Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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

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Defendants-Appellants David Banks, Kendrick Barnes, Demetrius Harper, Clinton Stewart, Gary Walker, and David Zirpolo were convicted following a jury trial on multiple counts of mail fraud and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. Defendants contacted numerous staffing agencies to “assist in providing temporary services. Witnesses from multiple staffing companies testified that a Defendant (or someone acting as Defendants’ agent) approached them and expressed the desire for "payrolling" services. The staffing-company witnesses testified that they were induced into believing that Defendants’ companies were either doing business with major law-enforcement agencies or were on the verge of selling a specialized software to these agencies. These witnesses testified that Defendants (or Defendants’ agents) assured them that this alleged law-enforcement business would enable Defendants’ companies to pay the staffing companies’ invoices, and, critically, that they relied on these representations in choosing to do business with Defendants. Trial testimony from representatives of the law-enforcement agencies with whom Defendants claimed to be doing business revealed the falsity of Defendants’ representations to the staffing companies. When questioned about their failure to pay the staffing companies’ invoices, Defendants gave false assurances that payment would be forthcoming, and they continued to imply that they were doing business with large government law enforcement agencies. In the end, forty-two different staffing companies were left with outstanding invoices totaling in excess of $5,000,000, which could not be submitted to the government agencies, which had no business relationship with Defendants’ companies. Defendants were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 87 to 135 months. Defendants argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit: (1) their right to a speedy trial was violated when the district court granted multiple continuances of the trial date (at Defendants’ request); (2) the district court compelled co-Defendant Barnes to testify in violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and failed to give a proper curative instruction; (3) the district court abused its discretion in excluding the testimony of two witnesses Defendants sought to call at trial; and (4) the cumulative effect of the district court’s otherwise harmless errors prejudiced them and required reversal. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Banks" on Justia Law

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After a sting operation involving two confidential informants and substantial audio and video surveillance, federal law enforcement officers caught Jesus Cabral-Ramirez ("Mr. Cabral") and Defendant-Appellant Maria Gutierrez de Lopez ("Ms. Gutierrez") attempting to transport an undocumented alien from El Paso, Texas to Denver, Colorado. A federal grand jury indicted Ms. Gutierrez on one count of conspiring to transport undocumented aliens. At trial, the Government elicited testimony from Border Patrol Agent Brian Knoll about the immigration status of the individual Ms. Gutierrez allegedly conspired to smuggle. Agent Knoll also provided expert testimony that transporting undocumented aliens away from U.S./Mexico border regions to the interior of the United States significantly reduced the odds of apprehension by law enforcement. The confidential government informants testified anonymously about several conversations they had with Ms. Gutierrez tending to support the charges against her. Although the Government provided the defense with the informants’ general criminal backgrounds, compensation records from federal agencies, and immigration status, it did not disclose their actual identities. Defense counsel cross-examined both witnesses in light of the disclosures provided by the Government, but was unable to conduct adequate independent pre-trial investigation. The jury convicted Ms. Gutierrez as charged, and the district court sentenced her to three years of probation. She appealed, arguing: (1) Agent Knoll’s testimony about the smuggled individual’s immigration status introduced inadmissible testimonial hearsay in violation of the Federal Rules of Evidence and the Confrontation Clause; (2) Agent Knoll’s expert testimony about the alien-smuggling trade was not helpful to the jury under Federal Rule of Evidence 702(a); and (3) the Government’s use of anonymous testimony violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Gutierrez De Lopez" on Justia Law

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In an effort to reduce illegal gun trafficking "along and across the Southwest border" of the United States, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a demand letter to certain federal firearms licensees (FFLs) in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, requiring them to report sales to the same customer within five consecutive business days of "two or more semiautomatic rifles capable of accepting a detachable magazine and with a caliber greater than .22." Appellants Ron Peterson Firearms, LLC, Dale Rutherford, doing business as The Cop Shop, and Tracy Rifle and Pistol, Inc. were FFLs subject to the letter. They argued that ATF lacked the statutory authority to issue the demand letter and that the decision to target FFLs in the four Mexican border states was arbitrary and capricious. Concluding that ATF neither exceeded its statutory authority nor engaged in arbitrary and capricious action, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendant. View "Ron Peterson Firearms v. Jones" on Justia Law

