Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Defendant Jay Giannukos appealed two convictions involving the illegal possession of firearms. While conducting a parole search of Giannukos’s home, officers found two firearms, methamphetamine, and counterfeiting equipment. A grand jury indicted Giannukos on four counts: (1) possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine; (2) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; (3) being a felon in possession of a firearm; and (4) counterfeiting Federal Reserve Notes with the intent to defraud. A jury convicted Giannukos of all counts. Giannukos appealed Counts 2 and 3, arguing that the district court gave an erroneous constructive possession jury instruction and that the prosecutor made improper statements during her closing argument. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit agreed, reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. View "United States v. Giannukos" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Vincencio Olea-Monarez was charged along with several codefendants in a thirty-one-count indictment related to a large drug-trafficking conspiracy. During deliberations, the jury sent the district court two questions regarding Count 8. In the first, the jury asked what evidence would support Count 8; the judge responded that testimony and exhibits had been admitted concerning the count, which the jury could review upon their request. The second question asked whether the indictment for Count 8 had the incorrect date. The judge responded by noting that there had been four witnesses who testified about Count 8, and that Exhibits 98 and 99 relating to the charge had been admitted. Olea-Monarez argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that both of the court’s responses to the jury questions were erroneous and required reversal of his conviction for Count 8. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding the trial court judge did not abuse its discretion in responding to the jury’s questions because, “although it at times directed the jury’s attention to evidence, it made no evaluation of the evidence and therefore did not impinge on the jury’s role as factfinder.” View "United States v. Olea-Monarez" on Justia Law

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Defendants Jose Remberto Guzman-Dominguez and Miguel Angel Rodriguez-Flores were arrested at a state port of entry after an inspector found cocaine and heroin in their tractor-trailer. The truck contained a large quantity of legitimate cargo, but four boxes containing the drugs, weighing more than 115 pounds, were concealed behind that cargo. After a joint trial in federal district court, defendants were convicted on all three counts of the indictment against them: (1) conspiracy to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine and at least one kilogram of heroin; (2) possession with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine; and (3) possession with intent to distribute at least one kilogram of heroin. The primary issue before the district court was whether Defendants knew of the contraband in the truck. Both had denied knowledge in statements to law-enforcement officers after their arrests. Guzman-Dominguez repeated the denial of knowledge in his trial testimony. Rodriguez-Flores did not testify. On appeal Rodriguez-Flores challenged the sufficiency of the evidence that he knew of the contraband in the truck, and both Defendants challenged the unobjected-to admission of a statement by an expert witness that he did not believe persons transporting drugs who denied knowledge of the drugs. The Tenth Circuit determined the evidence was more than sufficient for a reasonable juror to infer beyond a reasonable doubt that Rodriguez-Flores was involved in the drug offenses, and on plain-error review of the admission of the expert testimony, the Court held Defendants did not show the prejudice necessary to require reversal. View "United States v. Rodriguez-Flores" on Justia Law

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A federal grand jury indicted Steven DeLia on one count of healthcare fraud. But the government filed the indictment outside the ordinarily applicable statute of limitations. Notwithstanding this filing, the government argued the indictment was timely because: (1) the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act suspended the limitations period from running in this case; and (2) DeLia waived his asserted statute-of-limitations defense. The Tenth Circuit rejected both reasons and concluded the prosecution was time-barred. DeLia’s conviction was vacated and the indictment was dismissed. View "United States v. DeLia" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the government prosecuted two Kansas men, Shane Cox and Jeremy Kettler, for violating the National Firearms Act (NFA) by manufacturing (in Kansas), transferring (in Kansas), and possessing (in Kansas) several unregistered firearms. A jury found them guilty of most (though not all) of the charges. Cox and Kettler appealed their convictions; they didn't dispute that their actions ran afoul of the NFA. Instead, they: (1) challenged the NFA’s constitutionality, alleging that the statute was an invalid exercise of congressional power and an invasion of the Second Amendment right to bear arms; and (2) challenged the district court’s ruling that their reliance on Kansas' Seciond Amendment Protection Act (SAPA), which they understood to shield Kansas-made and -owned firearms from federal regulation, provided no defense to charges that they violated the NFA. Kettler further asked the Tenth Circuit to see his prosecution as the product of a dispute between Kansas and the federal government over the SAPA, a dispute that unjustly swept him (and Cox) up (Cox did not join this latter argument). The Tenth Circuit granted Kansas’s request to participate in these appeals as needed to defend the SAPA from a Supremacy Clause challenge. The Tenth Circuit rejected Cox’s and Kettler’s challenges to their convictions (without addressing the SAPA’s constitutionality). View "United States v. Cox" on Justia Law

