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

Articles Posted in Criminal 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 His supervised release was revoked after he failed several drug tests.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 His supervised release was revoked a second time after he again failed multiple drug tests and failed to participate in a required substance-abuse program.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

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In 2009, as part of a federal law-enforcement investigation, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) agents arrested twenty-three people and searched twelve properties in and near three Utah cities. The operation targeted persons possessing and trafficking in Native American artifacts illegally taken from the Four Corners region of the United States. One day after agents searched Dr. James D. Redd’s home, arrested him as part of this operation, and released him on bond, Dr. Redd committed suicide. Dr. Redd’s Estate (“the Estate”) sued sixteen named FBI and BLM agents and twenty-one unnamed agents under “Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” (403 U.S. 388 (1971)), claiming that the agents had violated Dr. Redd’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss all of the Estate’s claims except one: a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim against the lead BLM agent, Daniel Love. Later, on qualified-immunity grounds, the district court granted Agent Love summary judgment on that final claim. The Estate appealed the district court’s dismissal of the excessive-force claim. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Estate of James Redd v. Love" on Justia Law

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Defendant Donald Bowers was previously involved in a civil trade secret misappropriation case that was litigated in the United States Federal District Court. During the course of that litigation, Bowers willfully and repeatedly violated a permanent injunction, and refused to purge himself of civil contempt. His actions resulted in findings of civil contempt against him, judgments against him for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees, and, ultimately, a criminal referral to the United States Attorney for the District of Utah. A federal grand jury subsequently indicted Bowers on two counts of contempt. The case proceeded to trial, where a jury found Bowers guilty of both counts. Bowers was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of fifteen months, to be followed by a thirty-six month term of supervised release. He was also directed, as a condition of supervised release, to make monthly payments on the outstanding amount owed by him to the plaintiff in the underlying civil case. Bowers appealed, arguing that the district court erred in: (1) imposing a special condition of supervised release requiring him to make monthly payments on the outstanding judgments owed to the plaintiff in the civil case; (2) denying his motion for disclosure of the criminal referral; and (3) sentencing him to a term of imprisonment that exceeded six months. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Bowers" on Justia Law

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On October, 20, 2014, at approximately 7:43 p.m., Denver police officers were patrolling West 10th Avenue near its intersection with Mariposa Street in Denver, in a marked police vehicle. It was dark out and the intersection was unlit. The two officers observed defendant-appellee Phillip Hernandez walking next to a fenced construction site. The officers considered this part of town “to be a high-crime area due to its proximity to the Lincoln Park housing project and the frequency of theft and drug dealing occurring therein.” Officer Morghem asked Hernandez where he was coming from and what he was doing, to which Hernandez replied that he was coming from his grandmother’s house and was “just trying to go home.” Officer Morghem pressed Hernandez for his grandmother’s address, but Hernandez could not remember it. Up to this point, the entire conversation took place while Hernandez was walking, with the two officers driving close beside him. Officer Walton noted in the police report he filed the next day that Hernandez “tried not to stop and talk to us.” Hernandez eventually did stop, and the officers were able to talk to him. Hernandez provided his real name but a false birth date. Although Officer Morghem did not have Hernandez’s correct date of birth, he was able to pull up additional information on Hernandez via the in-car computer, finding Hernandez’s mug shot and determined that he had an active warrant for a parole violation. Hernandez was arrested on the active warrant, and ultimately indicted and convicted on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence retrieved after his encounter with the officers, claiming the evidence was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court granted the motion. The government appealed, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from an officer-involved shooting in the early morning hours of September 19, 2011. At approximately 3:50 a.m., plaintiff Matthew Carabajal was driving a vehicle containing three other individuals, including his infant son V.M.C., when he noticed that he was being followed by a police vehicle with its lights and siren activated. Plaintiff drove for several blocks. Other officers were notified and reported to the scene. Plaintiff pulled over, the officers exited their police cars, and one officer stepped in front of plaintiff’s vehicle. Soon thereafter, plaintiff’s vehicle began to move forward. The officer fired two rounds from his shotgun at plaintiff, severely injuring him. At that time, V.M.C. was still in the vehicle, secured in a car seat behind the front passenger. V.M.C., through Mathew and V.M.C.’s mother, Arianna Martinez, appealed the district court’s judgment in favor of defendants-appellees Officers Joshua Thornton and Michael Sutton, and Defendant-Appellee City of Cheyenne (“the City”). On appeal, plaintiffs challenged: (1) the district court’s grant of a motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claim of unlawful seizure of V.M.C. by Officer Thornton when he shot into the vehicle that V.M.C. occupied; (2) the grant of summary judgment in favor of the officers based upon qualified immunity as to Carabajal’s excessive force claims; and (3) the district court’s initial dismissal of, and later grant of summary judgment in favor of the City on, Plaintiffs’ claims of negligent hiring of Officer Thornton. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Carabajal v. City of Cheyenne" on Justia Law

