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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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A trial judge excused several hard-of-hearing potential jurors from the venire of defendant Kenneth Meadows’ trial for sex offenses. Trial was to be held in a small, rural Colorado district court that lacked sufficient amplification equipment. Meadows’s trial lawyer objected to the excusals, but chose not to seek a continuance of jury selection to obtain equipment from a different location. Meadows was convicted. On direct appeal to state court, Meadows raised the juror dismissal issue, but that argument was rejected by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado Supreme Court denied certiorari review, and Meadows was unsuccessful in state post-conviction collateral proceedings. Meadows then challenged his conviction by filing a petition for federal habeas corpus relief, arguing his attorney’s performance at the state trial amounted to constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel failed to object to the excusal of, or seek accommodations for, hard- of-hearing jurors. The district court denied Meadows’s petition. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding: (1) Meadows’s trial counsel was not constitutionally ineffective; and (2) Meadows failed to show any actual prejudice resulting from his trial counsel’s performance because he provided no reason to believe the excusal of the jurors resulted in a fundamentally unfair trial. View "Meadows v. Lind" on Justia Law

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Defendant Paddy Platero pleaded guilty to a charge of “[a]busive sexual contact” with a child under 12 in Indian country. In computing Defendant’s guideline sentencing range, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico increased his base offense level on the ground that “the offense involved conduct described in 18 U.S.C. [section] 2241(a) or (b).” Defendant read the guideline as requiring a violation of section 2241(a) or (b). Section 2241 defined the offense of aggravated sexual abuse, not the lesser offense of abusive sexual contact of which Defendant was convicted. Defendant therefore appealed his sentence, contending that his base offense level should not have been increased. The Tenth Circuit rejected Defendant’s reading of Guideline 2A3.4(a)(1): “In context, the only reasonable interpretation of the guideline is that the reference to “conduct described in 18 U.S.C. 2241(a) or (b)” is a reference to the conduct described in [section] 2241 that distinguishes aggravated sexual abuse, which is governed by that section, from sexual abuse in general, which is governed by [section] 2242. Defendant’s interpretation of USSG 2A3.4(a)(1) must be avoided because it would eliminate any possible application of the provision, rendering it useless; and our interpretation finds support in both the history of 2A3.4(a)(1) and the statutory scheme, which sets penalties for the various types of abusive sexual contact set forth in section 2244 by reference to the conduct that distinguishes from one another the various types of sexual abuse prohibited by [sections] 2241, 2242, and 2243 – that is, by reference to the various means employed to commit sexual abuse.” View "United States v. Platero" on Justia Law

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Wichita pharmacist Ebube Otuonye (defendant) filled prescriptions written by Dr. Steven Henson for opioids and other controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) became suspicious of Dr. Henson’s prescriptions and investigated him, which led them to Defendant Otuonye. Based on the results of the DEA’s investigation, Otuonye was indicted for conspiring to unlawfully distribute controlled substances; unlawfully distributing controlled substances; and Medicare and Medicaid fraud. A jury convicted Otuonye on all four counts. The district court imposed a 150-month concurrent prison sentence. Otuonye raised seven issues on appeal: five challenged the admission of evidence; the sixth challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for all four convictions; and in the last, Otuonye argued the district court committed procedural error by miscalculating his sentencing guidelines range. Finding none of these challenges availing, the Tenth Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Otuonye" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of United States v. Black, et al., which involved allegations of drug crimes committed at a detention facility. In the course of this prosecution, the United States Attorney’s Office in Kansas (USAO) obtained video and phone call recordings from the detention facility. Some of the recordings involved attorney-client communications between detainees and their attorneys. After learning that the USAO had these recordings, the Federal Public Defender (FPD) intervened for the defendants in Black, who had been housed at the detention facility. After intervening, the FPD moved for return of the recordings containing attorney-client communications, invoking Rule 41(g) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. This motion spurred the district court to order an investigation into the USAO and its possession of the recordings. When the investigation ended, the district court: (1) dismissed the indictment against the last remaining defendant in Black (Defendant. Karl Carter); and (2) ordered the USAO to provide the FPD with all of the recordings of attorney-client communications in the USAO’s possession. In the course of these rulings, however, the district court made statements adverse to the USAO and found contempt based partly on a failure to preserve evidence. The investigation led over a hundred prisoners to file post-conviction motions. The USAO didn’t question the dismissal of Carter’s indictment or the order to furnish the FPD with the recordings. Instead, the USAO argued that the investigation was unlawful, the district court made erroneous statements and findings about possible violations of the Sixth Amendment, the district court clearly erred in its contempt findings, and the district judge erred by stating that she would reassign herself to the post-conviction cases. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and prudential ripeness. View "United States v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Hunter Venezia appealed following his conditional plea to one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. He argued the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence found after a traffic stop led to the impoundment and search of the vehicle he was driving in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. To the Tenth Circuit, defendant argued the district court erred in concluding the impoundment of the vehicle was constitutional. “Ascertaining whether an impoundment is justified by a reasonable and legitimate, non-pretextual community-caretaking rationale is not an easy task.” Reviewing the specific facts of this case de novo, the Tenth Circuit concluded the impoundment was inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s description of the community-caretaking doctrine, and the Tenth Circuit’s own enumerated factors in United States v. Sanders, 796 F.3d 1241 (10th Cir. 2015). Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the district court to vacate defendant’s conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Venezia" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Amy Davis appealed her drug-conspiracy conviction, arguing: (1) the government failed to present sufficient evidence of the charged conspiracy; (2) the proof introduced at trial varied from the allegations in the indictment; and (3) that the district court plainly erred in failing to give appropriate jury instructions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed defendant’s conviction. View "United States v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jerry Ray Craine pleaded guilty to one count of possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. The charge arose out of Craine’s possession and use of a firearm to shoot and kill his father, Thomas Craine. The district court applied a cross-reference to first-degree murder when calculating Craine’s advisory Guidelines range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Applying this cross-reference resulted in a “flat” Guidelines range of 120 months’ imprisonment, the statutory maximum as provided in 18 U.S.C. 924(a)(2). The court imposed 120 months’ imprisonment. Craine challenged his conviction arguing his conviction should have been vacated because the district court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea after the Supreme Court decided Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019). Craine argued that, under Rehaif, the government was required to prove he knew he was prohibited from possessing a firearm as a result of his domestic violence conviction, and he argued the government could not do so because he lacked such knowledge. The district court disagreed that Rehaif imposed such a requirement and accordingly denied Mr. Craine’s withdrawal motion. With regard to his sentence, Craine raised both procedural and substantive challenges: (1) the district court should not have applied any cross-reference because he acted in self-defense; and (2) his 120-month sentence is substantively unreasonable. The Tenth Circuit rejected all these arguments and affirmed Craine's conviction and sentence. View "United States v. Craine" on Justia Law

