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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Defendant Christian Delgado-Lopez pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine or a mixture containing methamphetamine. He appealed the district court’s denial of a "minor-role" reduction under United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual section 3B1.2(b). The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding the district court did not compare Delgado-Lopez’s culpability to other participants in the enterprise, and found the court's credibility determination was wholly predicated on impermissible speculation. "We cannot say with certainty that the district court’s decision would stand if its foundation was removed. Therefore, we are compelled to remand this case to the district court for resentencing based on the proper legal standard." View "United States v. Delgado-Lopez" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Patrick Begay assaulted a man in the Navajo Nation with a baseball bat and a knife. The crime thus occurred in Indian country, within the boundaries of the reservation. Both Begay and the victim were enrolled members of the Navajo Nation. Begay was indicted in federal court on two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. He pled guilty to these charges. The Probation Office issued a Presentence Report (“PSR”) calculating Begay’s guidelines imprisonment range to be 46 to 57 months. Begay requested that the court vary from this range because significantly higher penalties are imposed on Native Americans convicted of assault in New Mexico federal court than in New Mexico state court. Defense counsel requested to submit testimony regarding this asserted sentencing disparity. The government objected, arguing that under our precedents, if the district court “even considers this argument or this train of argument in any way whatsoever, any sentence rendered by the [c]ourt becomes invalid.” The sentencing judge agreed stating that she could not consider Begay’s sentencing-disparity argument pursuant to Tenth Circuit precedent. Moreover, the judge stated should would not consider the argument because the evidence Begay offered to present lacked sufficient detail to make any comparison of his sentence to state-court sentences meaningful. Begay was sentenced to 46 months' imprisonment. Although the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was sympathetic to Begay’s argument that but for an “an accident of history and geography,” he would have received a lighter sentence, the Court concluded its precedents foreclosed the consideration of federal/state sentencing disparities under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(6). Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Begay" on Justia Law

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Defendant Dymond Brown appealed an amended judgment reducing his sentence pursuant to section 404 of the First Step Act of 2018, 132 Stat. 5194. At his original sentencing in 2007, the district court sentenced Brown as a career offender under the 2006 United States Sentencing Guidelines based on two predicate state convictions for crimes of violence: (1) feloniously pointing a firearm and (2) shooting with intent to kill. The district court did not differentiate between the elements clause, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a)(1), or the residual clause, U.S.S.G. 4B1.2(a)(2), in holding that these two convictions were crimes of violence under the Guidelines. On appeal, Brown argued that at his First Step Act sentencing, the district court should have used the Guidelines in effect when Congress passed the First Step Act, the 2018 Guidelines. Furthermore, he argued the district court should have revisited his career offender status. After Brown’s conviction, the Tenth Circuit interpreted the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) and held that the feloniously pointing a firearm was not a violent felony as defined by the ACCA because it did not necessarily have “as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another[.]” The Court found the ACCA contained similar language to the elements clause of the 2006 Guideline definition of a crime of violence. Brown argued the district court erred by not considering his challenge to his career offender status at his First Step Act sentencing on this basis. The Tenth Circuit found the language of the First Step Act was narrow and did not authorize plenary resentencing. "But it allows a district court to at least consider Mr. Brown’s claim that sentencing him as a career offender would be error given subsequent decisional law that clarifies (not amends) the related career offender provision at issue." The Court therefore reversed Brown's sentence and remanded for further consideration and resentencing. