February 25, 2013

Short Wins - Three Odd Cases

Three odd cases were decided last week in the federal circuits.

First, the Eleventh Circuit vacated a set of convictions because the indictment didn't successfully allege that the folks who were convicted had committed a crime.

The Sixth Circuit had a two-fer this week; one case involved sentencing irregularities and the other involved irregularities of a more troubling and frequent kind - cops lying.

To the victories!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Izurieta, Eleventh Circuit: Appellants were convicted of one count of conspiring to unlawfully import goods and six counts of smuggling goods into the United States. Because the indictment did not adequately set forth a violation of criminal law on any of the counts, all of appellants' convictions were vacated. The smuggling counts were based on a regulation, the violation of which resulted in paying a fine, not criminal punishment. The conspiracy count did not adequately put appellants on notice as to what criminal statute they were alleged to have violated, especially given that the vast majority of the indictment focused on acts that were not criminal.

2. United States v. Kurlemann, Sixth Circuit: Eric Duke and Bernard Kurlemann were involved in a scheme to sell homes to straw men who couldn't afford them. Kurlemann was convicted of making false statements to a lending institution, among other offenses. Because the jury instructions for the false statements count included an erroneous legal theory, Kurlemann's conviction was reversed and the case remanded for retrial on this count. At Duke's sentencing for loan fraud and making false statements, the court granted his motion for a downward departure under Guideline ยง 5K1.1 for substantially assisting in Kurlemann's prosecution, but didn't identify Duke's post-departure Guidelines range. As a result, it was unclear whether or by how much the court varied from that range in imposing sentence. For these reasons, the case was remanded for resentencing.

3. United States v. Shaw, Sixth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to distributing cocaine after officers discovered large amounts of it in his home during a protective sweep. Police unlawfully entered and remained in the home under false pretenses. First, they lied about having a search warrant - it was actually for a neighbor's home - and second, once inside, they lied again about the address on the warrant. Because the officers had no right to enter the house based on a lie and no right to stay there based on a lie, the interaction violated the Fourth Amendment. As a result, the district court's denial of appellant's motion to suppress the cocaine was reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings.

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