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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Appellants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) statute and various other crimes. After a three-week trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts as to all three Appellants. Appellants now challenge their convictions and sentences on various grounds.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings finding none of Appellants’ challenges persuasive. The court explained that because “the factors upon which the probative value/prejudice evaluations were made are readily apparent from the record, and there is no substantial uncertainty about the correctness of the ruling,” reversal is not required. Further, the court found that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the Agent to testify regarding specific distances and ranges of distances because such testimony was neither disclosed pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 nor vetted as required by Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 403. Nevertheless, because the error was harmless, reversal is not warranted. View "USA v. Noe Machado-Erazo (AMENDED)" on Justia Law

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After Appellant violated his supervised release conditions, the district court placed him in home detention and later imposed a revocation sentence of imprisonment and a new term of supervised release. Appellant contends that the court lacked the authority to impose both home detention and imprisonment for the same violations, but he waived this argument below. Appellant also contended that the court’s written judgment improperly contains various discretionary conditions of supervised release that were not orally pronounced at sentencing.   The DC Circuit affirmed Appellant’s term of imprisonment. Because the written judgment contains discretionary release conditions that were not orally pronounced at sentencing, the court remanded for the district court to conform the written judgment to the orally pronounced one (plus the unchallenged mandatory conditions. In so doing, the court wrote it does not disturb the district court’s independent authority to prospectively modify Appellant’s release conditions under section 3583(e)(2). View "USA v. Keith Matthews" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Petitioner a Guantanamo prisoner awaiting trial as a terrorist, petitioned the DC Circuit for a writ of mandamus, forbidding the government from using statements obtained by torture in prosecution against him and the Military Commission from receiving such evidence.   The DC Circuit dismissed the petition holding that the court has no jurisdiction to hear this petition. The court explained that there is simply no remaining case or controversy with respect to the identified statements obtained by Petitioner’s torture. Second, Petitioner’s other request—to vacate all ex parte orders using statements obtained by torture—is similarly unripe for adjudication. Petitioner has not identified any non-withdrawn submissions that rely upon torture statements, preventing this issue from becoming “crystallized” into a “concrete legal dispute.Further, at this point in time, Petitioner has alleged no injury that has been caused him by the possible (albeit remote) use of the torture-obtained statements. The court wrote, obviously, if he has not alleged injury, he has not alleged redressability. Under no theory of law does he have standing to bring this action at this time. View "Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Al-Nashiri" on Justia Law

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Appellant has been convicted of two child-sex crimes. After his second conviction, the district court revoked Appellant’s supervised release for his first conviction and sentenced him to three years in prison — to run consecutive to his Maryland sentence — followed by a new term of supervised release.First, Appellant says that the district court erred when it required GPS monitoring for the first two years of his new term. Because that requirement falls within the district court’s wide discretion to impose conditions on supervised release, we will not disturb it. Second, regarding the length of Appellant’s new term of supervised release, Russell sees a contradiction between the district court’s oral pronouncement and its written judgment.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to require GPS monitoring for the first two years of Appellant’s new term of supervised release and remanded for the district court to clarify the length of that term. The court held that the district court did not abuse its wide discretion when it concluded that two years of GPS monitoring was “reasonably necessary.” The court explained that GPS monitoring’s potential to protect children — from a serial child-sex predator who will otherwise be better able to sexually assault children — outweighs the effect of that monitoring on Appellant’s liberty.However, the court remanded for clarification about Appellant’s new term, explaining that the district court’s oral pronouncement of a sentence controls over a written judgment, and the district court’s aside at the revocation hearing created ambiguity about the length of Appellant’s new term of supervised release. View "USA v. Mark Russell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellant was convicted of unlawfully possessing a loaded firearm. He does not dispute that the bulge of that gun in his waistband gave an arresting officer the reasonable suspicion required to conduct a stop-and-frisk that uncovered the gun. But Appellant argues he submitted to an illegal show of authority several seconds before then when the officer did not yet have a close view of the bulge in Appellant’s waistband.The DC Circuit affirmed the finding that Appellant did not submit to a show of authority. The court explained that Appellant has not described submission to a show of authority. Because the officer’s statement (“No.”) followed Appellant’s declaration that he was “going to walk off,” Appellant could not submit while he “continued moving forward.” One cannot submit to an order not to “walk off” by walking off. Moreover, even when a show of authority does not expressly prohibit flight, it can do so implicitly. Accordingly, at no point did Appellant voluntarily submit to a show of authority. He, therefore, was not seized until the officer blocked his path. By then, the officer could see the bulge of Appellant’s gun in his waistband, and Appellant does not dispute that the bulge gave the officer the reasonable suspicion required for the stop and frisk that followed. View "USA v. Amistad Veney" on Justia Law

