Articles Posted in Criminal Law

by
A jury convicted Morales-Montanez and Acosta of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. The Sixth Circuit held that there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions, but vacated, finding that remarks made by the prosecutor rose to the level of flagrant misconduct and deprived Morales-Montanez and Acosta of a fair trial, The prosecutor’s misconduct included “vouching,” by referring to a detective’s “fine work,” voicing his opinion that two key defense witnesses lacked credibility, and commenting on the defendant’s religious practices and beliefs. The remarks were not incidental and were apparently intentional. The evidence against the two was not overwhelming, and any one or several of the prosecutor’s improper comments may have tipped the balance toward conviction. View "United States v. Acosta" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Muchow was employed as a machine operator, living in Bucyrus, Ohio. His only criminal history was a decades-old misdemeanor for driving under the influence. In 2017, FBI agents executed a search warrant at his home and discovered 3,616 electronic images and 61 videos of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The prior November and December, an undercover FBI agent had used peer-to-peer file sharing programs to download remotely child pornography from Muchow’s computer. Muchow would later admit to searching and downloading child pornography for at least “the past ten years.” At least one image involved a child younger than 12. After admitting to his behavior, Muchow attended counseling sessions; engaged in church, family, and work activities; and refrained from viewing illegal pornographic images. He was charged under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), and 2252A(a)(5)(B), and pled guilty to Count 1. Neither party objected to the Presentence Report. The Guidelines range for Muchow’s offense was calculated as 135-168 months in prison. Muchow argued for a 60-month sentence, citing his lack of criminal history, his educational and work history, and his cooperation with law enforcement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his 135-month sentence, rejecting an argument that it was substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Muchow" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Plaintiffs challenged Michigan’s practice of suspending drivers' licenses for unpaid court fees, as applied to indigent drivers, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Plaintiffs argued that practice is irrational because license suspension made their commuting to work much harder, reducing the chances that they will pay the debt, and made it difficult to attend medical appointments. The district court enjoined the enforcement of the law. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The mere fact that a driver has a Fourteenth Amendment property interest in his license does not answer the more particular question of whether Michigan law creates the specific property entitlement Plaintiffs claimed. Michigan’s statutory scheme for license suspension makes no reference to the indigency status of those whose licenses are subject to suspension. If Plaintiffs’ indigency is not relevant to the state’s underlying decision to suspend their licenses, then providing a hearing where they could raise their indigency would be pointless and do nothing to prevent the “the risk of erroneous deprivation.” The state has a general interest in compliance with traffic laws. By imposing greater consequences for violating traffic laws, the state increases deterrence for would-be violators. The state also has legitimate interests in promoting compliance with court orders and in collecting traffic debt. View "Fowler v. Benson" on Justia Law

by
During an investigation of Powell, a drug dealer, a cooperating defendant identified one of Powell's sources as Coleman. Officers observed Coleman’s automobiles, a Trailblazer and an Enclave, in connection with suspected drug sales to Powell. On April 7, 2017, officers observed an individual matching Coleman’s description arrive at Powell’s house, exit Coleman’s Enclave, enter the house, and leave three minutes later. Four days later, Coleman arrived at Powell’s house in the Trailblazer and sold cocaine to the cooperating defendant. Officers determined Coleman had two felony convictions for delivery or manufacture of a controlled substance and that both vehicles were registered to Coleman’s father. A magistrate issued tracking warrants for Coleman’s vehicles. An ATF agent attached the tracking devices to Coleman’s vehicles on the shared driveway adjoining Coleman’s condominium. There is no gate or fence at the complex entrance; anyone can drive into the complex unimpeded. On May 10, agents observed Coleman leave his condo, enter the Enclave, and exit the Enclave at Powell’s home and watched the GPS tracking data showing that Coleman traveled directly from his condo to Powell’s house. Agents obtained a warrant to search Coleman’s condo and seized 500 grams of cocaine, a firearm, and documents and property indicating money laundering. Coleman admitted ownership of the cocaine and a firearm. Coleman unsuccessfully moved to suppress the fruits of the search warrants. The Sixth Circuit upheld Coleman’s conviction and 120-month sentence. The warrant was supported by probable cause; Coleman’s driveway was not within the curtilage of his home; the residential search warrant was supported by probable cause; and even if the warrants were not supported by probable cause, ATF agents executed them in good faith. View "United States v. Coleman" on Justia Law

