Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Defendant Lucio Lozano was charged with involvement in a multi-year cocaine trafficking conspiracy between individuals in Mexico and Colorado. In October 2017, defendant pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He was subsequently sentenced to 180 months imprisonment and five years supervised release. He challenged the district court’s application of two sentencing enhancements: (1) a two-level guidelines increase for maintaining a premise for the purpose of distributing a controlled substance, and (2) a three-level aggravated role enhancement. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Lozano" on Justia Law

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Arnold Jones pleaded guilty to child abuse for driving on a reservation while intoxicated with his minor son in the car. He entered a guilty plea both before a tribal court and, after serving his tribal sentence, before a federal district court. Although child abuse itself was not a federal offense, federal law incorporated state law offenses committed by Native Americans on tribal land. After Jones pleaded guilty in federal court, the district court imposed a forty-month sentence. But, as all parties agreed, the district court made a miscalculation, imposing twelve unintended months. Jones appealed, asking the Tenth Circuit to vacate his sentence and to remand for imposition of the intended sentence. The government requested that the Court affirm the erroneous sentence because, it argued, the miscalculation was harmless due to the district court’s failure to impose a six-year mandatory minimum sentence. Concluding that the error was not harmless, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for the district court to correct the sentence. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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Dr. Mark Hopkins moved to vacate his 2010 conviction and sentence for tax evasion. Before trial, the district court ordered him to make monthly payments into the court’s registry to ensure he was complying with federal tax law. Several months later, Dr. Hopkins requested release of the funds so he and his wife, who was being tried with him, could pay their attorneys. The district court ordered the funds’ return. But then the IRS filed notice of a lien on the funds, prompting the court clerk to file an interpleader action. Dr. Hopkins never received the funds; he and his wife were convicted in a jury trial. Dr. Hopkins filed his motion on March 29, 2017, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Luis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1083 (2016). But because his conviction became final in 2013, however, Dr. Hopkins’s motion fell outside the usual one-year time limit set by 28 U.S.C. 2255(f)(1). He sought to avoid that time bar by relying on section 2255(f)(3), arguing that Luis created a “newly recognized” right that would be “retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review.” The district court held that Luis did not create such a right, dismissed the motion, and granted a certificate of appealability. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Hopkins" on Justia Law

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E.F. pleaded guilty to a number of federal offenses pursuant to a plea agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the government agreed that it would recommend a sentence below the one recommended by the United States Sentencing Guidelines. As a result of that agreement, the district court significantly reduced E.F.’s advisory guidelines range to approximately half the term of imprisonment recommended by the Guidelines. E.F. was ultimately sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence. The district court noted it would have preferred to sentence E.F. to a lesser sentence, but it was unable to do so in light of the government’s refusal to file a motion for a further reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3553(e). On appeal of the sentence, E.F. argued: (1) the government breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in the plea agreement when it refused to file a 3553(e) motion; (2) the government’s refusal was not rationally related to a legitimate government end and that enforcing the plea agreement would result in a miscarriage of justice; and (3) the sentence was substantively unreasonable. The district court first considered whether United States v. Doe, 865 F.3d 1295 (10th Cir. 2017), applied. The court concluded that while Doe applied, E.F. failed to satisfy the Doe requirements that would trigger good-faith review by the district court. Thus, the plea agreement was not subject to good-faith review. The Tenth Circuit concurred with the district court’s analysis under Doe and affirmed its conclusion that the government’s decision not to file a 3553(e) motion was not subject to good-faith review. View "In re: Sealed Opinion" on Justia Law

