterfeit money.The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendant's sentence, determining that any error the district court may have committed, such error was harmless. The court noted that, in its opinion, the district court explained that, even without the enhancement, Defendant's sentence would have been the same.The court also rejected Defendant's claims under United States v. Rogers, 961 F.3d 291 (4th Cir. 2020), finding that the presentence report put Defendant on notice that his sentence might include discretionary conditions of supervised release. View "US v. Robert Cisson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant pled guilty to Continuing a Criminal Enterprise (“CCE”) and Money Laundering and the district court sentenced Defendant to 420 months incarceration on the CCE offense and 240 months’ incarceration for money laundering, to be served concurrently. Defendant filed a pro se motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018 (“FSA”), which the district court denied on grounds that Defendant’s convictions were not covered offenses. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling denying Defendant’s pro se motion to reduce his sentence pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018 (“FSA”), holding that Defendant’s conviction under Sections 848 (a) and (c) is not a covered offense under the FSA. The court reasoned that although Defendant’s conviction for Sections 848(a) and (c) required a finding that he committed a continuing series of drug violations, the quantity and drug type of these violations made no difference for sentencing purposes, whereas they would matter to secure a conviction and sentence under Section 848(b). Further, since the Act altered drug quantities required to trigger the penalties for 841(b)(1)(A) or 841(b)(1)(B), it also modified the drug quantities required to sustain a conviction under 848(b). Thus, after Woodson and before Terry, since the Act modified the statutory penalties applicable to 848(b) and (e), 8 it would have been conceivable that the Act modified the statutory penalties for Defendant’s “statute of conviction,” thus rendering his 848 (c) conviction a covered offense under the FSA. View "US v. Jerrell Thomas" on Justia Law