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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Mark Porter shouted racial epithets at Lucas Waldvogel, a seven-year-old African American who lived in Porter’s apartment complex. After hearing Porter’s language, the boy’s father, Michael Waldvogel, confronted Porter, who then assaulted Waldvogel with a stun cane. Shortly thereafter, Waldvogel and his family moved out of the complex. A jury convicted Porter of interfering with Waldvogel’s housing because of Waldvogel’s race, a violation of the Fair Housing Act. The district court sentenced Porter to nine months in prison. He appealed his conviction, and the Government cross-appealed his sentence. On direct appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Porter argued: (1) the evidence was insufficient to show he assaulted Waldvogel because of his race; (2) the district court plainly erred by allowing the prosecution’s opening statement and closing arguments, the trial evidence, and the jury instructions to make it likely that the jury convicted him for his actions against Lucas rather than Michael Waldvogel, thereby constructively amending the indictment. The Government argued the district court erred in calculating Porter’s sentence. Based on its review of the trial evidence, the Tenth Circuit held a reasonable jury could find Porter guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court found the presentations at trial clearly identified Michael Waldvogel as the alleged victim. The Tenth Circuit agreed the district court erred when it failed to apply a base level of 10 under the applicable sentencing Guideline when Porter’s offense involved “the use or threat of force against a person.” The conviction was affirmed, but the sentence vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Porter" on Justia Law

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After obtaining his oral consent, law enforcement officials executed a search of William Warwick’s home, looking for a potentially dangerous fugitive. The officers found the fugitive hiding in a closet, and noticed several firearms as well. Warwick claimed the weapons as his own, and, after the officers learned he had a previous felony conviction, they asked him a second time for consent to search the house - this time to secure the firearms. Warwick signed a consent form, and agents discovered ammunition and illegal drugs in addition to the guns. Warwick was charged with unlawful possession of firearms and drugs. At the district court, Warwick argued the evidence was illegally obtained, claiming he never gave oral consent and that his written consent was not voluntary. The district court denied his motion to suppress the evidence, finding he gave valid consent to the searches. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Warwick" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Stormy Bob Griffith timely filed a counseled notice of appeal challenging his conviction and sentence. He was subsequently appointed different counsel, who later moved to withdraw from the case under Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), asserting there were no non-frivolous grounds for appeal. Thereafter, he appealed pro se. Defendant and his then-wife lived on acreage near Cedaredge, Colorado, where they grew marijuana plants. Ms. Griffith stated that both she and defendant held prescriptions for medical marijuana, which allowed each of them to have 99 marijuana plants. On September 27, 2016, and again on October 2, 2016, law-enforcement officials were called to defendant’s property about shots being fired. Both times officers observed defendant carrying a weapon. Defendant told the responding officers that he was shooting in self-defense or for target practice. On October 4, 2016, authorities executed a search warrant on the property, where they found 478 marijuana plants and 92 kilograms of processed marijuana, as well as 28 firearms and ammunition. A grand jury returned an indictment charging defendant with knowingly and intentionally possessing and conspiring to distribute with the intent to distribute, 50 kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana and 50 or more marijuana plants. A jury convicted him on all counts, and on October 10, 2017, the district court sentenced him to 97 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Defendant argued on appeal the United States lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him. The Tenth Circuit determined much of his argument is unintelligible: from what could be discerned, he contended: (1) the federal Commerce Clause did not confer jurisdiction to prosecute criminal violations; (2) the Tenth Amendment prohibited the federal government from enacting and enforcing criminal laws; (3) he was a “living Flesh and Blood man;” (4) the federal government did not have common-law jurisdiction to prosecute crimes; (5) Congress improperly gave power to a corporation known as the United States of America, whose “special laws—US code etc., were private to the foreign corporation (USA), had no authority over the several Union States of the Republic and/or State Zoned Citizen(s);” and (6) “to establish Article III original jurisdiction and standing, a contract must be introduced into the record when the complaint was filed on October 19, 2016.” The Tenth Circuit denied relief on all those contentions that could be discerned, and dismissed as moot defendant’s pro se application for appeal. View "United States v. Griffith" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Jermaine Patton was the getaway driver in a string of armed robberies that ended in his arrest. An hour after defendant’s arrest, his associate shot a police detective who was investigating the pair’s most recent robbery. Patton pled guilty to: (1) aiding and abetting Hobbs Act robbery; and (2) carrying of a firearm during the robbery. To account for the shooting, the district court increased his United States Sentencing Guidelines advisory sentencing range by applying: (1) U.S.S.G. 2B3.1(b)(3)(C) (“the Robbery Guideline”) for infliction of “[p]ermanent or [l]ife-[t]hreatening [b]odily [i]njury;” and (2) U.S.S.G. 3A1.2(c)(1) (“the Official Victim Guideline”) for assault on a law enforcement officer. Patton challenged the district court’s application of these Guidelines, arguing: (1) the Robbery Guideline did not apply because the shooting was not his relevant conduct under U.S.S.G. 1B1.3(a)(1)(B) (“the Relevant Conduct Guideline”); and (2) the Official Victim Guideline did not apply because: (a) the shooting was not his relevant conduct; (b) he was not “otherwise accountable” for the shooting; and (c) it did not occur during “immediate flight” from the robbery. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s application of the guidelines, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jose Luis Eliseo Arias-Quijada entered a conditional guilty plea to illegal reentry into the United States. He reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his Motion to Assert a Defense of Duress. In this appeal, Arias-Quijada challenged the denial of his motion, arguing he presented sufficient evidence to create a triable issue on the affirmative defense of duress. He specifically challenged the district court’s conclusion that he failed to make a bona fide effort to surrender to immigration authorities once the alleged duress lost its coercive force. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying Arias-Quijada's motion. View "United States v. Arias-Quijada" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ronald Detro Winder was serving a three-year prison sentence for possession of firearms by a convicted felon. He appealed his sentence, arguing that the district court erred by concluding that his prior conviction in Wyoming for felony interference with a peace officer in 2012, was a crime of violence under section 4B1.2(a)(1) (2016) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Winder" on Justia Law

