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

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The Fourth Circuit held that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider defendant's interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's denial of his Faretta motion. In this case, defendant was charged with four federal child pornography counts and wants to represent himself at trial. The court explained that, given the narrowness of the collateral order doctrine in criminal cases, the Supreme Court has only held that four types of orders are immediately appealable: orders denying a Double Jeopardy Clause challenge, orders denying a Speech or Debate Clause challenge, orders denying a motion to reduce bail, and orders allowing for the forced medication of criminal defendants. The court pointed to the strongly worded dictum in Flanagan v. United States, 465 U.S. 259, 263 (1984), in which the Supreme Court specifically cited a Faretta order as an example of a decision that would be effectively reviewable on appeal from a final judgment. The court concluded that it was bound by this stricter interpretation and therefore solely relied on collateral order jurisprudence within the criminal context. View "United States v. Sueiro" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment allowing defendant to withdraw his guilty plea and dismissing the aggravated identity theft count. The court held that 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1) prohibits the unauthorized use of the means of identification of deceased, as well as living, victims. In light of its plain, ordinary meaning and the statutory context, the court held that the term "person" is unambiguous and includes deceased persons as victims of identity theft. Furthermore, the legislative history bolsters the court's interpretation of the term. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. George" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the state's motion for summary judgment and rejected petitioner's claim that a state post-conviction court unreasonably applied Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), when evaluating evidence disclosed to him for the first time thirty years after his trial. The court held that, although petitioner showed that the state court's summary conclusion misstated the burden of proof for Brady claims, that error did not entitle petitioner to habeas relief. In this case, the state court found the cumulative effect of any new evidence with any value was so minimal that it would have no impact on the outcome of the trial. The court held that the state court's reasonable finding supported the state court's decision that any newly disclosed evidence fell short of the kind of materiality that Brady required. View "Long v. Hooks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioners challenged the Board's award of a permit for construction of a compressor station on behalf of ACP in the historic community of Union Hill. The compression station is one of three stations planned to support the transmission of natural gas through ACP's 600-mile pipeline. The Fourth Circuit held that the Board erred in failing to consider electric turbines as zero-emission alternatives to gas-fired turbines in the compressor station. The court also held that the Board erred in failing to assess the compressor station's potential for disproportionate health impacts on the predominantly African-American community of Union Hill, and in failing to independently evaluate the suitability of that site. Accordingly, the court vacated the permit and remanded for the Board to make findings with regard to conflicting evidence in the record, the particular studies it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the compressor station. View "Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board" on Justia Law

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Modern filed suit against Turner, alleging claims arising from a subcontract outlining Modern's role in the construction of an FBI facility. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court properly applied West Virginia's law and rejected all of Modern's claims based on the plain language of the contract. In this case, the district court granted Turner summary judgment on the field verification claim, and subsequently ruled in favor of Turner on the remaining claims. The court held that Modern and Turner were two sophisticated parties that entered into a detailed contract spelling out their rights and responsibilities in the construction of the FBI facility, and the provisions of that contract directly addressed the very issues raised in this appeal. Furthermore, the provisions of the contract compelled the result reached by the district court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "US f/u/b of Modern Mosaic, Ltd v. Turner Construction Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the "methods and means" that the Census Bureau has adopted for the 2020 Census, and the contention that the 2020 Census will produce an even greater differential undercount. Plaintiffs represent hard-to-count communities that historically have suffered the greatest harms from differential undercounts, and that directly will lose federal funding if the differential undercount increases in 2020. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims under the Enumeration Clause and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part, holding that plaintiffs' APA claims, as pleaded, did not satisfy the jurisdictional limitations on judicial review set forth in the APA. However, mindful of the Supreme Court's recent guidance affirming judicial review of "both constitutional and statutory challenges to census-related decision-making," Dep't of Commerce v. New York, 139 S. Ct. 2551, 2568 (2019), the court held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs' Enumeration Clause claims as unripe, and in precluding plaintiffs from filing an amended complaint regarding those claims after defendants' plans for the 2020 Census became final. Therefore, the court reversed in part and remanded to allow plaintiffs to file an amended complaint setting forth their Enumeration Clause claims. View "NAACP v. Bureau of the Census" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and sentenced to 51 months in prison. The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction, holding that the district court's failure to give a limiting instruction sua sponte and its decision to permit the government to cross-examine defendant did not constitute plain error. However, the court vacated defendant's sentence, holding that defendant's prior conviction for robbery under Maryland law was a violent felony under the force clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The court also held that Maryland possession with intent to distribute constitutes a controlled substance offense under the sentencing guidelines. Because the district court erred in holding otherwise, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment denying his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas corpus relief. Petitioner alleged due process violations stemming from a prison disciplinary proceeding that resulted in the revocation of twenty days of his good-time credits. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of petitioner's claim regarding the DHO's failure to review the requested surveillance video during his hearing, because there was no clearly established violation of petitioner's right at the time. Therefore, the North Carolina Supreme Court did not act unreasonably in denying petitioner's claim. However, the court vacated the district court's determination that petitioner's conviction was supported by "some evidence" in the record. The court held that this case presented the exceedingly rare circumstance where the record contained no probative evidence to support petitioner's conviction. Therefore, petitioner's disciplinary conviction amounted to a violation of his due process rights. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to grant habeas relief as to the good-time credits. View "Tyler v. Hooks" on Justia Law

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Defendants Peterson and Bun appealed their convictions for crimes related to their involvement in a methamphetamine distribution ring in prison. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the indictment without prejudice, having carefully weighed the relevant set of non-exclusive factors set out in the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IADA). The court explained that, by affording district courts substantial discretion over this determination, Congress sought to ensure that violations of the IADA's anti-shuttling provision would not needlessly encumber federal prosecutions. Therefore, the court rejected defendants' claim that the district court should have dismissed their initial indictment with prejudice because they were improperly transferred from federal to state custody. The court joined every federal court to address the question and held that a superseding indictment filed 30 days after an arrest does not violate 18 U.S.C. 3161(b) so long as the original indictment was filed within the Speedy Trial Act's 30-day window. The court found defendants' remaining claims regarding their speedy trial rights and claims of evidentiary error were without merit. View "United States v. Peterson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Fourth Circuit granted the government's motion to dismiss defendant's appeal after he pleaded guilty to identity theft and fraud. The court held that Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b)'s deadline was a mandatory claim-processing rule that must be strictly applied and thus the district court's error in failing to advise defendant of his right to appeal could not excuse defendant's untimely filing and equitable doctrines were unavailable to extend the deadline. The court noted, however, that its conclusion did not render Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(j) a nullity. Rather, defendant may seek to remedy the district court's error in a collateral proceeding. View "United States v. Marsh" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law