Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Defendant-Appellant Samuel Windom entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Windom appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress the firearm, arguing that officers used unreasonable “high risk” traffic stop procedures to investigate a “completed misdemeanor,” Windom’s flashing of a firearm in public, and the unreasonable nature of the force involved in the stop elevated it from an investigative detention to an arrest without probable cause. The Tenth Circuit concluded the precautionary measures of force that the officers employed in seizing Windom were reasonable, and did not cause his seizure to rise to the level of a de facto arrest, which would have required a showing of probable cause. Consequently, the seizure here was lawful. View "United States v. Windom" on Justia Law

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The FBI used malware to identify and find viewers of child pornography to access illicit websites. The FBI maintained the website in the Eastern District of Virginia, but users were spread out all over the country. Finding those users could prove difficult because of geographic constraints on the FBI’s ability to obtain a warrant. Notwithstanding these constraints, the FBI obtained a warrant that led to the discovery of hundreds of viewers of child pornography. One was the defendant, who faced prosecution in the District of Colorado. In the subsequent prosecution, the district court held that the warrant was invalid and suppressed evidence resulting from the search. The Tenth Circuit reversed this ruling, finding that even when a search warrant is invalid, the resulting evidence should not be suppressed if the executing agents could reasonably rely on the warrant. Here, the Court assumed for the sake of argument that the warrant was invalid. But in the Court's view, the executing agents acted in an objectively reasonable manner. Thus, the evidence should not have been suppressed. View "United States v. Workman" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Jonathan Kearn of federal child pornography charges arising from pictures he took of his four-and-a-half year old daughter and shared on the internet. He was sentenced to a lengthy prison term followed by five years of supervised release. Kearn contends the district court committed various errors at trial and sentencing. Finding no reversible errors, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Kearn's conviction. View "United States v. Kearn" on Justia Law

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The district court sentenced Defendant David Magnan, a Native American, to three life terms after a jury convicted him of murdering three people in Indian Country. Defendant shot Lucilla McGirt twice and left her to die, paralyzed from the chest down, as part of an execution-style slaying during which he shot four individuals. McGirt died, but not before she identified Defendant as her assailant. On three separate occasions ranging from approximately two to five hours after the shooting, three people heard McGirt identify Defendant as the man who shot her. At trial, these three individuals testified to McGirt’s respective statements over Defendant’s hearsay objections. Defendant appealed, arguing the district court abused its discretion in ruling McGirt’s statements constituted excited utterances admissible under Rule 803(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Magnan" on Justia Law

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Justin Pickel was convicted on two counts related to the operation of a marijuana-distribution network centered in Kansas. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release. The court also imposed a sixteen-million dollar criminal forfeiture money judgment, to be paid jointly and severally by Pickel and his co-defendants. Pickel appealed, arguing: (1) the district court erroneously denied his motion to suppress marijuana found in his truck after a traffic stop; (2) the Government did not present sufficient evidence to establish a single conspiracy and connect him to it; (3) the Government’s failure to establish a single conspiracy led to a prejudicial variance between his superseding indictment and the trial evidence; (4) the Government did not present sufficient evidence to establish that he used a communication facility to facilitate a drug trafficking conviction; (5) his 10-year term of supervised release exceeds the statutory maximum; and (6) the district court violated 21 U.S.C. 853(a) when it imposed joint and several forfeiture liability on him for the value of marijuana attributable to the whole conspiracy. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Pickel’s convictions and term of supervised release, but reversed the forfeiture judgment and remanded for resentencing regarding Pickel’s forfeiture liability. View "United States v. Pickel" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Pueblo of Pojoaque appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claim for declaratory and injunctive relief based on the New Mexico’s alleged unlawful interference with Class III gaming operations on the Pueblo’s lands. In July 2005, the Pueblo and New Mexico executed a Class III gaming compact pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) that allowed it to operate casino-style gaming on its lands. Prior to the expiration of the compact, the New Mexico Gaming Control Board (“the Gaming Board”) sought to perform its annual compliance review of the Pueblo’s gaming operations. The Pueblo complied on June 24; on June 30, 2015, the compact expired at midnight. The Gaming Board announced that despite the U.S. Attorney’s decision allowing the Pueblo’s gaming operations to continue pending the review, the Pueblo’s casinos were operating illegally due to the absence of a compact, and it placed in abeyance approval of any license application or renewal for vendors who did business with the Pueblo. The Pueblo commenced this action, asserting in part that New Mexico failed to conduct compact negotiations in good faith in violation of IGRA and that individual defendants conspired under the color of state law to “deprive the federal right of the Pueblo and its members to be free of state jurisdiction over activities that occur on the Pueblo lands.” The Pueblo sought an injunction, contending that the Gaming Board’s actions were an impermissible attempt to assert jurisdiction over gaming operations on tribal lands, despite the termination of New Mexico’s jurisdiction over such activities upon the expiration of the compact. The district court entered final judgment, stayed the effects of the preliminary injunction, and issued an indicative ruling that it would vacate or dissolve the preliminary injunction on remand. The Pueblo sought to stay the district court’s judgment and restore the preliminary injunction. The district court declined to do so, but the Tenth Circuit extended a temporary injunction against the State mirroring the preliminary injunction entered by the district court. On appeal, the Pueblo argued the district court did not have jurisdiction to proceed to the merits given the interlocutory appeal of the preliminary injunction and, even if it did, it erred in concluding that IGRA did not preempt New Mexico’s regulatory action. The Tenth Circuit found the text of IGRA clearly evinced congressional intent that Class III gaming would not occur in the absence of a compact, and no such compact existed. Accordingly, conflict preemption also does not apply. For similar reasons, the Court rejected the Pueblo’s argument that the Gaming Board’s determination as to the unlawful nature of the Pueblo’s gaming activities was an improper assertion of jurisdiction preempted by IGRA. Because the Pueblo’s gaming activities are not conducted pursuant to a compact or an alternative mechanism permitted under IGRA, the Pueblo’s present gaming is unlawful under federal law, and the State’s conclusion to this effect was not an exercise of jurisdiction that IGRA preempts. View "Pueblo of Pojoaque v. New Mexico" on Justia Law