by
Shepherd pleaded guilty under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(2), for possessing several thousand images of child pornography. Shepherd had unpaid bills and a vehicle worth about $200, placing his total net worth at negative $1,739. Shepherd’s counsel asked the court to find that Shepherd was indigent and ineligible for the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), 18 U.S.C. 3014, assessment, noting that Shepherd had been paying $350 in monthly child support and will owe about $30,000 in support upon his release from prison, along with the $25,000 in court-ordered restitution. Shepherd’s counsel noted his limited education and the fact that he must register as a sex offender. The district court nonetheless ordered the $5,000 JVTA assessment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Consideration of Shepherd’s earnings potential, along with his present finances, was appropriate under section 3014 If Shepherd serves his full, 96-month sentence, he will leave prison before he turns 40 years old, with many years of future employability. Shepherd has 20 years after his release from prison to pay the assessment. By budgeting, Shepherd need only save $250 each year or under $5 per week to stay on pace. Having determined that Shepherd was not indigent, the court had no discretion to waive the assessment. View "United States v. Shepherd" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
FedEx provides shipping discounts to high-volume customers. To obtain such a discount, Petlechkov lied to FedEx and claimed he was a vendor for a high-volume shipper. He used those discounted rates to offer shipping services to third parties, pocketing the profit margin between what he charged the third parties and what he paid FedEx. He shipped nearly 30,000 packages before FedEx caught him. Convicted, in the Western District of Tennessee, of 20 counts of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, Petlechkov was sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to pay approximately $800,000 in restitution. The Third Circuit affirmed as to some counts, rejecting a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence and a claim that FedEx violated the Sarbanes-Oxley Act by extending him a discount. The court dismissed other counts without prejudice. Petlechkov did not waive or forfeit his venue objection; the government must prove proper venue for each count by a preponderance of the evidence. There was no evidence, direct or circumstantial, that any specific package implicated in these counts ever moved through the Western District of Tennessee. View "United States v. Petlechkov" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Edmonds and Hall were together convicted in state court of beating and sodomizing a homeless man to death. After their joint state appeals were rejected, Hall brought a federal habeas action, 28 U.S.C. 2254, which was rejected on the merits. Then Edmonds brought a section 2254 collateral attack, arguing that his conviction was similarly infected by constitutional error. Rather than assess all of Edmonds’s claims on the merits, the district court held that the law-of-the-case doctrine precluded Edmonds from obtaining relief on four claims that were rejected in Hall’s collateral action. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. The law-of-the-case doctrine applies only to later decisions in the same case. Different habeas actions brought by different petitioners are different cases. A post-conviction habeas action is not a subsequent stage of the underlying criminal proceedings; it is a separate civil case. Applying the law-of-the-case doctrine across separate habeas cases would deprive the second petitioner of the opportunity to present his own arguments, implicating due process concerns. The court noted that due process limits res judicata to preclude parties from contesting only matters that they have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate; a person who was not a party to a suit generally has not had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claims and issues settled in that suit. Edmonds’s claims must be assessed on their merits. View "Edmonds v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
A Postal Inspector had probable cause to believe that a package being shipped from California contained drugs, obtained a search warrant, and examined its contents. It contained 1.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine. Agents conducted a controlled delivery and arrested the recipient, who agreed to serve as a confidential informant, identified Ickes as the source of the methamphetamine, and provided evidence that correlated with Ickes’s California address. Because of a prior drug-related conviction, Ickes was subject to state-court-ordered probation, with a provision requiring him to submit to search and seizure of his person, residence, or vehicle, with or without a search warrant, without regard to probable cause. Ickes was arrested. Agents conducted a warrantless search of Ickes’s residence and vehicle and found U.S. Postal Service labels and tracking information that was used against Ickes at trial. The district court denied Ickes’s motion to suppress without an evidentiary hearing. Ickes was convicted and sentenced to 280 months of imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A defendant is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing if his argument is “entirely legal.” Ickes was subject to probation that included a search provision and the officers had a reasonable suspicion that Ickes was conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. For the duration of Ickes’s probation, he had diminished privacy interests and the government had a substantial interest in monitoring Ickes’s activities, so the police needed no more than reasonable suspicion to search his residence and vehicle. View "United States v. Ickes" on Justia Law

by
Saginaw uses a common parking enforcement practice known as “chalking.” City parking enforcement officers use chalk to mark the tires of parked vehicles to track how long they have been parked. Parking enforcement officers return to the car after the posted time for parking has passed, and if the chalk marks are still there—a sign that the vehicle has not moved—the officer issues a citation. Taylor, a frequent recipient of parking tickets, sued the city and its parking enforcement officer, Hoskins, alleging that chalking violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. The district court dismissed , finding that, while chalking may have constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment, the search was reasonable. The Sixth Circuit reversed, characterizing the practice as a regulatory exercise. The chalking involves a physical intrusion and is intended to gather information. While automobiles have a reduced expectation of privacy, the court concluded that the need to deter drivers from exceeding the time permitted for parking—before they have even done so—is not sufficient to justify a warrantless search under the community caretaker rationale. View "Taylor v. Saginaw" on Justia Law

by
Ace, a licensed physician, and Lesa Chaney owned and operated Ace Clinique in Hazard, Kentucky. An anonymous caller told the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services that Ace pre-signed prescriptions. An investigation revealed that Ace was absent on the day that several prescriptions signed by Ace and dated that day were filled. Clinique employees admitted to using and showed agents pre-signed prescription blanks. Agents obtained warrants to search Clinique and the Chaneys’ home and airplane hangar for evidence of violations of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), knowing or intentional distribution of controlled substances, and 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), conspiracies to commit money laundering. Evidence seized from the hangar and evidence seized from Clinique that dated to before March 2006 were suppressed. The court rejected arguments that the warrants’ enumeration of “patient files” was overly broad and insufficiently particular. During trial, an alternate juror reported some “concerns about how serious[ly] the jury was taking their duty.” The court did not tell counsel about those concerns. After the verdict, the same alternate juror—who did not participate in deliberations—contacted defense counsel; the court conducted an in camera interview, then denied a motion for a new trial. To calculate the sentencing guidelines range, the PSR recommended that every drug Ace prescribed during the relevant time period and every Medicaid billing should be used to calculate drug quantity and loss amount. The court found that 60 percent of the drugs and billings were fraudulent, varied downward from the guidelines-recommended life sentences, and sentenced Ace to 180 months and Lesa to 80 months in custody. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the constitutionality of the warrant that allowed the search of the clinic; the sufficiency of the evidence; and the calculation of the guidelines range and a claim of jury misconduct. View "United States v. Chaney" on Justia Law