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Marco Antonio Cortes-Gomez was indicted with two codefendants on counts related to a methamphetamine conspiracy (“Cortes-Gomez I”). His trial began on November 29, 2016. The interim included two superseding indictments, dismissal of the indictment and the filing of a new one with identical charges (“Cortes-Gomez II”), the addition of two codefendants, and various continuances and delays that the district court found to be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 (“STA”). Ultimately, 329 days passed between Cortes- Gomez’s arraignment and the beginning of his trial. A jury found Cortes-Gomez guilty on both counts. He appealed, contending that the delay between his arraignment and trial violated his statutory and constitutional rights to a speedy trial. He also challenged the district court’s refusal to provide his requested jury instruction regarding accomplice testimony and its application of two sentencing enhancements. The Tenth Circuit concluded there was no violation of Speedy Trial, and the trial court record contained sufficient support for Cortes-Gomez’s conviction, and affirmed. View "United States v. Cortes-Gomez" on Justia Law

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Jon Julian Cabral pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. The district court sentenced him to forty-six months’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release. Among other supervised-release conditions, the court imposed Standard Condition Twelve, which allowed a probation officer to require Cabral to notify third parties if the probation officer determined Cabral poses a risk to them. Apart from a reference to “making sure the public is protected,” the district court gave little guidance on how the probation officer should determine whether Cabral posed a risk to another person. Cabral challenged Standard Condition Twelve, arguing it was unconstitutionally vague and impermissibly delegated judicial power to a probation officer. The Tenth Circuit declined review, finding its “prudential ripeness doctrine” prevented it from reaching his vagueness challenge. However, his improper-delegation challenge was ripe for review, and the Court held the risk-notification condition, as imposed by the district court, improperly delegated judicial power to a probation officer. View "United States v. Cabral" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ronson Bush was an Oklahoma state prisoner who pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. After exhausting his state court remedies by way of a direct appeal and an application for state post-conviction relief, Bush filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court denied Bush’s petition, and also denied him a certificate of appealability (COA). Bush appealed and the Tenth Circuit subsequently granted him a COA with respect to five issues. Bush argued: (1) the state trial court violated his due process rights by allowing the prosecution to make an offer of proof from a jailhouse informant regarding incriminating statements allegedly made by Bush; (2) the admission of improper victim impact testimony, including requests by the victim’s family members for the death penalty, violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments’; (3) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the admission of the unconstitutional victim impact testimony; (4) his direct appeal counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the constitutionality of an Oklahoma statute that bars capital defendants who plead guilty from being sentenced by a jury; and (5) cumulative error. Taking each issue in turn, the Tenth Circuit ultimately affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas relief. View "Bush v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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This case was a direct criminal appeal of defendant Scott Bishop’s convictions on one count of unlawfully manufacturing machineguns, and one count of unlawfully possessing or transferring machineguns. Defendant designed and manufactured a device, referred to as a TCGTR, that he intended his customers to install in their AR-15 semiautomatic rifles to increase the speed at which their guns fired. The government offered evidence that the TCGTR was a machinegun because it increased an AR-15’s rate of fire by causing the gun to fire multiple bullets per pull of the trigger. Defendant, who proceeded pro se at trial, took the stand in his own defense and testified that he did not intend the TCGTR to convert an AR-15 into a machinegun. The district court excluded portions of Defendant’s testimony after finding that it was expert testimony not properly disclosed to the government. Defendant, represented by counsel on appeal, argued that the jury’s verdict should have been set aside because the district court denied him his constitutional right to present a defense, erred when instructing the jury on the elements of a § 5861(a) offense, improperly admitted hearsay testimony about the legality of the TCGTR, and allowed unsupported expert testimony on an ultimate issue of fact. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Bishop" on Justia Law