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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Defendant-Appellant Petrona Gaspar-Miguel appealed a district court’s affirmance of her conviction for entering the United States. On appeal, she contended the district court’s conclusion that she “entered” the United States even though she was under the constant surveillance of a border patrol agent was contrary to established law defining “entry.” The Tenth Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Gaspar-Miguel" on Justia Law

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Marques Davis was an inmate at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility (“HCF”) from June 2016 until his death in April 2017. During the course of his confinement, Davis suffered from constant neurological symptoms, the cause of which went untreated by HCF medical personnel. When he eventually died from Granulomatous Meningoencephalitis, Davis’s estate (“the Estate”) brought federal and state law claims against Corizon Health, Inc. and numerous health care professionals who interacted with Davis during his incarceration. One such medical professional, Dr. Sohaib Mohiuddin, filed a qualified-immunity-based motion to dismiss the Estate’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim. The district court denied the motion, concluding the complaint set out a clearly established violation of Davis’s right to be free from deliberate indifference to the need for serious medical care. Mohiuddin appealed, arguing the district court erred in determining the complaint’s conclusory and collective allegations stated a valid Eighth Amendment claim as to him. Upon de novo review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the complaint did not state a valid deliberate indifference claim as to Mohiuddin. Thus, it reversed the denial of Mohiuddin’s motion to dismiss and remanded the matter to the district court for further proceedings. View "Walker v. Corizon Health" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jason Garcia appealed the sentence he received after pleading guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to ninety-six months in prison. He claimed the district court erred in considering his earlier possession of two handguns as relevant conduct and that the sentence the court imposed on him was substantively unreasonable. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Garcia’s challenges: the Court reviewed Garcia’s relevant-conduct argument for plain error and concluded that the district court did not plainly err in treating his prior incident of handgun possession as relevant conduct as to his offense of conviction; and (2) the district court’s sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jeremias Robertson pled guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon, and was sentenced to a term of 84 months’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release. On appeal he challenged the district court’s findings that he pointed a gun at an officer, thereby resulting in a four-level enhancement for use or possession of a firearm in connection with another felony offense (aggravated assault with a deadly weapon), and a six-level enhancement for assaulting the officer in a manner creating a substantial risk of bodily injury. To the Tenth Circuit, he argued: (1) the district court should have required proof by clear and convincing evidence; (2) under any standard of proof, the evidence did not support the district court’s findings; and (3) the district court erroneously drew a negative inference from his silence at the sentencing hearing. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and sentence. View "United States v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Edward Fields pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of first degree murder, two counts of using a firearm during a federal crime of violence causing the death of a person, and two counts of assimilative crime. Fields was sentenced by jury to death on each of the two murder convictions, and to significant terms of imprisonment on each of the remaining convictions. After completing the direct appeal process, Fields initiated proceedings before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals by filing a motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court denied Fields’s petition, and also denied him a certificate of appealability (COA). The Tenth Circuit subsequently granted Fields a COA with respect to four issues. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded to the district court with directions to conduct an evidentiary hearing on Fields’s claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately investigate and present at trial evidence of his organic brain damage. View "United States v. Fields" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Adama Matumona was a native and citizen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He petitioned the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review of a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision to deny his application for asylum and withholding of removal. Regarding asylum, Petitioner argued the BIA: (1) erred in determining that he had firmly resettled in Angola, which barred him from applying for asylum; and (2) engaged in improper factfinding in determining he was ineligible for an exception to the firm-resettlement bar. On withholding of removal, he argued the BIA improperly rejected his claims of past persecution and a well-founded fear of future persecution. Furthermore, Petitioner contended his due-process rights and his statutory right to a fair hearing were violated by the failure of the immigration judge (IJ) to adequately develop the record and to implement appropriate safeguards for a pro se litigant detained in a remote facility. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed on all issues except that the Court remanded to the BIA to consider Petitioner’s claim that he was entitled to withholding of removal because of the alleged pattern or practice of the DRC government of persecuting persons with Petitioner’s political views. View "Matumona v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Following his conviction by jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm, Jared Faulkner failed to object to the Presentence Investigation Report’s (“PSR”) conclusion that his prior Oklahoma felony of endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine qualified as a predicate “controlled substance offense” for purposes of base offense level computation. As a result, the district court adopted the PSR in full and sentenced Faulkner to a guidelines-range, 96-month term of imprisonment. On appeal, Faulkner contended the district court plainly erred by finding that his prior conviction qualified as a “controlled substance offense” as that term is defined by the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Although it was error to treat Faulkner’s conviction for endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine as a controlled substance offense for purposes of base offense level computation, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the error was not plain or obvious. The district court was thus affirmed. View "United States v. Faulkner" on Justia Law

