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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant Donovan Silva contended the district court erred in arriving at his sentence for possessing a firearm as a previously convicted felon under the Sentencing Guidelines by concluding a prior assault conviction was a crime of violence. He argued the assault conviction was too old to have independently received criminal-history points under USSG sections 4A1.1 and 4A1.2 n.3(a). To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed: the Guidelines did not permit a section 2K2.1(a)(4)(A) enhancement. The error met all four prongs of the plain-error analysis. Therefore, the Court reversed sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Silva" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jessica Clark pleaded guilty to one count of child neglect in Indian Country. At sentencing, the district court concluded there were no sufficiently analogous Guidelines provision that applied to Clark's conviction, and consequently, it had to sentence her without reference to a specific Guidelines provision or advisory sentencing range. Clark received an 84-month term of imprisonment, to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release. Clark appealed, arguing the district court erred: (1) by not finding U.S.S.G. 2A2.3, the Sentencing Guidelines provision applicable to “Assault” offenses, was sufficiently analogous to her offense of conviction and therefore should have, pursuant to U.S.S.G. 2X5.1, been applied by the district court to determine both an offense level and in turn an advisory Guidelines sentencing range; and (2) the district court plainly erred by failing to adequately explain the reasons for the sentence it imposed. The Tenth Circuit rejected Clark's first argument, but agreed with the second: there was no sufficiently analogous Guidelines provision, but an explanation of the reasons for the sentence ultimately imposed was warranted. View "United States v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Floyd Henry, Jr. was convicted in the District of Minnesota, and after serving a term of imprisonment, absconded from the conditions of his supervised release. Henry's case was transferred to Colorado, and after a hearing for violations of supervision, the Colorado district court revoked his supervised release, sentenced him to 24 months imprisonment and a 120-month term of supervised release, and reimposed the special conditions initially imposed by the Minnesota court. The Colorado court indicated it could not change the special conditions another judge had imposed. Henry appealed the reimposition of the special conditions, arguing the district court erred by not making individualized assessments for them. The Tenth Circuit determined Henry failed to show this potential error justified vacating these special conditions. Thus, judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Henry" on Justia Law

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This case arose from an eighteen-month investigation into a conspiracy to distribute large volumes of methamphetamine in Oklahoma City. The investigation culminated in a 125-count indictment charging ten individuals, including defendant-appellant Jose Sanchez. A jury would convict him of ten offenses relating to a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. On appeal, Sanchez argued the Tenth Circuit should have reversed his conviction because of a fatal variance between the conspiracy charged and the evidence presented at trial. According to Sanchez, while he bought drugs from members of the conspiracy on occasion, the evidence did not show he participated in the overarching drug conspiracy. The Tenth Circuit concluded that even if Sanchez was correct that a variance occurred here, it was not fatal: the evidence did not impair the jury's ability to evaluate the narrower conspiracy to which Sanchez was a party. Further, the Court affirmed the district court's sentence because the alleged drug calculation error had no effect on the sentence imposed. View "United States v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Marc Dutch pleaded guilty in 2016 to being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. In its presentence report, probation recommended that Dutch could be subject to a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA). At the sentencing hearing, the district court concluded the ACCA should not govern Dutch’s sentencing because the government had not met its burden of proving Dutch’s predicate crimes occurred on separate occasions. The federal government appealed the sentencing decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and, in an unpublished opinion, a panel concluded the ACCA applied because the government had proved by a preponderance of evidence that Dutch’s prior crimes “occurred on different dates and at different locations.” Prior to remand, Dutch pursued en banc review, raising much the same arguments, and then petitioned for relief before the United States Supreme Court. Both requests were denied. At resentencing, despite this history, the district court at defendant’s urging revisited the ACCA determination and concluded, once again, that it did not apply. The district court concluded the charging document and plea agreement the government offered to show Dutch committed his crimes on different occasions were inadequate to determine whether Dutch had actually committed the crimes on different occasions or simply committed one act of aiding and abetting. The court sentenced Dutch to a 60-month term of imprisonment and three years of supervised release. This appeal addressed the federal government’s challenge to the district court’s resentencing. The government insisted the district court violated the Tenth Circuit's directions for resentencing on remand by deciding, once again, that the ACCA did not apply to Dutch despite the Court's differing conclusion in "Dutch I." To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed: the district court disregarded the Tenth Circuit's clear mandate from Dutch I that the ACCA governed Dutch’s sentencing. The matter was reversed and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Dutch" on Justia Law

