Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Defendants were arrested after interrupting an oral argument session of the United States Supreme Court. On appeal, defendants challenged their conviction under 40 U.S.C. 6134, the statue that prohibits making a "harangue" or "oration" in the Supreme Court building. The district court struck the words "harangue" and "oration" from section 6134 as unconstitutionally vague, and the Government appealed. The court concluded that the district court erred in striking these words as unconstitutionally vague where the core meaning of these words was delivering speeches of various kinds to persons within the Supreme Court's building and grounds, in a manner that threatens to disturb the operations and decorum of the Court. In the context of the Supreme Court's building and grounds, the court explained that the terms' core meaning proscribes determinable conduct. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Bronstein" on Justia Law

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Defendant plead guilty to failing to register with local authorities under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 42 U.S.C. 16901 et seq. Defendant first argued that insofar as the Attorney General took steps before defendant's alleged SORNA violation to "specify" the act's application to pre-SORNA offenders, those efforts were defective under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 551 et seq. Second, defendant argued that Congress's vesting the Attorney General with such authority violated the constitutional rule against undue delegation of legislative authority. The court explained that all the other geographic circuits have addressed the nondelegation claim and have rejected it. The court need not reach the delegation issue based on its conclusion regarding the APA claims. Concluding that the act did not apply to pre-SORNA offenders at the time of defendant's charged conduct because of the Attorney General's APA violations, the court reversed the district court ruling and vacated the conviction. View "United States v. Ross" on Justia Law
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Defendants Borda and Alvaran-Velez appealed their convictions under 21 U.S.C. 959, 960, 963 of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine knowing and intending that the cocaine would be unlawfully imported into the United States. Defendants raised numerous issues on appeal. The court rejected defendants' claims of procedural errors, including improper evidentiary admissions and exclusions, insufficient jury instructions, Brady and Napue violations, and improper closing arguments. Therefore, the court affirmed defendants' convictions. The court rejected Alvaran's contentions of error but remanded nonetheless for resentencing. In this case, after Alvaran was sentenced, the Sentencing Commission lowered the Guidelines range for certain offenses involving cocaine, and permitted district courts to apply these lower ranges retroactively (Amendment 782). The government agreed to Alvaran's request for resentencing. The court rejected defendants' remaining claims. View "United States v. Borda" on Justia Law
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Defendant pleaded guilty to willful failure to pay over federal employment taxes in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7202 and received an above-Guidelines sentence of imprisonment. On appeal, defendant challenged his sentence. Defendant committed the crime in this case while he was pleading guilty and being sentenced for a nearly identical crime. The court noted that there are good reasons for concluding that the Statements of Reasons district judges submit to the Sentencing Commission are purely administrative, to assist the Commission's data-gathering function, not to confer on a sentenced defendant some after-the-fact procedural protection. The court joined every other circuit in holding that because the district court's oral explanation sufficed, any written deficiency did not affect defendant's substantial rights and therefore does not warrant vacating his sentence or remanding the case. Finally, the court concluded that the district court's remark regarding an adequate punishment did not render the sentence unlawful, and defendant's sentence was not too severe nor an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law
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Defendant plead guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. 1546(a), which penalizes the knowing possession of an altered document prescribed by statute or regulation for entry into the United States. The court concluded that defendant failed to show that his counsel’s conduct at the time of his plea fell below the standard of reasonable competence under the first prong of Strickland v. Washington; under the rule of contemporary assessment, counsel had reason to conclude that section 1546(a) encompasses foreign passports; reasonably competent counsel could have understood section 1546(a), in view of its statutory and regulatory predicates, to criminalize the knowing possession of an altered foreign passport that had expired; and by advising a guilty plea counsel ensured that defendant avoided a mandatory two-year sentence on the count that the government agreed to dismiss in exchange for defendant's plea to a count with fourteen months' maximum imprisonment under the Sentencing Guidelines. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Vyner" on Justia Law
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Defendant was sentenced to 30 months in prison after revocation of his supervised release based on drug charges in Maryland. Defendant appealed. The court held that defendant failed to show clear or obvious error that affected his substantial rights based on a likelihood that the sentencing court's obvious errors affected his sentence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Kenny" on Justia Law
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Defendants Butler and Jones, serving lengthy prison sentences for drug offenses, challenge the district court's denial of sentence reductions under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). The district court agreed that it could reduce defendants' sentences, but declined to do so after considering the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. Determining that it has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291, the court concluded that the district court did not substantively err in considering the section 3553(a) factors at length. In this case, the district court attached great weight to the fact that each defendant was a key player in one of the largest drug conspiracies in the history of the city. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law
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In 2013, the Department of Justice issued a guidance memorandum, the Cole Memorandum, that addresses enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., in cases involving marijuana. Plaintiff filed a pro se suit against state officials claiming that the Cole Memorandum unconstitutionally commandeers state officials and institutions, and claiming that all defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement before publishing the memorandum. The court agreed with the district court's dismissal of the complaint based on plaintiff's lack of standing because he has not sufficiently alleged that setting aside the Cole Memorandum would redress his alleged injuries from the wider availability of recreational marijuana and new restrictions on medical marijuana, and that any adverse environmental effects of recreational marijuana on his own particularized interests are traceable to the memorandum. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "West v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from the United States' attempt to extradite Nizar Trabelsi from Belgium based on a grand jury indictment for various conspiracy and terrorism offenses. The district court denied Trabelsi's motion to dismiss the indictment. The court explained that its review is limited and requires deference to Belgium's decision to extradite Trabelsi. The court concluded that this deference creates a rebuttable presumption that Trabelsi’s extradition, and Belgium’s analysis in deciding to extradite him, comports with the terms of the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Belgium, Apr. 27, 1987, S. TREATY DOC. NO. 104-7. The court concluded that, although Trabelsi is correct that a Blockburger v. United States analysis is not required under the terms of the Treaty, his argument that the Treaty requires a conduct-oriented test is not supported by the text of the Treaty, which refers to “offenses.” Therefore, the court need not reach defendant's remaining arguments and affirmed the district court's order. View "United States v. Trabelsi" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of conspiracy and bank fraud stemming from a scheme to obtain mortgage loans using straw purchasers, false loan applications, and forged appraisals. The district court sentenced her to 48 months in prison, as well as supervised release and restitution. The court concluded that the district court did not misapply Federal Rule of Criminal Evidence 608(b), and its decision to disallow questioning about two prior acts by the government's witness, defendant's mortgage broker, that could reflect on his character for truthfulness was within the ample bounds of the district court’s discretion in matters of recross-examination. The court also concluded that the district court did not err by excluding testimony about an alleged invitation by the witness to participate in “shady” mortgages. Finally, the court rejected the claim that defendant's right to counsel was violated when she elected to proceed pro se at sentencing. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. O'Neal" on Justia Law
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