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

Articles 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

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Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, and first-degree fraud. On appeal, she mounted a single challenge: the prosecution made improper comments during its rebuttal closing argument that substantially prejudiced her and denied her a fair trial. Appellant objected to most of the prosecution’s statements in the district court, and the court sustained the objections.   The DC Circuit affirmed Appellant’s convictions, finding no reversible error in the district court’s response to the prosecution’s challenged statements. Appellant argued that the court should apply harmless-error review. However, the court explained that harmless-error review is inapplicable in the circumstances of this case. Harmless-error analysis generally applies when a district court erroneously rejects a defendant’s timely claim of an error. Here, though, the district court did not erroneously reject Appellant’s claim of an error. Indeed, the court did not reject any relevant claim of error at all. Appellant’s claim involves the four allegedly improper statements made by the prosecution in the rebuttal closing argument. But Appellant raised no objection in the district court to the fourth of those statements, so there was no claim of any error at trial as to that one. And while Appellant did object to the other three statements, the district court did not erroneously overrule her objections.   Further, Appellant cannot demonstrate plain error. The district court did not err, much less plainly err, in responding to the prosecution’s challenged statements. Lastly, even assuming the district court should have taken any additional actions, the court’s failure to do so did not affect Appellant’s substantial rights. View "USA v. Brynee Baylor" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the decision of the district court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss this complaint alleging, among other things, an Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs or for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, holding that dismissal was warranted.While he was incarcerated in federal prison and suffering from Hepatitis C, Plaintiff applied to receive treatment with Harvoni. Dr. Jeffrey Allen, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Medical Director, denied the request under BOP's then-operative protocol. Pursuant to later-revised protocol, Plaintiff received treatment, and his Hepatitis C was cured. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Defendant inflicted cruel and unusual punishment upon him by failing to grant his initial treatment request. The district court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss or for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that qualified immunity protected Defendant from Plaintiff's claims. View "Bernier v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Manuel Reynoso was convicted by jury on a gun-possession charge and two drug charges. On appeal, Reynoso challenged his convictions on several grounds. On the same day the district court sentenced Reynoso, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Rehaif v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 2191 (2019), which established that the felon-in-possession statute required the government to show not only that the defendant knew he possessed a gun but also that he knew he had previously been convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year of imprisonment. Reynoso contended on appeal that his felon-in-possession conviction had to be overturned due to the government’s failure to make the additional showing Rehaif required. Because Reynoso did not raise that argument in the district court, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reviewed his claim for only plain error. After the appellate court heard oral argument in this case, the Supreme Court granted review in another case to consider whether a person might be entitled to plain-error relief on appeal in a case involving a Rehaif error, Greer v. United States, 141 S. Ct. 2090 (2021). Greer held that Rehaif errors at trial normally will not qualify as plain errors of a kind warranting relief in appeals from felon-in-possession convictions. In accordance with Greer, the Court of Appeal concluded the district court’s Rehaif error in this case did not amount to plain error. The Court also rejected Reynoso’s other challenges to his convictions, thus affirming the district court. View "United States v. Reynoso" on Justia Law

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Appellant, a suspected terrorist, plotted with a confidential informant to rob and murder a diamond dealer. Appellant was arrested after he provided two semi-automatic guns for use in the crime. While in pretrial detention, Appellant orchestrated a plot to prevent the informant from testifying against him. Appellant eventually pleaded guilty to the felon-in-possession count, and the government agreed to drop tampering and obstruction charges.In 2015, Appellant sought all FBI records containing his name, and any terrorism investigation he may have been a part of. The FBI denied the request. Citing the Appellant's plea agreement from the felon-in-possession case from years before, the district court granted summary judgment to the FBI.FOIA waivers must serve a legitimate criminal-justice interest to be enforceable. Here, the D.C. Circuit found that the waiver served such interests because it protected the safety of the confidential informant. The court also concluded that the waiver covered all documents requested by Appellant. View "Jihad Barnes v. FBI" on Justia Law

