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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The case involves John Maron Nassif, who was convicted of four misdemeanor offenses for his role in the January 6, 2021, riot at the United States Capitol. He was sentenced to seven months in prison. On appeal, Nassif challenged one of his convictions and his sentence. The challenged conviction was for demonstrating in a United States Capitol building. Nassif argued that the statute’s prohibition against parading, demonstrating, or picketing in Capitol buildings is facially overbroad and void for vagueness in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause.The district court rejected Nassif’s overbreadth claim, holding that the interior of the Capitol building is a nonpublic forum where the government may limit First Amendment activities so long as the restrictions are reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum and are viewpoint neutral. The court reasoned that, in enacting section 5104(e)(2)(G), Congress permissibly determined that its institutional interest in peaceful space in which to do its lawmaking work supports the challenged limitation on demonstrating inside the Capitol buildings.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the prohibition is reasonable and that it clearly applies to Nassif’s conduct, so it rejected his facial challenges and affirmed the conviction. The court also rejected Nassif’s challenges to his sentence and affirmed it. View "United States v. Nassif" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the appellant, Joey Green-Remache, who was charged with interstate violation of a protective order, following a jury trial. Green-Remache was also charged with first-degree burglary and kidnapping, but the jury hung on these charges. He later pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary, and the Government dismissed the kidnapping charge. The charges were based on the Government's claim that Green-Remache broke into his on-again-off-again girlfriend's apartment and forcibly transported her from D.C. to Maryland, contrary to a civil protective order. At trial, the Government presented a Clinical Psychologist who testified about the characteristics of coercive control relationships between sexual partners. The appellant claimed that the jury was likely heavily influenced by this "opinion testimony," which he argues was not connected to the circumstances of this case. Therefore, he requested that the case be remanded to determine whether counsel's failure to object to the Psychologist's testimony constituted ineffective assistance that prejudiced him.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied the appellant's request for a remand. The court held that the record conclusively demonstrated that the appellant was not prejudiced by his counsel's alleged errors. The court noted that the Government introduced considerable evidence to support its theory that the appellant caused his girlfriend to travel with him to Maryland by force, coercion, duress, or fraud, apart from the Psychologist's testimony. This evidence included the girlfriend's grand jury testimony, recorded interviews, a 911 call, testimony from a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, and testimony from two eyewitnesses. The court concluded that this "overwhelming" evidence against the appellant undercut his claim that, but for his counsel's alleged errors, the outcome of the trial would have been different. The court affirmed the judgment of the District Court. View "USA v. Green-Remache" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in a case involving Clark Calloway Jr., a former U.S. Marine convicted of several firearms offenses. Calloway had acquired a fully automatic AK-47, which was inoperable, from an FBI source after expressing violent intentions on social media, advocating for ISIS, and pledging to commit violence against non-Muslims. He was arrested upon possession of the firearm and was later convicted on three counts under 18 U.S.C. § 922 and § 924.At sentencing, the district court calculated Calloway's total offense level under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and found that he posed a serious risk to public safety, which justified an upward departure in his sentence. Calloway appealed this decision, arguing that the inoperability of the gun he received negated significant public endangerment, and that the upward departure was duplicative of a separate sentencing enhancement applied by the court.The Court of Appeals disagreed with Calloway's arguments. It held that the district court was correct in its findings of fact that Calloway was dangerous at the time of the offense, and that his possession of the firearm and his intent to use it for violent purposes posed a serious risk to public safety. The court also rejected Calloway's argument that the upward departure was duplicative of the sentencing enhancement, as the latter was applied due to Calloway's intent to use the firearm for another felony offense, while the former was due to the risk he posed to public safety. View "USA v. Calloway" on Justia Law

