Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

by
Wendy and Daryl Yurek were charged with tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud. After a joint jury trial, the Yureks were convicted on both offenses. The district court then sentenced Mrs. Yurek to a prison term of 27 months, leading her to appeal the conviction and sentence. On appeal, Mrs. Yurek challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against her, and claimed the district court erred in denying her motions for severance and a new trial. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part: affirming Mrs. Yurek’s conviction, but vacated her sentence. The Court determined the district court applied the wrong test when deciding whether to grant a mitigating-role adjustment. View "United States v. Yurek (Wendy)" on Justia Law

by
Charles Farrar, a Colorado state prisoner, appealed the district court’s denial of his petition for habeas relief. Farrar’s convictions stemmed from complaints of sexual abuse. The victim was Farrar’s stepdaughter, who complained of the alleged abuse when she was in the eighth grade. Based on the girl’s account, state officials charged Farrar with over twenty counts. Farrar denied the allegations. At the trial, the girl’s testimony supplied the prosecution’s only direct evidence of Farrar’s guilt. The jury found Mr. Farrar guilty of numerous counts of sexual assault and one count of child abuse, and the state trial court sentenced Mr. Farrar to prison for a minimum of 145 years and a maximum of life. In district court, Farrar claimed: actual innocence, deprivation of due process based on the recantation of a key prosecution witness, and deprivation of due process based on a state appellate decision establishing an overly restrictive standard for a new trial. The district court denied relief, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed based on three conclusions: (1) actual innocence did not supply a freestanding basis for habeas relief; (2) a private citizen’s false testimony did not violate the Constitution unless the government knew that the testimony is false; (3) the alleged error in the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision did not justify habeas relief. View "Farrar v. Raemisch" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Armando Mendez appealed his sentence after he pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He argued his sentence was improperly inflated because the district court held that a prior conviction for attempted robbery in Colorado qualified as a "crime of violence" under the Sentencing Guidelines. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's classification of defendant's Colorado crime, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Mendez" on Justia Law

by
While executing a warrant to search defendant Jason Loera’s home for evidence of computer fraud, FBI agents discovered child pornography on four of Loera’s CDs. Despite discovering the pornography, the agents continued their search for evidence of computer fraud: one agent continued to search the CDs that were found to contain some child pornography and a second agent searched other electronic devices belonging to Loera, not including those particular CDs (Search 1). After the agents finished their on-site search, they seized a number of electronic devices that appeared to contain evidence of computer fraud, plus the four CDs that were found to contain child pornography, and then brought the seized items back to their office. One week later, one of the agents reopened the CDs that he knew contained some child pornography so that he could describe a few pornographic images in an affidavit requesting a (second) warrant to search all of the seized electronic devices for child pornography (Search 2). A magistrate judge issued the warrant, and, upon executing it through two searches, the agents found more child pornography. In the subsequent prosecution against him for possessing child pornography, Loera filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized pursuant to each search, arguing that the searches violated the Fourth Amendment. On denial of his motion, Loera pled guilty to receipt of child pornography but preserved his right to appeal that denial. Te Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of Loera’s motion to suppress, holding, among other things, that the Fourth Amendment did not require police officers to stop executing an electronic search warrant when they discovered evidence of an ongoing crime outside the scope of the warrant, so long as their search remained directed at uncovering evidence specified in that warrant. View "United States v. Loera" on Justia Law

by
A Wyoming jury convicted Defendant Christopher Lee Martinez on one count of attempting to entice a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. On appeal Defendant argued the district court: (1) should have authorized funds for a forensic psychologist; (2) improperly excluded evidence of his history of mental illness; and (3) should have allowed him to present evidence of his character for truthfulness. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Martinez’s conviction. View "United States v. Martinez" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Alexander Miles appealed the denial of his second petition for a writ of coram nobis. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to submitting a false affidavit in connection with an application for a visa for a 14-year-old girl from Cambodia to whom he was engaged. He already unsuccessfully challenged that judgment in a direct appeal, a motion for relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, and a previous petition for a writ of coram nobis. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of his second petition because each of its claims for relief either had been raised by Defendant in earlier proceedings and rejected by the Tenth Circuit, or could have been raised in those proceedings and was inexcusably neglected. View "United States v. Miles" on Justia Law

