Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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Clay O’Brien Mann’s neighbors invited about a dozen friends to join them late one summer evening for a bonfire at their undeveloped property on an Indian reservation. When this particular gathering continued into the early morning, Mann, who had been drinking, hurled a lit artillery-shell firework in the direction of the partygoers. The firework exploded, chaos ensued, and his neighbors and their guests ran away screaming. Three of them unwittingly retreated in the direction of Mann. He then fired nine shots with a semiautomatic rifle, killing one person and wounding two others. Mann, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and Indian Tribe, was indicted on eight counts, and a jury convicted as to five of them. The district court vacated one of those convictions and sentenced Mann to just over fourteen years in prison. Mann appealed, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. In the course of affirming, the Court noted that but for a “careless error” by the government, Mann might well have received an additional twenty-five years on his sentence for a second 18 U.S.C. 924(c) conviction. The error was found in Count 8 of the original indictment which charged Mann with "knowingly discharg[ing] and carry[ing] a firearm... during and relation to a crime of violence." The indictment charged “assault resulting in serious bodily injury” in Count 7, not in Count 6. After realizing the government’s mistake, the district court dismissed Count 8 without prejudice, allowing the government to present a corrected section 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) charge to another grand jury; the government elected to do so. A second grand jury re-indicted Mann on the corrected charge, which went to trial. However, the district court declared a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Before a third trial was set to begin. Mann moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing assault resulting in bodily injury, was not a crime of violence under 924(c)(1)(A). The district court agreed and dismissed the indictment; the government timely appealed. The Tenth Circuit determined Mann conceded that “[t]he least of the acts criminalized by section 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(6) was the reckless causing of serious bodily injury.” The Tenth Circuit accepted his concession and concluded that section 113(a)(6) was categorically a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(3)(A). Because the district court ruled otherwise in dismissing the government’s indictment, its judgment was reversed. View "United States v. Mann" on Justia Law

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An Oklahoma jury convicted Tremane Wood of first-degree felony murder for the killing of Ronnie Wipf during a botched robbery. The jury found Oklahoma had proved three aggravating circumstances associated with the murder, and the mitigating circumstances did not outweigh them. The jury accordingly sentenced Wood to death. Wood directly appealed his conviction to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing primarily: (1) his trial counsel performed ineffectively at the sentencing stage; and (2) the “heinous, atrocious, or cruel” aggravating circumstance could not be constitutionally applied to this case given the dearth of evidence that Wipf suffered before death. The OCCA ordered an evidentiary hearing on the ineffectiveness issue, but ultimately affirmed Wood’s conviction and death sentence. Wood then filed an application for post-conviction relief in state court, claiming his appellate counsel performed ineffectively on direct appeal, including at the evidentiary hearing. The OCCA again denied relief. Wood then applied for habeas relief, which was denied. The Tenth Circuit granted Wood certificates of appealability on whether his trial and appellate counsel performed ineffectively. During the course of this appeal, the Tenth Circuit decided Pavatt v. Royal, 859 F.3d 920 (10th Cir. 2017), opinion amended and superseded on denial of rehearing on July 2, 2018 by Pavatt v. Royal, 894 F.3d 1115 (10th Cir. 2017), a challenge to Oklahoma’s application of the heinous, atrocious, and cruel (HAC) aggravator in that case. Based on Pavatt, the Court granted an additional COA on whether the HAC aggravating circumstance could be constitutionally applied to the facts of this case. And after review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Wood was not entitled to relief on any of his claims and affirmed denial of habeas relief. View "Wood v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Jessie Marquez appealed his convictions for six drug-related crimes, including conspiracy to distribute 500 grams of methamphetamine, raising three issues: (1) challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting each of his convictions; (2) asserting the district court erred by questioning a witness; and (3) contending the district court shouldn’t have admitted certain testimony from two of the government’s witnesses. The Tenth Circuit rejected each of Marquez’ arguments, holding: (1) the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to find Marquez guilty of using a phone to facilitate a drug felony, participating in a conspiracy to distribute over 500 grams of methamphetamine, and possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it; (2) the district court did not err when it asked a witness one question to clarify a factual matter; and (3) the district court didn’t abuse its discretion or plainly err when it admitted testimony from government witnesses. View "United States v. Marquez" on Justia Law