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In 2011, defendant-appellant David Lawless detonated or attempted to detonate five homemade bombs in three separate public places. He subsequently pled guilty to one count of using a destructive device to commit a crime of violence and was sentenced to 20 years in prison pursuant to his plea agreement. In 2016, Lawless filed a motion for postconviction relief, arguing that in light of Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015), arson no longer qualified as a section 924(c) crime of violence. The district court denied the motion on March 1, 2017, and he appealed. The Supreme Court invalidated section 924(c) for vagueness, and the Tenth Circuit held that arson was not a crime of violence under section 924(c)(3)(A) in United States v. Salas, 889 F.3d 681 (10th Cir. 2018). The Tenth Circuit granted the parties’ joint motion to vacate Lawless’s 924(c) conviction, to direct entry of a judgment of conviction for arson under 18 U.S.C. 844(i), and to remand to the district court for resentencing. The district court held a hearing and sentenced Lawless to 144 months in prison on the one count of arson, varying upward from the advisory guideline sentence of 60 months. Lawless again appealed his sentence as procedurally and substantively unreasonable, but finding no abuse of discretion in the sentence, the Tenth Circuit affirmed it. View "United States v. Lawless" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Merle Denezpi, a Navajo tribal member, was arrested by Ute Mountain Ute tribal authorities and charged with violating the Tribe’s assault and battery laws, as well as two provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations on terroristic threats and false imprisonment. He subsequently entered an "Alford" plea to the assault and battery charge and was released from custody for time served. Six months later, Denezpi was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado for aggravated sexual assault. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. At trial, the victim testified Denezpi had previously been incarcerated and implied that he had abused his ex-girlfriend. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to strike that testimony. The jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. He appealed the denial of his motions to dismiss and to strike the victim’s testimony at trial. The Tenth Circuit affirmed as to both issues. The Court found that "the ''ultimate source' of the power undergirding' the CFR prosecution of Mr. Denezpi is the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s inherent sovereignty. Therefore, the subsequent prosecution of Mr. Denezpi in the federal district court did not violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against Double Jeopardy." With respect to the victim's testimony, the Tenth Circuit concluded the testimony's admission was harmless: "the evidence against Mr. Denezpi is overwhelming. The SANE examination of [the victim]. revealed substantial injuries to her body, including bruising on her breasts, back, arms, and legs as well as injuries to her genitals. Mr. Denezpi’s DNA was found on [the victim's] genitalia. The SANE nurse testified at trial that [the victim's] injuries were 'consistent with a nonconsensual sexual assault.'" Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Denezpi" on Justia Law

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Marvin Rowell was arrested for public intoxication and brought to the Muskogee County Jail in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In response to Rowell’s uncooperative conduct during processing, Jail officials decided to move him from the intake room to another room to place him in a restraint chair. In escorting Rowell down a hallway, Officer Dakota West applied forward pressure to Rowell’s right arm. After taking a few steps, Rowell fell and hit his head, and died shortly after from multiple blunt impact injuries to his head, which caused an acute subdural hematoma. Rowell's estate (the “Estate”), through administrator Zachary Rowell, sued Officer West, alleging a Fourteenth Amendment excessive force violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Estate also brought claims for failure to intervene against Officer Jacob Slay, supervisory liability against Shift Supervisor Lacy Rosson, and municipal liability against Muskogee County Sheriff Rob Frazier in his official capacity and the Board of County Commissioners of Muskogee, Oklahoma (the “County”). The district court granted summary judgment for the Defendants because it found that Officer West had not committed a constitutional violation. The Estate appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment. View "Rowell v. Muskogee County Board" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Eldon Miller challenged his sentence entered upon a guilty plea to one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. The charges arose out of Miller’s operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, leading to an accident that caused serious and permanent injuries to his sole passenger. The district court imposed a within-Guidelines sentence of 36 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Miller challenged his sentence on two grounds: (1) the sentence was substantively unreasonable because the district court unreasonably discounted, inter alia, the relationship between his disease of alcoholism and his criminal record, the detrimental effect that a lengthy prison term would have on his rehabilitation, and various mitigating facts related to his background; and (2) the district court’s impermissibly imposed a special condition of supervised release authorizing his probation officer to determine the number of drug tests to which he must submit during his term of supervised release. As to the latter objection, Miller contended the district court’s imposition of this condition unconstitutionally delegated judicial authority in contravention of Article III; and the district court erred in failing to make findings on the record supporting imposition of the challenged condition. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding Miller fell "far short" of rebutting the presumption of substantive reasonableness of the within-Guidelines sentence. With regard to the special condition, the Court rejected Miller's argument that the district court impermissibly delegated to probation judicial authority, and found he failed establish that any of the asserted errors constituted plain error. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Defendant Martin Perea on nine counts of production of a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. In 2016, Defendant produced a report by Dr. Alexander Paret, which opined that Defendant lacked competency to stand trial. In light of this report, the Government moved for a psychiatric and psychological examination of Defendant, and Defendant was sent for evaluation. In 2017, Dr. Lisa Bellah, a licensed psychologist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), reported that Defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect which rendered him unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to properly assist in his defense. Dr. Bellah thus determined Defendant was presently incompetent to stand trial. But she also suggested that Defendant could achieve competency within a reasonable amount of time if he were educated on criminal matters. In response, the district court entered an order finding Defendant incompetent to stand trial. And upon the Government’s motion, the court ordered that Defendant be committed for treatment and restoration. In 2018, Dr. Jacob X. Chavez, another psychologist with the BOP reported that Defendant was incompetent and substantially unlikely to be restored to competency in the foreseeable future. Upon recommendation, the district court ordered a risk assessment. During the pre-risk assessment and risk assessment interviews, however, Dr. Chavez observed that Defendant presented as “notably different” from his previous presentation, revealing a “higher level of understanding than portrayed previously.” Based in part on this observation, Dr. Chavez issued a new report which found Defendant was, more likely than not, competent to proceed. At competency hearings, Dr. Chavez testified, leading the district court to enter an order finding Defendant competent to stand trial. Defendant filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s last order. Because a competency determination was a non-final order, and the collateral order doctrine did not apply, the Tenth Circuit granted the Government's motion to dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "United States v. Perea" on Justia Law