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After Stephen Nelson was arrested in a private residence, one officer continued searching the residence and found two firearms. The government attributed the firearms to Nelson, and he was indicted for possession of a firearm by a felon. Nelson moved to suppress the firearms, arguing that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by continuing to search the residence after arresting him. The district court denied Nelson’s motion, concluding that the post-arrest search was a valid protective sweep because the officers “could have reasonably believed that someone other than [Nelson] was hiding in the house.” Nelson entered a conditional guilty plea, and appealed the district court’s order denying his suppression motion. After its review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit vacated the denial based on its conclusion that the searching officer had no basis to reasonably believe that an unknown, dangerous person was hiding in the residence. Nevertheless, the Court remanded for the district court to determine, in the first instance, whether the owner of the residence consented to the search. View "United States v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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In an amendment to the Clean Air Act (CAA), Congress directed the EPA to operate a Renewable Fuel Standards Program (the RFS Program) to increase oil refineries’ use of renewable fuels. But for small refineries that would suffer a “disproportionate economic hardship” in complying with the RFS Program, the statute required the EPA to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Petitioner Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company owned and operated two refineries in Wyoming: one in Sinclair, and another in Casper. Both fell within the RFS Program’s definition of “small refinery” and were exempt from the RFS requirements until 2011. Those exemptions were extended until 2013 after the Department of Energy found Sinclair’s Wyoming refineries to be among the 13 of 59 small refineries that would continue to face “disproportionate economic hardship” if required to comply with the RFS Program. Sinclair then petitioned the EPA to extend their small-refinery exemptions. The EPA denied Sinclair’s petitions in two separate decisions, finding that both refineries appeared to be profitable enough to pay the cost of the RFS Program. Sinclair filed a timely petition for review with the Tenth Circuit court, which concluded the EPA exceeded its statutory authority under the CAA in interpreting the hardship exemption to require a threat to a refinery’s survival as an ongoing operation. Because the Court found the EPA exceeded its statutory authority, it vacated the EPA’s decisions and remanded to the EPA for further proceedings. View "Sinclair Wyoming Refining v. EPA" on Justia Law

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After pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, defendant-appellant Larry Pam was sentenced to a fifteen-year term of imprisonment consistent with a plea agreement entered into pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). Pam’s fifteen-year sentence exceeded the ten-year statutory maximum generally applicable to violations of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), but the district court accepted the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement and imposed the agreed-upon sentence with the understanding that Pam was an armed career criminal under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) and therefore subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment. Pam unsuccessfully challenged his conviction and sentence on direct appeal and collateral attack, but in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), and Welch v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1257 (2016), the Tenth Circuit granted Pam authorization to file a second or successive motion for post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Pam then filed a pro se section 2255 motion, contending his sentence had been unconstitutionally enhanced under the ACCA. The district court dismissed the motion, determining that the new constitutional rule announced in Johnson was inapplicable to Pam’s sentence and, in the alternative, that the collateral attack waiver contained in Pam’s plea agreement barred him from bringing the section 2255 motion. Pam appealed the district court’s decision and the Tenth Circuit granted him a Certificate of Appealability (“COA”) as to whether: (1) “the district court erred in holding that [Mr.] Pam was not entitled to relief under Johnson,” and (2) “the district court erred in holding that [Mr.] Pam’s claims were barred by the collateral attack waiver contained in his plea agreement.” The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, but on different grounds: Pam’s crimes did not fall within the enumerated offenses listed in the ACCA, and was only subject to the ACCA’s fifteen-year minimum sentence if those convictions had as an element, the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another. The Court determined Pam’s three felony convictions qualified under the ACCA, making the sentence he received lawful and an alternative ground for the district court’s dismissal of his 2255 motion. View "United States v. Pam" on Justia Law

