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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant Troy Gregory, a former senior vice president of University National Bank (UNB) in Lawrence, Kansas, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, four counts of bank fraud, and two counts of making false bank entries. These charges arose from Defendant’s arrangement of a $15.2 million loan by 26 banks to fund an apartment development by established clients of UNB. After a ten-day trial, including two days of deliberations, a jury found Defendant guilty on all counts except the conspiracy count, on which the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. The court sentenced Defendant to 60 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of: (1) his motion for a judgment of acquittal; and (2) his motion for a new trial on the ground that the government’s extended hypothetical in closing argument was not based on facts in evidence and constituted prosecutorial misconduct. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding defendant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence and the government’s closing argument was rooted in evidence presented at trial or reasonable inferences drawn from that evidence. View "United States v. Gregory" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Ralph Menzies was convicted of first-degree murder in Utah state court and sentenced to death. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the denial of his motion for a new trial, and then affirmed his conviction and death sentence. Menzies sought post-conviction relief, but the state courts rejected his claims. The state court decisions led Menzies to seek habeas relief in federal court. The federal district court denied relief, prompting Menzies to appeal. Finding no reversible error in the denial of habeas relief, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal district court. View "Menzies v. Powell" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the murder of a state inmate and conspiracy to murder two corrections officials. The government attributed the crimes to a prison gang, Sindicato de Nuevo Mexico (“SNM”), and charged many of its members under the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering Act (“VICAR”). After a six-week jury trial, three SNM members (Anthony Ray Baca, Daniel Sanchez, and Carlos Herrera) were convicted of: (1) conspiring to murder a fellow SNM member (Javier Molina) (Count 6);and (2) aiding and abetting that murder (Count 7). Baca was also convicted of conspiring to murder two corrections officials (Counts 9–10). The three defendants appealed, advancing eight arguments largely alleging multiple errors on the admission of evidence, the conduct of trial and the constitutionality of VICAR, taken cumulatively, required a new trial. Rejecting each argument, the Tenth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions. View "United States v. Herrera" on Justia Law

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Michael Winrow pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, which at the time of his plea. carried a maximum sentence of ten years. However, the Armed Career Criminal Act provided for a minimum term of 15 years when a defendant had three prior convictions for a “violent felony or a serious drug offense,” The district court sentenced Winrow to 188 months, concluding that he was subject to the ACCA’s enhancement because he had three qualifying predicates. Winrow argued on appeal the district court erred sentencing him: two of those convictions were for aggravated assault and battery under Okla. Stat. tit 21, § 646 (2011), and aggravated assault and battery, as Oklahoma defined it, was not categorically a violent felony, so his convictions under § 646 should not have counted as predicates. To this the Tenth Circuit agreed, remanded the case for the sentence to be vacated, and that he be resentenced without eh ACCA enhancement. View "United States v. Winrow" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Abasi Baker appealed a district court’s denial of his second or successive motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, challenging his convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). In March 2011, Baker was charged with numerous federal crimes in a multi-count indictment, including seven counts of Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951; seven counts of using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence (i.e., the Hobbs Act robberies), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and seven counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). After the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals authorized this motion based on the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019), and the district court denied it, the Tenth Circuit granted Baker a certificate of appealability (“COA”) on whether United States v. Melgar-Cabrera, 892 F.3d 1053 (10th Cir. 2018) was wrongly decided because Hobbs Act robbery would not qualify as a crime of violence either categorically under § 924(c)(3)(A) or under § 924(c)(3)(B) after Davis. Rather than directly address this issue, however, Baker, in his supplemental opening brief, requests that the Tenth Circuit exercise discretion to “expand” the COA to cover whether Baker was entitled to § 2255 relief because: (1) Hobbs Act robbery, when accomplished through threats to injure any property—tangible or intangible—was not a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3)(A); and (2) the Tenth Circuit's decision in United States v. Melgar-Cabrera, where the Court held Hobbs Act robbery categorically qualified as a crime of violence under § 924(c)(3)(A), did not bar his argument because it was inapposite. Moreover, during the pendency of this appeal, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Taylor, 142 S. Ct. 2015 (2022), holding that attempted Hobbs Act Robbery was not a crime of violence. After review, the Tenth Circuit denied Baker’s request to expand the COA and dismissed that portion of this matter, and remanded the case to allow the district court to determine in the first instance whether it was lawful and otherwise appropriate to permit Baker to amend his § 2255 motion to make a Taylor-like argument as to Count 11. View "United States v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Officer Denton Scherman of the Edmond, Oklahoma