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This appeal was brought by the Court Clerk for Tulsa County, Oklahoma, asking the Tenth Circuit to overturn a decision by the district court declaring unenforceable the Oklahoma state constitutional prohibition on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The issues presented to the Tenth Circuit in this appeal were: (1) whether plaintiffs could attack state constitutional provisions without simultaneously attacking state statutes to the same effect; and (2) whether the Court Clerk was a proper defendant as to the non-recognition portion of the Oklahoma constitutional prohibition. The Tenth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to directly attack the constitutionality under the United States Constitution of Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban even though their claim did not reach Oklahoma's statutory prohibitions on such marriages. Under Oklahoma law, a constitutional amendment "takes the place of all the former laws existing upon the subject with which it deals." Because the statutory prohibitions were subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter's enforcement will redress the claimed injury. An earlier appeal of this same case involving the standing inquiry led to a decision by a panel of the Tenth Circuit that dismissed proceedings brought against the Governor and Attorney General of Oklahoma. That panel ruled that "recognition of marriages is within the administration of the judiciary." ("Bishop I"). The Tenth Circuit concluded that the law of the case doctrine applied to Bishop I, but that the doctrine was overcome by new evidence demonstrating that the Tulsa County Court Clerk could not redress the non-recognition injury, thereby depriving Gay Phillips and Susan Barton of standing to sue. The Court affirmed the district court's ruling. View "Bishop, et al v. Smith, et al" on Justia Law

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Camille Lente appealed a sentence of 192 months' imprisonment, which was well above her advisory Guidelines range of 46 to 57 months, for three counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. The district court relied on several specific factual circumstances in calculating its sentence, including Lente's excessive recklessness, her underrepresented criminal history, and her postconviction conduct. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court thoroughly considered the relevant sentencing factors and adequately explained the basis of its decision to vary substantially upward, and that the sentence imposed was reasonable. View "United States v. Lente" on Justia Law

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Following a jury trial, defendant Tony Washington was convicted on two drug charges: (1) conspiracy to distribute crack and marijuana; and (2) conspiracy to maintain a residence for the purpose of distributing those same drugs. As part of determining Washington's advisory sentencing range under the 2008 version of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, the district court calculated Washington's base offense level. On direct appeal, Washington contended the district court attributed too large a quantity of crack to him, "challeng[ing]" two components of the district court's calculations: (1) the conversion of $2600 into 85.05 grams of cocaine base; and (2) the estimation he and his coconspirators purchased 680.4 grams of cocaine base with their pooled money. The Tenth Circuit specifically declined to resolve Washington's challenge to the conversion of $2600, noting: "Washington . . . recognizes that only the challenge to the 680.4 grams can lower the drug quantity below 500 grams and thereby reduce his base offense level under U.S.S.G. 2D1.1(c)(4). We therefore confine our analysis to the 680.4 grams." The Court then denied Washington's appeal, concluding the quantity of 680.4 grams was supported by sufficient evidence. In August 2011, Washington filed a pro se motion for sentence reduction pursuant to section 3582(c)(2) and Amendment 750 of the Sentencing Guidelines. Instead of challenging the correctness of his base offense level, he made the legally erroneous argument that Amendment 750 allowed the district court to reconsider its previous decision to give him a sentence above the bottom of the advisory Guidelines range. The district court denied his motion, concluding that because Amendment 750 did not reduce Washington's offense level, and it was without power to alter his sentence. In May 2013, Washington, acting through appointed counsel, filed another 3582 motion. Although he styled his pleading as a "Motion for Sentence Reduction Under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)," he did not assert the district court had the power to modify his sentence. The district court denied Washington's motion. Washington then appealed to the Tenth Circuit, asking the Court to take up and decide the issue it declined to resolve on direct appeal. The government argued the Tenth Circuit lacked statutory jurisdiction because Washington's appeal did not fit within the four categories of allowed sentencing appeals under 18 U.S.C. 3742(a). The question presented to the Court on appeal was thus a narrow legal question: Could Washington use the sentence-modification procedure set out in 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(2) to have the court decide an issue left unresolved on direct appeal? "The Supreme Court's decision in Dillon v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2683 (2010), coupled with the policy statements accompanying U.S.S.G. 1B1.10, compel[ed] a negative answer." View "United States v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Juan Morales was found guilty of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to eighty-six months' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. He also argued his Fifth Amendment due process rights were violated when he was placed in handcuffs and transported through the public area of the courthouse in view of the venire. Upon review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed. View "United States v. Morales" on Justia Law

