Results tagged “Supreme Court” from The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog

June 5, 2013

Short Wins - Slow News Day Edition & DNA Collection News

Last week, with the Memorial Day holiday, was a slow week for wins in the federal circuits- there's only one short win.

Monday, of course, was a huge day for the government's ability to collect massive amounts of data about the citizenry. I mean, of course, the Supreme Court's opinion in Maryland v. King.

My coverage at Above the Law is available here (it's dissent heavy).

And, if you really are patient and eager for more of my take on the case, I was on Huffington Post TV talking about it (you can scroll past the technical issues, which, I swear, get resolved).

To the victory!

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Joseph, Ninth Circuit: Appellant pled guilty to two counts of possession of contraband and one count of providing contraband to a fellow inmate in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1791. One of the possession counts and the providing contraband count arose out of a December 2010 incident, while the remaining count arose out of conduct in February 2011. The court imposed consecutive sentences for each count. Because the court plainly erred in interpreting § 1791(c) to require consecutive sentencing for controlled substances offenses that arose out of separate items of drugs, the court vacated appellant's sentence and remanded for resentencing.

February 22, 2013

The Supreme Court Says A Seizure Isn't Incident To A Search That Happened A Mile Away

Someone told the police that Chunon Bailey sold drugs. Worse, he sold drugs and had a gun at his house at 103 Lake Drive in Wyandanch, New York.

That someone was a confidential informant.

The police took that tip and got a search warrant for 103 Lake Drive.

The police were getting ready to go into his house - they had set up outside and were watching it.

They saw Mr. Bailey leave the basement apartment at 103 Lake Drive and get in a car. Two officers followed the car as it drove away. The rest of the search team started searching the house.

A mile away, the cops pulled Mr. Bailey over. They ordered him out of the car and patted him down. They found a ring of keys in his pocket.

They then put him in handcuffs and told him that he was being detained incident to a search warrant at 103 Lake Drive - a mile away.

Inside the house they found a number of things that were unlawful to possess. He was charged in the Eastern District of New York with possessing those things.

Detention Incident to a Search Warrant

1038828_u_s__supreme_court_2.jpgNormally, when the police execute a search warrant, they can hold people who are inside the house that's being searched. Even though holding someone is a "seizure" that generally not only allowed under the Fourth Amendment, there's an exception when the person was held while the police execute a search warrant.

Mr. Bailey's case is a little off that mark though.

Sure, if the cops bust in to your house, it makes sense that they'd want to make sure you don't come after them with a gun or take a magnet to all of your hard drives. And the best way to do that is make sure you're not near a gun or a magnet - which will require a little bit of detention.

So courts are sensitive to that and allow the police to detain someone - even though any detention is a "seizure" within the scope of the Fourth Amendment as a part of executing a search warrant. The Supreme Court said that's ok in Michigan v. Summers.

Though, Mr. Bailey's case, the limits of a detention incident to the execution of a warrant grew way beyond what the rule had allowed in the past - following a guy away from his house, stopping him a mile away, and bringing him back just so he could be "incident" to his place being searched.

Nonetheless,

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Bailey's detention was proper and affirmed denial of the suppression motion. It interpreted this Court's decision in Summers to "authoriz[e] law enforcement to detain the occupant of premises subject to a valid search warrant when that person is seen leaving those premises and the detention is effected as soon as reasonably practicable." 652 F. 3d 197, 208 (2011).

Happily for Mr. Bailey, we have a Supreme Court.

The Court, in United States v. Bailey, held that Mr. Bailey was not detained as a part of a search that was happening a mile away from a place he was trying to leave.

One opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, said this was because the Fourth Amendment balancing of harms that's necessary to figure out if a seizure is "reasonable" cuts against this kind of search. Another opinion, written by Justice Scalia, said this was because Summers announced a bright line rule that just doesn't apply to this case.

But, in the end, Mr. Bailey's detention was not lawful.

November 5, 2012

Short Wins - The Election, Conspiracies, and Sentencing Remands

It's another relatively slow week in the federal appeals courts of our great nation. Perhaps folks are too saturated with election coverage to issue opinions.

Of the three courts that issued opinions this week, only one is in a battleground states (or quasi battleground state) - the Tenth Circuit in Colorado.

