Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254 as to petitioner's Brady claim, holding that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing the claim without holding an evidentiary hearing because it failed to assess the plausibility of that claim through the proper legal lens. In this case, withheld witness materials were exculpatory and impeaching evidence that was unquestionably subject to disclosure under Brady. The court reasoned that, by failing to disclose such evidence before trial, and unjustifiably continuing to resist its disclosure for years thereafter, the prosecution arrogated to itself a central function belonging to the criminal jury and pursued its roles as adversary to the exclusion of its role as architect of a just trial. Accordingly, the court remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Juniper v. Zook" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1594; sex trafficking of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1591(a); and enticement of a minor for illegal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2422(b). The court held that the district court did not err in instructing the jury as to the requisite mental state required to convict under sections 1591(a) and 1594(c); the court rejected defendant's contention that the district court should have instructed the jury that it must find that he had actual knowledge that the victim was a minor for purposes of a conviction under section 2422(b); and the evidence was sufficient to show that defendant knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the victim was under the age of eighteen years. View "United States v. Banker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendants' conviction of health care fraud and conspiracy to engage in health care fraud. Assuming that the district court did err in failing to consider materiality expressly when assessing guilt, the court held that such error was harmless because the record conclusively established that insurers would not have paid for the second, more sophisticated tests had they known those tests were not medically necessary and no rational fact finder could conclude otherwise. Furthermore, Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, — U.S. —, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016), did not compel a different conclusion. The court rejected defendants' remaining arguments, concluding that each lacked merit. View "United States v. Palin" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's sentence after defendant pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography. The court held that defendant's plea agreement explicitly preserved the government's appellate rights and thus defendant's argument that the appeal was barred by an implied appellate waiver was rejected. On the merits, the court held that the conditions of defendant's autism spectrum disorder only marginally affected his criminal conduct and did not justify relieving defendant from the need for more serious punishment as consistent with the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors. Therefore, the sentence imposed was substantively unreasonable. The court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Zuk" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence after he pleaded guilty to a drug offense and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that defendant's prior previous North Carolina conviction for assault inflicting serious bodily injury constituted a crime of violence under USSG 4B1.2, because the residual clause of section 4B1.2 authorizes the increased sentence. View "United States v. Thompson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant appealed his sentence after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court found that defendant had been convicted of a crime of violence on the basis of his prior conviction for West Virginia aggravated robbery, and sentenced him to twelve months and one day of prison. The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that the West Virginia crime of aggravated robbery, W. Va. Code 61-2-12 (1961), is a predicate crime of violence under the force clause of USSG 4B1.2. View "United States v. Salmons" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit denied defendant's motion to release substitute assets as part of a government forfeiture in order for defendant to hire appellate counsel of his choice for the appeal of his criminal convictions. The court held that defendant did not have a property interest or title in the credit union funds which he wished to use to pay appellate counsel. The court explained that the Constitution required only that defendant be represented by counsel upon his first appeal of right, and the court would appoint counsel if the forfeiture rendered him indigent or he could not secure pro bono counsel. The court also held that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.2 was not a basis upon which to grant defendant's motion because he was fully aware of both the pending forfeiture itself and the exact amount. Furthermore, the Government provided notice in its Bill of Particulars that it intended to obtain the funds in his credit union account through forfeiture as early as two and a half months before trial. View "United States v. Marshall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's 36-month revocation sentence, holding that the district court's failure to address her arguments in favor of a within-policy-statement-range sentence constituted procedural error. In this case, defendant presented detailed, nonfrivolous evidence of her positive employment history, her efforts at rehabilitation, and her voluntary service to her community, and the district court did not so much as mention her arguments when it imposed the statutory maximum. Furthermore, the district court's failure to address defendant's nonfrivolous arguments in favor of a within-range sentence was compounded by its failure to explain why it was necessary to impose the statutory maximum sentence. Because the district court's procedural errors were not harmless, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Slappy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of first degree murder and sentence of death. The court found defendant's challenges to his conviction were without merit. The court rejected defendant's contention that his death sentence was unconstitutional because it was based solely on post-offense conviction aggravators; that the district court erred in failing to apply the categorical approach to state convictions that made him death penalty eligible; and that the district court erred by allowing him to forego a mitigation defense without conducting a second competency evaluation and hearing. The court held that the evidence clearly supported the special finding of the existence of an aggravating factor required to be considered under 18 U.S.C. 3592. The court also held that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor. View "United States v. Torrez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioner's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. The court rejected petitioner's claim, in light of Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), that his prior South Carolina conviction for assault on a police officer while resisting arrest qualified as a predicate "crime of violence" for career-offender status under the Sentencing Guidelines. Petitioner can succeed only if, inter alia, a Supreme Court precedent has rendered his motion timely by recognizing a new right entitling him to relief. The court held that neither Johnson nor Beckles v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 886, 895 (2017), nor any other Supreme Court case has recognized the specific right on which petitioner sought to rely. The court explained that only the Supreme Court can recognize the right which would render petitioner's motion timely under section 2255(f)(3). View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law