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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's three drug-related convictions. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute methamphetamine, because the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knew of the conspiracy and knowingly and voluntarily became a part of it; the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction for use of a communication facility in the commission of a drug felony where a reasonable jury could infer from defendant's actions that he knew he was using the mail to transfer controlled substances; and sufficient evidence supported defendant's conviction for possessing and distributing a controlled substance where a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knew the package at issue contained methamphetamine. Finally, the court held that the record did not support a finding of willful blindness, because the court could not identify any deliberate actions that defendant took to avoid learning of the conspiracy or the contents of the package that was shipped to his residence. View "United States v. Ath" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant appealed his sentence for engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a minor in a foreign country. The court held that the district court did not err in applying a two-level enhancement under USSG 2G1.3(b)(2) based on undue influence resulting from the age disparity between defendant and his victim. The court also held that the district court adequately explained the basis for defendant's terms of imprisonment and supervised release, and that defendant's 276-month term of imprisonment was substantively reasonable. However, the court held that the district court procedurally erred by failing to explain the reasons for imposing four computer-related special conditions of release. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment and sentence except for the challenged conditions, vacating and remanding for partial resentencing. View "United States v. Arbaugh" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review of a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) determining that Petitioner was removable on account of his conviction for possession of ethylene, a substance that is illegal under both Virginia and federal law, holding that Petitioner's conviction renders him removable even though Virginia's controlled substance statute is broader than its federal counterpart. Petitioner, a native and citizen of Sierra Leone, was found guilty by a Virginia court of possession of ethylene. Thereafter, the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings against Petitioner, alleging that he was removable because he had been convicted of felony possession of a controlled substance in violation of Va. Code 18.2-250. The Immigration Judge deemed Petitioner removable. Before the BIA, Petitioner argued that the Virginia statute was overbroad and was indivisible. The BIA rejected Petitioner's argument. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that section 18.2-250(A), while overbroad, was divisible by substance, and the modified categorical approach was appropriate. View "Bah v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment holding that FERC's action against financial trading entities and an individual trader was timely-filed within the five-year statute of limitations on civil penalty actions under 28 U.S.C. 2462. The court held that FERC did not have a complete and present cause of action to file suit in federal district court until 60 days elapsed after it had issued the penalty assessment order and appellants refused to pay the assessed penalty. Therefore, FERC's claim had not accrued until then and this action was timely filed. View "Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Powhatan Energy Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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On rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit reversed the judgment and remanded with instructions to grant plaintiff's motion to set aside the agency's final action denying plaintiff special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) status. In this case, USCIS interpreted 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)(J) (i) to require a permanent custody order and thus denied plaintiff's SIJ application, dismissing his administrative appeal. The court held that the agency's rejection of plaintiff's SIJ provision -- that clause (i) requires a permanent custody order -- is entitled to no deference, defies the plain statutory language, and impermissibly intrudes into issues of state domestic relations law. Because the agency's interpretation of clause (i) was not in accordance with law, the court remanded to the agency to take another look at plaintiff's SIJ application. View "Perez v. Cuccinelli" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motions to suppress evidence of a toxicology analysis of blood drawn from defendant just after a car accident, and a review of defendant's car's event data recorder. Defendant was convicted of vehicular homicide while impaired by alcohol. The court agreed with the district court that the warrant applications established probable cause and that the search warrants were sufficiently particularized. In any event, the court held that suppression would be inappropriate under United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), because the officers relied in objective good faith on the search warrants to obtain the evidence in question. View "United States v. Blakeney" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence of 40 years imprisonment for his sexual abuse of two young girls. The court rejected defendant's claim that the district court erred regarding good-time credits, and held that the district court's mention of good-time credits was tied to 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, such as the need to protect the public, that he was required to consider during sentencing. The court also held that the district court carefully weighed many relevant factors and the sentence was substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Fowler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's dismissal of petitioner's appeal of the IJ's denial of his application for asylum. The court held that the BIA's ruling, that petitioner's proposed social group -- merchants in the formal Honduran economy -- did not constitute a particular social group under the Immigration and Nationality Act, was not manifestly contrary to the law nor an abuse of discretion. View "Canales-Rivera v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law
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The Fourth Circuit held that defendant's prior conviction for assaulting with intent to rob, steal, or purloin a postal employee and placing their life in jeopardy by use of a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2114(a), constitutes a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)'s force clause. The court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence, holding that the aggravated offense contained in the second clause of section 2114(a) may apply to any of the basic offenses listed in the first clause of the statute, including assault with intent to rob, steal, or purloin. The court also held that the aggravated offense contained in section 2114(a), which requires that the defendant wound or put the victim's life in jeopardy by use of a dangerous weapon during the commission of the basic offense, is categorically a crime of violence under the force clause of section 924(c)(3)(A). View "United States v. Bryant" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit granted a petition for review of the BIA's decision affirming the IJ's rulings determining that petitioner's testimony was not credible. The court held that the Baltimore IJ failed to give petitioner an opportunity to testify and weigh the relevance of that testimony in conjunction with the entire record. The court declined to address whether the adverse credibility determination and denials of petitioner's applications for withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture were erroneous. Accordingly, the court vacated the BIA's summary affirmance of the IJ's rulings and remanded for reconsideration of petitioner's asylum claim, which included affording her an opportunity to testify and appropriate consideration of that testimony as well as any factual determinations. View "Atemnkeng v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law