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

Articles 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
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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 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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Plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action, alleging that corrections officers at a correctional center violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment by subjecting her to a strip search during her visit with an inmate. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the corrections officer, because the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that plaintiff was attempting to pass contraband to the inmate and therefore the strip search was lawful. In this case, the officers knew that the inmate had been transferred to the correctional center earlier in the year after attempting to smuggle contraband into a different Virginia prison. Furthermore, before plaintiff's visit, one of the officers received a tip that the inmate was smuggling drugs. Under the totality of the circumstances, the court held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to justify their search. View "Calloway v. Lokey" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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On rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and remanded the case for further proceedings. Defendant argued that if he had been properly informed of his sentencing exposure, there was a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty. Defendant also argued that his intervening decision in Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), rendered his guilty plea involuntary, because he did not understand the essential elements of the offense to which he pleaded guilty. Considering the totality of the circumstances relevant to defendant's potential sentence, the court held that the required warning about defendant's Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) exposure would have had a significant effect on his assessment of his strategic position. Furthermore, the government conceded, and the court agreed, that the magistrate judge plainly erred in accepting defendant's guilty plea based on this pre-Rehaif understanding of the law. Therefore, given the procedural and factual circumstances of this case, the magistrate judge's failure to properly advise defendant of his ACCA exposure, together with the Rehaif error, in the aggregate were sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the proceeding. View "United States v. Lockhart" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit held that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider defendant's interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's denial of his Faretta motion. In this case, defendant was charged with four federal child pornography counts and wants to represent himself at trial. The court explained that, given the narrowness of the collateral order doctrine in criminal cases, the Supreme Court has only held that four types of orders are immediately appealable: orders denying a Double Jeopardy Clause challenge, orders denying a Speech or Debate Clause challenge, orders denying a motion to reduce bail, and orders allowing for the forced medication of criminal defendants. The court pointed to the strongly worded dictum in Flanagan v. United States, 465 U.S. 259, 263 (1984), in which the Supreme Court specifically cited a Faretta order as an example of a decision that would be effectively reviewable on appeal from a final judgment. The court concluded that it was bound by this stricter interpretation and therefore solely relied on collateral order jurisprudence within the criminal context. View "United States v. Sueiro" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment allowing defendant to withdraw his guilty plea and dismissing the aggravated identity theft count. The court held that 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1) prohibits the unauthorized use of the means of identification of deceased, as well as living, victims. In light of its plain, ordinary meaning and the statutory context, the court held that the term "person" is unambiguous and includes deceased persons as victims of identity theft. Furthermore, the legislative history bolsters the court's interpretation of the term. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. George" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law