Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") officers searched defendant Sanchez-Leon's home, discovering methamphetamine, firearms, and cash. A federal grand jury charged Sanchez-Leon with violating various federal drug laws. On the first day of trial, he changed his plea to guilty. He later moved to withdraw his guilty plea, which the district court denied. The district court sentenced him to 295 months in prison. Sanchez-Leon appealed the district court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea as not entered knowingly or voluntarily. He also appealed his sentence as both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decisions and defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Sanchez-Leon" on Justia Law

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James Woods and several others were indicted for participating in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Woods’s defense theory at trial was that he and the cooperating witnesses did not deal in methamphetamine, foreclosing Woods’s involvement in the charged conspiracy. Defense counsel argued the cooperators were lying about the charged conspiracy to obtain favorable treatment from the government as part of their plea bargain arrangements. In response to this line of attack, during his closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury, among other things, that, if the drug conspiracy was about “anything other than meth, then why would those witnesses all come in and plead guilty to . . . conspiracy to distribute meth?” Although Woods did not object to the prosecutor’s closing argument, he argued on appeal that the district court committed plain error in failing to sua sponte declare a mistrial or instruct the jury to disregard the objectionable statements. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Husband and wife Alberto Martinez Molina and Cristina Ramirez Rivera were Mexican citizens subject to final orders of removal from the United States. After an immigration judge declined to cancel their removal orders, the couple filed a motion to reopen based on ineffective representation of counsel. With the motion, they submitted evidence that they had resided in the United States since 1998. The Board of Immigration Appeals denied the motion, reasoning that the couple had not shown prejudice because the evidence that they submitted: (1) could not overcome discrepancies in their testimony, and (2) was the same or substantially similar to the evidence considered by the immigration judge. The spouses then filed a petition for review, arguing that: (1) the Board abused its discretion in rejecting their claim for ineffective representation, and (2) the immigration judge failed to consider the entire record. As to Ms. Ramirez, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: the Board acted within its discretion in rejecting her ineffective-representation claim, and Ms. Ramirez did not exhaust her claim involving failure of the immigration judge to consider the entire record. As to Mr. Martinez, the Court remanded to the Board: Mr. Martinez did not exhaust his claim involving failure to consider the entire record, but he did exhaust his ineffective-representation claim, and the Board abused its discretion when it mistakenly concluded that the newly submitted evidence was the same or substantially similar to the evidence considered by the immigration judge. View "Molina v. Holder" on Justia Law

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Thomas Hale filed for bankruptcy in 2005. During the course of that bankruptcy, he allegedly lied under oath and attempted to conceal from the bankruptcy trustee an agreement to sell property. After his relationship with the trustee became antagonistic, Hale sent her a package with unidentified material and a note that said, "Possible Haz-mat? Termites or Hanta virus [sic] from mice?" In 2013, Hale was convicted of making a materially false statement under oath in a bankruptcy case, concealing a contract from the bankruptcy trustee and creditors, and perpetrating a hoax regarding the transmission of a biological agent. Upon review of Hale's appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part: "instead of charging Hale with 'making a false declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury' with regard to his representations in [his bankruptcy petition,] Hale was charged with falsely answering a temporally ambiguous question that inquired about numerous filings and was asked nearly a year after the documents were submitted. We do not think it proper to condone the prosecution’s creation of this ambiguity. We thus conclude that the error 'seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.'" The Court reversed the conviction with regard to the false statement, but affirmed in all other respects. View "United States v. Hale" on Justia Law

