Articles Posted in Criminal 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

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Plaintiff Homaidan Al-Turki was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, sentenced by a Colorado state court to a term of eight years to life. He wished to serve the remainder of his time in prison in his home country. A treaty permitted this, but required approval of the State, the federal government, and the foreign nation. Plaintiff alleged he received approval from the proper state official but Defendants (several state and federal officials) then provided false derogatory information to the State that caused it to revoke its approval. He filed suit in the federal district court contending Defendants had violated his right to procedural due process under the federal Constitution by not providing him a hearing to clear his name before revoking the approval. He sought an injunction requiring he be granted a judicial hearing to clear his name and that Defendants not repeat the false allegations against him. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, and the district court granted the motion. After review, the Tenth Circuit concurred: “The stigma that results from defamation by public officials is alone insufficient to implicate procedural due process; the defamation must also have caused an alteration in the plaintiff’s legal status—that is, there must be ‘stigma plus.’ But Plaintiff has not adequately alleged a plus factor here, because he suffered no change in legal status as a result of Defendants’ alleged stigmatizing comments. Therefore, constitutional due process did not require that he be granted a hearing before the State’s final decision against his transfer to a prison in Saudi Arabia.” View "Al-Turki v. Tomsic" on Justia Law

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Defendant Storm Michael Bellamy was under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF") for suspected methamphetamine distribution. Defendant's housemate ordered him out of the house; twelve hours later, ATF agents executed a search warrant on the premises. In Bellamy’s former bedroom, agents discovered his personal effects, a rifle with a loaded large-capacity magazine attached, and a second large-capacity magazine nearby. Defendant pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The district court applied United States Sentencing Guidelines 2K2.1(a)(4)(B), which established a base offense level of 20 when a convicted felon possessed a semiautomatic firearm with a large-capacity magazine that was either attached or in close proximity to the firearm. Defendant was sentenced to 40 months in prison. On appeal, defendant challenged the procedural reasonableness of his sentence: because he was ejected from the house, he argues he did not possess the rifle when agents seized. He also claimed there was insufficient evidence to show that the rifle he possessed earlier that morning had a large-capacity magazine attached or in close proximity to it. The Tenth Circuit found ample support in the district court record to support the finding defendant possessed the rifle and the large-capacity magazines. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing him. View "United States v. Bellamy" on Justia Law

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Troy Kell sought habeas relief, but he had not exhausted two of his claims in state court. The unexhausted claims created what the Tenth Circuit characterized as a Catch-22 for Kell: risking a dismissal of all of his claims without an opportunity to timely refile. The district court entered a limited stay, halting proceedings on one of the unexhausted claims while Kell returned to state court to exhaust the claim. For the remaining habeas claims, however, the district court continued with the proceedings. In the midst of the ongoing habeas proceedings in district court, Utah appealed the grant of a stay, arguing that the district court should have declined to grant a stay. To establish jurisdiction, Utah relied on the collateral-order doctrine, which allowed appeals from some decisions before the entry of a final judgment. But the Tenth Circuit found the district court’s issuance of a stay did not satisfy the collateral-order doctrine’s requirements, so it dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. View "Kell v. Benzon" on Justia Law

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Wendy and Daryl Yurek were charged with tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud. After a joint jury trial, the Yureks were convicted on both offenses. The district court then sentenced Mrs. Yurek to a prison term of 27 months, leading her to appeal the conviction and sentence. On appeal, Mrs. Yurek challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against her, and claimed the district court erred in denying her motions for severance and a new trial. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part: affirming Mrs. Yurek’s conviction, but vacated her sentence. The Court determined the district court applied the wrong test when deciding whether to grant a mitigating-role adjustment. View "United States v. Yurek (Wendy)" on Justia Law

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Charles Farrar, a Colorado state prisoner, appealed the district court’s denial of his petition for habeas relief. Farrar’s convictions stemmed from complaints of sexual abuse. The victim was Farrar’s stepdaughter, who complained of the alleged abuse when she was in the eighth grade. Based on the girl’s account, state officials charged Farrar with over twenty counts. Farrar denied the allegations. At the trial, the girl’s testimony supplied the prosecution’s only direct evidence of Farrar’s guilt. The jury found Mr. Farrar guilty of numerous counts of sexual assault and one count of child abuse, and the state trial court sentenced Mr. Farrar to prison for a minimum of 145 years and a maximum of life. In district court, Farrar claimed: actual innocence, deprivation of due process based on the recantation of a key prosecution witness, and deprivation of due process based on a state appellate decision establishing an overly restrictive standard for a new trial. The district court denied relief, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed based on three conclusions: (1) actual innocence did not supply a freestanding basis for habeas relief; (2) a private citizen’s false testimony did not violate the Constitution unless the government knew that the testimony is false; (3) the alleged error in the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision did not justify habeas relief. View "Farrar v. Raemisch" on Justia Law