Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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During seven weeks in 2002, Malvo (then 17 years old) and Muhammad, the “D.C. Snipers,” murdered 12 individuals, inflicted grievous injuries on six others, and terrorized the area with a shooting spree. The two were apprehended while sleeping in a car. A loaded rifle was found in the car; a hole had been “cut into the lid of the trunk, just above the license plate, through which a rifle barrel could be projected.” At the time, a Virginia defendant convicted of capital murder, who was at least 16 years old at the time of his crime, would be punished by either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A jury convicted Malvo of two counts of capital murder but declined to recommend the death penalty. He was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without parole. Malvo later pleaded guilty in another Virginia jurisdiction to capital murder and attempted capital murder and received two additional terms of life imprisonment without parole. The Supreme Court subsequently held that defendants who committed crimes when under the age of 18 cannot be sentenced to death; cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole unless they committed a homicide that reflected their permanent incorrigibility; and that these rules were to be applied retroactively. The Fourth Circuit concluded that Malvo’s sentences must be vacated because the retroactive constitutional rules for sentencing juveniles were not satisfied. The court remanded for resentencing to determine whether Malvo qualifies as a rare juvenile offender who may, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility” or whether those crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” so that he must receive a lesser sentence. View "Malvo v. Mathena" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying defendant's motion to suppress after he conditionally pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that officers had reasonable suspicion of ongoing criminal activity when they seized defendant. In this case, officers were entitled to rely on the information provided by the first caller as noted in the call for service report: that a white male wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt was at RJ's, carrying a concealed weapon, and drinking. Furthermore, the officers corroborated several key facts from the first caller's tip before seizing defendant. Finally, the district court's racial remarks did not prejudice defendant. View "United States v. Kehoe" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, eight substantive counts of wire fraud and aiding and abetting, and four substantive counts of money laundering and aiding and abetting. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in applying the vulnerable victim sentencing enhancement, and by calculating the actual loss amount used to justify an eighteen level enhancement. View "United States v. Shephard" 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 order of removal based on petitioner's prior convictions for theft. The court held that the Maryland theft statute was not divisible and the modified categorical approach was inapplicable in this case, and not all of the offenses encompassed under the relevant Maryland statute qualified as crimes involving moral turpitude. Accordingly, the court vacated the BIA's decision and remanded for consideration of petitioner's application for cancellation of removal. View "Leyva Martinez v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's 308 month resentence after a successful 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. The court agreed with defendant that the district court improperly designated him as a career offender under the 2016 United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual, and that this incorrect designation led to the further error of applying the wrong version of the Guidelines Manual to determine his Guidelines range. Therefore, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Fluker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting defendant's attempt to contest the validity of his underlying sentence. Defendant was placed on supervision after serving a fifteen-year prison sentence for a federal firearm conviction and violated the terms of his supervised release within three months. The court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction in revocation proceedings to consider the validity of an underlying sentence, and the new term of supervised release was in no way "plainly unreasonable" pursuant to United States v. Crudup, 461 F.3d 433, 437 (4th Cir. 2006). View "United States v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of receipt and distribution of child pornography. The Fourth Circuit dismissed defendant's challenge to the amount of restitution awarded to the contact victim because it fell within the scope of his appeal waiver. The court vacated the restitution order because the district court's reasons for denying restitution to the non-contact victims contradicted the Supreme Court's instruction in Paroline v. United States. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings to determine an appropriate amount of restitution for each non-contact victim. View "United States v. Ahlazshuna Dillard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's 20 year sentence for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. The court held that the district court adequately conducted a de novo sentencing hearing by performing an individualized assessment of all relevant sentencing factors; the district court did not clearly err in declining to apply the acceptance-of-responsibility reduction under USSG 3E1.1; under Fourth Amendment precedent, the court was compelled to hold that kidnapping under North Carolina law was a crime of violence under USSG 4B1.2; and it was not clear that the career offender enhancement was grossly disproportionate, facially or as applied to defendant's criminal history. The court held that the district court appropriately decided not to restrict public access to the entire sentencing memorandum, but it erred by not granting the less restrictive remedy of allowing defendant to file a redacted version of the memorandum. Accordingly, the court reversed the denial of defendant's motion to seal his sentencing memorandum and remanded for the filing of a redacted version of the memorandum for public records. View "United States v. Harris" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of habeas relief and remanded with instructions to dismiss petitioner's habeas application with prejudice under the court's decision in United States v. Surratt, 855 F.3d 218 (4th Cir. 2017) (en banc). Petitioner was sentenced to 118 years in prison for nonhomicide crimes that he committed when he was 15 years old. Petitioner sought habeas relief after the Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which prohibited juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes from being sentenced to life without parole. While the application was pending, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell issued petitioner a partial pardon, reducing his sentence to 40 years' imprisonment. The court reasoned that had the district court properly applied Surratt, it would have been required to conclude that Governor McDonnell's valid partial pardon reducing petitioner's sentence to 40 years' imprisonment rendered his habeas application moot and that the district court was therefore without jurisdiction to address it and opine on the constitutionality of petitioner's original sentence under Graham. View "Blount v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress after he was convicted of attempting to smuggle firearms out of the country and an associated conspiracy charge. The court agreed with the district court that the forensic analysis of defendant's phone was properly categorized as a border search; despite the temporal and spatial distance between the off-site analysis of the phone and defendant's attempted departure at the airport, the justification for the border exception was broad enough to reach the search; under Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the forensic examination of defendant's phone must be considered a nonroutine border search, requiring some measure of individualized suspicion; and because the agents who conducted the search reasonably relied on precedent holding that no warrant was required, suppression of the report would be inappropriate. View "United States v. Kolsuz" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law