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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit vacated the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress evidence. The court held that officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they seized defendant because they lacked reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. In this case, a seizure occurred when the officers pulled into the parking lot, partially blocked defendant's vehicle, and activated their take-down light. The court held that any inference of suspicion that the officers drew from encountering defendant soon after hearing the nearby gunshots were undermined by the government's failure to identify specific and articulable facts supporting the officers' estimation of where the various shots came from. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Delaney" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit reversed the district court's judgment and remanded with instructions to grant defendant's motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255. Defendant was convicted of murder almost 50 years ago. The government recently acknowledged that hair evidence introduced against defendant was false and exceeded the limits of science, and that the prosecution knew or should have known as much at the time of his trial. The court held that the false hair evidence presented by the government was material, because there is a reasonable likelihood that the false hair evidence could have affected the jury's verdict. In this case, the hair evidence provided powerful corroborating evidence. In the absence of the potentially confirming role played by the false hair evidence, the court held that a reasonable juror could have found that the government fell short of meeting its heavy burden, even without the defense advancing a compelling alternative theory. View "United States v. Butler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit denied petitions for writs of mandamus seeking vacatur of all orders issued by the former presiding military judge because of the appearance of partiality. Petitioners are being tried before a military tribunal for their alleged roles in the September 11th terrorist attacks. The court held that it was neither clear nor indisputable that the military judge should have recused himself. The court explained that the military judge's career and relationships do not constitute reasonable bases for the extraordinary remedy of mandamus. View "In re: Mustafa Al Hawsawi" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit vacated the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining four plaintiffs from being executed. Plaintiffs claimed that the 2019 execution protocol and addendum violate the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 (FDPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Controlled Substances Act, and the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. Each member of the panel had a different view of what the FDPA requires. Plaintiffs' primary claim under the FDPA, on which the district court found they were likely to succeed, involves the requirement to implement federal executions in the manner provided by state law. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao both rejected that claim on the merits; Judge Katsas concluded that the FDPA regulates only the top-line choice among execution methods, such as the choice to use lethal injection instead of hanging or electrocution; Judge Rao concluded that the FDPA also requires the federal government to follow execution procedures set forth in state statutes and regulations, but not execution procedures set forth in less formal state execution protocols; and Judge Rao further concluded that the federal protocol allows the federal government to depart from its procedures as necessary to conform to state statutes and regulations. On either of their views, plaintiffs' claim was without merit and the preliminary injunction must be vacated. Plaintiffs contend in the alternative that the federal protocol and addendum reflect an unlawful transfer of authority from the United States Marshals Service to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Judge Katsas would reject the claim on the merits, and Judge Rao would hold that it was forfeited. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao resolved the notice-and-comment claim because it involves purely legal questions intertwined with the merits of the FDPA issues at the center of this appeal. Judge Katsas and Judge Rao concluded, on the merits, that the 2019 protocol and addendum are rules of agency organization, procedure, or practice exempt from the APA's requirements for notice-and-comment rulemaking. Therefore, judgment for the government must be entered on this claim. Finally, the court declined to reject plaintiffs' claims under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Controlled Substances Act. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: Federal Bureau of Prisons Execution Protocol Cases" on Justia Law

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On remand, appellant asserted various ineffective assistance of counsel claims during the suppression stage, based on counsel's failure to move for STA dismissal, based on counsel's failure to call a witness, and based on counsel's failure to argue for a sentencing reduction. The DC Circuit held that appellant has established ineffective assistance with respect to his claim that trial counsel should have informed the district court that he had lost one year of Maryland state jail credits while awaiting his federal trial. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment insofar as it rejected appellant's sentencing-based ineffective assistance of counsel claim, remanding for resentencing. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit affirmed the various challenged rulings, but remanded the ineffective assistance of counsel claims to the district court. In this case, appellant was convicted for kidnapping and unlawful possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The court held that the district court did not plainly err by failing to sua sponte sever the kidnapping charges from the drug charges and order separate trials; the district court did not plainly err in admitting drug offense evidence; and appellant failed to demonstrate that the district court committed plain error when it refused to exercise its discretion to grant a new trial based on the exclusion of jury instruction 2.219 regarding impeachment by proof of a pending case, probation, or parole witness. The court also held that the district court did not err when it considered acquitted and uncharged conduct in imposing appellant's sentence, and the district court did not clearly or obviously err when it relied on the inference that kidnapping was in furtherance of appellant's drug trafficking at sentencing. Finally, the court held that appellant has raised a colorable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "United States v. Browne" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for conspiracy to deal heroin and other drugs. The court held that defendant has failed to demonstrate prejudice from the government's belated disclosure of a handwritten letter tending to impeach a government witness, and thus his Brady claim failed; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant's motion for severance; the indictment's allegation that defendant and his codefendant conspired to distribute drugs made joinder of their trials proper; and refusing to disclose the names of his customers disqualified defendant from taking advantage of the safety valve. View "United States v. Mason" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for conspiracy to commit bank robbery by intimidation. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding that defendants agreed to rob by intimidation. In this case, the court considered the record as a whole, including defendants' demands and the bank tellers' fear. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The DC Circuit affirmed Defendants Cooper and Bryant's appeal of their convictions and sentences for theft of public money and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The court held that the district court correctly concluded that Cooper's statements could be used at trial where the evidence showed that Cooper's statements were given freely and voluntarily; a special agent's testimony did not meaningfully prejudice the defense; the district court did not err by denying Cooper's motion for a mistrial during the government's rebuttal where the prosecutor did not misstate the evidence applicable to Cooper, and the occasional inadvertent references to "these defendants" when discussing acts not attributable to Cooper were quickly remedied; and the district court's calculation of the restitution amount was appropriate. View "United States v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for conspiring to traffic wholesale quantities of cocaine into the United States. The court found no grounds for reversal, holding that the evidence presented at trial did not materially diverge from the charges contained in the indictment. Furthermore, even if the district court erred by rejecting defendants' request for a multiple conspiracies jury instruction, defendants failed to show that the error substantially prejudiced them. View "United States v. Lorenzana-Cordon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law