Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Plaintiff Chetan Patel appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants in this 42 U.S.C. 1983 federal civil rights case, in which Plaintiff raised numerous claims against various police officers and other governmental officials involved in his arrest on charges of felony VIN fraud and the related search and seizure of his property in Basin, Wyoming. In granting summary judgment, the court refused to consider a purported affidavit produced by Plaintiff’s counsel. The court also disregarded Plaintiff’s attorneys’ affidavits based on its conclusion that relying on the attorneys’ affidavits would make them material witnesses to this case in violation of Rule 3.7 of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct. The court then concluded that the purported affidavit should have been disregarded both because it was irrelevant and because, without Plaintiff’s counsel’s affidavits, there was no admissible evidence that it was in fact signed by the person making the statement in the affidavit. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment as to the seizure of certain items and remanded for further proceedings on this claim. The Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of all Defendants on the remainder of Plaintiff’s federal claims, and affirmed the dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiff’s state law claims against Defendant Frentheway. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings dismissal of the state claims as to all other Defendants. View "Patel v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Wireman, a frequent sexual offender who pled guilty to counts of possessing and distributing child pornography, argued his sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court did not specifically address and reject his arguments for a downward variance from his within-Guidelines sentence. The question this case presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the particular argument he made to the district court—namely, that the Guideline under which he was sentenced was inherently flawed on policy grounds—warranted an exception to a long-held rule that the district court was not required to explicitly address and reject his arguments in such an instance. “But no matter how inherently fluid this area of law may be, we have held time and time again that a district court does not run astray of its duty to ‘consider[] the parties’ arguments’ simply because it does not directly address those arguments head-on—assuming, that is, that the district court imposes a within-Guidelines sentence.” Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "United States v. Wireman" on Justia Law

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Defendant Steven John was convicted by jury on one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country. On appeal Defendant argued: (1) that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation and his right to present a complete defense by restricting his cross-examination of the victim; (2) that several of the jury instructions regarding assessment of the evidence were improper; and (3) that the district court should have instructed the jury on the lesser-included offense of simple assault. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. John" on Justia Law

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Defendants Adrienne Lopez and Angela Lopez (not related) apealed their convictions and sentences on charges of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute and conspiracy to do so. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals did not address most of their arguments because the Court agreed with them that the methamphetamine found in their car had to be suppressed: they were properly stopped because Angela was speeding, but the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to continue their detention to obtain a drug-detection dog after he issued Angela a warning and Defendants refused to consent to a search of their vehicle. As alternative grounds for affirming the admission of the evidence, the government argued: (1) that Adrienne could not complain of the search because it was not a fruit of her detention; and (2) that the continued detention was lawful anyway because there was probable cause to arrest Angela for driving without a license. The Court rejected both arguments: the search of the vehicle was based on the dog’s alert to marijuana in Adrienne’s purse and the police dispatcher informed the officer on the scene that Angela had a valid license. View "United States v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant David Thomas appealed his conviction by jury of four counts of robbery. On appeal, he challenged: (1) the sufficiency of the evidence on Count 1; (2) an in-court identification; and (3) the denial of his motion to sever the Count 1 robbery charge from the other robbery counts. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed defendant’s conviction. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendants in these consolidated appeals pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture and distribute “crack” cocaine. Because Defendants each had a prior felony drug conviction, they faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment. This mandatory minimum sentence was greater than the high end of Defendants’ respective advisory guideline ranges, so 20 years became Defendants’ “guideline sentence.” Due to their substantial assistance to the Government in its investigation or prosecution of others, however, the district court granted Defendants a downward departure pursuant to a statutory exception to their statutorily-mandated minimum sentence. The district court reduced C.D.’s sentence from 240 months to 180 months, E.F.’s sentence from 240 months to 170 months, and G.H.’s sentence from 240 months to 151 months. Defendants claimed 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) provided an additional statutory exception to their original 20-year mandatory minimum sentence, and so unsuccessfully moved the district court to further reduce their sentences. After Defendants’ sentencings, the Sentencing Commission lowered by two offense levels the guideline sentencing ranges under which Defendants would have been sentenced but for 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A)’s mandatory minimum sentence. Under Tenth Circuit precedent, in particular "United States v. White," (765 F.3d 1240 (10th Cir. 2014)), Defendants were not “sentenced based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” Rather, the district court sentenced Defendants “based on” a mandatory minimum established by Congress of 20-years’ imprisonment, reduced by a departure as authorized by Congress “so as to reflect [their] substantial assistance.” As such, the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s decisions denying Defendants’ respective motions and, consistent with controlling precedent, remanded with instructions to dismiss the motions for want of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Bruce Wright of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and of eleven counts of bank fraud arising from his participation in a scheme to submit false draw requests and invoices to obtain bank loans. The district court sentenced Wright to thirty-three months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay over $1 million in restitution. Wright raised several issues on appeal, concerning jury instructions, withheld impeachment evidence, and bank loss and restitution amounts. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant James Russian was charged with four drug- and gun-related offenses. Before trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of two cell phones seized at the time of his arrest, arguing the search warrant was invalid for lack of particularity. The district court denied the motion, concluding even if the warrant was invalid, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied. At trial, text messages and photographs from the phones were introduced against defendant. After the jury convicted him on all counts, the court imposed a total sentence of 137 months’ imprisonment. Defendant challenged the admission of the evidence obtained from the cell phone searches, as well as the sentences imposed on several of the counts. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the convictions: the officers conducting the search acted in objectively reasonable reliance on the warrant, and even if that were not the case, any Fourth Amendment error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. As for defendant’s sentences, the Court remanded for resentencing, finding the district court erred in relying on an improperly calculated guidelines range for the sentences on the contested counts. View "United States v. Russian" on Justia Law

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Defendants were charged in a two-count superseding indictment with child sex trafficking and conspiracy to engage in child sex trafficking. The superseding indictment asserted only one basis by which the government would seek to prove mens rea as to the child victim’s age: that Defendants had a reasonable opportunity to observe the child before engaging in a commercial sex transaction. Defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing it failed to allege the mens rea element of child sex trafficking. The district court agreed and dismissed the indictment. The government appealed, arguing it could meet its burden with regard to Defendants’ awareness of the child victim’s age by showing only that Defendants had “a reasonable opportunity to observe” the victim. The Tenth Circuit agreed and reversed the district court. View "United States v. Duong" on Justia Law

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Howard Collins was serving a term of supervised release as part of his sentence for knowingly and intentionally distributing more than five grams of a mixture or substance containing cocaine base (i.e., crack cocaine). His supervised release was revoked after he failed several drug tests. He was reincarcerated and received a new term of supervised release. His supervised release was revoked a second time after he again failed multiple drug tests and failed to participate in a required substance-abuse program. Following his second revocation, the district court sentenced Collins to twelve months’ imprisonment, having determined that the maximum term of imprisonment that it could impose under 18 U.S.C. 3583(e)(3) was one year. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of section 3583(e)(3), reversed the court’s sentencing order and remanded the case for resentencing. View "United States v. Collins" on Justia Law