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In 1991, at age three, petitioner Karen Robles-Garcia was admitted to the United States as a nonimmigrant visitor authorized to remain in this country for up to seventy-two hours and to travel within twenty-five miles of the Mexican border. She stayed longer and traveled further than permitted. In 2008, DHS served Robles-Garcia with a Notice to Appear (“NTA”), the document that the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") issues an immigrant to initiate removal proceedings, charging her with violating her visitor permissions from almost seventeen years earlier. Robles-Garcia admitted the five factual allegations charged in the NTA and conceded she was removable. But she applied for cancellation of removal and adjustment of her status, asserting that her removal would work an “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” on her two children, 8 U.S.C. 1229b(b)(1)(D), who were U.S. citizens. Relying on Pereira v. Sessions, 138 S. Ct. 2105 (2018), Robles-Garcia argued for the first time that the immigration judge who initially presided over her removal proceedings never acquired jurisdiction over those proceedings because DHS initiated those proceedings by serving Robles-Garcia with a defective Notice to Appear. Because Robles-Garcia had not yet made that argument to the IJ or the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), it was unexhausted and the Tenth Circuit determined it lacked jurisdiction to address it. In addition, Robles-Garcia argued the BIA erred in concluding that she was ineligible to apply for discretionary cancellation of removal. The Tenth Circuit upheld that determination because Robles-Garcia was unable to show that a theft conviction was not a disqualifying crime involving moral turpitude. The Court therefore denied Robles-Garcia’s petition for review challenging the BIA’s determination that she was ineligible for cancellation of removal, and dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction to the extent that it asserted the Pereira question. View "Robles-Garcia v. Barr" on Justia Law

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In 2018, a burglar broke into H&H Pawn Gun & Tool (H&H) and stole a substantial amount of property. An inventory revealed that 62 firearms were among the property stolen. Of the 62 firearms, only 13 to 15 were eventually recovered. A subsequent investigation by the sheriff’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led to Stoney Mendenhall. Numerous pieces of evidence suggested Mendenhall committed the burglary. Notwithstanding this evidence and for reasons not stated in the record, Mendenhall was not charged with burglary. Instead, in a single-count indictment, a grand jury only charged Mendenhall with “knowingly possess[ing], receiv[ing] and conceal[ing] a stolen firearm.” Mendenhall pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing and concealing the firearms listed on the indictment. In the plea colloquy, he did not go further and accept guilt for the burglary or other related acts. Mendenhall did not object to any provision of the PSR at sentencing. The district court sentenced Mendenhall to 34 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release and ordered Mendenhall to pay restitution to H&H in the amount recommended by the PSR. At issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case was the appropriate scope of the restitution order. Relying on controlling Supreme Court precedent, the Tenth Circuit concluded Congress authorized restitution only “for the loss caused by the specific conduct that is the basis of the offense of conviction.” In ordering restitution for losses related to, but not arising directly from, defendant’s offense of conviction, the district court exceeded the range of restitution authorized by the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "United States v. Mendenhall" on Justia Law

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Daniel Rodriguez appealed his sentence for a supervised release violation, arguing the district court misapplied Colorado law in determining the grade of his offense under the Guidelines. Rodriguez was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and he was sentenced to 51 months’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release. Rodriguez began his term of supervised release on May 10, 2018. On October 4, 2018, Mr. Rodriguez’s probation officer petitioned the district court for an arrest warrant and revocation of Rodriguez’s supervised release, alleging, among other violations, two instances of “possession and use of a controlled substance.” The district court determined, over Rodriguez’s objection, that Rodriguez’s conduct constituted possession of cocaine under Colorado law, an offense punishable by more than one year’s imprisonment, and was therefore a Grade B violation of his supervised release conditions. The district court declined to analyze whether Rodriguez’s conduct would have constituted a Grade B or a Grade C violation under federal law. It sentenced Rodriguez to 21 months’ imprisonment (the Government’s recommended sentence, at the low end of the Grade B range). Explaining its choice of sentence, the district court emphasized the danger Rodriguez posed to the public because of his history of repeated drug use while in possession of a firearm. On appeal, Rodriquez argued the district court improperly classified his conduct as a Grade B violation rather than a Grade C because it wrongly determined his conduct was punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year under Colorado law. Because the district court could have reached the same result by applying federal law, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law