Police Department shot an unarmed assailant, Isaiah Lewis, four times. Lewis died as a result of his wounds. Plaintiffs, the representatives of Lewis’s estate, brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Defendant Scherman used excessive force against the decedent in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Scherman appealed the district court’s decision denying his motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding its jurisdiction was limited because at this intermediate stage of the litigation, and controlling precedent generally precluded the Court from reviewing a district court’s factual findings if those findings have (as they did here) at least minimal support in the record. In such case, “[t]hose facts explicitly found by the district court, combined with those that it likely assumed, . . . form the universe of facts upon which we base our legal review of whether [a] defendant[] [is] entitled to qualified immunity.” The Tenth Circuit's review was de novo; Defendant Scherman did not dispute the facts recited by the district court, when viewed in a light most favorable to Plaintiffs, sufficed to show a violation of the decedent’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. What Scherman did dispute was the district court’s holding that the law was clearly established at the time of the incident such “that every reasonable [officer] would have understood” Scherman’s actions, given the facts knowable to him, violated decedent’s constitutional right. The Tenth Circuit concluded Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of showing the law was clearly established such “that every reasonable [officer] would have understood” that the force Scherman used against Lewis was excessive under the facts presented at trial. The judgment of the district court denying Defendant Scherman qualified immunity is reversed and this case is remanded for entry of judgment in his favor. View "Lewis, et al. v. City of Edmond, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Delila Pacheco was convicted in Oklahoma of first-degree child-abuse murder. She petitioned for relief to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, filing an application under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. While her application was pending, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Murphy v. Royal, 875 F.3d 896 (10th Cir. 2017), holding that a large portion of the State of Oklahoma was “Indian country” for purposes of the Major Crimes Act, which provided for exclusive federal jurisdiction over certain enumerated crimes committed by Indians in “Indian country.” Pacheco, an Indian found to have committed a serious crime at a location since determined to be on an Indian reservation, sought to amend her application to assert a claim that the state courts lacked jurisdiction over the offense. The district court denied the request to amend on the ground that the new claim was time-barred. The Tenth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability (COA) on this issue. Pacheco argued on appeal: (1) that the time bar to her jurisdictional claim should be excused under the actual-innocence exception; and, alternatively, (2) that the statute of limitations reset when the Supreme Court declared the underlying law in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020), rendering timely her request to amend. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding Pacheco’s jurisdictional argument did not show actual innocence, and McGirt did not announce a new constitutional right. View "Pacheco v. El Habti" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Gregory Williams appealed after he pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He claimed: (1) his sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court incorrectly calculated his base offense level under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and the district court clearly erred in its drug-quantity calculation by holding him accountable for alleged packages of methamphetamine on which the government presented no evidence; and (2) the district court imposed an illegal sentence by erroneously applying the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) enhancement: his prior Oklahoma convictions for distributing a controlled dangerous substance were not categorically “serious drug offenses” under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(A)(ii) because his state offenses applied to hemp, and hemp was not a federally controlled substance at the time of his federal offense. The Tenth Circuit agreed with defendant on both issues, vacated the judgment and remanded fr resentencing. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Larry Johnson was convicted by a jury for possessing a firearm and possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute. He sought to overturn his firearms convictions, arguing the trial court erred in instructing the jury on constructive possession. The Tenth Circuit found no plain error, finding that had the jury been given the proper instruction, it would have concluded nonetheless Johnson had both actual and constructive possession of the firearm: after police pulled Johnson over for a traffic violation, they saw a black pistol on the driver's seat where he had been sitting. "Johnson had been exerting physical control over the firearm by sitting on it." Further, the Court found Johnson was in constructive possession of the firearm based on physical contact; the fact the firearm was loaded; his previous statement admitting to possessing a firearm to aid in drug trafficking; and his simultaneous possession of drugs for distribution. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In August 2019, Defendant-Appellant Francis Woody was tried and convicted of one count of aggravated sexual abuse, and two counts of abusive sexual contact. The district court sentenced him to life imprisonment on each count to run concurrently. Woody appealed his convictions, asserting that the district court should have suppressed his statements to federal agents because the agents violated his constitutional rights and, separately, should have excluded certain testimony as inadmissible hearsay. Woody also challenged his life sentence as substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no merit in these arguments and thus affirmed Woody’s convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Woody" on Justia Law