Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Suzanne Brown, a federal prisoner, appealed the denial of her habeas corpus petition. Brown was convicted on twelve counts of making a materially false statement to a federal agency and was sentenced to twelve months of imprisonment and a two-year term of supervised release. She began her term of imprisonment in January 2022, with release scheduled for January 2023. However, in March 2022, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) calculated that Brown had earned fifteen First Step Act (FSA) credits, which it applied to accelerate her release date to December 17, 2022. In August 2022, BOP transferred Brown to home confinement under the emergency measures of the CARES Act, still with a calculated release date of December 17, 2022.Brown filed a petition for habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, arguing that she had earned enough FSA credits to qualify for release on September 2, 2022, and that BOP's decision not to correct her FSA credit calculation and apply FSA credits to accelerate her release would result in her being held unlawfully in custody. A magistrate judge recommended that Brown's petition for habeas corpus be denied, and the district court adopted that recommendation and denied the petition. Brown timely appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reviewed the denial of the habeas petition de novo. Brown conceded that controlling precedent foreclosed some of the relief she sought earlier. She now asked only that the court hold her term of supervised release began on August 2, 2022, when she was transferred to home confinement. However, the court affirmed the denial of habeas relief, stating that the BOP's transfer of Brown to home confinement was a form of BOP custody, and her term of supervised release could not begin until the BOP released her from that custody. The court expressed no view as to whether Brown could receive relief under other procedural mechanisms, such as 18 U.S.C. § 3583. View "Brown v. Penders" on Justia Law

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Eghbal Saffarinia, a former high-ranking official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General (HUD-OIG), was required by federal law to file annual financial disclosure forms detailing most of his financial liabilities over $10,000. One of Saffarinia’s responsibilities was the allocation of HUD-OIG’s information technology contracts. An investigation revealed that Saffarinia had repeatedly falsified his financial disclosure forms and failed to disclose financial liabilities over $10,000. The investigation also revealed that one of the persons from whom Saffarinia had borrowed money was the owner of an IT company that had been awarded HUD-OIG IT contracts during the time when Saffarinia had near-complete power over the agency operation.Saffarinia was indicted on seven counts, including three counts of obstruction of justice. A jury convicted Saffarinia on all seven counts, and the District Court sentenced him to a year and a day in federal prison, followed by one year of supervised release. Saffarinia appealed his conviction, arguing that the law under which he was convicted did not extend to alleged obstruction of an agency’s review of financial disclosure forms because the review of these forms is insufficiently formal to fall within the law’s ambit. He also argued that the evidence presented at trial diverged from the charges contained in the indictment, resulting in either the constructive amendment of the indictment against him or, in the alternative, a prejudicial variance. Finally, Saffarinia challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him at trial.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found no basis to overturn Saffarinia’s conviction. The court held that the law under which Saffarinia was convicted was intended to capture the sorts of activity with which Saffarinia was charged. The court also found that the government neither constructively amended Saffarinia’s indictment nor prejudicially varied the charges against him. Finally, the court found that the evidence presented at Saffarinia’s trial was sufficient to support his conviction. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the District Court. View "USA v. Saffarinia" on Justia Law

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The case involves the defendant, Michael C. Hoehn, who was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) after a motion to suppress evidence from his stop and arrest was denied by the county court. The arresting officer, Officer Matt Rockwell of the Minatare Police Department, had left his primary jurisdiction after receiving a report of a white pickup driving erratically. Rockwell observed the pickup straddling the centerline and trash coming from the driver’s-side window. After the pickup turned into oncoming traffic and down into the grass median, Rockwell stopped the vehicle and identified the driver as Hoehn. Rockwell observed Hoehn had slurred speech, bloodshot, watery eyes, and detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle. Rockwell administered a preliminary breath test and other field sobriety tests, which Hoehn failed, leading to his arrest for DUI.Hoehn appealed to the district court, arguing that Rockwell did not have jurisdictional authority to perform the traffic stop. The district court affirmed the conviction, interpreting Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-215(3)(c) to mean that when probable cause exists, officers have authority to perform stops and arrests outside of their primary jurisdiction that are solely related to enforcing laws that concern a person operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.Hoehn then appealed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals, which disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of § 29-215(3)(c) and found that Rockwell lacked jurisdictional authority to make the stop and arrest. However, the Court of Appeals held that under the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule, Hoehn’s conviction, based on the evidence from his stop and arrest, did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. Both Hoehn and the State petitioned for further review by the Nebraska Supreme Court.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, albeit on different grounds. The court held that a law enforcement officer’s jurisdictional power and authority to make a stop or arrest is irrelevant to the admissibility, under the Fourth Amendment and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution, of the evidence obtained from the stop or arrest. Therefore, the county court did not err in denying Hoehn’s motion to suppress brought under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and article I, § 7, of the Nebraska Constitution. View "State v. Hoehn" on Justia Law

