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.
On 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.