Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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In removal proceedings, petitioner Sandra Lopez-Munoz appeared and requested cancellation of removal, but the immigration judge declined the request. Petitioner unsuccessfully appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, moved for the Board to reopen her case, petitioned for review to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, moved a second time for the Board to reopen her case, and moved for reconsideration of the denial of her second motion to reopen. The removal proceedings began with the service of a notice to appear. But because the notice to appear failed to include a date and time for her impending immigration hearing, petitioner argued the immigration judge lacked jurisdiction over the removal proceedings. If petitioner was correct, the Tenth Circuit concluded she might be entitled to relief based on the immigration judge’s lack of jurisdiction to order removal. In the Court’s view, however, the alleged defect would not preclude jurisdiction. It thus denied the petition for review. View "Lopez-Munoz v. Barr" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Curtis Anthony of child-sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit child-sex trafficking. The district court sentenced Anthony to the statutory mandatory-minimum 10 years’ imprisonment and ordered that he pay restitution to the two child victims— R.W. and M.M—in the amount of $327,013.50 and $308,233.50, respectively. On appeal, Anthony contended these amounts exceeded actual losses resulting from his two offenses of conviction. He raised two issues with the restitution order: (1) it impermissibly compensated harms that R.W. suffered from an earlier, unrelated sex-trafficking criminal enterprise run by a different wrongdoer; and (2) regarding his conspiracy count, it compensated R.W.’s and M.M.’s harms beyond a smaller conspiracy proved at trial (a subset of the broad, charged conspiracy). The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Anthony on both issues, but we disagreed he established plain error on the second issue. Thus, the Court affirmed the district court’s restitution order as covering the broad, charged conspiracy, but vacated the order and remanded for a recalculation of losses to ensure that no restitution is awarded for harms that R.W. suffered during the earlier sex-trafficking offense. View "United States v. Anthony" on Justia Law

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Jimmy Dean Harris was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He appealed, and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) reversed his sentence and remanded for a retrial at the penalty phase. After the retrial, the state district court reimposed the death penalty. Harris appealed and sought post-conviction relief in state court. When these efforts failed, he brought a habeas petition in federal district court. The federal court denied relief, and Harris appealed again, arguing in part, that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to seek a pretrial hearing on the existence of an intellectual disability, which would have prevented the death penalty. The federal court rejected this claim. In the Tenth Circuit’s view, the district court should have conducted an evidentiary hearing to decide this claim, so it reversed and remanded for further consideration to this issue. Given the need to remand on this issue, the Court also remanded for the district court to reconsider the claim of cumulative error. But the Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief on Harris’s other claims. View "Harris v. Sharp" on Justia Law

