Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Defendant James Woods, a detective in the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, was informed by Utah’s Unified Fire Authority (“UFA”) that medications, including opioids and sedatives, were missing from several UFA ambulances. Detective Woods accessed a state database and searched the prescription drug records of 480 UFA employees in an effort to “develop suspect leads of those who have the appearance of Opioid dependencies.” Consistent with Utah law at the time, Woods did not obtain a search warrant before accessing the Database. Based on the information Woods obtained from the Database search, he developed suspicions about Plaintiffs Ryan Pyle and Marlon Jones. Neither Plaintiff, however, was ever prosecuted for the thefts from the ambulances. Plaintiffs brought separate lawsuits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, each challenging Defendants’ conduct as violative of the Fourth Amendment and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). In both suits, the district court dismissed the claims against Defendant Woods, concluding Woods was entitled to qualified immunity because the law governing warrantless access to prescription drug information by law enforcement was not clearly established. The district court also dismissed the FCRA claims because Defendants’ actions fit within an exemption set out in the Act. In Jones’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against the city of Cottonwood Heights with prejudice because Jones’s complaint failed to state a claim for municipal liability plausible on its face. In Pyle’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against Cottonwood Heights without prejudice, concluding Pyle failed to notify the Utah Attorney General of those claims as required by Rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pyle and Jones each appealed. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1291, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgments. View "Pyle v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Darnell O’Connor pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), which bars felons from possessing firearms. The Government argued O’Connor’s sentence should have been enhanced under section 2K2.1(a)(4)(A) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines because he had a prior felony conviction for robbery, which was deemed a “crime of violence.” The district court agreed and sentenced O’Connor to 32 months in prison. On appeal, O’Connor argued his prior robbery conviction was not a “crime of violence” under the Guidelines. The Tenth Circuit agreed, vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. O'Connor" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kenneth Hardin was the senior manager of the Civil Rights Division for the Regional Transportation District in Colorado (RTD). Lucilious Ward was the owner–operator of a busing company that had been certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise and Small Business Enterprise. Ward was also a manufacturing representative for a Chinese manufacturer of automobiles and rechargeable batteries. In 2008, Ward’s busing company contracted with RTD as a service provider for a program that provided local bus transportation in Denver for people with disabilities. From that point on, Ward paid Defendant monthly bribes in exchange for his help. When the "Access-a-Ride" contract expired in 2014 and Ward received his final check, Defendant called Ward to request an additional, final payment of $1,100. Unbeknownst to Defendant, Ward had pled guilty to tax evasion. Hoping to receive a reduced sentence in his tax case, Ward relayed Defendant’s request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which began using him as a confidential informant to investigate Defendant for bribery. Defendant was indicted on four counts relating to committing bribery involving a program that receives federal funds. The four counts correlated to four meetings he had with Ward about RTD’s request for proposal for a shuttle-bus contract. Count 1 charged Defendant with accepting a bribe of $1,100; he was acquitted on this count. However, the jury found Defendant guilty as to Counts 2–4, which were based on Ward’s bribes relating to the proposed shuttle-bus contract. After return of the guilty verdicts, Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that, because of his acquittal on Count 1, the government had not shown that the bribes he solicited met the $5,000 threshold set by statute. The district court denied Defendant’s motion, holding that the jury could reasonably have concluded that the bribes were intended to influence the selection of bids for the shuttle-bus contract and that the value of this contract exceeded $5,000. Defendant timely appealed. View "United States v. Hardin" on Justia Law

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The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) closed an area of Recapture Canyon to all-terrain vehicles (“ATVs”) in 2007, to prevent soil damage and the spoliation of archeological resources near the trail. Frustrated with what had been billed as a temporary closure, in 2014, certain individuals planned an ATV ride to protest the BLM’s closure order. The ride took place in May 2014. Defendant-appellant Phil Lyman, a County Commissioner for San Juan County, was a major promoter of the ride. He was charged along with Defendant-appellant Monte Wells in a misdemeanor criminal information with operating ATVs on lands closed to such use by the BLM and conspiring to do so. A jury found both men guilty of the charged offenses, for which they were sentenced them to terms of probation and brief terms of imprisonment. They were also ordered to pay restitution for the costs of assessing and repairing the damage that the protest ride caused to the land. On appeal, defendants brought a variety of challenges to their convictions and the restitution order: asking ask for a new trial because they claimed a reasonable observer allegedly would have questioned the district court judge’s impartiality (the judge did ultimately recuse before their sentencing). Furthermore, they appealed the denial of their motions to dismiss; they made a “Brady” claim stemming from the government’s failure to produce a map showing a possible public right-of-way through Recapture Canyon (which allegedly would have called into question whether the BLM’s 2007 closure order was lawful); they challenged the district court’s restitution order and the amount they were ordered to pay; and, lastly, Lyman argued he was denied constitutionally adequate counsel. The Tenth Circuit found none of defendants’ arguments were grounds for reversal of the district court’s judgment, and affirmed. View "United States v. Wells" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kathleen Stegman was convicted by a jury of two counts of evading her personal taxes for the tax years 2007 and 2008. Stegman was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 51 months, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. The district court also ordered Stegman to pay a $100,000 fine, plus restitution in the amount of $68,733. Stegman established several limited liability corporations pertaining to a “medical aesthetics” business she owned, using these corporations to effectively launder client payments. As part of this process, Stegman would use the corporations to purchase money orders, typically in denominations of $500 or less, that she in turn used to purchase items for personal use. In 2007, Stegman purchased 162 money orders totaling $77,181.92. In 2008, she purchased 252 money orders totaling $121,869.99. And in 2009, she purchased 157 money orders totaling $73,697.31. Notably, Stegman reported zero cash income on her federal income tax returns during each of these years. At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury convicted Stegman of evading her personal taxes for the tax years 2007 and 2008 (Counts 4 and 5), as well as evading corporate taxes for the tax years 2008 and 2009 (Counts 1 and 2). The jury acquitted Stegman of evading corporate taxes for the tax year 2010 (Count 3). The jury also acquitted Stegman and Smith of the conspiracy charge (Count 6). Stegman moved for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. The district court granted the motion as to the two counts that related to the evasion of corporate taxes (Counts 1 and 2), but denied the remainder of the motion. In doing so, the district court chose to acquit Stegman of the corporate tax evasion counts not due to a lack of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this corporation evaded taxes,” but rather because “the indictment itself was flawed in attributing the loss as due and owing by Ms. Stegman, when actually it was due and owing by the corporation.” Stegman raised five issues on appeal, four of which pertain to her convictions and one of which pertained to her sentence. Although several of these issues require extensive discussion due to their fact-intensive nature, the Tenth Circuit concluded that all of these issues lacked merit. View "United States v. Stegman" on Justia Law

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Michael Snyder moved for immediate release from federal custody on the basis that he has already served more than the maximum sentence allowed by law for his crimes. He argued the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), invalidated his sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The district court denied Snyder’s motion. The Tenth Circuit concluded Snyder timely asserted a Johnson claim and has established cause and prejudice to avoid procedural default, but his claim failed on the merits because, after examination of the record and the relevant background legal environment, the Court determined that he was not sentenced based on the ACCA’s residual clause that was invalidated in Johnson. View "United States v. Snyder" on Justia 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