The Eleventh Circuit based in Georgia and the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans surely are not drowning in direct mail pieces or television ads.

Perhaps their productivity isn't crippled by constant refreshing of Real Clear Politics.

And, perhaps that explains why we haven't heard from the Sixth Circuit -- normally a prolific creator of news for this blog -- which is based in the uber-battleground state of Ohio.

In any event, there are a few great cases from the last week, especially the Tenth Circuit's multiplicity opinion in United States v. Frierson. As the feds use conspiracy charges ever more frequently, multiplicity arguments are a good way to reign in the metaphysical problems of profligate conspiracy theories (e.g., If a thousand angels are dancing together on the head of a pin, how many conspiracies to dance together can there be?).

And, looking forward, there's a huge event on Tuesday. That's right -- the Federal Public Defender for DC, A.J. Kramer, will be arguing a withdrawal from a conspiracy case in the Supreme Court. I would expect there will be coverage lots of places, including here.

Also, if you're an undecided voter and didn't know it, the election is Tuesday.

With that, on to the victories:

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpg1. United States v. Frierson, Tenth Circuit: In case involving two convictions for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, appellant's convictions were plainly multiplicitous because the jury was not instructed that they could not find appellant guilty of more than one count of conspiracy unless they were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he entered into two separate agreements to violate the law. Because neither the instructions nor the government suggested that the first conspiracy count was anything other than part of the larger conspiracy alleged in the second, the Tenth Circuit remanded with instructions to vacate appellant's conviction and sentence on either the first or the second conspiracy counts.

2. United States v. Murray et al, Fifth Circuit: Three defendants were convicted of crimes arising out of their participation in a Ponzi scheme and, at the time of sentencing, were not ordered to pay restitution. Because the district court sentenced the defendants without ordering restitution and found that, from the facts on the record, 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(3) applied, the "shall order" provision in § 3663A(a) did not authorize the court to reopen its judgment more than sixth months later to add an order of restitution.

3. United States v. Miller, Eighth Circuit: In case arising out of a husband and wife's methamphetamine-related convictions, the district court committed two procedural sentencing errors in determining that the wife's advisory guidelines sentencing range was 188-235 months in prison: (1) the court failed to apply Guideline § 2D1.1(a)(5), which may have substantially increased her advisory guidelines range; and (2) the "confused sentencing record" casts doubt on the court's drug quantity finding. For these reasons, the wife's sentence was vacated and remanded for resentencing.

October 27, 2012

Short Wins - Pro Se Criminal Contempt Reversed And Other Cases

It's a dog's breakfast of victories in the nation's federal criminal appellate courts.

Personally, I love a good case on the district court's contempt power -- look to see the Fourth Circuit's contempt reversal in United States v. Peoples profiled in more depth a little later in the week. The case has everything -- a pro se litigant, a finding of contempt, and profanity (which is tastefully referred to in the opinion). It reminds me of another great pro se contempt case from last year. It reminds me, too, of the Sixth Circuit's relatively recent case on the limits of a district court's power to sanction a lawyer. Always good stuff.

Which is not to give short shrift to the two other wins from last week -- resentencing in an illegal reentry case and unsupported supervised release conditions in a federal sex case.

And, of course, this week the Supreme Court is hearing more arguments and it's a relatively criminal heavy week. Tuesday has a Padilla case, as well as a nice Fourth Amendment question -- can the cops detain someone incident to a search warrant if the person is not actually present when the search warrant is executed. Wednesday is dog sniff day.

Of course, that assumes that Frankestorm doesn't blow the Eastern Seaboard away. Wish us luck with that.

1155650_berlin_siegessule.jpgOn to the victories:

1. United States v. Peoples, Fourth Circuit: On appeal of appellant's two criminal contempt convictions, the Fourth Circuit held that, as to the second conviction, the district court committed plain error when it summarily imposed a contempt sanction for appellant's tardiness because the court failed to provide appellant with notice and an opportunity to be heard, and because this failure affected appellant's substantial rights.

