Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Defendant Delano Medina filed an application for habeas relief, seeking dismissal of the charges against him on the ground that he has been denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial. He apparently proceeded under 28 U.S.C. 2241 rather than under 28 U.S.C. 2255 because section 2255(a) required he be “[a] prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress.” At the time of his filing for relief, he had not yet been tried, much less sentenced. The district court dismissed Defendant’s application for failure to exhaust available remedies. He appealed, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. "Although there may be exceptional circumstances in which [section] 2241 is available to a federal prisoner awaiting trial in federal court, no such circumstances are present here." View "Medina v. Choate" on Justia Law

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Defendant Delano Medina filed an application for habeas relief, seeking dismissal of the charges against him on the ground that he has been denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial. He apparently proceeded under 28 U.S.C. 2241 rather than under 28 U.S.C. 2255 because section 2255(a) required he be “[a] prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress.” At the time of his filing for relief, he had not yet been tried, much less sentenced. The district court dismissed Defendant’s application for failure to exhaust available remedies. He appealed, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. "Although there may be exceptional circumstances in which [section] 2241 is available to a federal prisoner awaiting trial in federal court, no such circumstances are present here." View "Medina v. Choate" on Justia Law

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A jury found Steven Meisel guilty of distributing and possessing child pornography. On appeal, he argued the district court: (1) violated his right to present a complete defense by preventing him from adducing alternative perpetrator evidence; and (2) erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on “identity.” The Tenth Circuit affirmed: even assuming the district court erred in limiting Meisel’s ability to present alternative perpetrator evidence, any such error was harmless. And, since the jury instructions, considered as a whole, adequately conveyed to the jury the gist of Meisel’s defense, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give Meisel’s proffered instruction. View "United States v. Meisel" on Justia Law

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A jury found Steven Meisel guilty of distributing and possessing child pornography. On appeal, he argued the district court: (1) violated his right to present a complete defense by preventing him from adducing alternative perpetrator evidence; and (2) erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on “identity.” The Tenth Circuit affirmed: even assuming the district court erred in limiting Meisel’s ability to present alternative perpetrator evidence, any such error was harmless. And, since the jury instructions, considered as a whole, adequately conveyed to the jury the gist of Meisel’s defense, the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give Meisel’s proffered instruction. View "United States v. Meisel" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this appeal for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Petitioner Juan Lucio-Rayos’s municipal theft conviction qualified as a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”), which would have made him ineligible for cancellation of removal. Lucio-Rayos was convicted under a divisible municipal code provision that set forth several different theft offenses, some of which qualified as CIMTs and some of which did not. Applying a modified categorical approach, the Tenth Circuit determined it was not possible to tell which theft offense was the basis of Lucio-Rayos’s conviction. The Court held it was Lucio-Rayos’s burden to establish his eligibility for cancellation of removal, and because the record was inconclusive to this end, the Court upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”)’s determination that Lucio-Rayos did not show that he was eligible for cancellation of removal. Furthermore, the immigration judge (“IJ”) did not deprive Lucio-Rayos of due process by refusing to recuse from hearing his case. View "Lucio-Rayos v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this appeal for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Petitioner Juan Lucio-Rayos’s municipal theft conviction qualified as a crime involving moral turpitude (“CIMT”), which would have made him ineligible for cancellation of removal. Lucio-Rayos was convicted under a divisible municipal code provision that set forth several different theft offenses, some of which qualified as CIMTs and some of which did not. Applying a modified categorical approach, the Tenth Circuit determined it was not possible to tell which theft offense was the basis of Lucio-Rayos’s conviction. The Court held it was Lucio-Rayos’s burden to establish his eligibility for cancellation of removal, and because the record was inconclusive to this end, the Court upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”)’s determination that Lucio-Rayos did not show that he was eligible for cancellation of removal. Furthermore, the immigration judge (“IJ”) did not deprive Lucio-Rayos of due process by refusing to recuse from hearing his case. View "Lucio-Rayos v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Kenroy Benford of being a felon in possession of a firearm based on his constructive possession of a loaded pistol that police seized from an apartment bedroom he shared with his girlfriend. On appeal, Benford argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by admitting evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) about (i) his possession of a different firearm during a recent sidewalk confrontation, and (ii) text messages he had sent three months earlier suggesting he had firearms to trade; (2) letting the jury’s guilty verdict stand despite insufficient evidence that he had constructively possessed the pistol in the apartment by knowingly having the power to exercise dominion or control over the pistol; and (3) it incompletely instructed the jury on constructive possession by not advising the jury that it could convict only if it also found that Benford intended to exercise dominion or control over the pistol. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s evidentiary rulings and its denials of Benford’s motions for acquittal, but reversed and remanded for a new trial based on the erroneous jury instruction. View "United States v. Benford" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Kenroy Benford of being a felon in possession of a firearm based on his constructive possession of a loaded pistol that police seized from an apartment bedroom he shared with his girlfriend. On appeal, Benford argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by admitting evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) about (i) his possession of a different firearm during a recent sidewalk confrontation, and (ii) text messages he had sent three months earlier suggesting he had firearms to trade; (2) letting the jury’s guilty verdict stand despite insufficient evidence that he had constructively possessed the pistol in the apartment by knowingly having the power to exercise dominion or control over the pistol; and (3) it incompletely instructed the jury on constructive possession by not advising the jury that it could convict only if it also found that Benford intended to exercise dominion or control over the pistol. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s evidentiary rulings and its denials of Benford’s motions for acquittal, but reversed and remanded for a new trial based on the erroneous jury instruction. View "United States v. Benford" on Justia Law