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This case was an interlocutory appeal from the district court’s denial of qualified immunity in an Eighth Amendment case brought by a Colorado state prisoner. Plaintiff Homaidan Al-Turki filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against several prison officials, including Defendant Mary Robinson (a prison nurse) based on these officials’ failure to provide him with any type of medical evaluation or treatment while he was suffering through several hours of severe abdominal pain from what turned out to be kidney stones. The district court granted qualified immunity to the other prison officials, none of whom were medical professionals, but denied Defendant Robinson’s summary judgment motion for qualified immunity. Defendant then filed this interlocutory appeal. On appeal, the issues this case presented to the Tenth Circuit were: (1) whether the hours of severe pain Plaintiff experienced constituted a sufficiently serious medical need to satisfy the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference test; and (2) whether Defendant’s alleged actions violated clearly established law. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court on both issues. View "Al-Turki v. Robinson, et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioner John Doe was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury in Oklahoma and sentenced to life without parole. His direct appeal was unsuccessful and he did not file for a writ of certiorari, an application for state post-conviction relief, or a federal habeas petition. He was separately convicted in federal court for robbery of a federally insured bank, which took place in connection with the Oklahoma murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment for that crime. While serving the federal life sentence in Texas, petitioner was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate. The government introduced evidence of petitioner’s Oklahoma murder conviction during the sentencing phase of his federal capital case, and he was subsequently sentenced to death. Petitioner filed this first habeas petition and an almost identical post-conviction relief application in state court, challenging the constitutionality of a prior Oklahoma state court conviction based on evidence of actual innocence. He also filed a motion to abate this section 2254 action pending state court exhaustion of his claims. The district court dismissed his habeas petition without prejudice, adopting a magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation and holding that a stay under "Rhines v. Weber," (544 U.S. 269 (2005)), was not available because the petition was not "mixed" as in "Rhines" and, in any event, because petitioner lacked good cause for the stay. Although the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the district court’s reasoning regarding the potential application of Rhines, it affirmed its denial of a stay. View "Doe v. Jones, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendant April Rampton received a large tax-refund check from the IRS after she submitted false tax forms. She claimed that the refund check was a government pronouncement that her actions were legal. After receiving her refund she helped others submit false tax returns using the same method. Defendant was convicted on nine counts of aiding and abetting the filing of false and fraudulent claims for income-tax refunds. On appeal, she argued that the district court's refusal to instruct the jury on the defense of entrapment by estoppel deprived her of a fair trial. The Tenth Circuit concluded defendant was not entitled to an entrapment-by-estoppel instruction because it would have been unreasonable to infer the legality of her conduct from the payment of the refund. View "United States v. Rampton" on Justia Law

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This appeal consolidated two cases about United States Forest Service actions in the Black Hills National Forest (BHNF). Appellants, (collectively, "Biodiversity") were largely non-profit organizations interested in species and habitat protection in the BHNF. Appellees were the Forest Service and several of its officials tasked with managing the BHNF. Intervenors-Appellees were state and county governments and private groups concerned with how management of the BHNF affected nearby private land, state and county citizens, and visitors. Biodiversity sued the Forest Service regarding the BHNF in two separate proceedings: (1) in the United States Federal District Court for the District of Wyoming, Biodiversity claimed the Forest Service had failed to comply with various federal statutes and regulations; and (2) in the United States Federal District Court for the District of Colorado, Biodiversity moved for relief, arguing the Forest Service had violated a settlement agreement. The district courts denied Biodiversity's petition for review and dismissed Biodiversity's motion, respectively. After careful consideration of the district courts' records, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible errors and affirmed the Wyoming and Colorado courts. View "Biodiversity Conservation, et al v. Jiron, et al" on Justia Law

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Chris Hogan lost his job with the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency("UTOPIA"). Claiming he was fired for revealing a conflict of interest in contract awards, he threatened to sue the agency for wrongful termination. Shortly after making this threat, he was subject to several unflattering media articles about his job performance and his termination dispute with the agency’s leaders. Several of the stories claimed his threats to sue the agency amounted to extortion or blackmail. One of the stories was written pseudonymously by Michael Winder, the mayor of West Valley City where UTOPIA did much of its business. Hogan sued UTOPIA, the mayor, the City, and a number of other people he believed were involved in the publication of the articles. He claimed the articles were defamatory, portrayed him in a false light, invaded his privacy, were an intentional infliction of emotional distress, a deprivation of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983, and a civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. 1985. He also sued UTOPIA for First Amendment violations, breach of contract, wrongful termination, and other violations of state law in a separate lawsuit. The district court dismissed all of the claims, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: "because the articles' critical statements are explained by their context, we agree with the district court's conclusion that the articles were neither defamatory nor otherwise tortiously offensive. And we further agree that Hogan's federal law claims cannot go forward because he has insufficiently pleaded that the defendants' actions were exercises of their power under state law and that the defendants conspired to punish Hogan for bringing his claims to court." View "Hogan v. Winder, et al" on Justia Law

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Michael Fisher filed a post-conviction application, but the state district court waited over eight years to rule on it. The Respondents argued that by failing to ask for an expeditious ruling, Fisher abandoned the post-conviction proceedings. The issue this case presented to the Tenth Circuit was whether a state post-conviction application remains “pending” when it could have been (but wasn’t) dismissed on grounds of abandonment? The Court concluded that the application does remain pending in these circumstances. Thus, the limitations period was tolled while the post-conviction application worked its way through the state courts. Because the federal district court drew the opposite conclusion, the Tenth Circuit reversed. View "Fisher v. Clements, et al" on Justia Law