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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In 2007, Crawley and two codefendants invaded a home and attacked and robbed a man they believed to be a drug dealer. A woman and two children were also in the home. Crawley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951 and using, carrying, and brandishing firearms during and in relation to a crime of violence and a drug trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. 924(c). Other counts were dismissed, including for attempting to possess with intent to distribute a Schedule II Controlled Substance, 21 U.S.C. 846. The court sentenced Crawley to 150 months on Count One and 84 months on Count Three, to run consecutively. Crawley later unsuccessfully moved to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255.The Fourth Circuit subsequently permitted Crawley to file a second 2255 motion challenging his 924(c) conviction and sentence in light of the Supreme Court’s 2015 holding that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), is unconstitutionally vague. While Crawley’s motion was pending, the Fourth Circuit concluded that conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery is not a crime of violence under section 924(c)’s force clause and the crime of violence definition in section 924(c)’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague. The Fourth Circuit affirmed that Crawley’s 924(c) conviction remained valid because it was predicated on the use, carrying, and brandishing of firearms during the charged drug trafficking crime. View "United States v. Crawley" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed Defendants Moody and Carter's convictions for several drug and firearm counts arising out of an early morning traffic stop in Newport News, Virginia. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support defendants' convictions for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute where the government established constructive possession of cocaine for both defendants. The court also concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support defendants' convictions for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A), (c)(2).The court further concluded that there was sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find both knowledge of and an agreement to enter the conspiracy. And a jury could find knowing and voluntary participation in this conspiracy based on evidence that Carter drove the car containing the drugs and firearms as well as Moody’s possession of drug-related cash. The court noted its reluctance in reaching this conclusion where there is little to distinguish joint possession of the drugs and guns from some independent agreement or scheme on the part of the defendants. In this case, there is ultimately a sufficient quantum of circumstantial evidence of an agreement to justify the conspiracy conviction. Finally, the court rejected Moody's challenges to two jury instructions given by the district court regarding Rehaif-related errors and aiding-and-abetting liability. View "United States v. Moody" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Stuart entered a U.S. Post Office and robbed the clerk of $173 and a cell phone, brandishing an Airsoft pellet gun. The next day he surrendered. Stuart pleaded guilty to robbing an individual lawfully in charge of mail matter, money, or other property belonging to the United States and, during the course of that robbery, assaulting the postal employee “by the use of a dangerous weapon,” 18 U.S.C. 2114(a). Stuart’s PSR assigned three points to a 2015 North Carolina state offense: possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver methamphetamine (Paragraph 27 Offense) and another three points for a second state methamphetamine offense (Paragraph 28). Stuart objected, arguing that the two should be treated as a “single sentence” because the Paragraph 27 Offense sentence was “activated” at the same sentencing hearing at which the Paragraph 28 Offense sentence was imposed: His post-release supervision began for both on January 14, 2017, and the final release date for both cases was March 15, 2018.The district court overruled the objection, calculated a Guidelines range of 130-162 months’ imprisonment, and sentenced Stuart to 130 months’ imprisonment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, citing USSG 4A1.1(a) and 4A1.2(a)(2). Stuart was arrested for the Paragraph 27 Offense on July 30, 2015, for conduct committed on that date; he was arrested on November 21, 2015, for the Paragraph 28 Offense, for conduct that occurred in September 2015. View "United States v. Stuart" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff, a sex offender incarcerated at Augusta Correctional Center, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action challenging the prison's decision for twice denying him in-person visitation privileges with his minor daughter. Plaintiff alleged that for years before 2015, he enjoyed in-person visitation with the child without incident. However, consistent with amendments to prison Operating Procedures adopted in March 2014, the child was removed from his in-person visitation list in 2015. As amended, Operating Procedure 851.1 prohibits those inmates required to register on Virginia's Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry from having in-person visits with minors unless the offender receives an exemption from prison officials.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the VDOC's motion to dismiss, concluding that the right of association protected by the Constitution does not require a prison to allow an inmate who has committed a sex offense against a minor to have in-person visitation with his minor daughter. In this case, defendant did not plausibly allege that the VDOC's denial of his applications for exemptions for in-person visitation with his minor daughter under Operating Procedure 851.1 violated any aspect of the right to association that may have survived incarceration. The court rejected defendant's contention that the VDOC's denial of his two applications for exemption violated his procedural and substantive due process rights. Finally, defendant failed to plead a plausible equal protection claim. View "Desper v. Clarke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After wrecking his car while intoxicated, Ziegler falsely, unsuccessfully claimed to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney in an attempt to avoid charges and retrieve his impounded car. He made those claims to deputies, the magistrate judge, and the towing company. In his prosecution for impersonating a federal officer, 18 U.S.C. 912.1, Ziegler, though not a lawyer waived his right to counsel and represented himself.The Fourth Circuit affirmed his conviction, rejecting Ziegler’s claims that the court erred in permitting Ziegler to represent himself because he was incapable of doing so and failed to make necessary inquiries into his mental competency and that the evidence does not show that he “acted” as a federal officer. The district judge thoughtfully evaluated Ziegler’s request to represent himself. The public defender, initially appointed to Ziegler’s case, said that he did not “have any questions with [Ziegler’s] legal competency” based on Ziegler’s “base of experience.” The court repeatedly counseled Ziegler that he should allow the public defender to represent him. Ziegler claimed to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney and told police officers that, as a result of this position, the officers lacked jurisdiction over him, the charges would get dismissed, and he did not need a license. This is a sufficient show of authority to “act” as an official. View "United States v. Ziegler" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Defendant Buzzard and Martin's motions to suppress evidence found when police searched a car they occupied. Given the totality of the circumstances, the court concluded that the officers' question asking whether there was anything illegal in the vehicle related to officer safety and was therefore related to the traffic stop's mission. In any event, the court concluded that the officer's question did not extend the stop by even a second.The court also affirmed the district court's denial of Martin's motion for acquittal at trial and the revocation of his term of supervised release at sentencing. The court concluded that the evidence was more than sufficient for the jury to conclude that Martin possessed the guns. Furthermore, because Martin's challenge to the revocation of his prior term of supervised release is based entirely on his assertion that there was no substantial evidence for his conviction, the court likewise affirmed that decision. View "United States v. Buzzard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for drug and firearm offenses. The court concluded that, even if the district court plainly erred by failing to give the 18 U.S.C. 3501(a) instruction to the jury, the error did not affect defendant's substantial rights. The court explained that any prejudice defendant suffered was minimized by the instructions the district court did give, and defendant did not meaningfully challenge the voluntariness or veracity of his confession. The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction for possession of a firearm as a felon (Count 3) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking (Count 4). Finally, the court concluded that there was no reversible error in the district court's sentencing procedures and the substantive sentence. View "United States v. Hardy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants Simmons, Mitchell, and Lassiter were charged in a 38-count Second Superseding Indictment (SSI) for crimes related to their membership in the Nine Trey gang. A jury ultimately convicted defendants of 37-counts charged in the SSI. One of those offenses, Count 30, alleged a violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c), with the predicate "crime of violence" being what the Government characterizes as an "aggravated" form of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) conspiracy, the charge alleged in Count One. The district court granted defendants' motion to set aside the verdict as to Count 30.The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that a RICO conspiracy, even when denominated as "aggravated," does not categorically qualify as a "crime of violence." In regard to defendants' cross-appeals, the court found merit in two of their contentions: first, the court held that the district court constructively amended Counts 8, 15, 18, 27, and 29 by instructing the jury on the elements of a state law predicate offense not alleged in the SSI; and second, the court held that the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions on one of the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (VICAR) attempted murder offenses, which also requires reversing their convictions for the related section 924(c) offense. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Simmons" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit granted the government's motion to dismiss defendant's appeal of the district court's orders of restitution and forfeiture, which were imposed based on his involvement in a scheme of unlawful "short sales" of three residential properties in Virginia. Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349, and was sentenced to a three-year term of probation, including orders of restitution and forfeiture, each in the amount of $227,512.07. The court concluded that the appeal waivers in his plea agreement barred his challenges to the restitution and forfeiture orders. View "United States v. Boutcher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendant was found in the United States after having previously been removed under the expedited removal procedure of 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1). Defendant was charged with reentry without permission after having been removed, in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326(a).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment, rejecting defendant's claim that his 2016 expedited removal order was "fundamentally unfair" for lack of representation by counsel during the removal proceeding, as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause and afforded by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and therefore was invalid. The court concluded that the Due Process Clause did not entitle defendant to counsel when apprehended at the border and promptly removed. Furthermore, the court rejected defendant's contention that the APA requires — as an additional procedural right in removal proceedings — that the alien have the opportunity to obtain counsel in expedited removal proceedings under section 1225(b)(1)(A)(i). View "United States v. Guzman" on Justia Law