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In 2024, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit presided over a case involving an appellant, Larry Brock, who had been convicted for his participation in the January 6th riot at the United States Capitol. Brock was convicted of six crimes, including obstructing Congress’s certification of the electoral count under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2). The district court applied a three-level sentencing enhancement to Brock’s conviction, arguing his conduct resulted in “substantial interference with the administration of justice[.]” Brock challenged the interpretation of Section 1512(c)(2)’s elements and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction.The Court of Appeals affirmed Brock’s conviction, agreeing with the district court’s interpretation of the elements of Section 1512(c)(2) and finding the evidence sufficient to support the conviction. However, the court concluded that the three-level sentencing enhancement for interfering with the “administration of justice” was inapplicable to interference with the legislative process of certifying electoral votes. As a result, the court vacated Brock’s sentence and remanded the case to the district court for resentencing without the application of the sentencing enhancement. View "USA v. Brock" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, former President Donald Trump was appealing a district court's denial of his motion to dismiss an indictment against him. The indictment was based on his actions contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election and interfering with the constitutional transfer of power to his successor. Trump argued that, as a former President, he was immune from prosecution for his official actions while in office.The appeals court disagreed and affirmed the district court's decision. It held that former presidents are not immune from federal criminal prosecution for their official acts. The court concluded that the Constitution, federal statutes, and history do not support the existence of such immunity. The court also noted that former President Trump's actions in question, if proven, constituted an unprecedented assault on the structure of the U.S. government.Additionally, the court rejected Trump's contention that his impeachment and acquittal by the Senate for the same or closely related conduct bar his subsequent criminal prosecution under principles of double jeopardy. The court held that impeachment is a political process and does not result in criminal punishment, and the crimes alleged in the indictment differ from the offense for which Trump was impeached. Thus, the court concluded that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply.These holdings allowed the criminal prosecution against Trump to proceed. View "USA v. Trump" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Russell Alford, who was a participant in the Capitol protest on January 6, 2021, appealed his convictions and sentence for four misdemeanors. The misdemeanors were related to his unauthorized entry and conduct within the U.S. Capitol. Although Alford's behavior while in the Capitol was neither violent nor destructive, he was convicted for his role in disrupting the Congress's electoral certification and endangering public safety.Alford raised two issues in his appeal: the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions for disorderly or disruptive conduct and the reasonableness of his twelve-month sentence. The court affirmed his convictions, noting that a jury could rationally conclude that his unauthorized presence as part of a mob contributed to the disruption of the Congress's proceedings. The court also affirmed his sentence, stating that the district court was within its discretion in imposing a within-Guidelines sentence after considering the circumstances.The case underscores that disorderly or disruptive conduct, as defined by relevant statutes, can include non-violent and non-destructive actions if they are likely to endanger public safety or create a public disturbance. Even passive conduct can be deemed disorderly or disruptive, depending on the context. The court also emphasized that sentencing disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct are not inherently unreasonable, especially when the defendant's conduct during trial or other factors may justify a greater sentence. View "USA v. Alford" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit considered an appeal by Khan Mohammed, who had been convicted of international drug trafficking and narcoterrorism and sentenced to two concurrent life sentences. The district court later vacated the narcoterrorism charge, and upon resentencing for the drug trafficking charge, applied a terrorism enhancement under Section 3A1.4 of the Sentencing Guidelines, again resulting in a life sentence.Mohammed appealed this new sentence, arguing that the district court committed legal and factual errors in applying the terrorism enhancement, and used the wrong burden of proof. The appellate court affirmed Mohammed’s sentence. The court found no plain error in the lower court's application of Section 3A1.4, rejecting Mohammed's argument that the language of the statute had been abrogated and that the enhancement should only apply to convictions of federal crimes of terrorism. The court also held that the district court did not err by applying a preponderance of the evidence standard to conduct that was the subject of Mohammed's vacated conviction, even if the case involved extraordinary circumstances. Lastly, the court upheld the district court's factual findings that supported the application of the terrorism enhancement, declining to disturb findings that had already been upheld on appeal. View "USA v. Mohammed" on Justia Law

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In a case involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has partially upheld and partially vacated a lower court's order restricting Trump's public statements about the trial. The case stems from Trump being indicted for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election through unlawful means and for obstructing the election’s certification. Trump had posted numerous statements on social media attacking potential witnesses in the case, the judge, and the prosecution team. The lower court issued an order restraining the parties and their counsel from making public statements that "target" the parties, counsel and their staffs, court personnel, and "any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony." On appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the order insofar as it prohibited all parties and their counsel from making public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in the criminal proceeding. The court also upheld the order to the extent it prohibited parties and their counsel from making public statements about counsel in the case other than the Special Counsel, members of the court’s staff and counsel’s staffs, or the family members of any counsel or staff member, if those statements were made with the intent to materially interfere with the trial or with the knowledge that such interference was highly likely to result. However, the court vacated the order to the extent it covered speech beyond these categories. The court found that the order was justified by a sufficiently serious risk of prejudice to an ongoing judicial proceeding, that no less restrictive alternatives would adequately address that risk, and that the order was narrowly tailored to ensure the fair administration of justice while also respecting Trump's First Amendment rights. View "USA v. Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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Appellant participated in the riot that took place on January 6, 2021, at the United States Capitol. The riot interrupted and delayed Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote that determined the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. A jury convicted Appellant of obstructing the vote certification in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(c)(2). On appeal, Appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to show that he acted “corruptly,” as Section 1512(c)(2) requires. He also challenged his 87-month sentence, making new arguments on appeal that the district court erred in applying two specific offense characteristics for obstruction of the “administration of justice.”   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Robertson acted “corruptly,” and the district court did not plainly err in applying the specific offense characteristics. The court explained that the interpretations of “corruptly” posited by Appellant and the Fischer concurrence appear to confuse sufficiency with necessity: Their proposed definitions of “corruptly” may be sufficient to prove corrupt intent, but neither dishonesty nor seeking a benefit for oneself or another is necessary to demonstrate “wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil” behavior within the meaning of Section 1512(c). The court wrote that it declined to adopt the limited constructions of “corruptly” proffered by Appellant and the Fischer concurrence, which each insist that the broad concept of “corrupt” intent must be proved in only one way. View "USA v. Thomas Robertson" on Justia Law

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Defendant committed a petty offense. The district court sentenced him to prison, followed by probation. The only question on appeal is whether that sentence is authorized by statute.   The DC Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court held that probation and imprisonment are alternative sentences that cannot generally be combined. So the district court could not impose both for Defendant’s petty offense. The court explained that the government’s reading conflicts with the statutory scheme of Section 3561. Congress made probation and imprisonment separate options for separate offenses, length of post-confinement monitoring to the severity of an offense. The Government’s reading subverts those choices. View "USA v. James Little" on Justia Law