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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's revocation of defendant's supervised release and resulting sentence. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in finding the government proved he committed the assault underlying the supervised release violation; the district court did not commit plain error by adopting the violation report when announcing defendant committed Violation One; and, even if the district court erred in sentencing defendant for a Grade A violation, the error was harmless. View "United States v. Doctor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against defendants after he was terminated for submitting two blog posts about the then Captain of the Internal Affairs Unit of the Maryland Natural Resources Police (MNRP). Among other things, the blog posts contained screenshots from the Captain's private Facebook page that showed photos of the Captain posing with scantily-clad women and various comments that he had made about gun violence. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, holding that plaintiff's posts concern nothing more than purely personal speech, as they are devoid of any content that rises to a level of public concern. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim that defendants violated plaintiff's right to carry a concealed firearm under the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act, holding that the Act was not privately enforceable under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Finally, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's defamation per se claim, holding that the statement at issue was not actionable as defamation. View "Carey v. Throwe" on Justia Law

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The district court held defendant in contempt after finding him in violation of a consent order limiting his participation in the mortgage industry. The district court ordered the disgorgement of over half-a-million dollars of defendant's contemptuous earnings. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's contempt decision, holding that the district court cited several proper reasons for holding defendant in contempt. However, the district court based its disgorgement sanction on an erroneous legal interpretation of the terms of the underlying consent order. Accordingly, the court vacated the disgorgement order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Klopp" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for distributing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(1) and to committing a felony offense involving a minor (specifically, producing child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2251) while being required to register as a sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2260A. Although the court agreed with defendant that his appeal fell outside the scope of his waiver, the court rejected defendant's contention that section 2260A cannot support a conviction. The court concluded that section 2260A more closely resembles an offense rather than an enhancement. On its face, section 2260A includes three elements: a defendant (1) must be required to register as a sex offender and (2) must commit one of its sixteen enumerated offenses, which (3) must involve a minor. Whereas, an enhancement may only include two elements. View "United States v. Beck" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not violate defendant's due process rights when it failed to specify the evidence underlying its finding that he had violated his release conditions, given that the basis of the district court’s conclusion was evident from the record; held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding defendant had indeed failed to comply with those conditions; and thus affirmed the district court's revocation of defendant's supervised release. However, the court held that the district court procedurally erred by failing to acknowledge its consideration of defendant's nonfrivolous arguments in favor of a lower sentence. Therefore, the court vacated defendant's sentence, remanding for resentencing. View "United States v. Patterson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Defendants Benson, Brown, and Wallace were convicted of aiding and abetting the use of a firearm in a crime of violence resulting in murder. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not err in permitting the challenged testimony under either Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(A) or 804(b)(3), and that even if the district court erred, it was ultimately harmless; rejected Benson's challenges to the Government's remarks, because the Government's closing argument did not prejudice his substantial rights and the jury instruction accurately reflected the law; and held that the Government presented sufficient evidence that Wallace had advance knowledge that a codefendant would carry a gun, and the predicate offense of Hobbs Act robbery constituted a valid crime of violence for the purposes of a 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1) conviction. Accordingly, the court affirmed all three convictions. View "United States v. Benson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After defendant was erroneously sentenced as a career offender, he moved to reduce his sentence to time served under the First Step Act. The district court denied defendant's motion to reduce his custodial sentence, though it granted the motion as to his supervised release term. The Fourth Circuit held that the First Step Act does not constrain courts from recognizing Guidelines errors. The court explained that First Step Act motions fall under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(B), a distinct exception to finality, and that section 404(b) of the First Step Act expressly allows a court to impose a reduced sentence in order to give retroactive effect to sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act. Furthermore, 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors apply in the section 404(b) resentencing context, and the resentencing court has discretion within the section 404(b) framework to vary from the Guidelines and, in doing so, to consider movants' post-sentencing conduct. In this case, the district court seemingly believed that it could not vary from the Guidelines range to reflect post-sentencing information. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's sentencing order. Finally, the court held that any Guidelines error deemed retroactive, such as the error in this case, must be corrected in a First Step Act resentencing. View "United States v. Chambers" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence recovered from a backpack, and the district court's conclusion that defendant abandoned the backpack and any legitimate expectation of privacy in its contents. The court rejected defendant's claim that the collective-knowledge doctrine has any bearing on the propriety of the district court's conclusion that defendant abandoned the backpack. The court also held that the district court is not precluded from finding abandonment in cases where the defendant, as here, has physical possession of the property he has disavowed. In this case, the record supported the district court's conclusion that defendant clearly and unequivocally disavowed ownership of the backpack. Even if the district court erred by finding that defendant abandoned the backpack, reversal would not be required because the search of the backpack was a proper search incident to arrest for which no warrant was required under the facts of this case. View "United States v. Ferebee" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against her employer, Best Buy, claiming that she was harassed because of her race and gender and subjected to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff's complaint stemmed from an incident where a coworker made a racist and sexually charged joke to a small group of coworkers that included plaintiff. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's motion to dismiss and held that, in the case of allegedly harassing comments by a co-worker, an employee must allege plausible facts that the employer knew, or should have known, about the harassment and failed to take action reasonably calculated to stop it. Because plaintiff failed to do this, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. In this case, the coworker's conduct was not imputable to Best Buy where Best Buy took steps that were not only reasonably calculated to end such behavior, but that it did in fact end it. View "Bazemore v. Best Buy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's above-Guidelines sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to two federal drug- and firearm-related offenses. The court held that defendant's sentence was not procedurally unreasonable where the district court took into account defendant's extensive criminal history; his pattern of reoffending upon release; his disciplinary infractions in custody and inability to comply with the terms of his release; and the fact that the offenses of conviction occurred over the course of days, in which he was arrested once, released, and then arrested again just days later. The court also held that defendant's sentence was substantively reasonable where the district court conducted a thorough, individualized assessment of defendant and his offense conduct in light of the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, and did not abuse its discretion in formulating the sentence. View "United States v. Nance" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law