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Appellant was indicted for transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, attempted production of child pornography, and commission of a felony involving a minor by a person required to register as a sex offender. After a bifurcated jury and bench trial, Appellant was convicted on all counts.   On appeal, Appellant brings three challenges to his convictions. First, he contends that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the government’s expert testimony concerning the approximate locations of Appellant’s and the transported minor’s cell phones on the night of their meeting. Second, Appellant argues that the government should have been required to prove not just that he transported a minor to engage in sexual activity, but that he knew she was underage. Third, Appellant challenges the constitutionality of the Act that required him to register as a sex offender.   The DC Circuit affirmed Appellant’s convictions. The court held that the district court, in this case, did not abuse its discretion in admitting the expert’s testimony under Rule 702. The court explained that the district court justifiably concluded that concerns about the specific distances the expert drove should be considered by the jury in assessing the weight of the expert’s testimony and not by the court in its threshold admissibility determination. Further, the court explained that in light of the probative value of the expert’s testimony and the deference the Circuit Court affords district courts in making determinations under Rule 403, it cannot say that the district court abused its discretion in allowing the jury to hear from the expert. View "USA v. Charles Morgan, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a guilty plea to travelling across state lines to sexually abuse a child. Defendant was arrested when after he communicated with an undercover officer purporting to be a man who was offering their child for illicit sexual activities. At sentencing, the district court applied an enhancement under U.S.S.G. Sec. 2A3.1(b)(2)(A) because “the victim had not attained the age of twelve years.” Rather than challenge the applicability of the enhancement, trial counsel asked for a downward variance to recognize that the “victim was not real. The court declined counsel's request and Defendant was sentenced to 108 months of imprisonment and 120 months of supervised release.Defendant appealed his sentence, claiming that counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the applicability of the U.S.S.G. Sec. 2A3.1(b)(2)(A) enhancement. The court determined that, because Defendant intended to sexually assault a young child, the sentencing enhancement applied. Thus, counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to its application. View "USA v. Rodney Davis" on Justia Law

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Appellant shipped a package containing chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl from China to Peru. Appellant pleaded guilty to three counts relating to the importation of controlled substances and listed chemicals into the United States. He raised a single challenge on appeal: he contends that there is no importation into the United States when a package stops temporarily in United States territory en route to a foreign destination without ever clearing United States customs.   The DC Circuit dismissed the appeal. The court explained that Appellant’s plea agreement contains an appeal waiver that expressly bars him from raising the argument he now seeks to press on appeal. In the circumstances of this case, the appeal waiver is enforceable. The court explained that hat an appeal waiver generally meets the requirement that it be “knowing” when “the defendant is aware of and understands the risks involved” and “his choice is made with eyes open.”   Here, Appellant does not—and could not—claim to have misunderstood the relevant risks. The court further wrote that Appellant made the decision to forgo the uncertainty of filing a motion to dismiss and to instead accept the government’s plea offer. The agreement he signed memorialized the benefits and costs of that decision. He obtained the benefit of the government’s dropping three additional counts against him. In exchange, he waived his right to raise certain objections to his counts of conviction in any appeal, thereby securing a benefit for the government, too. View "In re: Sealed Case (PUBLIC OPINION)" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellant was convicted on several counts related to his involvement in the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the United States’ diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. He was sentenced to 22 years of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. He now appealed his convictions under several theories, seeking acquittal or at least a new trial. The government cross-appealed, arguing the district court’s 22-year sentence is substantively unreasonably low.   The DC Circuit reversed Appellant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court held for the government finding that Appellant has failed to show that he was convicted on legally insufficient evidence, that he was prejudiced by any erroneous evidentiary rulings or jury instructions, or that he was substantially prejudiced by the prosecution’s closing arguments. On the other hand, Appellant’s sentence is substantively unreasonably low in light of the gravity of his crimes of terrorism. The district court’s decision to disregard the conduct for which Appellant was acquitted cannot account for its dramatic downward departure from the Sentencing Guidelines’ recommendation. View "USA v. Ahmed Abukhatallah" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellant sought the dismissal of most of the counts of his indictment and a new trial on the remaining counts. In his view, the indictment failed to allege a convergence between the deceived entity, CareFirst, and those deprived of property— which, in Appellant’s view, were his clients. In other words, he claimed that the indictment did not allege that he defrauded CareFirst of any of its own property. He argued instead that the indictment and trial improperly relied on evidence that he defrauded his small business clients by overcharging them for health insurance premiums. He also brought a number of evidentiary challenges.   The DC Circuit affirmed Appellant’s conviction and sentence. The court wrote that there is no convergence problem in this case. The indictment alleged that Appellant defrauded CareFirst, causing it to lose money. That is the same fraud that the government proved at trial. The differential between the falsely lowered premiums that Appellant tricked CareFirst into charging and those he billed his clients represented, at least in part, property fraudulently taken from CareFirst. That price difference also helped to show Appellant profit motive for the fraud, and demonstrated that he was neither acting as a Robin Hood nor at the behest of his clients to help reduce their premiums. None of Appellant’s other challenges on appeal succeed. View "USA v. Tarek Abou-Khatwa" on Justia Law