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As a result of an investigation into purported clinical weight-loss studies from 2006-2008, defendant Edward Mulikin was indicted by a grand jury sitting in the District of Colorado in November 2011. The indictment consisted of nineteen counts of mail fraud. Defendant was arrested in January 2012; in August 2012, a superseding indictment was filed asserting the same nineteen counts of mail fraud. The superseding indictment alleged that Defendant's purported weight-loss studies were part of an "advance fee scheme" in which Defendant made false representations to induce participants to submit deposits which he had no intention of refunding. Defendant's residence was searched pursuant to a warrant. Law enforcement seized two hard drives, a computer, two binders, and two folders during the search. Prior to trial, Defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized at his residence. After a trial, the jury convicted defendant to seventeen of the nineteen counts of mail fraud. Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his pretrial motion to suppress the evidence seized at his home, challenging whether the warrant established probable cause that the items seized would have been located at the residence. Defendant also argued the affidavit failed to establish a nexus between the criminal acts and the residence to be searched. Furthermore, defendant argued the list of items to be seized in the search warrant was impermissibly broad. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit held that even if evidence seized pursuant to the warrant was admitted in error, that admission was harmless and did not warrant reversal of defendant's conviction. View "United States v. Mullikin" on Justia Law

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Defendant Charles Shaw was convicted of robbing a bank and two credit unions, attempting to commit a second robbery at one of the credit unions, and committing four related firearms offenses. He was acquitted on a charge of robbing a second bank. On appeal he argued: (1) the jury could not be impartial because it learned of an improper gesture he made to a member of the jury panel during jury selection; (2) the district court erred in admitting a confession of a codefendant who had been convicted at an earlier trial; (3) the court also erred in admitting evidence of an uncharged bank robbery; and (4) the court at sentencing, rather than the jury, found that he had been previously convicted of a firearms offense. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Shaw" on Justia Law

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Tyrone Clark and his company, Brokers' Choice of America, sued NBC Universal, Inc. and some of its employees after it aired a "Dateline" segment titled "Tricks of the Trade." The aired segment featured snippets of Clark taken from one of his two-day seminars for insurance brokers on BCA’s property in Colorado. The crew surreptitiously filmed the seminar. Using select words from the two-day seminar, the aired program depicted Clark as one who teaches insurance agents how to employ misrepresentations and other questionable tactics in order to dupe senior citizens into purchasing inappropriate annuity products. BCA's complaint alleged several state-law claims: defamation, trespass, fraud, and intrusion. It also alleged three violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983, a Fourth Amendment illegal search and seizure violation and two Fourteenth Amendment violations, invasion of privacy and stigmatization. Dateline moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Applying the Colorado Shield Law, specifically the Colorado's newsperson's privilege, the magistrate judge stayed discovery. The district court later granted the motion to dismiss with leave to file an amended complaint. BCA's amended complaint raised only the defamation claim and the 1983 claims, both of which were ultimately dismissed too. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings: the Court affirmed the dismissal of BCA's Fourth Amendment and 1983 privacy and stigmatization claims. The Court reversed the dismissal of the defamation claim. View "Broker's Choice of America, et al v. NBC Universal, Inc., et al" on Justia Law