Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Defendant-Appellant Manuel Sandoval-Enrique petitioned to withdraw his guilty plea to one count of unlawfully reentering the United States after a previous removal. Sandoval-Enrique pled guilty without the benefit of any plea agreement. In seeking to withdraw that plea, Sandoval-Enrique argued the district court abused its discretion in rejecting two previous plea agreements he reached with the Government and then improperly inserted itself into the plea negotiations. The Tenth Circuit found no error that would permit Sandoval-Enrique to withdraw his guilty plea, and affirmed his conviction. View "United States v. Sandoval-Enrique" on Justia Law

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In addition to a generally applicable law of trespass, Wyoming enacted a pair of statutes imposing civil and criminal liability upon any person who “[c]rosses private land to access adjacent or proximate land where he collects resource data.” In light of the broad definitions provided in the statutes, the phrase “collects resource data” included numerous activities on public lands, such as writing notes on habitat conditions, photographing wildlife, or taking water samples, so long as an individual also records the location from which the data was collected. Plaintiff advocacy organizations, filed suit to challenge the 2015-enacted Wyoming statutes. The Tenth Circuit concluded the statutes regulated protected speech under the First Amendment and that they were not shielded from constitutional scrutiny merely because they touched upon access to private property. Although trespassing does not enjoy First Amendment protection, the statutes at issue target the “creation” of speech by imposing heightened penalties on those who collect resource data. Therefore, the Court reversed and remanded that the statutes were not entitled to First Amendment protection, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Western Watersheds v. Michael" on Justia Law

Posted in: Constitutional Law

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The district court revoked Andre Haymond’s supervised release based in part on a finding that Haymond knowingly possessed thirteen images of child pornography. The district court imposed the mandatory minimum sentence. Haymond appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that he possessed child pornography, and that 18 U.S.C. 3583(k) was unconstitutional because it violated his right to due process. The Tenth Circuit concluded the evidence was sufficient to support the district court’s finding that Haymond violated the conditions of his supervised release, but agreed that 18 U.S.C. 3583(k) was unconstitutional because it stripped the sentencing judge of discretion to impose punishment within the statutorily prescribed range, and it imposed heightened punishment on sex offenders based, not on their original crimes of conviction, but on new conduct for which they have not been convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. View "United States v. Haymond" on Justia Law

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Rodney Miller was sentenced as a career offender under the 1998 version of the Sentencing Guidelines, based in part on his prior conviction for a crime of violence. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), Miller filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255 to vacate his career-offender sentence, arguing his sentence violates due process. The court agreed the residual clause in the mandatory Guidelines did not survive “Johnson,” but it concluded that the rule was not substantive and therefore did not have retroactive effect on collateral review. Instead, the court reasoned, a rule invalidating the residual clause in the Guidelines alters only the methods used to determine whether a defendant should be sentenced as a career offender and therefore has a procedural function. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Miller’s motion, though for different reasons: even assuming Johnson extended to the mandatory Guidelines, and that the rule has substantive, retroactive effect, the residual clause was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Miller’s conduct. When Miller was sentenced, the commentary to the career-offender guideline designated robbery (Miller’s prior offense of conviction) as a crime of violence. Because Miller’s conduct was clearly proscribed, his vagueness challenge must fail on the merits. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In 2009, law-enforcement officials investigated a Mexican cocaine-trafficking operation extending into the Kansas City area. This led them to several suspects, including defendant-appellant Marvin Ellis, a low-level powder-cocaine buyer. In 2012, Kansas police arrested Ellis after he fled from a traffic stop. A federal grand jury charged Ellis with several drug and firearm felonies. The most serious charge against Ellis was for his conspiring with 49 other persons to manufacture, distribute, or possess with the intent to distribute at least 5 kilograms of powder cocaine and 280 grams of crack cocaine. After the jury convicted Ellis on all charges, the district court imposed consecutive sentences for the cocaine-conspiracy count and a firearm count and concurrent sentences for the remaining counts. Ellis received a sentence of life without release on the cocaine-conspiracy count (after applying a sentencing enhancement), a mandatory-minimum five-year term for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, and statutory maximum sentences on all remaining counts. Later, the district court revoked Ellis’s supervised release from a 2007 federal conviction and sentenced him to an additional consecutive 24 months’ imprisonment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Ellis’s cocaine-conspiracy conviction, but reversed the accompanying life-without-release sentence because; (1) the jury never found that Ellis was individually responsible for the charged amounts of powder or crack cocaine, either from his own acts or the reasonably foreseeable acts of his coconspirators; and (2) the government’s evidence did not show that omitting this element was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "United States v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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Defendant John Cone pleaded guilty to possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute, but he reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress the evidence seized from his car by a police officer during a traffic stop. His sole argument on appeal was that the officer exceeded the Fourth Amendment bounds of the stop by asking him about his criminal history and travel plans. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Cone" on Justia Law

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Defendants, various officials at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, appealed the district court’s entry of a permanent injunction related to the Department’s payment for air-ambulance services rendered to ill or injured individuals covered by the Wyoming Worker’s Compensation Act. Plaintiffs were several companies which provide air-ambulance services in Wyoming. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendants, arguing that the federal Airline Deregulation Act impermissibly regulated the price of air-ambulance services. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court agreed “that the Airline Deregulation Act preempt[ed] Wyoming Statute section 27-14-401(e) and Chapter 9, Section 8 of the Rules, Regulations and Fee Schedules of the Wyoming Workers’ Compensation Division to the extent the statute and regulation set compensation that air ambulances may receive for their services.” The court accordingly entered an injunction against Defendants. On appeal, Defendants challenge both the district court’s legal holding on the preemption question and the scope of the injunctive relief ordered in the amended judgment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s legal ruling that Wyoming Statute Section 27-14-401(e) and its associated rate schedule were precluded to the extent that they set forth a mandatory maximum reimbursement rate for air-ambulance claims. The Court also affirmed the initial order of injunctive relief entered in the district court’s initial judgment, permanently enjoining Defendants from enforcing the rate schedule against air-ambulance services. The Court reversed the amended judgment and the overbroad injunctive relief entered therein, leaving it for the state officials to determine, as a matter of state law, how Wyoming could and should administer its workers’ compensation program within the limitations set by federal law. View "EagleMed v. Cox" on Justia Law

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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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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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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