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In February 2016, Defendant Ricky Williams pled guilty to tax fraud relating to his preparation of federal income-tax returns for third-party clients for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. In his plea agreement, he agreed to pay restitution. After pleading guilty, he was initially released on bond pending sentencing. However, his release was revoked after the court discovered that he had been violating the terms of his release by again engaging in tax preparation activities for someone other than himself or his spouse. The probation officer who prepared his Presentence Investigation Report “determined that the defendant lied about his income, assets, and liabilities” to the probation officer. Among other things, the probation officer discovered several undisclosed financial transactions that Defendant had conducted with someone else’s social security number, and an attempt to unfreeze a bank account that contained approximately $37,000. The bank contacted the IRS. This lead to a sentence of thirty months in prison and an increased restitution amount to the IRS. A few months after Defendant’s sentencing, the government filed an application for post-judgment writ of garnishment against the frozen bank account. The bank objected on the grounds that the account was subject to “a prior internal USAA Federal Savings Bank hold from its Fraud Department." A magistrate judge concluded the government could not seek garnishment. The district court declined to accept the magistrate judge's recommendation pursuant to the terms of defendant's earlier restitution agreement. The Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s conclusion that the government was entitled to garnish Defendant’s bank account to obtain partial payment of the amount then-currently due in restitution. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted fourteen-year-old Lawrence Montoya for the New Year’s Day murder of a teacher from his school. After serving over thirteen years in prison, Montoya brought post-conviction claims for ineffective assistance of counsel and actual innocence. He sued several detectives involved in the investigation and trial, claiming they were responsible for his wrongful conviction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. Specifically, Montoya claimed the Detectives instigated a malicious prosecution against him, coerced his confession in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and subjected him to false arrest. The Detectives appealed when the district court held qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity did not shield the Detectives from liability and denied their motion to dismiss. After review, the Tenth Circuit held qualified immunity indeed shielded the Detectives from liability for Montoya’s malicious prosecution claim; both qualified immunity and absolute testimonial immunity barred Montoya’s Fifth Amendment claim. As for Montoya’s false arrest claim, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider whether or not qualified immunity applied. View "Montoya v. Vigil" on Justia Law

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Austin Ray was convicted by jury convictions for one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, five counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return, and two counts of submitting a false tax return. Ray argued on appeal: (1) the government violated the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IAD) of 1970; (2) the government engaged in vindictive prosecution; (3) the district court violated his rights under the Speedy Trial Act (STA) of 1974; (4) the government violated his due-process rights by destroying certain evidence; and (5) the district court constructively amended the indictment. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in all respects, finding: (1) the government never lodged a detainer against Ray, meaning the IAD didn’t apply; (2) Ray established neither actual nor presumptive vindictiveness; (3) Ray’s STA argument was waived for failing to raise it below; (4) the evidence at issue lacked any exculpatory value, and even if the evidence were potentially useful to Ray’s defense, the government didn’t destroy it in bad faith; and (5) the district court narrowed, rather than broadened, the charges against Ray. View "United States v. Ray" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Shane Roach of coercing D.G. into prostitution. Roach recruited D.G. and, with help from Angela Santillanes, prostituted D.G. to clients. D.G. became scared and reached out for help, leading to Roach’s and Santillanes’s arrests. The Government charged Roach and Santillanes, but after Santillanes agreed to testify against Roach, it dropped her charge. At trial, Roach attempted to cross-examine Santillanes about three topics. The Government successfully objected. On appeal, Roach argued the district court’s rulings preventing cross-examination violated: (1) the Confrontation Clause; and (2) the Federal Rules of Evidence, and because these errors were not harmless, the Tenth Circuit had to vacate his conviction and remand for a new trial. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) Roach waived his Confrontation Clause arguments; and (2) any error in limiting his cross-examination under the evidence rules was harmless. Accordingly, the Court affirmed his conviction. View "United States v. Roach" on Justia Law

