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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against her employer, Best Buy, claiming that she was harassed because of her race and gender and subjected to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff's complaint stemmed from an incident where a coworker made a racist and sexually charged joke to a small group of coworkers that included plaintiff. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's motion to dismiss and held that, in the case of allegedly harassing comments by a co-worker, an employee must allege plausible facts that the employer knew, or should have known, about the harassment and failed to take action reasonably calculated to stop it. Because plaintiff failed to do this, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. In this case, the coworker's conduct was not imputable to Best Buy where Best Buy took steps that were not only reasonably calculated to end such behavior, but that it did in fact end it. View "Bazemore v. Best Buy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's above-Guidelines sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to two federal drug- and firearm-related offenses. The court held that defendant's sentence was not procedurally unreasonable where the district court took into account defendant's extensive criminal history; his pattern of reoffending upon release; his disciplinary infractions in custody and inability to comply with the terms of his release; and the fact that the offenses of conviction occurred over the course of days, in which he was arrested once, released, and then arrested again just days later. The court also held that defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court conducted a thorough, individualized assessment of defendant and his offense conduct in light of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, and did not abuse its discretion in formulating the sentence. View "United States v. Nance" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After defendant moved under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his conviction based on the ineffective assistance of counsel, the district court denied the motion. The Fourth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability and reversed the district court's judgment. The court held that, given counsel's specific misadvice regarding defendant's rights to preserve his appellate rights, on which defendant understandably relied, the district court's general admonishments did not amount to the careful explanation that addresses the particular issue necessary to cure the error. In this case, the plea colloquy did not correct counsel's erroneous advice and the error prejudiced defendant. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Akande" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit authorized, under 28 U.S.C. 2244, a motion to file a successive 28 U.S.C. 2254 application for federal habeas relief. The court held that movant has made a prima facie showing that his application satisfied section 2244(b)(2)(B)'s requirements. In this case, movant relied on a newly discovered "box of materials" from law enforcement authorities that movant had been requesting for decades and that he claimed showed his innocence, undermining his convictions. View "In re: Emerson Stevens" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment for improper venue. At issue was, in which judicial district(s) is venue proper, when a state sex offender subject to the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) relocates from one state to another and fails to update his registration in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2250(a). The court joined several of its fellow circuits in holding that venue was proper in the district from which defendant departed, namely the Eastern District of North Carolina. View "United States v. Spivey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was sentenced to death for two murders. The court held that the postconviction court's conclusion that petitioner could not show prejudice, even if counsel performed deficiently by failing to object to prison conditions evidence, is not contrary to clearly established federal law or an unreasonable determination of the facts. The court also held that petitioner's claim that the Supreme Court of South Carolina violated his due process and equal protection rights in his post-conviction proceedings is not a cognizable claim, and petitioner cannot obtain relief; the Supreme Court of South Carolina's conclusion that it was not deficient performance to refrain from objecting to the state's closing arguments is not contrary to clearly established federal law or an unreasonable determination of facts; trial counsel did not perform deficiently by failing to request a mitigating circumstance unsupported by the record; the trial court's instructions correctly explained that the jury should consider both statutory and non-statutory mitigating circumstances; and the post-conviction court's conclusion that any deficiency regarding this mitigating charge did not prejudice petitioner survives review under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Finally, the court held that petitioner failed to demonstrate that post-conviction counsel were ineffective in failing to raise any substantial claims. View "Sigmon v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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Defendants were charged under 18 U.S.C. 1959, which imposes criminal penalties for committing "violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity" (the VICAR statute), in three counts with the enumerated federal offense of committing assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of the Virginia prohibition against brandishing a firearm set forth in Virginia Code 18.2-282. The Fourth Circuit held that the portion of the VICAR statute under which defendants were charged is not subject to analysis under the categorical approach. The court explained that, unlike the numerous other statutory provisions, nothing in the statutory language at issue suggests that Congress intended an element-by-element comparison of the enumerated federal offense with the specified state offense. The court held that the statutory language at issue requires only that a defendant's conduct, presently before the court, constitute one of the enumerated federal offenses as well as the charged state crime. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to reinstate the dismissed VICAR charges alleging Virginia brandishing. View "United States v. Keene" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit denied a petition for writ of mandamus relief seeking to direct Judge Robert J. Conrad to recuse himself from presiding over petitioner's criminal trial. Judge Conrad had prosecuted petitioner successfully for bank robbery in 1989. Although the court shared petitioner's concern that there could come a point at which recusal might be required, and certainly would be appropriate, the court held that the extraordinary relief of mandamus is not warranted now. In this case, petitioner failed to show a clear and indisputable right to immediate recusal based on grounds that involve a future sentencing and may never materialize. View "In re: John Moore" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for receipt, possession, and transportation of child pornography. The court affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence found during the search of defendant's computer where, even if the search was not proper under the private search exception, the denial of the motion to dismiss should be affirmed under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The court rejected defendant's multiplicity claim, holding that any overlap between counts 3, 4, and 5 and count 7 was much too small to warrant the finding that the offense conduct charged in count 7 was in fact the same as that charged in the receipt counts. The court held that there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that defendant transported a pornographic video under count 6, and for receipt of child pornography in counts 3, 4, and 5. View "United States v. Fall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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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