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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
by
Defendant Patrick LaJuan Jones, Jr. contended the Sentencing Commission did not intend to include state convictions based on a controlled substance not identified in the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) to serve as predicate offenses when determining a defendant’s base-offense level under U.S.S.G. section 2K2.1(a)(4). Notwithstanding Application Note 1 of section 2K2.1(a)(4) directing to section 4B1.2(b), where the Guidelines defined “controlled substance offense,” Defendant claimed the Sentencing Commission intended to only include those controlled substances identified in the CSA. Based on a plain reading of section 4B1.2(b), the district court determined that the Sentencing Commission did not limit “controlled substance” to mean only substances identified in the CSA. Finding no error in that interpretation, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Malachi Bruley appealed the district court’s order revoking his term of supervised release and sentencing him to 48 months’ imprisonment and two years of supervised release. In 2014, Defendant pled guilty to one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, which carried a statutory maximum sentence of 60 months and a lifetime of supervised release. He also pleaded guilty to one count of being a drug user in possession of a firearm, which was punishable by up to 120 months' imprisonment and three years of supervise release. The district court sentenced Defendant to 42 months’ imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently. In addition, the district court imposed three years of supervised release on each count, to run concurrently. Since his release from prison, Defendant’s supervised release has been revoked twice. On the first revocation, the district court sentenced Defendant to 10 months’ imprisonment on both counts, to run concurrently. The district court also imposed 18 months of supervised release on both counts, to run concurrently. On the second revocation, the one at issue on appeal here, the district court sentenced Defendant to 48 months’ imprisonment: 24 months on each count, to run consecutively. The district court also imposed two years of supervised release but did not specify to which count it applied. Prior to the revocation proceedings, the U.S. Probation Office proposed a set of special conditions for the court to impose as part of Defendant’s supervised release. These included a search condition and substance abuse treatment condition - both of which were imposed during Defendant’s two previous terms of supervised release. At the hearing, the district court announced two of the four special conditions recommended by the Probation Office, but did not announce the search condition or substance abuse treatment condition. Following the hearing, the district court issued a written judgment which imposed the unannounced search condition and substance abuse treatment condition. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order. View "United States v. Bruley" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Adam Hemmelgarn moved for compassionate release, based on an outbreak of COVID-19 at FCI Lompoc. The district court denied his motion, as well as his subsequent motion for reconsideration. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion in deciding Hemmelgarn had not established extraordinary and compelling reasons in support of a sentence reduction because of his health conditions or the risk of exposure to COVID-19. View "United States v. Hemmelgarn" on Justia Law

by
Appellants, seventy-six Chapter 11 debtors associated with John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts (Debtors), argued they incurred more than $2.5 million of quarterly Chapter 11 disbursement fees from January 2018 through December 2020. Debtors faulted the bankruptcy court’s statutory interpretation, arguing that it applied the quarterly fees retroactively to pending cases against Congress’s intent. Alternatively, Debtors faulted Congress, arguing that charging different Chapter 11 disbursement fees depending on the location of the bankruptcy filing violated the uniformity requirement of the Bankruptcy Clause, U.S. Const. art I, sec. 8, cl. 4. The Tenth Circuit concluded the presumption against retroactivity did not apply here, because Congress increased the quarterly bankruptcy fees prospectively. On Debtors' second point, the Court concluded that Debtors had to prevail: the 2017 Amendment’s fee disparities failed under the uniformity requirement of the Bankruptcy Clause. The Amendment imposed higher quarterly fees on large debtors in Trustee districts. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a determination of Debtors' quarterly Chapter 11 fees and a refund of overpayment. View "In re: John Q. Hammons Fall, et al." on Justia Law

