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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Several defendants were charged by indictment in separate cases with various offenses arising from their alleged participation in the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. Among other charges, the government also charged each Defendant with one count of Obstruction of an Official Proceeding under 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(c)(2). The district court granted each Defendant’s motion to dismiss. The government filed a motion to reconsider, which the district court denied. At issue on consolidated appeal is whether individuals who allegedly assaulted law enforcement officers while participating in the Capitol riot can be charged with corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(c)(2). The DC Circuit reversed. The court held that the district court erred in dismissing the counts under 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(c)(2). The court wrote that Defendants’ alleged conduct falls comfortably within the plain meaning of “corruptly . . . obstruct[ing], influenc[ing], or imped[ing] [an] official proceeding, or attempt[ing] to do so.” The alternative interpretations of Section 1512(c)(2) proffered by the district court and Defendants failed to convince the court to depart from the natural reading of the statute’s unambiguous text. View "USA v. Joseph Fischer" on Justia Law

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Defendant opened bank accounts for fictitious companies, deposited stolen checks into the accounts, and then withdrew the cash from the accounts. After he was arrested, Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, and two counts of conspiracy to launder money. The district court sentenced Defendant to 90 months in prison. However, prior to pleading guilty, Defendant met with prosecutors to discuss the crimes in hopes of obtaining a favorable plea agreement.Defendant and his attorney reviewed the Debriefing Agreement, which stated the prosecution could make derivative use of and may pursue any investigative leads, in this or any other investigation, suggested by any statements made by, or other information provided by Defendant. The agreement specifically stated that Defendant would not enjoy the protections outlined by the Supreme Court in Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441 (1972).On appeal, Defendant claimed that the government violated the Debriefing Agreement when it used the cell phone password he provided during discussions with prosecutors to obtain additional evidence against him, resulting in additional charges being brought through a superseding indictment.The D.C. Circuit disagreed, affirming Defendant's conviction. The court explained that Kastigar did not apply because the government did not compel him to provide any incriminating information; he did so voluntarily pursuant to the Debriefing Agreement. View "USA v. Kelvin Otunyo" on Justia Law

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The Department of Defense has detained Petitioner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for over two decades. In 2008, a military commission convicted Petitioner of conspiracy to commit various war crimes. He now seeks judicial review of his ensuing life sentence. Petitioner moved to disqualify Judge Katsas based on my involvement in other Guantanamo Bay detainee litigation while serving in the Department of Justice between 2001 and 2009.   Judge Katsas denied the motion to disqualify. The court explained that Section 455 of Title 28 establishes disqualification standards for federal judges. Section 455(b) lists five specific circumstances requiring disqualification. Petitioner cites these provisions and a handful of cases applying them for the general proposition that a judge “may not hear a case in which he previously played any role.” The court wrote that Section 455(a) is a more general “catch-all” provision, and the court should not lightly use it to shift the lines specifically drawn in section 455(b). At most, that should occur only in “rare and extraordinary circumstances,” which are not present here. Judge Katsas wrote that in short, his work at DOJ does not disqualify him under the specific rules set forth in section 455(b), and no other consideration tips the balance in favor of disqualification under section 455(a). View "Ali Hamza Ahmad al Bahlul v. USA" on Justia Law

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Appellants are foreign companies that allegedly launder money for Kassim Tajideen, a prominent Hezbollah financier and specially designated global terrorist (SDGT). The United States seized three sums totaling $612,168.23 belonging to Appellants and filed the instant forfeiture action in order to keep the funds permanently. When no one claimed the funds for more than a year after the government gave notice of the forfeiture action, the government moved for a default judgment. Apparently realizing their mistake, Appellants belatedly attempted to file claims to the seized funds to prevent the district court from ordering forfeiture. The court struck Appellants’ filings as untimely and entered default judgment in favor of the government. After the court denied Appellants’ late reconsideration motion, they filed the instant appeal.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court in part and dismiss the appeal in part for lack of jurisdiction. The court explained that Appellants’ Rule 59(e) motion was untimely and, as a result, so was its notice of appeal, at least with respect to the district court’s June 3 order striking Appellants’ putative claims and entering default judgment. Further, although the notice of appeal was timely with respect to the district court’s order denying Appellants’ Rule 59(e) motion, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion. The motion was not only untimely but also presented arguments that either were or could have been raised before judgment was entered. View "USA v. Three Sums Totaling $612,168.23 in Seized United States Currency" on Justia Law

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Appellant  agreed to plead guilty to one section 924(c) charge and one cocaine possession charge in exchange for dismissal of the remaining four charges. The parties agreed that the career offender sentencing guideline, U.S.S.G. Section 4B1.1(a), applied. The district court sentenced Appellant to eight years. Appellant waived any right to challenge the sentence on direct appeal or by motion under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, except to the extent such a motion was based on newly discovered evidence or a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Appellant filed a motion for compassionate release. He argued that the narrowed stacking provision, the commission of a Winstead error to trigger the career offender guideline, and the pre-Borden threat of a 15-year minimum sentence under ACCA were extraordinary and compelling circumstances warranting early release.   The DC Circuit affirmed and held that the district court properly denied Appellant’s motion. The court explained that Appellant is correct that factors may sometimes become extraordinary and compelling when considered together. And here the district court did not explicitly address the combined weight of Appellant’s arguments. Still, the court did not abuse its discretion. It correctly determined that Appellant’s arguments factors about the intervening changes in sentencing law were legally irrelevant to the compassionate-release determination. That left only arguments about his own health and family circumstances. The court reasonably found that these circumstances were minimally significant, so it did not need to say explicitly that their combined force did not rise to the level of extraordinary and compelling circumstances. View "USA v. Curtis Jenkins" on Justia 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