by
Clarence Goode, Jr. was convicted in Oklahoma of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The federal district court denied his petition for relief filed under 28 U.S.C. 2254. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Goode raised two claims: (1) a claim under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), that the State of Oklahoma suppressed material information about the corrupt conduct of Jeff Henderson, one of its investigating officers; and (2) an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim with numerous subclaims. Because none of Goode’s claims merited relief under section 2254, The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the application. View "Goode v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

by
Shawn Gorrell was an insurance salesman based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father was an accountant in Tulsa whose clients included several dentists and Gorrell sold insurance to some of them. In 2009, Gorrell began to pitch investments to these dentists that were outside of his typical insurance products. Some dentists initially gave Gorrell modest sums to invest, but later the amounts ballooned to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gorrell would ultimately be convicted by jury on three counts of wire fraud and three counts of tax evasion. He appealed only the tax evasion charges, seeking a new trial on those counts. He argued the trial court plainly erred when it instructed the jury to consider “specified theories of an affirmative act (an element of tax evasion), which were legally invalid theories of guilt as a matter of law, the jury was instructed to be unanimous in finding an affirmative act, and the jury returned a general verdict of guilt.” The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err, “much less plainly err,” in its instructions to the jury. Given the evidence elicited at trial, in light of those instructions, Gorrell’s convictions for tax evasion were supported. View "United States v. Gorrell" on Justia Law

by
Antonio Smith pleaded guilty in Oklahoma state court to drug trafficking, possessing a firearm as a felon, and a variety of related charges. Smith’s habeas claims centered around a plea offer that one of Smith’s attorneys allegedly didn’t communicate to him: Smith said he rejected a 25-year plea offer from the state that his first attorney presented to him; Smith’s first attorney subsequently withdrew; the sentencing court appointed a new attorney; Smith says his second attorney told him shortly after she was appointed that the state had withdrawn an offer for a 20-year sentence. On the day his case was set to go to trial, Smith pleaded guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement. During the plea hearing, the state told the court Smith rejected its offer for a 20-year sentence. When the sentencing court asked Smith’s second attorney if the state’s recollection of its prior offer coincided with her own, Smith’s second attorney confirmed it. When the court specifically asked Smith’s second attorney if she discussed the 20-year offer with Smith, she equivocated and responded, “We discussed recommendations; we discussed counter-offers; I conveyed counteroffers. Those were rejected.” It was undetermined whether the second attorney mentioned the deal presented to the first attorney. Nor did she mention that she didn’t represent Smith when plea bargaining began, despite her representation to the court that she discussed prior offers with Smith. Adding to this confusion, Smith’s first attorney told the Oklahoma Bar Association that, contrary to what the state told the sentencing court, the lowest sentence the state ever offered Smith was 25 years. The sentencing court ultimately sentenced Smith to 30 years in prison. Smith neither sought to withdraw his plea nor appealed within the 10 days in which Oklahoma allowed him to do so. Smith petitioned the district court under 28 U.S.C. 2254 seeking habeas relief. After review of the record, the Tenth Circuit concluded Smith had shown both cause and prejudice, and there were unresolved factual issues to be addressed before habeas relief could be granted. The Tenth Circuit reversed the sentence Smith received and remanded for the district court to hold further proceedings. View "Smith v. Allbaugh" on Justia Law

by
Leonard Aragon was sentenced to 48 months’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. He appealed, arguing the district court erred in finding that two packages found in his car contained 28.5 grams of methamphetamine and 11 grams of heroin, respectively. He also contended “the judge abused his discretion by sua sponte presenting his own evidence in support of a higher sentence.” The Tenth Circuit found that although the suspected heroin appeared to be wrapped in light packaging, the same could not be said for the suspected methamphetamine. “Even adding all 11.5 grams of heroin to the amounts from the controlled buys would require more than 7 grams of methamphetamine to make Mr. Aragon’s offense level 24 as the district court found.” The Tenth Circuit found nothing in the record to suggest the trial judge would be unable or unwilling to set aside the additional drugs in accordance with its conclusion that their net weights were not proven by a preponderance of the evidence, therefore the Court declined to reassign the case on remand. The sentence was vacated and the matter remanded for further development. View "United States v. Aragon" on Justia Law