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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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After petitioner was convicted of drug and firearm offenses in Georgia, the state pardoned him. However, DHS sought to remove petitioner based on his convictions before the pardon. The IJ ordered petitioner's removal and the BIA dismissed the appeal.The Fourth Circuit dismissed in part and denied in part the petition for review, concluding that petitioner failed to exhaust his argument that pardoned offenses do not qualify as convictions under the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq. The court also concluded that a pardon waives only the removal grounds specifically enumerated in the Act, and petitioner's pardon does not waive all of the removal grounds proven by the government. View "Tetteh v. Garland" on Justia Law

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In 2010, defendant was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to various federal narcotics and firearm offenses. In 2019, defendant moved for a reduced sentence under section 404(b) of the First Step Act, contending that his sentence was ten years longer than the current statutory maximum.The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a reduced sentence under the Act, concluding that, in light of United States v. Chambers, 956 F.3d 667 (4th Cir. 2020), the district court may only exercise its discretion to reduce or not reduce any given sentence after faithfully considering a number of resentencing factors. The court held that one of those criteria—as is typically true in sentencing—is the applicable statutory maximum sentence. The court explained that, if sentenced today, defendant would be subject to the sentencing ranges set forth in 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(C). And as the district court correctly stated in its order, that range sets a maximum mandatory term of 20 years' imprisonment. Therefore, the district court erred by not resentencing defendant to, at most, 20 years' imprisonment. The court also held that when a court exercises discretion to reduce a sentence, the imposition of the reduced sentence must be procedurally and substantively reasonable. On remand, the court instructed the district court to comply with its substantive and procedural reasonableness requirements, including its requirement that it adequately explain its sentencing decision. View "United States v. Collington" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After defendant pleaded guilty to forced labor, in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the district court sentenced defendant to 120 months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay restitution of roughly $273,000, representing unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation computed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In this case, defendant forced the victim to work at his restaurant over 100 hours per week without pay from 2009 to 2014.The Fourth Circuit vacated the award of restitution and concluded that the district court erred in failing to include liquidated damages under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), for when minimum wages and overtime compensation have not been paid as required, in the restitution award. At bottom, the court concluded that the value of the victim's labor as guaranteed under the minimum wage and overtime guarantees of the FLSA includes liquidated damages provided by the FLSA. The court explained that this fulfills defendant's obligation to compensate the victim for the full amount of the victim's losses, which includes the full value of his labor. Accordingly, the court remanded for recalculation of the restitution award. View "United States v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's 60-month sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing an unregistered silencer. The court concluded that defendant need not be convicted of a terrorism felony for USSG 3A1.4, an enhancement for committing a felony intended to promote terrorism, to apply. Therefore, the district court did not err by including the section 3A1.4 enhancement in defendant's Guidelines calculation. In this case, the district court did not clearly err by finding that defendant intended to promote the destruction of federal property when he named the Terry Sanford Federal Building as a target; defendant obtained (and suggested using) his unregistered silencers to facilitate those attacks, as established by the conversations recorded by the informant; and the district court relied on the "Patriots Against Tyrants" manifesto and defendant's statement that he would "disrupt the plans" of evil as evidence of his intent to influence by intimidation (or retaliate) against the government. The court also concluded that USSG 2K2.1(b)(6)(B), a sentencing enhancement for possessing a firearm with the intent that it be used in connection with another felony, has no impact on the length of defendant's sentence, rendering any alleged error as to its application harmless. View "United States v. Kobito" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. Petitioner claims that, pursuant to United States v. Wheeler, 886 F.3d 415 (4th Cir. 2018), the district court was permitted to address the merits of his petition.The court declined to hold that the explanation in Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), about how to determine whether parts of a statute are "elements or means" changed this circuit's substantive law applying the modified categorical approach to South Carolina third degree burglary. The court explained that, to the extent petitioner contends Mathis changed settled substantive Supreme Court law, Mathis itself made clear that it was not changing, but rather clarifying, the law. To the extent petitioner contends Mathis changed settled Fourth Circuit law, the court rejected such contentions. Furthermore, petitioner's arguments relying on three other circuit cases failed because these cases do not utilize a test like Wheeler. Therefore, petitioner cannot satisfy prong two of the Wheeler test. View "Ham v. Breckon" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254, seeking relief from his convictions in Maryland state court for attempted first degree murder, first degree assault, use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and second degree assault. Petitioner's conviction stemmed from domestic abuse incidents involving his ex-wife where he ultimately shot her.Petitioner claims that he is entitled to habeas relief because (1) he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his right to a jury trial, in violation of Patton v. United States, 281 U.S. 276 (1930); (2) the prosecution suppressed material evidence, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); and (3) he received ineffective assistance from his legal counsel, in violation of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). The district court granted relief in part on the Patton and Brady claims, dismissing the Strickland claims without prejudice.