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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A Garfield County, Utah, sheriff’s deputy, defendant Raymond Gardner, challenged the district court’s decision to deny him qualified immunity from Plaintiff Matthew Mglej’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims stemming from Gardner’s arresting Mglej in August 2011. Mglej was on a cross-country trip when his motorcycle broke down. Chuck Gurle, a mechanic in Boulder, let Mglej stay with him for a few days while Gurle waited for parts needed to repair the motorcycle. The deputy first met Mglej when he stopped Mglej for speeding on his motorcycle. A few days later, Gardner received a report from a local convenience store/gas station that $20 was missing from the store's register, and they suspected someone matching Mglej's description took the money. When the deputy asked about the missing money, Mglej denied taking it. Deputy Gardner explained to Mglej that, although Mglej denied taking the money, he still needed to complete a report, which would require some information from Mglej, the information usually contained on an ID or driver's license. When Mglej declined to give the deputy his ID before consulting with an attorney, Gardner arrested him. Deputy Gardner then handcuffed Mglej behind his back and placed him in the front seat of the deputy’s patrol car. Mglej complained that the handcuffs were too tight; when Gardner tried to loosen them, the handcuffs malfunctioned and the deputy could not loosen or remove them. Using tools from his garage, Deputy Gardner was eventually able to pry the handcuffs off Mglej’s wrists after twenty minutes of work, causing Mglej significant pain and injury in the process. Mglej was released on bail three days after he was arrested. He then had to hitchhike the ninety-five miles back to Boulder, where he found that his motorcycle had been vandalized and his possessions stolen. The charges against Mglej were later dropped. Mglej alleged that Gardner violated the Fourth Amendment when he arrested Mglej without probable cause, used excessive force in doing so, and then initiated a malicious prosecution against Mglej. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in denying Gardner qualified immunity on all of Mglej's claims. View "Mglej v. Garfield County" on Justia Law

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While responding to a report of a fight at an Elks Club in Greybull, Wyoming, Officer Shannon Armstrong arrested Morgan Emmett for interfering with a peace officer. To effectuate the arrest, Armstrong tackled Emmett then tased him. Emmett brought a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, claiming that Armstrong violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unreasonably seizing him when arresting him without probable cause and by using excessive force when using his taser to effectuate the arrest. Emmett also brought a failure-to-train claim against Police Chief Bill Brenner, in his official capacity. The district court granted summary judgment to Armstrong on the basis of qualified immunity on all claims and to the city for lack of a constitutional violation. Emmett’s unreasonable seizure claim was based entirely on Officer Armstrong’s failure verbally to identify himself as a police officer before seizing Emmett, thus precluding probable cause to believe Emmett knowingly interfered with a peace officer. The Tenth Circuit found that because there were significant indicia from the circumstances that Armstrong was a police officer, it was objectively reasonable for Armstrong to believe that Emmett knew he was a police officer. Thus, because the arrest was not a constitutional violation, Armstrong was entitled to qualified immunity. With regard to Emmett’s second claim of excessive force, the Tenth Circuit agreed with Emmett that a jury could have found tasing him after he was no longer actively resisting constituted excessive force. Armstrong was not entitled to qualified immunity on that claim. With regard to claims against Chief Brenner, because the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s finding that no constitutional violation occurred insofar as the excessive force claim was involved, it also reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Emmett’s failure-to-train claim against Chief Brenner in his official capacity to the extent that it related to Armstrong’s use of force. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Emmett v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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Defendants, a married couple, opened numerous rewards accounts at OfficeMax using fictitious names and addresses. They fraudulently claimed other customers’ purchases as their own to generate undeserved rewards through OfficeMax’s customer loyalty program. As part of the scheme, Defendants also violated the terms of the reward program by using various accounts to sell more than 27,000 used ink cartridges to OfficeMax in exchange for OfficeMax rewards. In 21 months' time, they redeemed $105,191 in OfficeMax rewards. A jury convicted Defendants of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud relating to their scheme to defraud OfficeMax. At sentencing, the district court ordered Defendants to pay $96,278 in restitution to OfficeMax and entered a separate forfeiture money judgment jointly and severally against Defendants in the amount of $105,191. In Defendants' first appeal, they argued the district court erred when it entered a forfeiture money judgment without proving the $105,191 constituted, or was derived from, proceeds traceable to the wire fraud. The government contended it proved Defendants fraudulently acquired OfficeMax rewards with a face value of $105,191, and that Defendants exchanged that credit for $105,191 in actual merchandise. At first glance, the Tenth Circuit surmised a district court’s order of forfeiture and its order of restitution appeared to be a double punishment, particularly when the district court ordered defendants to pay forfeiture and restitution in the same