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

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Defendant was convicted and sentenced to 121 months in prison, as well as a lifetime of supervised release, for transporting and possessing child pornography. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment with respect to the special assessments under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. However, the court held that the district court plainly erred under circuit precedent by failing to explain the computer-related special conditions of supervised release. Accordingly, the court vacated the conditions as procedurally unreasonable and remanded in part for resentencing. View "United States v. McMiller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Seeking evidence to use in a United Kingdom arbitration, Servotronics filed an application in the district court under 28 U.S.C. 1782 to obtain testimony from three Boeing employees residing in South Carolina. On appeal, Servotronics contends that the district court erred in ruling that the UK arbitral panel was not a "foreign tribunal" for purposes of section 1782 and thus it lacked authority to grant Servotronics' application to obtain testimony for use in the UK arbitration. The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the arbitral panel in the United Kingdom is a foreign tribunal for purposes of section 1782. The court explained that the current version of the statute, as amended in 1964, manifests Congress' policy to increase international cooperation by providing U.S. assistance in resolving disputes before not only foreign courts but before all foreign and international tribunals. The court wrote that such a policy was intended to contribute to the orderly resolution of disputes both in the United States and abroad, elevating the importance of the rule of law and encouraging a spirit of comity between foreign countries and the United States. Furthermore, Boeing's argument to the contrary represents too narrow an understanding of arbitration, whether it is conducted in the United Kingdom or the United States. View "Servotronics, Inc. v. The Boeing Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant on the grounds that plaintiff's trade dress registrations, which cover the shape and color scheme of its chicken feeder products, are functional and thus only eligible for patent law's protection of utilitarian inventions. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff's claims of trade dress infringement under the Lanham Act and North Carolina common law. The court held that the total feeder profile is functional and ineligible for trade dress protection. The court explained that, because the color trade dress was placed on the supplemental trademark register, rather than the principal register, it is presumed functional, and plaintiff bears the burden of proving non-functionality. In this case, the court held that plaintiff cannot do so because its own utility patents and witness testimony establish that the red pan and gray spokes serve the functional purpose of attracting chickens to feed. Finally, the court held that the district court's order recommending a trial sanction for spoliation of evidence was moot. View "CTB, Inc. v. Hog Slat, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that the Baltimore Police Department conducted a warrantless search when it used a cell site simulator to locate him. In 2014, the police department used a Hailstorm cell site simulator to locate plaintiff's cell phone and thus defendant. Absent a more detailed understanding of the Hailstorm simulator's configuration and surveillance capabilities, the Fourth Circuit could not address the issues necessary for resolution of this case. Therefore, the court remanded for further factfinding into the characteristics of the Hailstorm cell site simulator. View "Andrews v. Baltimore City Police Department" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a person previously convicted of a felony. The Fourth Circuit held that defendant's guilty plea was not knowingly and intelligently made because he did not understand the essential elements of the offense to which he pled guilty. In this case, the district court accepted defendant's plea without giving him notice of an element of the offense and the error was structural. Therefore, the court vacated the guilty plea and convictions, remanding for further proceedings. View "United States v. Gary" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an indictment alleging that defendant violated the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The court held that binding precedent establishes that application of SORNA to defendant does not violate the nondelegation doctrine or the ex post facto clause. In this case, the district court correctly found that the application of SORNA to sex offenders, like defendant, whose offenses predate Congress's enactment of SORNA, does not violate the nondelegation doctrine. Furthermore, the court rejected defendant's ex post facto theories, challenging the application of the criminal sanctions of 18 U.S.C. 2250(a) to pre-SORNA offenders, and alleging that SORNA's registration requirement is itself so punitive that it constitutes punishment that cannot constitutionally be applied to pre-SORNA offenders. Finally, the court held that the doctrine of constitutional avoidance was inapplicable here. View "United States v. Wass" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants were convicted by a jury of several charges related to their participation in the Black Guerilla Family's (BGF) Greenmount Regime, a violent street and prison gang in Baltimore. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion in failing to hold a Remmer hearing to determine whether the reported incident by a juror -- that family members or friends of defendants had used cell phones to take photographs of the jurors in a public area of the courthouse -- prejudiced the jurors and affected their ability to impartially consider the evidence. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to conduct a Remmer hearing. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Cybernet filed suit against three state officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for directing or participating in the unlawful destruction of its property in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Cybernet's claims stemmed from the execution of search warrants at two video sweepstakes stores owned and operated by Cybernet. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that, taken as a whole, the items seized were within the parameters of the search warrant and any incidental damage that took place is not indicative of the kind of gratuitous damage that would exceed Fourth Amendment bounds. Therefore, the court held that there was no Fourth Amendment violation. Cybernet's motion to compel discovery failed for the same reason. View "Cybernet, LLC v. David" on Justia Law

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A conspiracy that involves the distribution of 50 or more grams of crack cocaine, which is a "covered offense" under the First Step Act of 2018 because the penalties for it were modified by the Fair Sentencing Act, remains a covered offense if the conspiracy also charges distribution of powder cocaine, the penalties for which were not modified. In this case, defendant pleaded guilty to knowingly and willfully conspiring with others to unlawfully possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine and 5 kilograms or more of powder cocaine. Because defendant's sentence involved a covered offense under Section 404(a) and Section 404(c)'s limitations do not apply, the district court should have reviewed defendant's motion on the merits, applying its discretion under Sections 404(b) and (c). Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Gravatt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Drugs distributed for the "personal use" of an accomplice may be included as relevant conduct for the crime of aiding-and-abetting the distribution of a controlled substance. The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to one count of aiding-and-abetting the distribution of methamphetamine. The court held that the district court did not err in including quantities that the accomplice used recreationally in defendant's sentence. The court also held that the district court did not commit clear error in its sentencing analysis, rejecting defendant's claims to the contrary. View "United States v. Williamson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law