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Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging his sentence as no longer valid. The court held that defendant's predicate conviction for causing bodily injury to a witness under 18 U.S.C. 1513(b)(1) is categorically a violent Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) felony. In this case, defendant's conviction required knowing conduct that causes bodily injury to another, which categorically involved the use of violent force sufficient to bring it within the ACCA's elements clause. View "United States v. Allred" 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 various ammunition and ammunition components seized from his residence pursuant to a search warrant. The court held that the search warrant was supported by probable cause. In this case, the warrant affidavit provided the magistrate with a substantial basis to conclude that defendant made terrorist threats within the meaning of W. Va. Code 61-6-24, and that evidence of this crime would be found in his home. The court also held that the alleged omissions in the warrant affidavit were immaterial to the magistrate's probable cause determination. In this case, defendant failed to demonstrate that the omitted statements were material to the magistrate's probable cause determination and thus the district court did not err in denying defendant's request for a Franks hearing. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants Taylor and Hersl, appealed their convictions and sentences for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) conspiracy and substantive acts of RICO, as well as Hobbs Act robbery. Defendants' convictions stemmed from, among other things, their participation, while employed as police officers who were members of the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), in a conspiracy to rob citizens in the course of their police service. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the record was sufficient to convict defendant of the charges; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendants' pretrial motion in limine to prohibit the government and its witnesses from using the term "robbery" during trial and by overruling their subsequent objection; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendants' motion for a mistrial after an outburst by a government witness and opting, instead, to strike the testimony and give the jury a curative instruction; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to dismiss the indictment; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendants' motion for a new trial; the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to grant defendants a downward departure; and defendants' sentences were substantively reasonable. View "United States v. Taylor" 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 the firearm after he conditionally pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. The court rejected defendant's reliance on the agreement condition and held that the statutory search condition specifically provides that warrantless searches of supervisees may be undertaken by any post-release supervision officer. The court also held that, at bottom, the record supported the district court's determination that the warrantless search of defendant's apartment was not for the purpose of furthering general law enforcement goals. Rather, the officers conducted the search to ensure defendant's continued compliance with the terms of his supervision agreement. Finally, because the search of defendant's apartment complied with the statutory condition, no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. View "United States v. Scott" 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 after he conditionally pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime. The court held that the district court did not err by admitting evidence of the firearm where the district court admitted the derivative evidence not because it was the fruit of voluntary statements, but because it found that the inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule rendered the derivative evidence admissible; defendant's first statements were voluntary and the statements admitting possession of the gun were involuntary; and defendant's admission to the first bag of marijuana gave the officer the reasonable suspicion to justify detaining defendant and investigating further. In this case, before defendant made any involuntary admissions, the officer believed that he possessed a gun, had the probable cause necessary to search the car, and intended to find the gun. View "United States v. Alston" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit reversed defendant's conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g). The court held that the North Carolina Supreme Court would hold that a conditional-discharge plea is not a conviction for purposes of section 921 and 922. Therefore, defendant was not a felon and his federal felon-in-possession conviction could not stand. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of habeas relief, holding that a juror's external communication with her pastor regarding the death penalty was not harmless. Given how Federal Rule of Evidence 606 limits the presentation of evidence in these circumstances, the court held that it was especially important for it to view the record practically and holistically when considering the effect that a juror's misconduct reasonably may be taken to have had upon the jury's decision. In this case, the juror shared the pastor's counsel with the other jurors in an apparent effort to convince someone it was okay to vote for the death penalty. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Barnes v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Government appealed the district court's grant of defendant's motion to suppress a revolver found on his person. The district court reasoned that the initial stop and flashlight illumination of the men leaving the site of the shooting violated the Fourth Amendment, which rendered the later pat down illegal. The Fourth Circuit reversed and held that the officers here reacted to a perilous active-shooter situation, arriving on scene within 35 seconds of hearing multiple gunshots in a densely populated area; these exigent circumstances implicated vital governmental interests—citizen and police safety—beyond the ordinary need for law enforcement; and the officers' initial response was tailored to address these needs with minimal intrusion and thus reasonable. The court remanded for the district court to consider whether the officers had reasonable suspicion to search defendant after he disregarded their orders. View "United States v. Curry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing heroin and cocaine with intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The court held that defendant abandoned his challenge to the government's contention that the warrantless search was valid as a search incident to the arrest. Even if defendant had not abandoned his argument, the court held that police may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle incident to a lawful arrest when it was reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle. In this case, after finding a bag of white power, and observing a suspicious baggie and a large amount of cash in plain view, the officers had a reasonable basis to believe they might find additional drugs in the vehicle. The court held that a conspiracy conviction under 21 U.S.G. 846 is a categorical mismatch to the generic crime of conspiracy enumerated in USSG 4B1.2(b). Therefore, the district court erred by applying a six-level sentencing enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(a)(4)(A). However, the error was not plain under United States v. McCollum, 885 F.3d 300, 308 (4th Cir. 2018), and there was no basis for reversal. View "United States v. Norman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated defendant's sentence for distributing 1.2 grams of methamphetamine. The court held that the district court erred in relying on the interstate nature of defendant's offense because nothing in the record, except defendant's out-of-state residency, indicated that his offense involved the interstate transportation of methamphetamine. The court remanded for resentencing and, to ensure the appearance of impartiality, ordered the case be reassigned to a different judge. View "United States v. McCall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law