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“Custody does not automatically render [every] exchange an interrogation,” and the Tenth Circuit determined that certain statements defendant Gavin Yepa made while “tired, intoxicated and under tremendous emotional stress” were not the result of police interrogation warranting suppression. Defendant was convicted by a jury of first-degree felony murder in the perpetration of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country. The sole issue on appeal was whether self-incriminating statements by defendant during a search of his person authorized by a warrant were spontaneous or were the result of interrogation. After a review of the circumstances of the statements, the Tenth Circuit found the district court did not clearly err in finding defendant’s statements were spontaneous and not by virtue of police interrogation. View "United States v. Yepa" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Defendant Ann Marie McNeal under 18 U.S.C. 922(d)(1) for disposing of a firearm to her son, a convicted felon. Her primary claim on appeal was that evidence seized from her home under a search warrant should have been suppressed. The affidavit supporting the warrant was based largely on statements she made when interviewed by law-enforcement officers; she argued that some of what she said was improperly coerced by the officers and that the affidavit included false descriptions of her statements. The Tenth Circuit concluded that police did not coerce defendant when they told her of their reasonable belief she could be prosecuted for providing false information to them. Finding no other reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction. View "United States v. McNeal (Ann Marie)" on Justia Law

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This case presented the question whether Oklahoma’s drive-by shooting statute, Okla. Stat. tit. 21, sec. 652(B), qualified as a violent felony under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). In 2004, defendant-appellant Britt Hammons pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing a firearm as a felon. His criminal history included three prior convictions under Oklahoma’s drive-by shooting statute. At the time of sentencing, Hammons qualified for the ACCA’s fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence because his prior convictions would have met the definition of “violent felony” under the ACCA’s residual clause. The district court thus imposed the ACCA enhancement, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the residual clause in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). Because the residual clause could not be relied upon for the enhancement, Hammons sought to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. sec. 2255. On collateral review, the district court concluded that Hammons nevertheless qualified for the enhancement because his state-law convictions were violent felonies under the elements clause of the ACCA. The Tenth Circuit agreed, finding that a conviction under Oklahoma’s drive-by shooting statute categorically qualified as a violent felony under the elements clause of the ACCA. View "United States v. Hammons" on Justia Law

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In 2014, an FBI agent served a grand-jury subpoena on Defendant Dakota Williston while he was being held in jail on state charges unrelated to a crime that the grand jury was investigating. Williston appeared before the grand jury. Before the federal prosecutor began asking Williston any questions, he reviewed on the record Williston’s rights with him. Williston affirmed that he understood all that information. The prosecutor then moved on to his substantive questions, starting out by asking if Williston wanted to tell the grand jury his story. The prosecutor’s belief stemmed from Williston’s prior affirmation to the second FBI agent that he planned to testify rather than invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Williston then gave his account of the death of Payton Cockrell. Six months after Williston’s testimony, the grand jury indicted Williston for Payton’s murder. Williston filed a pretrial motion to suppress his grand-jury testimony. A magistrate judge recommended the denial of the motion, and the district court adopted the recommendation and denied the motion. Defendant argued that Miranda should have applied to protect grand-jury targets who were confined on unrelated criminal charges. Defendant argued that the district court erred at trial by not suppressing his grand-jury testimony, because the government failed to provide him Miranda warnings before that testimony. In rejecting defendant's argument, the Tenth Circuit held that the rule rendering Miranda inapplicable to grand-jury witnesses extended to persons who were incarcerated for unrelated reasons when they are subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. The Court also rejected Defendant’s other challenges to his conviction and sentence based on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, unfairly prejudicial evidence, the evidentiary rule of completeness, and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. View "United States v. Williston" on Justia Law