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court's decision to grant petitioner habeas relief runs contrary to the deference that federal courts are required to afford state court adjudications of federal constitutional claims. In regard to the Patton claim, the court concluded that the state court's adjudication of petitioner's challenge to his waiver was not unreasonable under the standards of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The court explained that petitioner failed to make a plain showing that his waiver was not knowing and voluntary.In regard to the Brady claims, the court concluded that petitioner was not entitled to relief in regard to his paid informant claim, more lenient treatment claim, claims arising out of the government witness and the ex-wife's affidavit, as well as petitioner's claim regarding the alleged confession of other deaths. Finally, because the district court declined to consider petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland, and dismissed them without prejudice, the court also vacated this judgment. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Horner v. Nines" on Justia Law

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After defendant was convicted on fraud charges stemming from an investment scam and sentenced to 26 years' imprisonment, he filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition seeking to vacate his conviction and sentence. The Fourth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability on two of defendant's claims.First, defendant alleged that his lawyer guaranteed him – incorrectly, as it turned out – that he would be sentenced only to two to five years' imprisonment if he were convicted at trial, and that he relied on that guarantee when he rejected a plea offer from the government. The district court dismissed and concluded that any prejudice caused by counsel's error necessarily would have been cured when the court at defendant's arraignment advised him of his actual sentencing exposure. The court concluded that, because the district court's corrective came after defendant already had rejected the plea offer, the court cannot assume without more that it cured the prejudice defendant alleges. Therefore, the court concluded that defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on this claim.Second, defendant alleged that his counsel performed deficiently in connection with the amount of restitution he owed, failing to object to the inclusion of losses that stemmed from conduct for which he had not been convicted. The court agreed with the district court's dismissal of this claim on the ground that challenges to restitution orders may not be raised by way of section 2255. However, defendant was not challenging only his restitution order; he also alleged that the same erroneous calculation affected his Guidelines sentencing range and hence his term of imprisonment. The court concluded that this claim is cognizable under section 2255. Accordingly, the court remanded to the district court to address it in the first instance. View "United States v. Mayhew" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for receiving and possessing child pornography. Defendant argued that the district court should reduce his Sentencing Guidelines range pursuant to a provision that applies only to defendants whose "conduct was limited to the receipt or solicitation of" child pornography under USSG 2G2.2(b)(1). The court concluded that, because defendant admitted to unintentionally distributing such material, the Guideline does not apply to him. The court also concluded that, even when distribution is unintentional, it is not conduct limited to receipt or solicitation. Therefore, defendant's use of a peer-to-peer file-sharing network to unintentionally distribute child pornography rendered him ineligible for a reduction pursuant to section 2G2.2(b)(1). View "United States v. Miltier" 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 a firearm. The court concluded that the Fourth Amendment was not implicated during defendant's encounter with police on April 7, because he never acquiesced (passively or otherwise) to a show of authority. Furthermore, even assuming that defendant acquiesced to a show of authority, there was a reasonable articulable suspicion to support the seizure in order to investigate who owned the firearm that the officer observed. In this case, the district court's reasonable suspicion determination rested on four factors: (1) the officer saw someone hide a firearm under defendant's seat; (2) defendant's claim of control over the Dodge; (3) defendant being the only adult associated with the Dodge; and (4) the time of day and location of the incident. View "United States v. Cloud" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Soloff collected and disseminated pornographic images and videos of children for nearly 20 years. Soloff pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2). His plea agreement forfeited “all rights . . . to appeal the conviction and whatever sentence is imposed . . . reserving only the right to appeal from a sentence in excess of the applicable advisory Guideline range” or a sentence obtained through prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel. A magistrate conducted the hearing (FRCP 11), specifically confirming that Soloff understood that the appeal waiver, reading the entire waiver into the record. The magistrate conditionally approved the agreement, noting that “[f]inal approval” would “come at sentencing.” Before the sentencing hearing, the district court conditionally approved the plea agreement “pending receipt of the PSR.”At Soloff’s sentencing hearing, the court accepted the PSR; neither Soloff nor the government objected. Soloff’s Guidelines range was 151-188 months. Soloff’s attorney argued for a downward variance, citing mitigating factors. The court sentenced Soloff to 151 months’ imprisonment, expressly noting the appeal waiver. After the sentencing, the district court issued an Order for Restitution, "in accordance with" the plea agreement. The Fourth Circuit dismissed Soloff’s appeal from his sentence as barred by the plea agreement’s appellate waiver. The court rejected Soloff’s claims that the waiver cannot bind him because the district court never explicitly accepted the plea agreement. All indicia establish that the court constructively accepted the agreement. View "United States v. Soloff" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law