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After a young woman found a pressure cooker bomb hidden under her bed, law enforcement agents went to the home of the only person she said might want to harm her: defendant-appellant Ethan Guillen. The agents entered Ethan’s home, questioned him, and obtained consent from his father to search the residence. During the search, the agents found evidence in Ethan’s bedroom indicating his involvement with the pressure cooker bomb. When one of the agents confronted Ethan with the information and evidence they had collected, he confessed to making the bomb. The agent immediately provided Ethan Miranda warnings, but he proceeded to make more incriminating statements. Ethan ultimately entered a conditional plea of guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device and an attempt to damage or destroy a building by means of fire or an explosive. His plea agreement reserved the right to appeal the district court’s order denying his motion to suppress the physical evidence and incriminating statements resulting from the search of his home. Exercising that right, Ethan argued to the Tenth Circuit that the district court should have suppressed the physical evidence found in his home because the agents’ warrantless entry and search of his bedroom violated his Fourth Amendment rights. He also contended the district court should have suppressed the incriminating statements he made after receiving Miranda warnings because the agents elicited them through coercion and used an impermissible two-step interrogation technique to end run around Miranda. Finding no violation of his rights or any other reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Guillen" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Omil Cotto was charged with three drug and gun-related offenses stemming from a road rage incident. Prior to trial, Cotto filed a motion to suppress evidence officers had obtained from a residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He argued: (1) the affidavit supporting the warrant did not provide probable cause for the search of the house; and (2) provisions in the warrant authorizing seizure of “all firearm evidence” and “any cellphones” were overbroad. The district court denied the motion to suppress. Cotto then pleaded guilty to lesser charges but expressly preserved his right to appeal the court’s order on the suppression motion. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress, finding: (1) the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied to the search and seizure here; (2) the officers acted in objectively reasonable reliance on the warrant while conducting the search of the residence; and (3) even if the warrant’s cell phone provision was overbroad, that provision could and should have been severed from the remaining valid portions of the warrant. View "United States v. Cotto" on Justia Law

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In 2014, after a jury found Michael Destry Williams guilty of ten counts of tax-evasion and fraud offenses, the district judge sentenced him to seventy-one months’ imprisonment and five years’ supervised release. Williams began the five-years’ supervision on August 22, 2018, and was set to end it on August 21, 2023. On August 27, 2019, a probation officer filed a Petition for Summons on Person Under Supervision, alleging three violations of Williams’s supervision. All three violations allegedly stemmed from Williams’s asserted belief that he was an American National and was not subject to the same legal system as United States citizens. The court ordered a sentence of 24 months’ imprisonment, with credit for time served. On appeal, Williams challenged this sentence as substantively unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Williams' sentence. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law