by
In 1984, petitioner-appellant Bruce Wimberly pled guilty to first-degree sexual assault. The Colorado trial court accepted his plea and considered the sentencing options: (1) determinate prison term up to 24 years; or (2) an indeterminate term of confinement lasting anywhere from one day to life. The court chose the second option, made additional findings required by the Colorado Sex Offenders Act of 1968, and imposed an indeterminate term of confinement ranging from one day to life imprisonment. More than 24 years passed. Now Wimberly argued the Constitution required his release because he didn’t receive a new hearing at the end of the 24-year determinate term (that the trial court chose not to impose). Without a new hearing, Wimberly claimed his continued confinement violated his rights to equal protection and due process. The federal district court rejected Wimberly’s arguments, and so did the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. “The state trial court provided adequate procedural safeguards when imposing the indeterminate term of confinement, and that term could last anywhere from a single day to the rest of Mr. Wimberly’s lifetime. The State thus had no constitutional duty to provide a new round of procedural safeguards 24 years into Mr. Wimberly’s indeterminate term.” View "Wimberly v. Williams" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-Appellant Aaron Kendall was arrested after a traffic stop; officers decided to impound his vehicle. Prior to impoundment, the officers conducted an inventory search of the vehicle, locating methamphetamine and heroin underneath the center console and a stolen handgun tucked within a loose panel below the glove compartment. The government charged Kendall with drug and gun crimes, and Kendall moved to suppress the physical evidence found in the vehicle, arguing that it was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied Kendall’s motion to suppress, and Kendall appealed that decision. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Kendall’s motion to suppress. View "United States v. Kendall" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-appellant Daniel David Egli twice pled guilty to possessing child pornography and has violated his subsequent conditions of supervised release on four occasions by, among other things, possessing unauthorized computers, engaging in unauthorized Internet usage, and viewing and possessing both adult and child pornography. After the second violation, the district court sentenced Egli to a lifetime of supervised release, and after the fourth violation, it imposed a special condition absolutely prohibiting him from using computers and the Internet. Egli failed to object to that special condition below but challenged it on appeal. The Tenth Circuit found no plain error in the district court’s decision for plain error. "Although this Court has previously cautioned that absolute Internet bans are generally invalid, we have left open the possibility of imposing such a ban in a case involving extreme or extraordinary circumstances. Accordingly, and in light of Egli’s lengthy history of violating less restrictive conditions of supervised release, we cannot say the district court plainly erred in imposing an absolute ban." View "United States v. Egli" on Justia Law

by
A United States military court-martial convicted Petitioner-Appellant Clint Lorance of murder (and a variety of lesser offenses) for actions he took while leading a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan. After exhausting his direct appeals, Lorance filed a federal habeas petition challenging his convictions. Lorance appealed the district court’s dismissal of that petition. The sole issue, and a matter of first impression for the Tenth Circuit's consideration was whether Lorance’s acceptance of a full and unconditional presidential pardon constituted a legal confession of guilt and a waiver of his habeas rights, thus rendering his case moot. The Court concluded Lorance’s acceptance of the pardon did not have the legal effect of a confession of guilt and did not constitute a waiver of his habeas rights. Despite Lorance’s release from custody pursuant to the pardon, he sufficiently alleged ongoing collateral consequences from his convictions, creating a genuine case or controversy and rendering his habeas petition not moot. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lorance v. Commandant" on Justia Law

by
After Albuquerque Police Officers Demsich and Melvin entered plaintiff-appellant Bradley Soza’s front porch with guns drawn, handcuffed him, and patted him down as part of a burglary investigation, Soza sued the Officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the Officers violated his clearly established Fourth Amendment rights when they seized him without probable cause and entered the curtilage of his home without a warrant. The Officers moved for summary judgment, asserting qualified immunity, which the district court granted. Because the law regarding the constitutionality of the Officers’ actions was not clearly established, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the Officers were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Soza v. Demsich, et al." on Justia Law

by
In 2018, defendant-appellant Timothy Hisey pled guilty to the federal offense of unlawfully possessing firearms. Among the elements was a prior conviction for “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” At his plea hearing, Hisey admitted that he had a prior felony conviction in Kansas. After pleading guilty, Hisey moved to vacate his conviction under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that his guilty plea had been unknowing and involuntary. The district court dismissed the motion based on procedural default because Hisey failed to raise this claim in his direct appeal. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding Hisey has overcame the procedural default by showing actual innocence: he did not commit the underlying offense (unlawfully possessing firearms after a felony conviction) because he had no prior conviction punishable by more than a year in prison. View "United States v. Hisey" on Justia Law