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Appellant made two challenges to a life sentence for running a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE) centered around crack cocaine distribution. See 21 U.S.C. Section 848(b). In particular, Appellant appeals the district court’s denials of his motions for relief under the First Step Act of 2018 and 28 U.S.C. Section 2255. After the district court issued its First Step Act order, the DC Circuit decided United States v. White, 984 F.3d 76 (D.C. Cir. 2020), in which the court elaborated on First Step Act proceedings. Because it is unclear whether the district court began from the correct statutory mandatory minimum sentence in light of White, the court remanded the First Step Act appeal to the district court for it to clarify the applicable baseline; and, because the district court could change Appellant’s sentence on remand, the court held the section 2255 appeal in abeyance for now. View "USA v. Michael Palmer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The district court sentenced Appellant to life imprisonment, concluding that a sentence within the Sentencing Guidelines range did not reflect the seriousness of Appellant’s crimes or act as a sufficient deterrence. Appellant argued that the district court exceeded the scope of its resentencing mandate and committed procedural and substantive errors in imposing the life sentence. The DC Circuit affirmed Appellant’s life sentence finding that the district court did not commit a procedural and substantive error. The court further remanded for the correction of several clerical errors in the judgment.   The court first considered whether the district court committed a “significant procedural error,” such as improperly calculating the Sentencing Guidelines range or relying on clearly erroneous facts. Here, the court rejected Appellant’s other claims of “significant” procedural error. First, the district court did not use the Guidelines as its basis for the upward variance. It explicitly applied the upward variance based on considerations required by 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a), including the “nature and circumstances” and “seriousness” of the crimes.   Next, the court considered“the substantive reasonableness of the sentence” under the “abuse-of-discretion” standard, considering the “totality of the circumstances, including the extent of any variance from the Guidelines range.” Here, the court reasoned that the district court distinguished this case from a typical case with the same underlying charges. Further, Appellant's sentence properly considered the purposes of criminal sentencing. View "USA v. Frederick Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellate was sentenced to life in prison in 1979 when he escaped prison and killed a federal officer. After serving more than 40 years of his sentence, he sought parole relief but was denied by the U.S. Parole Commission ("the Commission"). The Commission reasoned that Appellant was a high risk.Appellant sued the Commission, claiming that the Commission violated his due process rights and exceeded its statutory discretion when it denied him parole in 2016. Reaching the merits of Appellant's petition, the district court denied relief. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of Appellant's petition, finding that the district court's jurisdictional analysis was proper and that the Commission did not violate Appellant's rights. View "Artie Dufur v. USPC" on Justia Law

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Eight years after Belgium extradited defendant, a Tunisian national, to stand trial in the United States on terrorism charges, the trial has yet to take place. In this appeal, defendant challenged the district court's denial of his motions to reconsider dismissing the indictment in light of intervening, and conflicting, Belgian legal developments.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the Belgian legal developments defendant invokes do not constitute significant new evidence that would warrant disturbing this court's 2017 decision affirming the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment. The court stated that defendant has selectively picked and chosen phrases from these documents to argue that this court must defer to the Belgian courts' interpretation of Article 5 and revisit its decision in Trabelsi II. However, the court concluded that none of the intervening decisions, communications, or pleadings present significant new evidence or detract from the deference this court owes to the Belgian state. Therefore, defendant has failed to meet the significantly high burden for departing from the law of the case. View "United States v. Trabelsi" on Justia Law

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Jackson pled guilty to possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base, entered a plea agreement, and was sentenced to 48 months of imprisonment to run consecutively to an anticipated, not-yet-imposed, prison sentence in another district court. While imprisoned, Jackson filed two unsuccessful motions for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A).The D.C. Circuit affirmed his sentence and the denial of the motions. While the judge accepting Jackson’s guilty plea did not fully comply with Rule 11(b)(1)(N), as he did not go over the appeal rights that Jackson was waiving, Jackson still knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived the right to appeal. Jackson confirmed to the judge at his plea hearing that he had read the plea agreement carefully, that he understood it, and had sufficient time to discuss the plea agreement with his counsel The language of Jackson’s plea agreement is unambiguous, making any error in the plea colloquy harmless. Jackson’s obesity and sleep apnea did not constitute extraordinary circumstances and, in evaluating the section 3553(a) sentencing factors, the district court did not err in evaluating his continuing dangerousness by considering his dangerousness at the time of his earlier criminal history. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law