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This case began with plaintiff Clyde Rife, sitting on a motorcycle next to a road, unable to recall the date, the time, or even what he had been doing in a town he had just visited. When approached by a state trooper, Rife said that he was fine. Nonetheless, the trooper questioned Rife and concluded that he was intoxicated on pain medication and had been in a motorcycle accident. These conclusions led the trooper to arrest Rife for public intoxication. After the arrest, the trooper drove Rife to jail. Rife groaned and complained of pain in his heart and chest. Upon arriving at the jail, Rife was put in a holding cell. The scene was observed by a cellmate, who said that Rife had repeatedly complained about pain. Nonetheless, Rife was not provided medical attention. The arrest itself and the later lack of medical care led Rife to sue: (1) the trooper, two jail officials, and the entity operating the jail for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs; and (2) the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety for negligent failure to provide medical care. As a threshold question, the Tenth Circuit concluded probable cause existed to arrest Rife. With regard to his other claims, the Court found that the district court thought no one could reasonably infer either deliberate indifference or negligence. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, concluding that both could have been reasonably inferred from the evidence. The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rife v. McCurtain County Jail Trust" on Justia Law

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Defendant Christopher Thornton appealed his seventy-eight month prison sentence. The issue this case presented was whether the district court committed procedural error by basing the length of Thornton’s sentence, in part, on the treatment and vocational services he would receive in jail. Federal judges may not use imprisonment as a means to promote defendants’ correction or rehabilitation. In this case, the district court calculated the advisory prison range under the Sentencing Guidelines and Thornton moved for a downward variance. The court denied that request, offering several reasons not to impose a below-guidelines sentence, including that Thornton “needs enough time in prison to get treatment and vocational benefits.” Thornton claimed on appeal, without having objected in the district court, that the court’s rationale for sentencing violated precedential caselaw. With this new argument the Tenth Circuit reviewed this case for plain error. Finding none, the Court affirmed the district court’s sentence. View "United States v. Thornton" on Justia Law

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Richard Hackford brought this action seeking to enjoin the State of Utah’s prosecution of traffic offenses he committed in December 2013. He argued on appeal that he was an Indian and the offenses occurred in Indian Country. Concluding that Hackford failed to meet the requirements for avoiding state criminal jurisdiction, the district court denied his motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed his complaint with prejudice. He appealed, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Hackford v. Utah" on Justia Law

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Reginald Humphrey appealed the denial of his motion to dismiss an indictment charging him with one count of producing child pornography. Humphrey argued the district court erred in rejecting his argument that applying 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) to the intrastate production of child pornography violated the Commerce Clause. Finding no reason to overturn its prior precedent rejecting this same argument, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Humphrey" on Justia Law

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Based on a confidential informant's report that defendant-appellant Michael Simpson had drugs and guns, law enforcement officers obtained a search warrant for his house. The search revealed cocaine, firearms and ammunition. A jury would ultimately find defendant guilty of thirteen counts relating to possession of the drugs and firearms. The district court imposed concurrent sentences of 240 months' imprisonment for possession with intent to distribute the cocaine (count 1), and 120 months' imprisonment for the remaining counts. Defendant argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that the Court should reverse the conviction or, alternatively, the sentence. Finding no reversible error with respect to the conviction on Count 1 (possession of cocaine with intent to distribute) and Counts 2 and 5 (possession of an unregistered shotgun and ammunition), the Court affirmed. But it reversed the conviction on the other counts based on plain error in the jury instructions, remanding for a new trial. The Court rejected defendant's challenge to the sentence on Counts 1, 2, and 5. View "United States v. Simpson" on Justia Law