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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant-Appellant Petrona Gaspar-Miguel appealed a district court’s affirmance of her conviction for entering the United States. On appeal, she contended the district court’s conclusion that she “entered” the United States even though she was under the constant surveillance of a border patrol agent was contrary to established law defining “entry.” The Tenth Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Gaspar-Miguel" on Justia Law

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Marques Davis was an inmate at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility (“HCF”) from June 2016 until his death in April 2017. During the course of his confinement, Davis suffered from constant neurological symptoms, the cause of which went untreated by HCF medical personnel. When he eventually died from Granulomatous Meningoencephalitis, Davis’s estate (“the Estate”) brought federal and state law claims against Corizon Health, Inc. and numerous health care professionals who interacted with Davis during his incarceration. One such medical professional, Dr. Sohaib Mohiuddin, filed a qualified-immunity-based motion to dismiss the Estate’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim. The district court denied the motion, concluding the complaint set out a clearly established violation of Davis’s right to be free from deliberate indifference to the need for serious medical care. Mohiuddin appealed, arguing the district court erred in determining the complaint’s conclusory and collective allegations stated a valid Eighth Amendment claim as to him. Upon de novo review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the complaint did not state a valid deliberate indifference claim as to Mohiuddin. Thus, it reversed the denial of Mohiuddin’s motion to dismiss and remanded the matter to the district court for further proceedings. View "Walker v. Corizon Health" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jason Garcia appealed the sentence he received after pleading guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to ninety-six months in prison. He claimed the district court erred in considering his earlier possession of two handguns as relevant conduct and that the sentence the court imposed on him was substantively unreasonable. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Garcia’s challenges: the Court reviewed Garcia’s relevant-conduct argument for plain error and concluded that the district court did not plainly err in treating his prior incident of handgun possession as relevant conduct as to his offense of conviction; and (2) the district court’s sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jeremias Robertson pled guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon, and was sentenced to a term of 84 months’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release. On appeal he challenged the district court’s findings that he pointed a gun at an officer, thereby resulting in a four-level enhancement for use or possession of a firearm in connection with another felony offense (aggravated assault with a deadly weapon), and a six-level enhancement for assaulting the officer in a manner creating a substantial risk of bodily injury. To the Tenth Circuit, he argued: (1) the district court should have required proof by clear and convincing evidence; (2) under any standard of proof, the evidence did not support the district court’s findings; and (3) the district court erroneously drew a negative inference from his silence at the sentencing hearing. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment and sentence. View "United States v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Edward Fields pleaded guilty in federal court to two counts of first degree murder, two counts of using a firearm during a federal crime of violence causing the death of a person, and two counts of assimilative crime. Fields was sentenced by jury to death on each of the two murder convictions, and to significant terms of imprisonment on each of the remaining convictions. After completing the direct appeal process, Fields initiated proceedings before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals by filing a motion to vacate, set aside or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2255. The district court denied Fields’s petition, and also denied him a certificate of appealability (COA). The Tenth Circuit subsequently granted Fields a COA with respect to four issues. After its review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded to the district court with directions to conduct an evidentiary hearing on Fields’s claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately investigate and present at trial evidence of his organic brain damage. View "United States v. Fields" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, Defendant Mark Moralez, a Las Cruces, New Mexico police officer, challenged a district court’s decision to deny him summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity from two of Plaintiff Warren McCowan’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. Those claims alleged that the officer: (1) used excessive force against McCowan while driving him to the police station after having arrested him for drunk driving; and (2) was deliberately indifferent to McCowan’s serious medical needs (his injured shoulders) while at the police station, before transporting McCowan to the county detention center where medical care was available. McCowan based his excessive-force claim on his assertion that Officer Moralez placed McCowan in the back seat of a patrol car, handcuffed behind his back and unrestrained by a seatbelt, and then drove recklessly to the police station, knowing his driving was violently tossing McCowan back and forth across the backseat. This rough ride, McCowan contended, injured his shoulders, after McCowan had advised the officer before the trip to the station that he had a previous shoulder injury. McCowan’s second claim alleged that Officer Moralez was deliberately indifferent to McCowan’s serious medical needs by delaying McCowan’s access to medical care until he arrived at the county detention center. The Tenth Circuit affirmed as to both counts; the allegations alleged a clearly established violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision to deny Officer Moralez qualified immunity. View "McCowan v. Morales" on Justia Law