2. United States v. Rodriguez-Escareno, Fifth Circuit: In illegal reentry case, the district court applied a 16-level enhancement to appellant's sentence because it considered his earlier crime, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, to be a "drug trafficking offense" under Guideline § 2L1.2(b)(1)(A)(i). The court erred in applying the enhancement because the elements of the conspiracy conviction under 21 U.S.C. § 846 are not consistent with the meaning of "conspiring" under the relevant Guideline: the Guideline requires an overt act, while § 846 does not. This was plain error because it was obvious and affected appellant's substantial rights: had his sentence been properly calculated, his Guidelines range would have been 15-21 months, as opposed to the 41-51 months determined by the court. Appellant's 48-month sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.

3. United States v. Child, Ninth Circuit: Appellant was convicted of attempted sexual abuse. A condition of supervised release prohibited him from residing with or being around children under age 18, including his daughters, and from socializing with or dating anybody with children under age 18, including his fiancée, without prior approval from his probation officer. The court failed to make specific findings on the record addressing the necessity of restricting appellant's ability to have contact with his children and fiancée. Because of the significant liberty interest implicated, these errors - as well as the absence in the record of any evidence supporting the condition - rendered the condition substantively unreasonable. The condition was also overbroad. For these reasons, the condition was vacated and the case remanded.

December 9, 2011

Ms. Tapia Wins! Again!


For a person convicted of a crime, winning in the Supreme Court of the United States can be a mixed bag.

Sometimes it works out well. Clarence Gideon was acquitted when he was retried, this time with the aid of a defense lawyer. He was also, of course, lovingly portrayed by Henry Fonda in film, and is now perhaps the most often-invoked indigent of the Twentieth Century.

657704_supreme_court.jpgOn the other hand, Ernesto Miranda, the man who gave us Miranda warnings, was convicted on retrial after his statement was suppressed. He served 11 years in prison for rape.

Freddie Booker's case turned federal criminal sentencing on its head. Mr. Booker was resentenced after his case rendered the federal sentencing guidelines advisory - he was given exactly the same sentence with the advisory guidelines as with the mandatory ones.

Perhaps that was a harbinger.

Alejandra Tapia won her case in the United States Supreme Court last term. And, happily, yesterday, she found that she'll get some relief from that win.

She was convicted at trial of bringing two undocumented people into the country for financial gain, and of bail jumping - apparently Ms. Tapia did not make it to court for one of the hearings in her case.

She was sentenced to 51 months, the high-end of the applicable guidelines range. The sentencing court said that she had a drug problem and needed treatment while in prison. The sentence he imposed was to help her get that treatment.

Ms. Tapia appealed the sentencing judge's reliance on her need for drug treatment, but the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Ms. Tapia took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. In the Supreme Court, she won.

There, in Tapia v. United States, the Court held that a district judge cannot increase a sentence on a person in order to provide more time in prison to rehabilitate the person.

(Judge Posner has already provided district court judges with a roadmap for how to circumvent Tapia.)

The Supreme Court remanded to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether Ms. Tapia is entitled to relief based on its holding.

On remand from the Supreme Court Ninth Circuit held that Ms. Tapia is entitled to resentencing in United States v Tapia. The district court's consideration of her drug history and need for drug treatment was plain error.

As the Ninth Circuit said, in determining that Ms. Tapia was negatively effected by the sentencing judge's findings:

There is little reason to think that the district judge did not mean what he said in sentencing Tapia. He stated that "the need to provide treatment" was one of the considerations that "affect[ed]" the length of the sentence he imposed. We take him at his word, and hold that Tapia has shown that there is a "reasonable probability that [she] would have received a different sentence" but for the district judge's impermissible consideration of this factor.

So, back to the district court for resentencing for Ms. Tapia. Here's to hoping she avoids Mr. Miranda and Mr. Booker's fates and receives less than her prior 51 months.

October 17, 2011

The Supreme Court Is Thinking About Stolen Valor


The Supreme Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act. The Stolen Valor Act makes lying about having military honors a federal crime. It's at 18 U.S.C. § 704.

There's a good discussion of the Act over at SCOTUSBlog.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog nicely frames the issue - "What's More Common Than Valor?"

And, of course, there's prior coverage of the Act on this blog, including Chief Judge Kozinski's most awesome paragraph in any reported opinion.