In April, May and June the Third Circuit vacated convictions in three cases. The first, United States v. Lopez, addresses prosecutorial misconduct (Doyle error); the second, United States v. Vasquez-Algarin, addresses law enforcement misconduct (Fourth Amendment/forced entry); the third, United States v. Dennis, addresses trial court error (failure to give an entrapment instruction) in the larger context of reverse-sting stash house operations. Each opinion touches on policy concerns raised by the legal issues; the majority and Judge Ambro’s concurrence in Dennis are particularly worth reading for anyone litigating stash house cases. The three cases were decided by three non-overlapping panels of judges.
When police officers can lie and about what they can lie is a recurring issue in criminal appeals. Courts have found that not telling the truth can be a useful tool in investigations, but is checked by the Constitution. For example, a detective can, while interrogating a suspect, lie about the evidence the police already have in their possession. Police can lie about the real reason for stopping a driver — they say it was for speeding, but in fact was because they believed the driver was a drug dealer. But, police cannot tell you they have a search warrant when, in fact, they do not have one.
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Charles Williams, Jr. was driving a rented car through central North Carolina in February 2012 when he was stopped for speeding. As is typical in a traffic stop, the deputy sheriff collected Williams’s documentation, issued a written warning, and then returned the documents. After all that occurred, a second deputy conducted a dog sniff of the car. The dog alerted to the trunk of the car and a search revealed crack cocaine in the trunk. Williams and his girlfriend were both arrested.1
Like most Fourth Amendment cases, this one turns on a constellation of facts that are uniquely arrayed in the case. But, since traffic stops and subsequent dog sniffs happen so frequently, the issue of what is reasonable articulable suspicion sufficient to extend a routine traffic stop into an investigatory stop matters.
Child porn cases are turning out to be a surprisingly large portion of what’s in federal court.
Child pornography is gross and wrong, to be clear. But these cases are, I think, a symptom of a larger problem.
All of us have times in our lives when we’re in the wilderness, when we feel adrift and alienated and unsure of where we’re going or where we are. Some folks in this time of life turn to alcohol, Some turn to drugs, video games, or other ways to keep themselves from facing the great chasm of dissatisfaction that their lives have become. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desparation” and all that.
It’s been an interesting few weeks in the circuits (and, apologies for the gap in posting – pesky family vacations).
Probably my favorite is United States v. Mergen, about whether an FBI agent’s statements that what the guy charged with a crime was doing were ok and legal were admissible. I tend to think FBI stings that take advantage of how weak the entrapment defense is are one of the more loathsome things our federal government does – any time you can poke holes in that I think it’s a good thing.
Also of note is United States v. Bagdy – there, a guy who spent an inheritance on stuff that wasn’t restitution, instead of restitution, didn’t violate his supervised release conditions. Supervised release can be insane – especially when restitution is in play. Nice work for the Third Circuit in dialing it back.
Today’s featured defense victory is United States v. Barefoot, which deals with a kind of surprising course of conduct in the Fourth Circuit. In Barefoot, a person gave information to the government to help them investigate other crimes. The information was given on the condition that the information not be used to prosecute him. The government broke that condition.
Happily though, the Fourth Circuit enforced it.
To the victories!
Due to my own sloth, we’re presenting two weeks of short wins in one post. Here it is!
There are some good cases here, featuring the Armed Career Criminal Act, the Fourth Amendment, and law enforcement agents testifying as experts.
In other news, the Sentencing Commission has put out two “quick fact” sheets. One is on “Theft Property Destruction and Fraud” and the other is on Mandatory Minimum Penalties.pdf. My favorite fun fact – the median loss in federal fraud cases is $95,408.
Apologies for posting so sparsely lately. Between covering the end of the Supreme Court term for Above the Law (see posts here or here if you’d like) and this day job as a lawyer, I’ve been remiss in keeping you up to date on what’s what in the circuits.
Today, please find the Short Wins for the last two weeks. My personal favorite is United States v. Huizar-Velazquez because there simply isn’t enough law on criminal importation of wire hangars.
It’s a good week in the federal circuits for folks accused of a crime.
Instead of the all-too-common diet of sentencing remands, there are some nice wins on our rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and against uncounseled statements to law enforcement. Well done appellate counsel!
And, what week would be complete without an opinion on restitution in child pornography cases.
The Supreme Court has said that you can never suppress the body of a person accused of a crime – the person’s identity is not able to be kept out of evidence, even if that identity is the result of an unlawful arrest or search.
This is a huge issue in illegal reentry cases. If a person is deported then returns to this crime, that’s illegal reentry. If the person is deported after having been convicted of certain kinds of felonies – whoa buddy, that’s illegal reentry after having been convicted of an aggravated felony.
In light of the Supreme Court’s rule about how you can’t suppress the body of the person accused, many people who handle illegal reentry cases find them massively depressing. If you can’t suppress the person’s identity, even if the knowledge comes from an unlawful search, then you’ve gutted the Fourth Amendment for people accused of illegal reentry.