Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Appellant Glover and Price's petition to vacate their convictions under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Appellants were convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute one kilogram or more of PCP. The court held that counsel did not perform deficiently for failing to challenge evidence obtained from an electronic surveillance device installed in a vehicle outside of the authorizing court's geographic jurisdiction. In this case, the evidence against appellants was sufficiently strong that counsel's failure to object to specific instances of testimony by a case agent did not prejudice the defense. View "United States v. Glover" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The fact that most people now carry a cell phone was not enough to justify an intrusive search of a place lying at the center of the Fourth Amendment's protections—a home—for any phone defendant might own. Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence after he was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Although the warrant authorized officers to search for and seize all cell phones and other electronic devices in defendant's residence, the supporting affidavit offered almost no reason to suspect that defendant in fact owned a cell phone, or that any phone or other device containing incriminating information would be found in his apartment. The DC Circuit vacated defendant's conviction and held that the warrant to search defendant's residence was unsupported by probable cause and rejected the government's arguments that, even if the warrant was invalid, the firearm still need not have been excluded from the evidence against him. View "United States v. Griffith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's pre-trial motion to dismiss the indictment for prosecutorial vindictiveness, and in permitting the government to make improper statements at trial. Defendant was convicted of fraudulently obtaining unemployment benefits from the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. Assuming arguendo that a presumption of vindictiveness were warranted, the court held that the district court rightly concluded that the government met its burden of producing objective evidence justifying the prosecution's charging decisions. The court also held that no precedent or legal norm barred prosecutors from eliciting testimony about a dismissal motion when a defendant opens the door in the manner that defendant did. Nor did the references to the denied motion to dismiss prejudice defendant because any prejudice was extinguished by the district court's instruction. Finally, the prosecutor's statement that there was "one in nearly 60 million" possibility that there must have been a computer glitch was nothing more than a rhetorical flourish and there was no plain error in this case. View "United States v. Meadows" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The DC Circuit reversed defendant's conviction for attempted coercion and enticement of a minor and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. The court held that trial counsel's failure to obtain expert mental health testimony was constitutionally deficient and counsel's deficient performance prejudiced defendant. Accordingly, the court remanded for a new trial. View "United States v. Laureys" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendants Slatten, Slough, Liberty, and Heard were contractors with Blackwater, which in 2007 was providing security services to the United States State Department in Iraq. Defendants were convicted of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using and discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Slatten was also convicted of first degree murder. Defendants' convictions stemmed from shootings in Baghdad that injured or killed at least 31 Iraqi civilians. The D.C. Circuit held that the court has jurisdiction pursuant to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), 18 U.S.C. 3261 et seq., and that venue in the District of Columbia was proper; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendants' motion for a new trial based on post-trial statements of a government witness; the evidence was sufficient as to all except one of Liberty's attempted manslaughter convictions; the evidence was sufficient as to Slatten; Slatten's indictment charging first degree murder did not constitute vindictive prosecution; the district court abused its discretion in denying Slatten's motion to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants; and imposition of the mandatory thirty-year minimum under 18 U.S.C. 924(c), as applied here, violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "United States v. Slatten" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The government may not deny a criminal defendant's request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records related to his case on the ground that he waived his right to seek that information as part of a plea agreement. The D.C. Circuit held that the government failed to identify any legitimate criminal justice interest served by the waiver. In this case, the district court should have declined to enforce defendant's FOIA waiver on public-policy grounds. The court did not address defendant's alternative argument that some of the records he requested fell outside the scope of his waiver. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's order and remanded. View "Price v. U.S. DOJ Attorney Office" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the District, alleging both procedural and substantive due process claims after he was sentenced to three consecutive weekends in the D.C. jail for a marijuana possession conviction in 2011 and remained in the jail for two years so that he could complete a prior sentence. The D.C. Superior Court denied his petition for habeas relief in 2012 and when plaintiff appealed, the D.C. Court of Appeals failed to act for another year and a half. The D.C. Circuit held that the Superior Court's 2012 decision lacked the preclusive effect the district court perceived. In this case, because plaintiff was unable to obtain a decision on his habeas appeal once he was no longer in custody, and because section 1983 claims cannot be joined in a habeas proceeding, the Superior Court's unreviewed bench ruling was not the result of a full and fair opportunity to litigate. On the merits, the court held that plaintiff's complaint stated a legally actionable procedural due process claim where his liberty interest sufficed to require that he be afforded some kind of process before he was locked up again. In regard to the substantive due process claim, the district court erred in dismissing that claim based on material beyond the complaint, and not incorporated by reference in it, without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment as contemplated by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(d) and 56. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Hurd v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Defendants Lovo, Sorto, and Eshetu were convicted of conspiracy, and Lovo and Sorto were also convicted of using, carrying or possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. The D.C. Circuit held that the district court properly denied the motions to suppress because officers had probable cause to conduct the search; the portion of the statutory crime of violence definition that affects Lovo and Sorto was not unconstitutionally vague; and, although the district court erred in admitting audio recordings without English-language transcripts, the error did not meet the plain-error standard. Because there was insufficient evidence on the record regarding defendants' claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, the court remanded as to this claim. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "United States v. Eshetu" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant challenged the district court's denial of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The DC Circuit affirmed in part and held that defendant's trial counsel was constitutionally deficient because counsel failed to investigate the possibility of impeaching the government's central witness as biased against defendant, despite ample indication that he should and could do so. However, counsel's deficient performance did not prejudice defendant as to the drug trafficking charge. In regard to the narcoterrorism charge, the court could not determine on the record whether defendant was prejudiced. Therefore, the court vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Mohammed" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant and her son appealed from their convictions for conspiracy to commit tax fraud and related offenses. The DC Circuit held that the prosecutor's blatant misstatements of key evidence during closing arguments, in the absence of any steps to mitigate the resulting prejudice, required reversal of the son's convictions; because the evidence against the son was insufficient, he was not subject to retrial; defendant was not prejudice from the closing arguments; and defendant's evidentiary challenges were unpersuasive. The court affirmed defendant's convictions but remanded her case for resentencing and for reconsideration of her claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "United States v. Davis" on Justia Law