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The case involves Brian Dewayne Darden-Mosby, who was convicted of two federal drug-dealing offenses. During the investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents executed a search warrant for Darden-Mosby’s house and car, discovering an unregistered firearm, a money counter, drug ledgers, marijuana, and a backpack containing cocaine. They also seized $112,690 in cash found in various locations in his bedroom. After the search, police pulled over one of Darden-Mosby’s cocaine suppliers and found Darden-Mosby in the passenger seat with a bank envelope containing $2,500 in cash and two cashier’s checks totaling nearly $150,000.The United States prosecuted Darden-Mosby for various crimes based on the drugs and guns found in his house. As part of the prosecution, the government initiated criminal-forfeiture proceedings against the cash from Darden-Mosby’s bedroom, the two cashier’s checks, and the $2,500 found in Darden-Mosby’s pocket. Darden-Mosby sought to suppress the cashier’s checks and $2,500, arguing the detective’s search violated the Fourth Amendment. The district court denied the motion. The government ultimately opted not to introduce that evidence at trial, and it dismissed the criminal forfeiture claims against the two checks.A jury convicted Darden-Mosby of two drug-dealing offenses. The government declined to prosecute the forfeiture of the $2,500 in cash from the traffic stop any further but continued to pursue criminal forfeiture of the $112,690 from Darden-Mosby’s house. After a hearing and additional briefing, the court concluded the cash was connected to Darden-Mosby’s drug dealing and ordered the criminal forfeiture of the money.Separate from the government’s criminal-forfeiture actions, the DEA commenced administrative-forfeiture proceedings against the two cashier’s checks and the $2,500. These proceedings resulted in the administrative forfeiture of all three assets.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court affirmed the district court’s criminal-forfeiture order with respect to the $92,470 found in the safe and shoebox at Darden-Mosby’s house but reversed with respect to the $20,220 found in and on the dresser. The court found that Darden-Mosby offered credible evidence that the $20,220 found on and in the dresser had legal sources and purposes. However, the court found that Darden-Mosby’s evidence was considerably weaker when it came to the $92,470 in the safe and shoebox. View "United States v. Darden-Mosby" on Justia Law

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In September 2021, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol issued a subpoena to Stephen Bannon, a former advisor to President Donald Trump, to testify and provide documents. Bannon did not comply with the subpoena, leading to his conviction for contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. § 192, which criminalizes willfully failing to respond to a congressional subpoena. Bannon appealed his conviction, arguing that "willfully" should be interpreted to require bad faith and that his noncompliance was justified because his lawyer advised him not to respond to the subpoena.The District Court had previously rejected Bannon's argument, holding that "willfully" in Section 192 only requires that the defendant deliberately and intentionally refused to comply with a congressional subpoena. The court also dismissed Bannon's claim that his noncompliance was authorized by government officials and that the Select Committee's subpoena was invalid. Bannon was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to four months' incarceration for each count to run concurrently, with a $6,500 fine.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court held that Bannon's interpretation of "willfully" was incorrect and that his "advice of counsel" defense was not a valid defense under Section 192. The court also rejected Bannon's arguments that his conduct was authorized by government officials and that the Select Committee's subpoena was invalid. The court concluded that Bannon's refusal to comply with the subpoena was a deliberate and intentional violation of the contempt of Congress statute, and his conviction was therefore affirmed. View "United States v. Bannon" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Iowa was asked to determine who should bear the costs of a technology vendor hired to review a large volume of emails seized under a search warrant for potential attorney-client privileged communications. The emails belonged to a criminal defendant, Craig Juan Merrill, who was charged with multiple counts of ongoing criminal conduct, theft, assault, and misconduct in office. The search warrant stipulated that the seized materials would be reviewed by the district court to ensure no attorney-client privileged materials were inadvertently handed over to the prosecution.However, due to the large volume of emails and technical difficulties, the district court was unable to complete the review and decided to hire a technology vendor to assist. The question of who should bear the costs of this vendor became a point of contention. The district court initially ordered the prosecution to pay the costs, but left open the possibility that the costs could be taxed to the defendant at the conclusion of the case.The State of Iowa filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of Iowa, arguing that the district court acted illegally in assessing the costs of the privilege review against the prosecution. The State contended that the judicial branch should bear the costs, as the vendor was effectively acting as a special master to assist the court.The Supreme Court of Iowa sustained the writ, ruling that the judicial branch should be responsible for the costs of the technology vendor. The court reasoned that the district court had voluntarily assumed the responsibility of conducting the initial privilege review and, when it was unable to do so, it was compelled to employ a third-party vendor. Under these unique circumstances, the court concluded that the judicial branch must bear the costs of the vendor it employed. View "State of Iowa v. Iowa District Court For Emmet County" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Victor Cora-Alicea, who was involved in a drug trafficking operation led by Ramone Velazquez. Cora-Alicea, who had no supervisory responsibilities and was merely tasked with bagging drugs, was arrested and pleaded guilty to violations of drug trafficking laws. His sentencing was calculated based on a base offense level of 31, with reductions for his safety-valve eligibility, minor role, and acceptance of responsibility, resulting in a total offense level of 24. His criminal history category I was based on a nonexistent criminal record. The District Court set his Guidelines range at 51–63 months. Cora-Alicea requested a mitigation-based variance from the range, arguing that his life history, personal characteristics, and an anticipated change to the Guidelines for people with zero criminal history points justified a variance to approximately 24 months’ imprisonment.The District Court sentenced Cora-Alicea to 45 months on each count, to be served concurrently, followed by a total of three years on supervised release. The court took into consideration his zero-point status but ignored Cora-Alicea’s other bases for a variance. Cora-Alicea appealed the District Court’s judgment, arguing that the court procedurally erred at sentencing by dismissing the majority of his personal mitigation evidence offered in support of a variance under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) on the ground that it was “already taken into account” by the downward adjustments under the Guidelines.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the District Court had erred in its interpretation of the Guidelines. The court noted that the safety-valve provision, minor-role, and acceptance-of-responsibility adjustments considered in Cora-Alicea’s sentencing had nothing to do with the myriad of mitigating circumstances he raised under § 3553(a). The court concluded that the District Court's erroneous legal conclusion preempted any weighing of the mitigation evidence against the Guidelines range or the other sentencing factors. As a result, the court vacated Cora-Alicea’s sentence and remanded his case to the District Court for resentencing. View "USA v. Cora-Alicea" on Justia Law