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Shannon Porter used over-the-counter tax preparation software to complete and electronically file 123 false tax returns with the IRS. Although the IRS rejected many of the returns and requested refunds, it paid out $180,397 to Porter, which she promptly spent. For this conduct, she pled guilty to making a false statement to the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. 287 and was sentenced to imprisonment to be followed by a term of supervised release. She would be given two terms of prison-and-supervised release. The third time, no supervised release was recommended or approved by the trial court. Porter appealed the last sentence that did not include supervised release. The Tenth Circuit determined that each of Porter’s previous supervised release violations were punishable as a “breach of trust,” and as such, did not abuse its discretion in denying a request for supervised release upon Porter’s third revocation hearing. View "United States v. Porter" on Justia Law

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Delmart Vreeland II applied for habeas relief in federal district court, alleging in relevant part that the state trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The district court rejected both claims and declined to issue a certificate of appealability (COA). Vreeland later obtained a COA from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the district court’s resolution of his Sixth Amendment claim. Pursuant to that COA, he argued the district court erred in denying him relief. Vreeland asked for another COA so he could appeal the district court’s denial of his due-process claim. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that Vreeland failed to demonstrate the state appellate court’s resolution of his Sixth Amendment claim satisfied 28 U.S.C. 2254(d): Vreeland failed to show that the state appellate court’s decision: (1) “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established [f]ederal law” or (2) “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.” Thus, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court to the extent it denied relief on Sixth Amendment grounds. The Tenth Circuit further concluded reasonable jurists wouldn’t find the district court’s resolution of Vreeland’s due-process claim debatable or wrong, and denied his request for a COA on that claim. View "Vreeland v. Zupan" on Justia Law

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Defendant Davon Lymon challenged the procedure by which the district court decided to order the three federal sentences imposed in his case to be consecutive. Lymon pled guilty to three offenses charged in the same indictment: selling heroin to an undercover officer on two separate occasions (Counts 1 and 3), and being a previously convicted felon in possession of a gun (Count 2). Using the sentencing guidelines’ grouping rules, the district court established a single combined offense level for all three convictions. That offense level led to an advisory sentencing range of 77 to 96 months in prison. Lymon did not object to that starting guideline range, but he does object to the court’s ultimate decision to vary upward from the range to a total sentence of 216 months as a result of running the sentences on each of the three counts of conviction largely consecutively instead of concurrently as called for in the guidelines. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not procedurally err because the sentencing guidelines were only advisory, the district court considered the guidelines’ recommendation before exercising its discretion under 18 U.S.C. 3584 to order consecutive sentences, and the court adequately explained why it did so. View "United States v. Lymon" on Justia Law

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Ryan Lee sued four Sheriff’s Deputies, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights. On July 4, 2014, Lee and his wife, Tamila Lee, attended a barbecue where they consumed alcohol. After the couple returned home, an altercation broke out over a set of car keys. Tamila, in an attempt to keep her husband from driving, blocked him from exiting their home, and a physical struggle ensued. Deputies Mark O’Harold and Todd Tucker arrived first and entered the home with Tamila’s consent. Shortly afterward, Deputies Amanda Weiss and Chad Walker also arrived at the Lees’ home and separated the Lees for questioning. Lee was largely uncooperative. Tucker attempted to detain him, and another struggle broke out. O’Harold and Weiss, hearing a commotion, reentered the home. O’Harold applied an arm bar hold to Lee. Lee collided with the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, and Weiss then struck him twice in the shoulder in an effort to force him to let go of the refrigerator. O’Harold also struck Lee twice in the neck. Tucker drew his Taser and applied it three to five times to Lee’s back, with each application lasting approximately three, five, and eight seconds respectively. Lee then lost consciousness. Throughout the incident, Walker observed but did not intervene. Weiss then handcuffed Lee and escorted him to Weiss’ squad car. Lee subsequently pled guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence. The district court granted the motion as to Lee’s First Amendment retaliation claim and the portion of his excessive force claim based on handcuffing, but denied it as to the remainder of his excessive force claim. The district court concluded that the facts remaining in dispute, when viewed in the light most favorable to Lee, precluded a grant of qualified immunity. Defendants appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined it lacked interlocutory appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s determination of evidentiary sufficiency at the summary judgment stage. As to the purely legal challenge defendants raised on appeal, the Court concluded the district court correctly held that defendants used excessive force and did so in violation of clearly established law. The appeal was dismissed as to the factual challenges, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Lee v. Tucker" on Justia Law

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Defendant Daederick Lacy was charged with three felony counts stemming from his prostitution of teenage girls. The jury convicted him on all three counts, and he was sentenced to a total of 293 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant challenged his conviction on each count, arguing Count 1 should be reversed because: (1) the district court did not provide the jury with a technical definition of “sex act” to guide its verdict and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that his sixteen-year-old victim engaged in sex acts with her clients. He argued Count 2 should have been reversed because the district court allowed two law enforcement officers to testify about what the victim told them the day after she committed an act of prostitution arranged by Defendant. Finally, he argued Count 3 should have been reversed for insufficiency of the evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Lacy's convictions. View "United States v. Lacy" on Justia Law