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

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Defendants, members of a violent street gang known as the Double Nine Goon Syndikate, appealed their convictions and sentences for crimes related to their gang activities. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court's decision to empanel an anonymous jury was supported by a preponderance of the evidence and was therefore not an abuse of discretion; the admission of the challenged inculpatory co-conspirator statements did not violate defendants' rights under the Confrontation Clause; there was no defect, plain or otherwise, in the indictment; even if the district court's jury instruction was improper, defendants could have cured any such error but did not; defendants' convictions under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) that was predicated on their violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity convictions for kidnapping under Virginia law must be vacated, because Virginia law did not qualify categorically as a crime of violence under the force clause; and sufficient evidence supported defendants' remaining convictions. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Mathis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit granted defendant's 28 U.S.C. 2255 petition and held, as a preliminary matter, that the appeal waiver in defendant's plea agreement did not bar the court from reaching the merits of his Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) claim. The court held that defendant's 1976 Georgia burglary conviction did not qualify as a violent crime under the ACCA where the Georgia burglary statute, as construed by the applicable Georgia court at the time of defendant's conviction, was overbroad compared to the generic burglary crime in the enumerated clause of the ACCA. Therefore, defendant's 1976 burglary conviction was not a "violent felony" for purposes of the ACCA sentencing enhancement. The court also held that defendant's North Carolina controlled substance convictions did not qualify as serious drug offenses under the ACCA, because it was not a "serious drug crime" under the ACCA. View "United States v. Cornette" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), which prohibits anyone who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV), from possessing a firearm. The court held that, in enacting section 922(g)(9), Congress sought to protect victims of domestic abuse from the risk of gun violence posed by their abuser. Therefore, the legislature has forbidden anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. In this case, defendant has admitted to committing such a crime -- made in the form of a guilty plea -- with representation by counsel, under no inappropriate pressure from the state, in a forum where there was no right to a jury trial. Accordingly, the court held that the guilty plea stands, and defendant's possession of the firearm was illegal. View "United States v. Locke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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This case stemmed from the wrongful conviction of two brothers, teenage boys with severe intellectual disabilities, for the rape and murder of an 11 year old girl in 1983. The brothers spent 31 years in prison and on death row before they were exonerated based on DNA evidence linking another individual to the crime. The brothers filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that the state and county law enforcement officers investigating the crime violated their Fourth Amendment and due process rights. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not improperly apply the test for qualified immunity by waiting to parse the liability of each individual defendant as it relates to each claim until the facts were determined; defendants did not have probable cause to arrest the brothers as a matter of law; and the brothers' right not to be arrested without probable cause based on a coerced and fabricated confession was clearly established. Therefore, the district court did not err by denying summary judgment to defendants on the false arrest and malicious prosecution claims based on qualified immunity. The court also held that the district court properly denied summary judgment as to the due process claims where it was beyond debate at the time that the brothers' constitutional rights not to be imprisoned and convicted based on coerced, falsified, and fabricated evidence or confessions, or to have material exculpatory evidence suppressed, were clearly established. View "Gilliam v. Sealey" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions stemming from their involvement in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substance analogues. The Fourth Circuit held that, either under the de novo or abuse of discretion standard of review, the district court wrongly quashed the subpoena of the DEA expert, and the court therefore reversed the district court's materiality ruling as to this issue. On the merits of defendants' remaining evidentiary challenges, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding a special agent's testimony as irrelevant and affirmed that evidentiary ruling. However, with regard to an attorney and Defendant Ritchie's testimony, however, the court vacated the district court's exclusion of that evidence and remanded for further proceedings. Finally, the court declined to reassign the case on remand. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated, and remanded. View "United States v. Galecki" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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A defendant must meet a high bar before he may challenge the veracity of a facially valid search warrant affidavit. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's refusal to hold a Franks hearing after defendant was convicted of federal drug and firearm offenses. Defendant argued that a police officer's trial testimony contradicted her search warrant affidavit that had led to evidence used at his trial. In this case, defendant failed to show that the mere imprecision of the warrant affidavit showed falsity. Even assuming the affidavit was false, defendant failed to show intentional falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth by the officer. Furthermore, defendant's additional challenges to the affidavit failed the rigorous plain error standard. View "United States v. Moody" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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This case arose from a car accident between petitioner and another driver, who caused the accident while she was driving under the influence of alcohol. Petitioner sought a writ of mandamus after the district court denied restitution as a condition of the driver's probation. The Fourth Circuit held that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the petition pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3771(d)(3). The court also held that the district court abused its discretion by failing to state why the burden of complexity or delay in sentencing outweighed petitioner's need for restitution, and this error harmed him because he received none of the requested restitution to which he may be entitled under the Victim and Witness Protection Act. The court also exercised its discretion to address certain issues that were likely to recur upon remand: United States v. Fountain should not be a guiding star for the lower court's balancing analysis on remand; in considering and balancing the statutory factors under section 3663(a)(1)(B)(ii), the district court may consider, among other factors, the availability of alternative civil remedies for petitioner's past lost earnings; and, in performing its section 3663(a)(1)(B)(ii) balancing analysis, the district court should confine its review to what petitioner requested—past lost earnings. View "In re: Carlos Brown" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit granted a petition for review of the FWS's new 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement in connection with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The court held that FWS arbitrarily reached its no-jeopardy conclusions and failed to correct the deficiencies in the take limits that the court identified in the previous appeal. In this case, the Biological Opinion's conclusion that the pipeline will not jeopardize the rusty patched bumble bee (RPBB) in Bath County, Virginia was arbitrary and capricious because it runs counter to available evidence, relies on data without providing a meaningful basis for that reliance, fails to consider the species’s status as a whole, and fails to consider the pipeline’s impacts on RPBB recovery. Furthermore, the Biological Opinion's finding that the clubshell's continued survival will not be jeopardized by the pipeline construction was not in accordance with the law and failed to consider important aspects of the issue before the agency. The court also held that the Biological Opinion failed to create enforceable take limits for the Indiana bat and the Madison Cave isopod. Accordingly, the court vacated the 2018 Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The concurrent sentence doctrine is satisfied when the only potential harm to the defendant is grounded on unrealistic speculation. In this case, defendant alleged that the district court erred in applying the concurrent sentence doctrine because he would be exposed to the possibility of a collateral consequence if his firearm sentence were not reviewed and reduced. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's application of the concurrent sentence doctrine in the circumstances presented to it. Nonetheless, after parties filed their briefs in this appeal, Congress enacted the First Step Act of 2018, and defendant subsequently claimed that leaving his firearm sentence unreviewed would also have the consequence of denying him relief under that Act. Given this development, the court remanded to allow the district court, in the first instance, to consider defendant's argument that he is eligible for a reduction of his drug-trafficking sentence under the First Step Act. View "United States v. Charles" 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 dismiss the indictment. Defendant had pleaded guilty to illegally being in the United States after having been removed after a felony conviction. The district court held that defendant failed to establish that the removal was fundamentally unfair and denied his motion to dismiss. The court held that when an expedited removal is alleged to be an element in a criminal prosecution, the defendant in that prosecution must, as a matter of due process, be able to challenge the element if he did not have a prior opportunity to do so. Because the rules attendant to expedited removal preclude review of the removal order, the defendant in a 8 U.S.C. 1326 prosecution premised on an expedited removal order under 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(i) must be given the opportunity in the section 1326 prosecution to challenge the validity of that order. Because section 1225(b)(1)(D) strips courts in section 1326 prosecutions from hearing a defendant's challenge to an expedited removal element, the court held that this jurisdiction-stripping provision is unconstitutional. On the merits, the court held that defendant did not sufficiently demonstrate a reasonable probability that the Attorney General would have allowed him to withdraw his application for admission under section 1225(a)(4), and thus he failed to show prejudice, as required to demonstrate that his removal was fundamentally unfair. View "United States v. Silva" on Justia Law