Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Petitioners pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges. The district court calculated their advisory Guidelines ranges, which fell below the mandatory minimums under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1), and concluded that the mandatory minimums superseded the Guidelines ranges. The court departed downward under 18 U.S.C. 3553(e) to reflect substantial assistance to the government in prosecuting other drug offenders. In determining the final sentences, the court considered the Guidelines “substantial assistance factors” but did not consider the original Guidelines ranges. The Sentencing Commission subsequently amended the Guidelines and reduced the base offense levels for certain drug offenses, including those for which petitioners were convicted. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed the denial of petitioners’ motions for sentence reductions under section 3582(c)(2), which makes defendants eligible if they were sentenced “based on a sentencing range” that was later lowered. Petitioners’ sentences were not “based on” their lowered Guidelines ranges but were “based on” their mandatory minimums and on their substantial assistance to the government. For a sentence to be “based on” a lowered Guidelines range, the range must have at least played “a relevant part [in] the framework the [sentencing] judge used” in imposing the sentence. Just because courts routinely calculate Guidelines ranges does not mean that any sentence subsequently imposed must be regarded as “based on” a Guidelines range. In this case, the district court properly discarded their Guidelines ranges and permissibly considered only factors related to substantial assistance when departing downward. Identically situated defendants sentenced today may receive the same sentences petitioners received. View "Koons v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Petitioners pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges. The district court calculated their advisory Guidelines ranges, which fell below the mandatory minimums under 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1), and concluded that the mandatory minimums superseded the Guidelines ranges. The court departed downward under 18 U.S.C. 3553(e) to reflect substantial assistance to the government in prosecuting other drug offenders. In determining the final sentences, the court considered the Guidelines “substantial assistance factors” but did not consider the original Guidelines ranges. The Sentencing Commission subsequently amended the Guidelines and reduced the base offense levels for certain drug offenses, including those for which petitioners were convicted. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed the denial of petitioners’ motions for sentence reductions under section 3582(c)(2), which makes defendants eligible if they were sentenced “based on a sentencing range” that was later lowered. Petitioners’ sentences were not “based on” their lowered Guidelines ranges but were “based on” their mandatory minimums and on their substantial assistance to the government. For a sentence to be “based on” a lowered Guidelines range, the range must have at least played “a relevant part [in] the framework the [sentencing] judge used” in imposing the sentence. Just because courts routinely calculate Guidelines ranges does not mean that any sentence subsequently imposed must be regarded as “based on” a Guidelines range. In this case, the district court properly discarded their Guidelines ranges and permissibly considered only factors related to substantial assistance when departing downward. Identically situated defendants sentenced today may receive the same sentences petitioners received. View "Koons v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Hughes, indicted on drug and gun charges, negotiated a Type-C plea agreement, which stipulated that Hughes would receive a sentence of 180 months but did not refer to a particular Guidelines range. The district court sentenced him to 180 months, calculating Hughes’ Guidelines range as 188-235 months and finding that the sentence was in accordance with the Guidelines and other factors it was required to consider. Weeks later, the Sentencing Commission adopted and made retroactive an amendment that had the effect of reducing Hughes’ sentencing range to 151-188 months. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the denial of Hughes’ motion for a reduced sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2). The Supreme Court reversed, resolving a split among the circuits. A sentence imposed pursuant to a Type-C agreement is “based on” a Guidelines range if that range was part of the framework the district court relied on to impose the sentence or accept the agreement. A district court imposes a sentence that is “based on” a Guidelines range for purposes of section 3582(c)(2) if the range was a basis for the court’s exercise of discretion. District courts are required to calculate and consider a defendant’s Guidelines range in every case. The Guidelines prohibit district courts from accepting Type-C agreements without first evaluating the recommended sentence in light of the defendant’s Guidelines range. View "Hughes v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Lagos was convicted of using a company he controlled to defraud a lender of millions of dollars. After Lagos’ company went bankrupt, the lender conducted a private investigation and participated as a party in the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, spending nearly $5 million in legal, accounting, and consulting fees. When Lagos pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges, the court ordered him to pay the lender restitution for those fees. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, citing the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, which requires defendants convicted of certain federal offenses, including wire fraud, to “reimburse the victim for lost income and necessary child care, transportation, and other expenses incurred during participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense or attendance at proceedings related to the offense,” 18 U.S.C. 3663A(b)(4). The Supreme Court, acting unanimously, reversed. The words “investigation” and “proceedings” are limited to government investigations and criminal proceedings and do not include private investigations and civil or bankruptcy proceedings. A broader reading would require courts to resolve difficult, fact-intensive disputes about whether particular expenses “incurred during” participation in a private investigation were actually “necessary,” and about whether proceedings such as a licensing proceeding or a Consumer Products Safety Commission hearing were sufficiently “related to the offense.” The Court acknowledged that its interpretation means that some victims will not receive restitution for all of their losses, but reasoned that is consistent with the Act’s enumeration of limited categories. View "Lagos v. United States" on Justia Law

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While investigating traffic incidents involving an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame, Officer Rhodes learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in Collins’ possession. On Collins’ Facebook profile, Rhodes discovered photographs of an orange and black motorcycle parked in the driveway of a house. From the street, Rhodes could see what appeared to be the motorcycle under a tarp, in the location shown in the photograph. Without a search warrant, Rhodes walked up the driveway, removed the tarp, confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen by running the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, replaced the tarp, and returned to his car to wait. When Collins returned, Rhodes arrested him. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress, citing the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception. The Supreme Court reversed. The automobile exception does not permit the warrantless entry of a home or its curtilage to search a vehicle therein. Curtilage, the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home, is part of the home for Fourth Amendment purposes. When an officer physically intrudes on the curtilage to gather evidence, a Fourth Amendment search has occurred and is presumptively unreasonable absent a warrant. The part of the driveway where the motorcycle was parked is curtilage. The scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself; its proposed expansion would undervalue the core Fourth Amendment protection afforded to the home and its curtilage and untether the exception from its justifications. View "Collins v. Virginia" on Justia Law

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A judge normally may issue a wiretap order permitting the interception of communications only “within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting,” 18 U.S.C. 2518(3). A District of Kansas judge authorized nine wiretap orders during the investigation of a suspected drug distribution ring. The government primarily intercepted communications from a Kansas listening post but each order contained a sentence purporting to authorize interception outside of Kansas and the government intercepted additional communications from a listening post in Missouri. Defendants moved to suppress the evidence. The government agreed not to introduce any evidence arising from its Missouri listening post. The court denied the motion. The Tenth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Because the orders were not lacking any information that the statute required them to include and would have been sufficient absent the challenged language authorizing interception outside the court’s territorial jurisdiction, the orders were not "facially insufficient" under 2518(10)(a)(ii). While that subparagraph covers at least an order’s failure to include information required by 2518(4)(a)–(e), not every defect that may appear in an order results in an insufficiency. The sentence authorizing interception outside Kansas is surplus; absent the challenged language, every wiretap that produced evidence introduced at trial was properly authorized. The orders set forth the authorizing judge’s territorial jurisdiction and the statute presumptively limits every order’s scope to the issuing court’s territorial jurisdiction. View "Dahda v. United States" on Justia Law

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A judge normally may issue a wiretap order permitting the interception of communications only “within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting,” 18 U.S.C. 2518(3). A District of Kansas judge authorized nine wiretap orders during the investigation of a suspected drug distribution ring. The government primarily intercepted communications from a Kansas listening post but each order contained a sentence purporting to authorize interception outside of Kansas and the government intercepted additional communications from a listening post in Missouri. Defendants moved to suppress the evidence. The government agreed not to introduce any evidence arising from its Missouri listening post. The court denied the motion. The Tenth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Because the orders were not lacking any information that the statute required them to include and would have been sufficient absent the challenged language