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Antonio Caballero filed the underlying lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah seeking a “judgment on a judgment” he had obtained from a Florida state court. The complaint asserted he expected to proceed against assets located in Utah pursuant to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (“TRIA”). Caballero served defendants with process in the federal suit; none answered or otherwise participated i the Utah action. The federal district court registered the Florida state-court judgment under 28 U.S.C. 1963, but denied all other relief because Caballero did not establish personal jurisdiction over the defendants. As a result, Caballero could not utilize federal district court collection procedures. Caballero moved to alter or amend the judgment, which the district court denied. He appealed both orders. The Tenth Circuit determined section 1963 applied only to registration of federal-court judgments in federal courts, not to state-court judgments. Consequently, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment registering the Florida state-court judgment in Utah federal court. The Court determined Caballero’s civil cover sheet filed with the district court indicated the basis of jurisdiction was federal question; Caballero might have been able to establish federal subject-matter jurisdiction under the TRIA if permitted to amend his complaint. The Tenth Circuit reversed to allow Caballero to amend his complaint. View "Caballero v. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaria" on Justia Law

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Following his conviction by jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm, Jared Faulkner failed to object to the Presentence Investigation Report’s (“PSR”) conclusion that his prior Oklahoma felony of endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine qualified as a predicate “controlled substance offense” for purposes of base offense level computation. As a result, the district court adopted the PSR in full and sentenced Faulkner to a guidelines-range, 96-month term of imprisonment. On appeal, Faulkner contended the district court plainly erred by finding that his prior conviction qualified as a “controlled substance offense” as that term is defined by the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Although it was error to treat Faulkner’s conviction for endeavoring to manufacture methamphetamine as a controlled substance offense for purposes of base offense level computation, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the error was not plain or obvious. The district court was thus affirmed. View "United States v. Faulkner" on Justia Law

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In 2018, a burglar broke into H&H Pawn Gun & Tool (H&H) and stole a substantial amount of property. An inventory revealed that 62 firearms were among the property stolen. Of the 62 firearms, only 13 to 15 were eventually recovered. A subsequent investigation by the sheriff’s office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led to Stoney Mendenhall. Numerous pieces of evidence suggested Mendenhall committed the burglary. Notwithstanding this evidence and for reasons not stated in the record, Mendenhall was not charged with burglary. Instead, in a single-count indictment, a grand jury only charged Mendenhall with “knowingly possess[ing], receiv[ing] and conceal[ing] a stolen firearm.” Mendenhall pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing and concealing the firearms listed on the indictment. In the plea colloquy, he did not go further and accept guilt for the burglary or other related acts. Mendenhall did not object to any provision of the PSR at sentencing. The district court sentenced Mendenhall to 34 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release and ordered Mendenhall to pay restitution to H&H in the amount recommended by the PSR. At issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case was the appropriate scope of the restitution order. Relying on controlling Supreme Court precedent, the Tenth Circuit concluded Congress authorized restitution only “for the loss caused by the specific conduct that is the basis of the offense of conviction.” In ordering restitution for losses related to, but not arising directly from, defendant’s offense of conviction, the district court exceeded the range of restitution authorized by the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "United States v. Mendenhall" on Justia Law

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Daniel Rodriguez appealed his sentence for a supervised release violation, arguing the district court misapplied Colorado law in determining the grade of his offense under the Guidelines. Rodriguez was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and he was sentenced to 51 months’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release. Rodriguez began his term of supervised release on May 10, 2018. On October 4, 2018, Mr. Rodriguez’s probation officer petitioned the district court for an arrest warrant and revocation of Rodriguez’s supervised release, alleging, among other violations, two instances of “possession and use of a controlled substance.” The district court determined, over Rodriguez’s objection, that Rodriguez’s conduct constituted possession of cocaine under Colorado law, an offense punishable by more than one year’s imprisonment, and was therefore a Grade B violation of his supervised release conditions. The district court declined to analyze whether Rodriguez’s conduct would have constituted a Grade B or a Grade C violation under federal law. It sentenced Rodriguez to 21 months’ imprisonment (the Government’s recommended sentence, at the low end of the Grade B range). Explaining its choice of sentence, the district court emphasized the danger Rodriguez posed to the public because of his history of repeated drug use while in possession of a firearm. On appeal, Rodriquez argued the district court improperly classified his conduct as a Grade B violation rather than a Grade C because it wrongly determined his conduct was punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year under Colorado law. Because the district court could have reached the same result by applying federal law, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law