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An Oklahoma jury convicted Emmanuel Littlejohn of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. In this case's first appearance before the Tenth Circuit, the district court found Littlejohn’s ineffective-assistance and cumulative-error claims (among twelve other bases for relief) meritless or procedurally barred. The Tenth Circuit addressed the declaration of Dr. Manual Saint Martin, a psychiatrist who diagnosed Littlejohn (for the first time) with undefined, synapse-level neurological deficits, or an organic brain disorder. Given that evidence, the Court reasoned that the disposition of Littlejohn’s ineffective-assistance claim, and derivatively, his cumulative-error claim, hinged on whether Dr. Saint Martin’s averments would prove worthy of belief, because “[e]vidence that an organic brain disorder was a substantial factor in engendering Mr. Littlejohn’s life of deviance probably would have been a significant favorable input for Mr. Littlejohn in the jury’s decisionmaking calculus” during the penalty phase. As a result, the case was remanded to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on whether Littlejohn’s trial counsel proved ineffective by failing to adequately investigate and present to the jury a mitigation theory of organic brain damage. On remand, the district court held an evidentiary hearing; the parties presented the testimony of various individuals - including Dr. Saint Martin and Littlejohn’s trial counsel. Following the hearing, the district court largely restated its earlier findings and again denied Littlejohn habeas relief on his ineffective-assistance and cumulative-error claims. Littlejohn appealed the district court’s judgment on remand. With the benefit of a more developed factual record relative to Littlejohn’s alleged organic brain damage, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed the district court. View "Littlejohn v. Royal" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant, Tito Ontiveros, appeals from the district court judgment resentencing him following the vacation of his original sentence as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v United States (“Johnson II”), 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). Ontiveros was convicted by jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing an unregistered firearm. After finding that Ontiveros qualified as an armed career criminal under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) for having committed three prior violent felonies, one of which fell under the “residual clause,” the district court sentenced Ontiveros to 382 months’ imprisonment. The sentence was affirmed on direct appeal. In 2015, the Supreme Court held that the ACCA’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague. At resentencing, the new presentence report (PSR) recommended a base offense level of 22 under section 2K2.1(a)(3) of the Sentencing Guidelines because Ontiveros had one prior felony conviction that counted as a crime of violence. The government objected, arguing that the base offense level should be 26 under section 2K2.1(a)(1) because Ontiveros had two prior crimes of violence. The government argued that Ontiveros’s 2007 conviction for Colorado second-degree assault, in violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-3-203(1)(g), also counted as a crime of violence. Ontiveros conceded that one of his prior convictions constituted a crime of violence but argued, relying on the Tenth Circuit’s decision in United States v. Perez-Vargas, 414 F.3d 1282 (2005), his Colorado second-degree assault conviction did not. The district court agreed with the government and, based on the higher offense level, sentenced Ontiveros to two concurrent 110-month sentences with a three-year term of supervised release. Ontiveros appealed, arguing that Colorado second-degree assault is not a “crime of violence.” Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "United States v. Ontiveros" on Justia Law