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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of appellant's 28 U.S.C. 2241 petition seeking relief from his sentence via the savings clause. In United States v. Wheeler, the court set forth a four part test to determine whether an individual can seek relief from an erroneous sentence in a section 2241 habeas corpus petition via the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. 2255(e). The district court concluded that appellant could not meet the second prong of the Wheeler test because he filed his first section 2255 motion after the applicable change in settled substantive law, even though that section 2255 motion was resolved before that change in law was deemed to apply retroactively on collateral review. The court held that, in the unique circumstance where the change in settled substantive law occurred before a petitioner filed his or her first section 2255 motion, but such change was deemed retroactive after the resolution of petitioner's first section 2255 motion, petitioner satisfies the second prong of the Wheeler test. Accordingly, the court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Braswell v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was stopped at a routine traffic checkpoint where officers discovered a substantial amount of illegal drugs. After defendant pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute twenty-eight or more grams of crack cocaine, defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained by officers, holding that the routine traffic checkpoint fully complied with Fourth Amendment requirements. In this case, the primary purpose of the checkpoint was valid; the roadblock adequately advanced a significant public interest; and the checkpoint was minimally intrusive. View "United States v. Moore" 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 and his conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon. The court held that the officers had probable cause to believe that a crime was being committed in defendant's house, and thus the warrant appropriately authorized the search of the house for evidence of that crime. The court found unpersuasive defendant's argument that the warrant should have been limited in geographic scope because the smoldering marijuana cigarette in the trash can was the likely source of the marijuana odor. Rather, the court held that the presence of one marijuana cigarette in the kitchen did not negate the fair probability that other evidence of the crime of marijuana possession would be found in the house. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, and four other drug-trafficking and firearms-related offenses. The court held that there was no error in denying defendant's motion to suppress evidence gathered from the traffic stop, because the detective had ample reasonable suspicion of drug distribution, justifying the full length of the stop under the Fourth Amendment; there was no Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause violation by admitting evidence relating to a recorded phone call between defendant and an informant who did not testify at trial; and the district court did not err by holding that section 403 of the First Step Act does not apply retroactively to cases pending on direct appeal when it was enacted. View "United States v. Jordan" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a petition for habeas corpus relief based on two ineffective assistance of counsel claims previously rejected by the state post-conviction court. The court held that petitioner defaulted on his claims because he failed to raise them to the state court and thus they are unexhausted. Because the new evidence does not fundamentally alter the heart of the two ineffective assistance of counsel claims presented to the state court, the court held that the district court properly deferred to the state court rejection of these claims. Likewise, the court rejected petitioner's third ineffective assistance of counsel claim, holding that he defaulted on this claim by not presenting it to the state court and he failed to make a substantial showing that his trial counsel were ineffective. View "Moore v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's 37 month sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to illegally reentering the United States. The court held that the district court's record failed to assure the court that the sentencing court considered at least two of the grounds for defendant's requested variance from the Guidelines range. In this case, defendant argued that a variance was warranted considering his 1995 convictions over-represented his criminal history and created unwarranted sentence disparities. The court wrote that these non-frivolous arguments for a variance required the district court to make a record indicating that the arguments were addressed. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Torres-Reyes" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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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 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