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When a state fails to protect a foster child from harm, the foster child can sue the state under the special-relationship doctrine, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. The special-relationship doctrine provides an exception to the general rule that states aren’t liable for harm caused by private actors. This case is about the geographical reach of the special-relationship doctrine: whether the special relationship (and its accompanying duty to protect)—crosses state lines. James Dahn, a foster child, sued two Colorado social workers responsible for investigating reports that he was being abused, along with others involved with his adoption. Dahn had been in Oklahoma’s custody until, with Oklahoma’s approval, a Colorado-based private adoption agency placed him for adoption with a foster father in Colorado. The foster father physically abused Dahn before and after adopting him. The private adoption agency was responsible for monitoring Dahn’s placement. Together with Colorado, it recommended approval of his adoption by the abusive foster father. Dahn eventually escaped his abusive foster father by running away. Dahn then sued the private adoption agency, its employees, and the Colorado caseworkers who were assigned to investigate reports of abuse from officials at Dahn’s public school. The district court dismissed all of Dahn’s claims except a section 1983 claim against the two Colorado caseworkers and two state-law claims against the agency and its employees, concluding the special-relationship doctrine allowed Dahn to move forward with the 1983 claim, and it exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. The Colorado caseworkers appealed. Though the Tenth Circuit condemned their efforts to protect the vulnerable child, the Court concluded, under the controlling precedents, that the Colorado caseworkers were entitled to qualified immunity, and reversed. View "Dahn v. Amedei" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a law enforcement investigation into a drug trafficking operation in Kansas. Agents gathered evidence by making controlled buys of crack cocaine through a confidential informant; monitoring telephones used by certain of the co-conspirators; and conducting searches of several residences. Anthony Carlyle Thompson was arrested and charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute more than 280 grams of cocaine base and multiple counts of distribution of cocaine base. Before trial, Thompson moved to dismiss the indictment for Speedy Trial Act violations. The district court overruled the motion, finding the court had properly granted an ends-of-justice continuance that tolled the speedy-trial clock. Also before trial, the district court admitted cell-service location information (CSLI) the government obtained without a warrant as part of the process for determining whether certain intercepted phone calls were admissible at trial. The court denied Thompson’s motion to suppress evidence obtained from a search of his residence, finding the search warrant was supported by probable cause. Thompson was tried along with several co-defendants; the co-defendants were convicted on all counts. Using an extrapolation method of calculation, the presentence investigation report (PSR) attributed 8.477 kilograms of cocaine base to Thompson. The PSR then imposed a four-level leadership sentencing enhancement, which yielded a total offense level of 40, a criminal history category of IV, and a corresponding guidelines range of 360 months to life in prison. Thompson objected to both the drug-quantity calculation and the imposition of the leadership enhancement. At sentencing, the court rejected Thompson’s objections, finding he was responsible for 8.477 kilograms of cocaine base and applying the four-level leadership enhancement. The court then sentenced Thompson to 360 months’ imprisonment. Thompson appealed, contending the district court erred in: (1) denying his motion to dismiss for Speedy Trial Act violations; (2) admitting CSLI obtained without a warrant; (3) denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search of his residence; and (4) delivering a constitutionally deficient reasonable doubt instruction to the jury. Thompson also appeals his sentence, arguing the district court erred in: (1) relying on an extrapolation method to calculate the drug quantity attributable to him as relevant conduct; and (2) imposing the four-level leader-organizer enhancement, because the evidence did not establish he served as a leader or organizer in the conspiracy. Finding no error in the court’s various rulings or in the sentence it imposed, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a law enforcement investigation into a drug trafficking operation in Kansas. Agents gathered evidence by making controlled buys of crack cocaine through a confidential informant; monitoring telephones used by certain of the co-conspirators; and conducting searches of several residences. Martye Madkins was arrested and charged with one count of distribution of cocaine base and one count of distribution of cocaine base within 1,000 feet of a school. Before trial, Madkins moved to dismiss the indictment for Speedy Trial Act violations. The district court overruled the motion, finding the court had previously granted an ends-of-justice continuance that tolled the speedy-trial clock. Madkins was tried along with several co-defendants, including Johnny Ivory, Anthony Thompson, and Albert Banks. Madkins and his co-defendants were convicted on all counts. Madkins challenged the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss for Speedy Trial Act violations. He also appealed the sentence, arguing the district court erred in applying a career-offender enhancement and in denying his request for a variance. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the district court did not err in denying Madkins’s motion to dismiss for Speedy Trial Act violations. However, the Court vacated the sentence, because the district court impermissibly relied on a belief that it was obligated to impose a sentence in the guidelines range absent extraordinary circumstances. View "United States v. Madkins" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Patrick Murphy of murder in Oklahoma state court and imposed the death penalty. In August 1999, Murphy lived with Patsy Jacobs; Jacobs was previously in a relationship with the victim, George Jacobs. Murphy had an argument with her about George, and said he was “going to get” George Jacobs and his family. A passerby found George Jacobs in a ditch with his face bloodied and slashes across his chest and stomach. His genitals had been cut off and his throat slit. Murphy allegedly confessed the killing to Ms. Jacobs, and he was later arrested and tried. On appeal, Murphy asserted he was tried in the wrong court: he challenged the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma state court in which he was convicted and sentenced, contending he should have been tried in federal court because he was an Indian and the offense occurred in Indian country. To this point, the Tenth Circuit agreed and remanded to the district court to issue a writ of habeas corpus vacating his conviction and sentence. The question of whether the state court had jurisdiction was straightforward but reaching an answer was not. Parsing the issue involved review of: (1) federal habeas corpus review of state court decisions; (2) Indian country jurisdiction generally; (3) Indian reservations specifically; and (4) how a reservation can be disestablished or diminished. In this case, the Oklahoma court applied a rule that was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court law. Congress has not disestablished the Creek Reservation; the crime in this case occurred in Indian country; Murphy was an Indian and because the crime occurred in Indian country, the federal court has exclusive jurisdiction. Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to grant Murphy’s application for a writ of habeas corpus. View "Murphy v. Royal" on Justia Law

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Facing two counts of possession with intent to distribute, defendant John Doe pleaded guilty as charged pursuant to a Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(B) plea agreement. As part of that agreement, Doe waived his right to appeal or collaterally attack his plea, his conviction, or any sentence within the Guidelines range. And in return, the government agreed—in its sole discretion and by any means it deemed appropriate—to evaluate Doe’s cooperation in determining whether to file a substantial-assistance motion. The plea agreement also clarified that the ultimate decision to file such a motion was, like the government’s evaluation of Doe’s cooperation, solely within the government’s discretion. The district court accepted Doe’s guilty plea, but it didn’t sentence him right away. Instead, Doe remained in protective custody while he and a close family member helped law enforcement bring down a local drug operation. That cooperation placed both of their lives at risk. According to defendant, the government failed to exercise that discretion in good faith and thereby breached the plea agreement. Because the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in ruling that its unpublished decision in United States v. Kovac, 23 F. App’x 931 (10th Cir. 2001), precluded it from reaching this argument, it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: Sealed Opinion" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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A jury convicted Matthew Williams of bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He appealed, arguing the evidence against him was insufficient. Williams began a mortgage loan application at Pulaski Bank (the “bank”) using his father’s personal and financial information and his status as a Purple Heart veteran. After his father received the application packet in the mail, he called the bank to explain he had not applied for a loan. The bank referred the matter to law enforcement, but continued to work with Williams to process the loan and obtain additional documents to clarify the applicant’s identity. The bank sent Williams a notice of incompleteness because it lacked several required documents, signatures, and a photo identification. In response, Williams provided some of the required documents to the bank, including a fake earnings statement and a letter expressing his intent to proceed with the loan. The bank sent a final notice of incompleteness to Williams. Williams did not respond, and the bank closed his application file. Mr. Williams argues his misrepresentations on the incomplete application could not support a bank fraud conviction because they (1) were not material to the bank’s decision to issue him a loan; and (2) did not impose a risk of loss on the bank. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A district court presiding over a murder trial did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of prior, similar incidents, including whether the defendant killed his second wife in circumstances similar to those that led to the death of his first wife. The evidence was properly admitted under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), was relevant, and was not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice. View "United States v. Henthorn" on Justia Law