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Defendant Edward McLinn appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to state an offense under Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(3)(B)(v). In 2013, Lawrence, Kansas, police officers responded to a call at a local gas station to find McLinn wandering the premises wrapped only in a shower curtain. The officers observed that McLinn had "chemical burns on his person, bloodshot eyes, and other minor injuries[,]" but when they initially asked McLinn about drug use he responded that he had used methamphetamine "approximately 3 1⁄2 years" earlier, and that his symptoms were the result of having been cleaning his house with heavy cleaners. McLinn was taken to the emergency room for treatment; staff stated McLinn exhibited "extreme psychosis with visual hallucinations . . . auditory hallucinations . . . [and] paranoia." A hospital employee ultimately requested McLinn be placed in protective custody and ordered to undergo mental health evaluation at Osawatomie State Hospital. Two days later, a state court held a hearing to determine whether there was probable cause to believe McLinn should have been involuntarily committed. The state court ordered McLinn be detained at the state hospital until trial, "but in no event later than 14 days from the filing of the application [for involuntary commitment].” McLinn was discharged less than a week after he had originally been admitted. As part of the discharge process, McLinn was required to sign a document which included language indicating he would violate the law if, as a person who had been involuntarily civilly committed to possess a firearm. Roughly a year later, a number of City Commissioners in Lawrence began to receive a series of bizarre emails referring to firearms. Police launched an investigation, found McLinn's public Instagram account, on which he had posted several photos of himself with firearms. Police then arrested McLinn and charged him with, among other offenses, possession of a firearm by an individual who has been adjudicated as a mental defective and committed to a mental institution. McLinn moved to dismiss this count of the indictment for failure to state an offense. The district court denied the motion "without prejudice." Following this adverse ruling, McLinn entered a conditional guilty plea to this count of the indictment, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court mistakenly treated the dispositive issue in this case as a fact question properly reserved for the jury. The Court vacated the district court’s order and remanded for the district court to determine as a matter of law whether McLinn was: (1) adjudicated as a mental defective or (2) committed to any mental institution as those terms were used in 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(4). View "United States v. McLinn" on Justia Law

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Gary Clark was having a psychotic episode. His brother was having trouble subduing Clark, and called the Broken Arrow Policy to assist. When Clark charged at one of the officers with a knife, he was shot. Clark ultimately survived his gunshot wounds, but had not fully recovered. Clark sued, claiming a violation of a number of his constitutional, state-common-law, and federal-statutory rights. The district court granted summary judgment to Wagoner County Board of Commissioners, Wagoner County Sheriff Robert Colbert, and former Wagoner County Jail Nurse Vicki Holland on Clark’s claims against them. Given the undisputed facts, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded a reasonable jury could not find the officers violated Clark’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. In addition, Clark failed to adequately brief issues necessary to justify reversal on his Oklahoma-tort and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims. Therefore, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the governmental officials. View "Clark v. Colbert" on Justia Law

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Jesse Leaverton was convicted of three counts of bank robbery. At sentencing, the district court concluded that 18 U.S.C. 3559(c) applied because Leaverton had been previously convicted of two serious violent felonies, enhancing his sentence from a maximum of twenty years to a mandatory term of life imprisonment. Leaverton appealed, arguing that his prior conviction for Oklahoma manslaughter did not qualify under section 3559(c). The Oklahoma statute contained three subsections. The government argued that Leaverton was convicted under a subsection that applied when a killing is “perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.” At sentencing, the district court found that Leaverton had been convicted under subsection two, which qualified as a serious violent felony and thus Leaverton met the requirements of section 3559(c). Leaverton argued section 3559(c)(2)(F)(i) required the crime of conviction be equivalent to voluntary federal manslaughter. The Tenth Circuit found that the Oklahoma statute (section 711(2)) bore some similarity to the second definition provided in the Model Penal Code, the section 711(2) heat of passion element differed markedly from that applicable to generic manslaughter. The Tenth Circuit could not say that a conviction under section 711(2) “necessarily involved facts equating to” generic manslaughter. As such, the Court concluded Leaverton's offense did not constitute manslaughter as that term was used in section 3559(c)(2)(F)(i). The Court reversed and remanded this case for resentencing. View "United States v. Leaverton" on Justia Law