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Patrick Clemons, a convicted felon, was found guilty of possessing a firearm. He had two prior convictions for Criminal Domestic Violence of a High and Aggravated Nature (CDVHAN) and one for Assault and Battery Second Degree (AB2d) in South Carolina. Due to these prior convictions, Clemons was classified as an armed career criminal under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), leading to a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years. Clemons appealed his enhanced sentence, arguing that both CDVHAN and AB2d could be committed through reckless or negligent conduct, and therefore, neither should qualify as a predicate offense for enhanced sentencing under the ACCA's "elements clause."Clemons' appeal reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which certified two questions to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The questions sought to clarify the mental state required to commit AB2d and CDVHAN in South Carolina. The South Carolina Supreme Court rephrased the questions to ask whether a defendant could be convicted of these offenses with a mens rea of recklessness as defined by the Model Penal Code.The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the answer to both questions was "yes." The court explained that the South Carolina Legislature had chosen to criminalize multiple types of conduct under the statutes for AB2d and CDVHAN. Therefore, there was not a single mens rea required for a conviction under either statute. Instead, the required mens rea depended on the actus reus of the crime being prosecuted. The court concluded that under some circumstances, a person could be convicted of AB2d and CDVHAN with a mens rea of recklessness. View "United States of America v. Clemons" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a woman who was convicted of theft in 2015. The prosecution used her 2001 federal felony conviction from Alaska to enhance the theft offense to a first-degree felony, resulting in a forty-year sentence and a $10,000 fine. The woman argued that her 2001 federal conviction was not final when the theft occurred, and thus, the offense was unlawfully enhanced, leading to an illegal sentence.Prior to reaching the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, the case had been reviewed by lower courts. The main issue was whether Texas law or the law of another jurisdiction should be used to determine if a prior conviction is final for the purpose of enhancing the punishment of an offense under Section 12.42 of the Texas Penal Code.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas was asked to determine whether there was ever a time prior to a previous case, Ex parte Pue, when other states were allowed to unilaterally dictate the laws and public policy of Texas. The court held that the rule in Pue, which stated that Texas law should define whether a prior conviction is final for the purposes of enhancing the punishment of an offense, applies retroactively. Furthermore, the court held that the woman's federal felony conviction was final under the rule in Pue. The court concluded that the woman's federal conviction was final under Texas law and denied her relief. View "EX PARTE MCMILLAN" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jose Yanel Sanchez-Perez, a native and citizen of El Salvador, who entered the United States in 1998. In 2009, Sanchez-Perez pleaded guilty to committing misdemeanor domestic assault under Tennessee law. The following day, the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings against him. In 2015, an immigration judge found Sanchez-Perez ineligible for cancellation of removal because he failed to establish that he had been continuously present in the United States for ten years prior to receiving the notice to appear. However, the judge also found that Sanchez-Perez was not statutorily barred from seeking cancellation of removal due to his 2009 domestic-violence conviction.The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed Sanchez-Perez’s appeal and agreed with the immigration judge’s findings that Sanchez-Perez lacked the requisite continuous physical presence and thus was not eligible for cancellation of removal. In 2018, the immigration judge found that Sanchez-Perez’s 2009 conviction is categorically a crime of violence, and thus Sanchez-Perez was statutorily barred from obtaining cancellation of removal. The BIA dismissed Sanchez-Perez’s appeal from this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reviewed the case. The court found that the BIA erred in determining that Sanchez-Perez’s 2009 conviction was categorically a crime of violence, and thus Sanchez-Perez was statutorily barred from obtaining cancellation of removal. The court noted that the Tennessee statute at issue criminalizes conduct that does not require the use or threatened use of violent physical force. Therefore, the court granted Sanchez-Perez’s petition for review, vacated the BIA’s order, and remanded the case to the BIA for proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Sanchez-Perez v. Garland" on Justia Law