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

Articles Posted in Juvenile Law
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A.S. was adjudicated a juvenile delinquent under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (“FJDA”) after the district court concluded that, when he was seventeen years old, he knowingly engaged in a sexual act with a victim, K.P., while she was incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct. The court ordered A.S. to be committed to eighteen months’ custodial detention to be followed by twenty-four months’ juvenile-delinquent supervision. On appeal, A.S. raised three challenges: (1) the district court erred in limiting cross-examination and excluding extrinsic evidence concerning a prior allegation of sexual assault that K.P. made; (2) the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that he knew that K.P. was incapable of appraising the nature of the sexual conduct, which he says was an element of the offense; and (3) the district court erred in imposing a dispositional sentence on him of custodial detention. The Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the district court’s actions accorded with the Federal Rules of Evidence and did not violate A.S.’s constitutional rights; (2) there was ample evidence for a reasonable factfinder to determine A.S. engaged in sexual conduct with K.P. while he knew she was asleep and drunk; and (3) the sentence did not constitute an abuse of the district court's broad sentencing discretion. Thus, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment. View "United States v. A.S." on Justia Law

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Defendants Keith Daron Syling, Roger Schoolcraft, David Kunihiro and Audra Smith were officers or employees of the Alamogordo Police Department (APD) who were allegedly responsible for the public release of information regarding the arrest of a juvenile, A.N, in violation of New Mexico law. Plaintiffs A.N. and her mother, Katherine Ponder brought this action against Defendants and others, asserting claims under federal and state law. Defendants appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 based on qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit concluded Defendants were on notice they would violate A.N.’s right to equal protection under the law if they intentionally and without a rational basis differentiated between her and similarly situated juvenile arrestees in applying New Mexico’s laws against the disclosure of juvenile arrest and delinquency records. As a result, “any reasonable official in [Defendants’] shoes would have understood that he was violating” Plaintiffs’ equal protection rights by these actions. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment denying them qualified immunity on Plaintiffs' equal protection claim. View "A.N. v. Alamogordo Police Department" 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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A jury convicted fourteen-year-old Lawrence Montoya for the New Year’s Day murder of a teacher from his school. After serving over thirteen years in prison, Montoya brought post-conviction claims for ineffective assistance of counsel and actual innocence. He sued several detectives involved in the investigation and trial, claiming they were responsible for his wrongful conviction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. Specifically, Montoya claimed the Detectives instigated a malicious prosecution against him, coerced his confession in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and subjected him to false arrest. The Detectives appealed when the district court held qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity did not shield the Detectives from liability and denied their motion to dismiss. After review, the Tenth Circuit held qualified immunity indeed shielded the Detectives from liability for Montoya’s malicious prosecution claim; both qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity barred Montoya’s Fifth Amendment claim. As for Montoya’s false arrest claim, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider whether or not qualified immunity applied. View "Montoya v. Vigil" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Keighton Budder was convicted by an Oklahoma jury of several violent nonhomicide crimes committed when he was sixteen years old. After sentence modification on direct appeal, he received three life sentences and an additional sentence of twenty years, all to run consecutively. He was not be eligible for parole under Oklahoma law until he served 131.75 years in prison. Budder filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, arguing his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. In support, he cited “Graham v. Florida,” (560 U.S. 48 (2010)), which held that sentencing juvenile offenders who have not committed homicide crimes to life in prison without a meaningful opportunity for release was unconstitutional. The district court denied Budder’s petition, and he appeals. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant Budder’s petition. The Court found under the categorical rule clearly established in “Graham,” Budder’s sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. “The [Oklahoma Supreme Court’s] judgment was contrary to this clearly established Supreme Court precedent. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to grant Budder’s petition for writ of habeas corpus, to vacate Budder’s sentence, and to direct the State of Oklahoma to resentence Budder within a reasonable period.” View "Budder v. Addison" on Justia Law

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Johnny Ray Davis was convicted of first-degree murder, for which he received a life sentence. After his state-court challenges to his conviction and sentence failed, Davis filed a pro se federal habeas petition alleging that: (1) his life without parole sentence violated the Constitution due to a “new standard [that had] been set in the U.S. Supreme Court” invalidating sentencing schemes mandating life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders; (2) his counsel was ineffective at trial and on appeal; and (3) as “a juvenile offender, [his] sentence of life without parole” was unconstitutional. The district court concluded that the last two issues were time-barred and that the first issue lacked merit because the case Davis claimed created a new standard, "Miller v. Alabama," (132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)), was inapposite. The court thus denied habeas relief and denied a COA. The Tenth Circuit affirmed: "while Miller certainly reiterated the relevance of youth at sentencing as a general matter, Davis’s argument at best relies on an extension of Miller’s logic. Two dispositive conclusions follow from that: (1) because this version of Davis’s argument does not assert the new right actually recognized in Miller, it suffers from the same timeliness flaw as his petition’s other contentions; and (2) because the state post-conviction trial court rejected this argument, [. . .]deference applies, and we cannot say declining to extend Miller was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court." View "Davis v. McCollum" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Brandon Blackmon brought a 42 U.S.C. 1982 action against various members of the juvenile detention center in Sedgwick, Kansas, alleging they violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights as a pre-trial detainee when he was taken there as an eleven-year-old. He claimed that the staff regularly used a "Pro-Straint Restraining Chair, Violent Prisoner Model" sometimes as a legitimate effort to stop him from committing suicide, but mostly, as plaintiff contended, to punish him. The chair is equipped with wrist, chest and ankle restraints; as a juvenile detainee, plaintiff was 4'11' and 96 pounds. The district court denied defendants' motion for dismissal based on qualified immunity grounds. Defendants appealed to the Tenth Circuit, maintaining that the district court erred in holding that the facts, when viewed in a light favorable to plaintiff, suggested that defendants sometimes exceeded the scope of qualified immunity. After its review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in all respects except one: the Court directed the district court to grant qualified immunity to defendant Sutton on plaintiff's "failure to transfer" claim. View "Blackmon v. Sutton, et al" on Justia Law

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This case arose from "an unfortunate situation" of child-on-child abuse within the foster care system. Plaintiffs J.W. and M.R.W. are a foster couple, and their now-adopted foster children were injured after an abusive foster child was placed in their home in 2002. Plaintiffs raised several state and federal claims against Utah and the state employees involved in placing the abusive child in their home. The district court dismissed several of Plaintiffs' negligence claims based on Utah's Governmental Immunity Act. As for Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claim, the court held that the caseworker and her supervisor were entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiffs had not shown a failure to exercise professional judgment on the part of the caseworker, nor had they shown any basis for holding the supervisor liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiffs challenged these decisions on appeal. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the undisputed evidence in the record reflected that there was an impermissible deviation from professional judgment on the part of the state employees. Furthermore, the Court found Plaintiffs did not set forth a valid basis for holding the employees liable under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Court affirmed the lower court's decisions.

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One day after giving birth, the 17-year-old mother appeared in Utah state court to relinquish parental rights and consent to adoption. Although the mother's mother is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, the court determined that the mother was not a member and that the baby was not subject to the 10-day wait for consent to adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901. The federal district court held that the baby was a member of the tribe and that the Act applied, but did not vacate the adoption. The Tenth Circuit reversed. While the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act provides that "every newborn child who is a Direct Descendant of an Original Enrollee shall be automatically admitted as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation" for 240 days after birth and there was evidence that the baby is a direct descendant, the Citizenship Act does not govern application of ICWA. ICWA defines an Indian child as having a parent who is a tribe member.