Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Kenneth Theis appeals his conviction and sentence for attempted sexual exploitation of a child. Theis used hidden cell phones to secretly record his girlfriend’s eleven-year-old daughter while she showered and used the toilet. He transferred the recordings to his computer and created still images, some of which focused on her genital and pubic area. As a result, Theis was indicted on two counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a child. Theis filed a motion to dismiss the indictment arguing the facts were insufficient to establish an offense under the applicable statute. He asserted that the statute required a causal, interactive relationship between the defendant and the minor, and that his conduct (which he contended amounted to mere voyeurism) was insufficient to establish a violation of the statute. The district court denied the motion. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Theis" on Justia Law

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Defendant Raymond Alcorta was charged with conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine with Javier Vega, Karmin Salazar, Adrienne Lopez, and Angela Lopez, who acted as drug couriers. They all lived in California; the drugs were delivered to Kansas City. Vega and Salazar pleaded guilty, while Defendant, Adrienne, and Angela proceeded to a joint trial in Kansas. All three were found guilty of conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, and the couriers were also convicted of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the convictions of Adrienne and Angela because the search of their vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment. But because Defendant had no standing to complain about that search and did not complain about it, the Court could consider on this appeal the evidence obtained in that search. Defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and the admission of recorded jailhouse conversations of coconspirators. The Tenth Circuit concluded defendant’s conviction was supported by sufficient evidence, and his arguments challenging the admission of the conversations were unpersuasive. View "United States v. Alcorta" on Justia Law

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Los Dahda was convicted of crimes growing out of an alleged marijuana distribution network centered in Kansas. The convictions resulted in a sentence of imprisonment and a fine of $16,985,250. On appeal, Los presented six challenges to the convictions and sentence. The Tenth Circuit rejected all but one: that the district court erred in imposing the monetary fine. The Court affirmed the conviction and 189-month sentence he received, but vacated the fine. View "United States v. Dahda" on Justia Law

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Roosevelt Dahda and 42 others faced criminal charges involving the operation of a marijuana-distribution network centered in Kansas. Roosevelt was convicted on ten counts, and the district court sentenced him to 201 months’ imprisonment and ordered forfeiture in the amount of $16,985,250. On appeal, Roosevelt raised seven challenges to his convictions and sentence; the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all but one challenge. Roosevelt argued the district court erred in setting Roosevelt’s base-offense level by miscalculating the amount of marijuana attributed to him. Based on these conclusions, the Court affirmed Roosevelt’s convictions but remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Dahda" on Justia Law

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners (“PETPO”) challenged a regulation promulgated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The challenged regulation prohibited the “take” of the Utah prairie dog, a purely intrastate species, on nonfederal land. The ESA defined “take” as meaning “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” The district court granted summary judgment for PETPO on the ground that neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution authorized Congress to regulate take of the Utah prairie dog on nonfederal land. FWS and intervenor-defendant Friends of Animals (“FoA”) appealed the grant of summary judgment, arguing that the challenged regulation was authorized by both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, and that PETPO lacked standing. After its review, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court correctly concluded that PETPO had standing, but erred in concluding that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate (and authorize the Service to regulate) the take of the Utah prairie dog. View "People for Ethical Treatment v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Robert Snyder pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm. The issue here was whether a prior conviction for voluntary manslaughter was a "crime of violence" as defined by section 4B1.2(a)(2) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Based on the Supreme Court’s decision in "Beckles v. United States," (No. 15-8544, 2017 WL 855781, at *6 (S. Ct. Mar. 6, 2017)), where the court rejected a vagueness challenge to the residual clause of section 4B1.2(a)(2), defendant conceded that voluntary manslaughter was a crime of violence, and the district court correctly applied the Guidelines in this case. View "United States v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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Monica Pompeo, a student in a graduate-level course at the University of New Mexico (“UNM”), claimed that UNM officials retaliated against her in violation of her free speech rights because they disagreed with viewpoints she expressed in an assigned class paper. In "Axson-Flynn v. Johnson," (356 F.3d 1277 (10th Cir. 2004)), the Tenth Circuit held courts may not override an educator’s decision in the school-sponsored speech context “unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment” and instead used “the proffered goal or methodology [as] a sham pretext for an impermissible ulterior motive.” Here, Pompeo asked the Tenth Circuit to draw an analogy between the religious discrimination at issue in "Axson-Flynn" and the viewpoint discrimination she complained of in this case. "Yet our court has specifically held that precedent 'allows educators to make viewpoint-based decisions about school-sponsored speech' and may restrict speech they believe contains 'inflammatory and divisive statements.'" Finding no reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to UNM, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Pompeo's case. View "Pompeo v. Board of Regents" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Damion Tittle pled guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms. This crime carried a maximum sentence of 10 years, but the Government argued defendant's sentence should have been enhanced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”). The enhancement would apply for mandatory minimum term of 15 years when a defendant had “three previous convictions . . . for a violent felony or a serious drug offense, or both.” The district court concluded defendant had three qualifying offenses and sentenced him to a prison term of 188 months, more than 15 years. On appeal, defendant argued he was not subject to an ACCA-enhanced sentence because one of his three prior convictions was not a qualifying offense. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed, vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Titties" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant Keighton Budder was convicted by an Oklahoma jury of several violent nonhomicide crimes committed when he was sixteen years old. After sentence modification on direct appeal, he received three life sentences and an additional sentence of twenty years, all to run consecutively. He was not be eligible for parole under Oklahoma law until he served 131.75 years in prison. Budder filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, arguing his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. In support, he cited “Graham v. Florida,” (560 U.S. 48 (2010)), which held that sentencing juvenile offenders who have not committed homicide crimes to life in prison without a meaningful opportunity for release was unconstitutional. The district court denied Budder’s petition, and he appeals. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant Budder’s petition. The Court found under the categorical rule clearly established in “Graham,” Budder’s sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. “The [Oklahoma Supreme Court’s] judgment was contrary to this clearly established Supreme Court precedent. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to grant Budder’s petition for writ of habeas corpus, to vacate Budder’s sentence, and to direct the State of Oklahoma to resentence Budder within a reasonable period.” View "Budder v. Addison" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Wireman, a frequent sexual offender who pled guilty to counts of possessing and distributing child pornography, argued his sentence was procedurally unreasonable because the district court did not specifically address and reject his arguments for a downward variance from his within-Guidelines sentence. The question this case presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the particular argument he made to the district court—namely, that the Guideline under which he was sentenced was inherently flawed on policy grounds—warranted an exception to a long-held rule that the district court was not required to explicitly address and reject his arguments in such an instance. “But no matter how inherently fluid this area of law may be, we have held time and time again that a district court does not run astray of its duty to ‘consider[] the parties’ arguments’ simply because it does not directly address those arguments head-on—assuming, that is, that the district court imposes a within-Guidelines sentence.” Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "United States v. Wireman" on Justia Law