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Keon Nixon was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault, and use of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. After these charges were filed, federal authorities indicted Nixon for possessing a firearm after a felony conviction, but authorities waited almost a year to arraign him. After Nixon was eventually arraigned, he moved to dismiss the federal indictment, contending that the delay in the federal case violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The district court denied the motion, concluding that: (1) federal authorities had a valid reason for the delay; (2) Nixon had waited too long to invoke his right to a speedy trial after learning of the federal charge; and (3) the delay had not created prejudice. The Tenth Circuit agreed with these conclusions and affirmed the denial of Nixon’s motion to dismiss. View "United States v. Nixon" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant John Walker pled guilty to two counts of bank robbery and was originally sentenced to time served (33 days in pretrial detention, and three years of supervised release). The government appealed, and the Tenth Circuit reversed the sentence as substantively unreasonable. The matter was remanded for resentencing, and a second sentencing hearing resulted in ten years’ probation, two years of home confinement, and 500 hours of community service. The government appealed again. The issues presented for the Tenth Circuit on re-review were: (1) whether the district court violated the mandate issued in the first case; and (2) whether, even if the district court complied with the Tenth Circuit’s mandate, Walker’s sentence following remand nevertheless remained substantively unreasonable. The government also requested, in the event that the sentence was reversed and remanded, that it be reassigned to a different district court judge. Because the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not run afoul of Walker I’s mandate when it declined to sentence Walker to a prison term, and further concluded the government waived its remaining substantive reasonableness challenge, the Court affirmed the district court’s sentence. View "United States v. Walker" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Michael Dalton was convicted by a jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Dalton challenged his conviction on several evidentiary grounds; the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with only one: that the district court should have excluded the evidence the government obtained during the second search of Dalton’s residence that occurred in this case, which the Court concluded was unlawful. The police conducted the second search of Dalton’s residence pursuant to a warrant that permitted the officers to search for firearms and firearm paraphernalia based on: (1) the officers’ discovery of an AK-47 in Dalton’s car; (2) their knowledge that Dalton could not lawfully possess firearms as a previously convicted felon; and (3) their knowledge from training and experience that, frequently, persons who have firearms in their vehicles also have firearms in their homes. However, after the officers obtained the search warrant but before they executed it, the officers discovered that someone other than Dalton had been driving Dalton’s vehicle with the AK-47 in it, which, when combined with the other facts the officers knew, made it materially less likely that firearms and firearm paraphernalia would be found in Dalton’s residence. Nonetheless, the officers conducted the search. The Tenth Circuit concluded the second search was not supported by probable cause. However, it determined the inclusion of the evidence discovered in the second search at Dalton’s trial was harmless error. Therefore, the Court affirmed Dalton’s conviction. View "United States v. Dalton" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma charged Raymond Johnson with one count of first-degree arson and two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his former girlfriend, Brooke Whitaker, and the couple’s seven-month-old daughter. The charges stemmed from Johnson’s brutal attack on Whitaker with a hammer, after which he doused her with gasoline and set her house on fire, killing both victims. The jury convicted Johnson on all three counts. The Oklahoma jury subsequently concluded that the mitigating evidence did not outweigh four aggravating circumstances surrounding the murders. The jury sentenced Johnson to death. Johnson petitioned for habeas relief when state courts denied relief, allegeing ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. The district court denied relief, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal granted a certificate of appealability on four issues: (1) whether Johnson’s appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the exclusion of certain mitigating evidence; (2) whether his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and develop certain mitigating evidence and present additional witnesses, and whether his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issues on direct appeal; (3) whether Johnson’s appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise claims of prosecutorial misconduct; and (4) cumulative error. The Tenth Circuit considered Johnson's habeas petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death-Penalty Act, but only if the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals unreasonably applied federal law in denying his claims. The Tenth Circuit concluded Johnson could not meet that burden, and therefore denied the district court’s denial of Johnson’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. View "Johnson v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Kyle Lindsey and Zayne Mann were seriously injured when Lindsey lost control of his utility vehicle on a gravel road after a brief police pursuit. They claimed the accident was caused by an overzealous officer who should not have initiated a chase over a minor traffic infraction, alleging violations of both their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by Officer Brandon Hyler, the City of Webbers Falls, and several other municipal officials, based on Officer Hyler’s conduct during the pursuit as well as his previous training. Lindsey and Mann also sought relief under Oklahoma law. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all federal claims and concluded that Officer Hyler was entitled to qualified immunity. Because the record could not credibly sustain plaintiffs’ allegations, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court appropriately dismissed their claims. View "Lindsey v. Hyler" on Justia Law

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Darren Gonzales owned and operated Concrete Specialists, Inc. in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As a side business, he sold cocaine and methamphetamine. Gonzales used his personal and business bank accounts to launder the proceeds of his drug sales. After extensive investigations by state and federal law enforcement, a federal grand jury charged Gonzales with committing a multitude of drug and financial crimes. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to ten of the fifty-four counts set out in the indictment, specifically including seven counts of concealment money laundering. On appeal, Gonzales argued for the first time that the guilty pleas underlying two of his money laundering convictions, Counts 50 and 52, were not supported by a sufficient factual basis. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in finding that Gonzales’s guilty pleas to Counts 50 and 52 were supported by a sufficient factual basis. The conduct Gonzales admitted as part of his plea agreement and at the plea colloquy established the existence of every element of a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) as to both relevant counts. View "United States v. Gonzales" on Justia Law