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In September 2017, law enforcement agents began investigating Defendant Brice Carter’s involvement in trafficking drugs and passing counterfeit notes. As part of that investigation, agents conducted a proffer with a confidential informant who had recently been arrested in connection with drug trafficking. The “CI” informed the agents that he or she had supplied Defendant with drugs for some months and that during that time Defendant had provided the CI with two firearms as partial payment for a quantity of methamphetamine. After executing a search warrant, agents recovered two firearms from the CI’s home and identified Defendant’s fingerprints on a box in which one of the firearms, a .22 caliber pistol, was stored. Based in part on the CI’s proffer, the government filed a criminal complaint against Defendant, and a grand jury returned an indictment against him for one count of possessing a firearm, the .22 caliber pistol, as a felon, and one count of manufacturing counterfeit notes. Defendant pled guilty to both counts pursuant to a plea agreement. At sentencing, the presentence investigation report noted the sentencing guideline for the firearm offense called for application of a cross-reference if the defendant uses the firearm cited in the offense of conviction in connection with the commission of another offense so long as the offense level resulting from application of the cross-reference is greater than it otherwise would be. Relying on the CI’s proffer, the PSR attributed to Defendant, for purposes of the cross-reference, an uncharged drug-distribution offense involving 9 ounces (or 255 grams) of methamphetamine, which, according to the CI, Defendant had purchased in exchange for the pistol. The PSR applied a cross-reference to the drug-distribution guideline and calculated Defendant’s total offense level, after all adjustments, at 25, which the PSR determined was a greater level than would result from a straightforward application of the firearm-offense guideline. In combination with Defendant’s criminal history category, the total offense level of 25 yielded an advisory guidelines range of 100 to 125 months’ imprisonment. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was the procedural and substantive reasonableness of Defendant’s sentence. Concluding that the procedural challenge was not subject to plain-error review and that the substantive challenge was without merit, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the sentence. View "United States v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Fernando Duran was convicted by jury on drug charges. On appeal, he argued the evidence was insufficient to convict on three counts, and the district court abused its discretion in admitting certain testimony on prior drug transactions and the interpretations of recorded calls. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Duran’s convictions. View "United States v. Duran" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Harte (“Bob”) was a stay-at-home father; he kept a vegetable garden with his son as part of an education project. Plaintiff Adlynn Harte (“Addie”) enjoyed loose-leaf tea. Discards from Addie's tea would lead the family with no criminal history whatsoever (save a few parking tickets) to become embroiled in a marijuana sting. Armed with a battering ram, firearms, and a warrant, Sheriff’s Deputies detained Plaintiffs for over two hours early on an April 2012 morning after a SWAT-style raid. They found "wet marijuana plant material" discarded in the Hartes' garbage. Had police from the raid sent the discards to a crime lab, it would have been discovered the vegetation was not marijuana but loose-leaf tea. Deputies found the hydroponic tomato garden that was readily visible from the exterior of the home through a front-facing basement window. And after ninety minutes of extensive searching, a couple of the deputies claimed to smell the “faint odor of marijuana” at various places in the residence. A drug-detection dog showed up, but did not alert the officers to any other areas of the house requiring further searches. Before leaving the residence empty-handed, the deputies “strongly suggested” to the Hartes that their 13-year-old son was a drug user. Plaintiffs sued, challenging the original search warrant its allegedly negligent execution. The district court granted summary judgment to the deputy defendants. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a one-paragraph per curiam opinion followed by three separate opinions, affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding the case back to the district court. The lower court, Plaintiffs, and Defendants, all interpreted the Tenth Circuit's per curiam opinion differently. The issue presented in this case's second trip to the Tenth Circuit centered on how to proceed when two of the three panel judges shared some common rationale, yet ultimately reached different outcomes, and a different combination of two judges reached a common outcome by different rationales. The Court held that, in applying a fractured panel’s holding, the district court need only look to and adopt the result the panel reached. "To hold otherwise would be to go against the result expressed by two of the three panel members. That we cannot do." Accordingly, the matter was remanded again for further proceedings. View "Harte v. Board Comm'rs Cnty of Johnson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Donald Thomas pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. On appeal he did not challenge the validity of his plea; but as permitted by his plea agreement with the government, he raised one challenge with respect to his sentence. Because it was undisputed he had a prior felony conviction for a crime of violence (robbery), his base offense level was at least 20. Whether it was 20 or 24 depended on the characterization of his 2014 Colorado conviction of distribution of an “imitation controlled substance” under Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-18-422(1)(a). The sole issue presented to the Tenth Circuit called for an interpretation of "counterfeit substance" as that term is used in section 4B1.2(b) of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Defendant contended a counterfeit substance was a controlled substance that was mislabeled or misbranded fraudulently or without authorization, a definition that appears in a federal statute, 21 U.S.C. 802(7). The government countered it was a noncontrolled substance that was passed off as a controlled substance. Joining the five other circuits that opined on the subject, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the government. The Court affirmed defendant's sentence. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Karen McClaflin pled guilty to two counts stemming from the operation of a “fix and flip” real estate Ponzi scheme which defrauded investors of more than $14.5 million dollars. At sentencing, the district court calculated the advisory sentencing guidelines at 135 to 168 months’ imprisonment, applied a 6-level enhancement for substantial financial hardship to more than twenty-five victims, and then determined a downward variant sentence of 96 months was appropriate. On appeal, McClaflin argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by denying her motion for an additional continuance of the sentencing hearing; (2) procedurally erred by imposing the 6-level enhancement based upon victim impact statements; and (3) failed to consider all of the requisite 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not plainly err when it sentenced McClaflin, therefore it affirmed the judgment and sentence. View "United States v. McClaflin" on Justia Law

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Robert Holloway was convicted by jury of four counts of wire fraud, and one count of submitting a false tax return. Holloway was the president and CEO of US Ventures, a company that traded in the futures market. Holloway told investors he had developed a special algorithm that allowed him to trade without losses. He claimed that because of the algorithm he “could trade the markets and make money whether the market went up or the market went down.” Holloway’s grandiose claims were false, and revealed to be a Ponzi scheme. The district court sentenced Holloway to 225 months’ imprisonment, after applying a six-level enhancement for crimes involving 250 or more victims under U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(2)(C) (2014). After unsuccessfully challenging his conviction and sentence on direct appeal, Holloway filed a 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion, arguing: (1) a total breakdown of communication between Holloway and his trial counsel caused his trial counsel to perform ineffectively; (2) his trial counsel acted ineffectively by failing to argue that the evidence did not support the district court’s application of the six-level sentencing enhancement; and (3) the prosecution violated his due process rights by failing to turn over to the defense favorable information possessed by a prosecution witness contrary to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The district court denied Holloway’s 2255 motion, but granted a certificate of appealability on all three issues. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment. View "United States v. Holloway" on Justia Law

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A.S. was adjudicated a juvenile delinquent under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (“FJDA”) after the district court concluded that, when he was seventeen years old, he knowingly engaged in a sexual act with a victim, K.P., while she was incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct. The court ordered A.S. to be committed to eighteen months’ custodial detention to be followed by twenty-four months’ juvenile-delinquent supervision. On appeal, A.S. raised three challenges: (1) the district court erred in limiting cross-examination and excluding extrinsic evidence concerning a prior allegation of sexual assault that K.P. made; (2) the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that he knew that K.P. was incapable of appraising the nature of the sexual conduct, which he says was an element of the offense; and (3) the district court erred in imposing a dispositional sentence on him of custodial detention. The Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the district court’s actions accorded with the Federal Rules of Evidence and did not violate A.S.’s constitutional rights; (2) there was ample evidence for a reasonable factfinder to determine A.S. engaged in sexual conduct with K.P. while he knew she was asleep and drunk; and (3) the sentence did not constitute an abuse of the district court's broad sentencing discretion. Thus, the Tenth Circuit affirmed judgment. View "United States v. A.S." on Justia Law