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 conviction for carjacking, conspiracy to commit carjacking, and destruction of government property. The court held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal on the carjacking and conspiracy charges, because there was sufficient evidence to support the charges; motion to suppress evidence related to a cell phone search, because the district court's inference that defendant abandoned his phone while fleeing was reasonable; and motion to excuse and question two jurors, because defendant failed to show that the extrajudicial communications or contacts at issue were more than innocuous interventions. View "United States v. Small" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm by a felony, holding that the district court did not err by denying his motion to suppress. The court held that the evidence presented to the district court supported a finding that the firearm inevitably would have been discovered during an inventory search of the plastic bag. The court declined to address the government's alternative argument that the firearm was discovered during a valid search incident to arrest. View "United States v. Seay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to one count of assault resulting in bodily injury to a victim under 16 years of age. The court held that defendant's sentence of five years probation and 200 hours of community service was procedurally unreasonable, because the district court failed to provide an explanation in support of its sentence sufficient to permit meaningful appellate review. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Provance" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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A conviction under South Carolina's voyeurism statute constitutes a sex offense requiring registration under the Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORNA). The Fourth Circuit declined to apply the section 2246 definitions of "sexual act" and "sexual contact" outside of their place in Title 18 Chapter 109A, in the absence of statutory language to do so. Rather, the court chose to define SORNA's use of these terms in accordance with their ordinary meaning. Consequently, the court explained that a violation of the voyeurism statute—which does not require physical contact, but does require the voyeuristic act to be in furtherance of "arousing or gratifying sexual desire"—is a criminal offense involving a "sexual act" or "sexual contact" that requires registration under SORNA. Accordingly, the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss was proper and the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Helton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for drug conspiracy and related offenses. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence a state court record concerning defendant's 2013 state conviction, because it was intrinsic to the drug conspiracy and not subject to a Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) inquiry. The court rejected defendant's Napue claim, because he failed to show that the witness's testimony was false. View "United States v. Bush" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for conspiring to distribute fifty grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine, holding that the evidence was sufficient to establish that defendant conspired to distribute the threshold drug quantity of fifty grams of methamphetamine. The court also held that, although the district court's jury instructions on the drug conspiracy offense constituted plain error, the error did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings. Finally, the court held that defendant's Sixth Amendment confrontation rights were not violated by the admission of business record certifications from Facebook, Google, and Time Warner Cable; the district court did not err by admitting the bad acts evidence relating to his prior threats and assaults; and defendant's remaining contentions of error were rejected. View "United States v. Denton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for charges related to his operation of a prostitution ring. The court rejected defendant's numerous claims of error, holding that the trial court was within its discretion to deny the motion to continue; the district court did not abuse its discretion in proceeding with the trial when defendant was absent for a single morning session of his week-long trial; even if the district court's denial of a motion to exclude the expert testimony of a software quality assurance engineer was error, the error was harmless; the district court did not clearly err in failing to inquire about whether defendant wanted to testify; although the district court erred by instructing the jury as to Count Seven, the court could not say that declining to correct the errors would seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings, nor would it result in a miscarriage of justice; and the district court was within its discretion to deny defendant's motion to withdraw as counsel. Finally, the court rejected defendant's four claims of sentencing errors. View "United States v. Muslim" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for sex trafficking and related crimes, holding that the warrantless forensic searches of defendant's digital devices did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights. Where a search at the border is so intrusive as to require some level of individualized suspicion, the object of that suspicion must bear some nexus to the purposes of the border search exception in order for the exception to apply. The court agreed with defendant that the border search exception did not extend to the challenged searches, because no such nexus existed here. However, the court held that the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule barred suppression. In this case, law enforcement relied on an established and uniform body of precedent allowing warrantless border searches of digital devices at the time of the search. View "United States v. Aigbekaen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated the judgment denying defendant's motion to reduce his sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(B), as authorized by the First Step Act of 2018. The court held that the district court erred in determining that defendant was statutorily ineligible for a sentence reduction under the Act, because he had finished serving his original term of imprisonment and was currently serving a term of imprisonment for revocation of supervised release. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to consider defendant's motion in the first instance. View "United States v. Venable" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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All defendants who are serving sentences for violations of 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) and (B)(iii), and who are not excluded pursuant to the expressed limitations in Section 404(c) of the First Step Act, are eligible to move for relief under that Act. District courts then "may," at their discretion, "impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to reduce his sentence under the First Step Act. The court held that 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(B) is the appropriate vehicle for a First Step Act motion, and eligibility under the Act turns on the proper interpretation of a "covered offense." The court agreed with defendant and adopted his understanding that he is eligible to seek relief under the Act because, "before August 30, 2010," he "committed" a "violation" of 21 U.S.C. 841(a) and (b)(1)(B)(iii), and "the statutory penalties" for that statute "were modified by" Section 2 of the Fair Sentencing Act. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to consider defendant's motion. View "United States v. Wirsing" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law