authorizing interception outside the court’s territorial jurisdiction, the orders were not "facially insufficient" under 2518(10)(a)(ii). While that subparagraph covers at least an order’s failure to include information required by 2518(4)(a)–(e), not every defect that may appear in an order results in an insufficiency. The sentence authorizing interception outside Kansas is surplus; absent the challenged language, every wiretap that produced evidence introduced at trial was properly authorized. The orders set forth the authorizing judge’s territorial jurisdiction and the statute presumptively limits every order’s scope to the issuing court’s territorial jurisdiction. View "Dahda v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Southern District of California adopted a districtwide policy permitting the use of full restraints—handcuffs connected to a waist chain, with legs shackled—on most in-custody defendants produced in court for non-jury proceedings by the U.S. Marshals Service. Before the Ninth Circuit could issue a decision on a challenge to the policy, the underlying criminal cases ended. That court—viewing the case as a “functional class action” seeking “class-like relief,” held that the case was not moot and the policy was unconstitutional. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated, finding the case moot. The federal judiciary may adjudicate only “actual and concrete disputes, the resolutions of which have direct consequences on the parties involved.”. Such a dispute “must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed.” Precedent does not support a freestanding exception to mootness outside the Rule 23 class action context. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure establish for criminal cases no vehicle comparable to the civil class action, and the Supreme Court has never permitted criminal defendants to band together to seek prospective relief in their individual cases on behalf of a class. The “exception to the mootness doctrine for a controversy that is capable of repetition, yet evading review” does not apply, based only the possibility that some of the parties again will be prosecuted for violating valid criminal laws. View "United States v. Sanchez-Gomez" on Justia Law

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McCoy, charged with murdering his estranged wife’s family, pleaded not guilty, insisting that he was out of state at the time of the killings and that corrupt police killed the victims. Although he adamantly objected to any admission of guilt, the court permitted his counsel, English, to tell the jury that McCoy “committed [the] three murders” and to argue that McCoy’s mental state prevented him from forming the specific intent necessary for first-degree murder. McCoy testified in his own defense, maintaining his innocence and pressing an alibi. At the penalty phase, English again conceded McCoy’s guilt, urging mercy because of McCoy’s mental issues. The jury returned three death verdicts. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to choose the objective of his defense and to insist that counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel’s experienced-based view is that confessing offers the best chance to avoid the death penalty. Some decisions are reserved for the client—including whether to plead guilty, waive a jury trial, testify in one’s own behalf, and forgo an appeal. Rejecting the Louisiana Supreme Court’s conclusion that English’s refusal to maintain McCoy’s innocence was necessitated by a Rule of Professional Conduct that prohibits counsel from suborning perjury, the Court noted that there was no avowed perjury. English harbored no doubt that McCoy believed what he was saying. Ineffective-assistance-of-counsel jurisprudence does not apply where the client’s autonomy, not counsel’s competence, is at issue. The violation of McCoy’s protected autonomy right was structural in kind. McCoy must be accorded a new trial without any need to show prejudice. View "McCoy v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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Reed rented a car in New Jersey while Byrd waited outside. Reed’s signed agreement warned that permitting an unauthorized driver to drive the car would violate the agreement. Reed listed no additional drivers but gave the keys to Byrd. He stored personal belongings in the trunk and then left alone for Pittsburgh. After stopping Byrd for a traffic infraction, Pennsylvania State Troopers learned that the car was rented, that Byrd was not listed as an authorized driver, and that Byrd had prior drug and weapons convictions. Byrd stated he had a marijuana cigarette in the car. The troopers searched the car, discovering body armor and 49 bricks of heroin in the trunk. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of Byrd’s motion to suppress. The Supreme Court vacated. The mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy. Expectations of privacy must have a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of property law or to understandings that are permitted by society. One who owns or lawfully possesses or controls property will likely have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude others. That expectation of privacy should not differ if a car is rented or owned by another. Breach of the rental contract, alone, has no impact on expectations of privacy. A thief would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a stolen car and, on remand, the court must consider whether one who intentionally uses a third party to procure a car by a fraudulent scheme in order to commit a crime is like a car thief and whether probable cause justified the search in any event. View "Byrd v. United States" on Justia Law