amount. Restitution exists to make victims whole; forfeiture punishes those who commit crimes. In some cases, a defendant either does not resell fraudulently obtained merchandise or does so at a discount and thus has no profit above the value of the merchandise. To address that scenario, the Tenth Circuit held here that a district court could base a judgment’s forfeiture amount on the value of the fraudulently obtained merchandise at the time a defendant acquired it. Furthermore, a district court may not reduce or eliminate criminal forfeiture because of restitution. Finally, the Court reaffirmed its holding that in personam money judgments representing the amount of unlawful proceeds are appropriate under the criminal forfeiture statutes. View "United States v. Channon (Brandi)" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma City Ordinance 25,777 prohibited standing, sitting, or remaining for most purposes on certain medians. Plaintiffs were Oklahoma City residents, a minority political party in Oklahoma, and an independent news organization. They used medians to panhandle, engage in protests or other expressive activity, mount political campaigns, cover the news, or have personal conversations. After they were no longer able to engage in such activity due to the ordinance, plaintiffs sued Oklahoma City and its chief of police, William Citty, (together, “the City”) alleging violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court dismissed plaintiff Trista Wilson’s First Amendment claim; granted summary judgment favoring the City on plaintiffs’ due process vagueness claims; and, following a bench trial, entered judgment against plaintiffs on all other claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the court’s entry of judgment in favor of the City on plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims; it reversed the dismissal of Wilson’s First Amendment claim; and affirmed on all other claims. View "McCraw v. City of Oklahoma City" on Justia Law

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A federal grand jury indicted Defendant Melvin Bailey, III, on four counts of Hobbs Act robbery, four counts of brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and one count of Hobbs Act conspiracy. At trial, the jury acquitted Defendant on one count of Hobbs Act robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm. The jury convicted Defendant on the remaining seven counts, which stemmed from three robberies of a Walgreens in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Of these three robberies, the parties agreed Defendant personally committed two of them (those that occurred on April 28, 2015, and July 20, 2017). Based on these robberies, Defendant was convicted of two counts of Hobbs Act robbery and two counts of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. Those convictions were not at issue in this appeal. With respect to the third robbery on January 6, 2018, the parties agreed Defendant did not personally commit the offense. Rather, Defendant enlisted the help of a juvenile accomplice. For his part, Defendant instructed the juvenile on the execution of the robbery, provided him with a firearm and a mask, and acted as the getaway driver. The parties agreed Defendant’s participation made him an aider and abettor. In relation to this robbery, Defendant was convicted of Hobbs Act conspiracy, Hobbs Act robbery, and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence. Before the Tenth Circuit, Defendant argued the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to convict him of brandishing a firearm during the 2018 robbery. Specifically, Defendant contended this conviction had to be vacated because the evidence showed he did not personally commit the charged offense. The Tenth Circuit found this argument "unavailing," and affirmed conviction. View "United States v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kansas Natural Resource Coalition (“KNRC”) sought an order to enjoin the United States Department of the Interior (“DOI”) to submit its rules to Congress, pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”), before those rules “take effect.” The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the CRA contained a provision prohibiting judicial review of any “omission under this chapter.” The Tenth Circuit affirmed based on KNRC’s lack of Article III standing. Furthermore, the Court declined to remand the case so that KNRC could amend its complaint because, in any event, the district court was correct that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. View "Kansas Natural Resource v. United States Dept of Interior" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellees David Millard, Eugene Knight, and Arturo Vega challenged the constitutionality of Colorado’s Sex Offender Registration Act (CSORA). The district court held CSORA was unconstitutional as applied to the Appellees because the statute inflicted cruel and unusual punishment and violated substantive due process guarantees. Additionally, the district court held that the state courts’ application of CSORA’s deregistration procedures to Vega violated his procedural due process rights. Defendant-Appellant, the State of Colorado, appealed the entirety of the district court’s decision. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court’s ruling contravened binding Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit precedent, and reversed. View "Millard v. Rankin" on Justia Law