Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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In 2014, the government prosecuted two Kansas men, Shane Cox and Jeremy Kettler, for violating the National Firearms Act (NFA) by manufacturing (in Kansas), transferring (in Kansas), and possessing (in Kansas) several unregistered firearms. A jury found them guilty of most (though not all) of the charges. Cox and Kettler appealed their convictions; they didn't dispute that their actions ran afoul of the NFA. Instead, they: (1) challenged the NFA’s constitutionality, alleging that the statute was an invalid exercise of congressional power and an invasion of the Second Amendment right to bear arms; and (2) challenged the district court’s ruling that their reliance on Kansas' Seciond Amendment Protection Act (SAPA), which they understood to shield Kansas-made and -owned firearms from federal regulation, provided no defense to charges that they violated the NFA. Kettler further asked the Tenth Circuit to see his prosecution as the product of a dispute between Kansas and the federal government over the SAPA, a dispute that unjustly swept him (and Cox) up (Cox did not join this latter argument). The Tenth Circuit granted Kansas’s request to participate in these appeals as needed to defend the SAPA from a Supremacy Clause challenge. The Tenth Circuit rejected Cox’s and Kettler’s challenges to their convictions (without addressing the SAPA’s constitutionality). View "United States v. Cox" on Justia Law

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Shannon Porter used over-the-counter tax preparation software to complete and electronically file 123 false tax returns with the IRS. Although the IRS rejected many of the returns and requested refunds, it paid out $180,397 to Porter, which she promptly spent. For this conduct, she pled guilty to making a false statement to the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. 287 and was sentenced to imprisonment to be followed by a term of supervised release. She would be given two terms of prison-and-supervised release. The third time, no supervised release was recommended or approved by the trial court. Porter appealed the last sentence that did not include supervised release. The Tenth Circuit determined that each of Porter’s previous supervised release violations were punishable as a “breach of trust,” and as such, did not abuse its discretion in denying a request for supervised release upon Porter’s third revocation hearing. View "United States v. Porter" on Justia Law

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Delmart Vreeland II applied for habeas relief in federal district court, alleging in relevant part that the state trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The district court rejected both claims and declined to issue a certificate of appealability (COA). Vreeland later obtained a COA from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the district court’s resolution of his Sixth Amendment claim. Pursuant to that COA, he argued the district court erred in denying him relief. Vreeland asked for another COA so he could appeal the district court’s denial of his due-process claim. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that Vreeland failed to demonstrate the state appellate court’s resolution of his Sixth Amendment claim satisfied 28 U.S.C. 2254(d): Vreeland failed to show that the state appellate court’s decision: (1) “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established [f]ederal law” or (2) “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.” Thus, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court to the extent it denied relief on Sixth Amendment grounds. The Tenth Circuit further concluded reasonable jurists wouldn’t find the district court’s resolution of Vreeland’s due-process claim debatable or wrong, and denied his request for a COA on that claim. View "Vreeland v. Zupan" on Justia Law

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Defendant Davon Lymon challenged the procedure by which the district court decided to order the three federal sentences imposed in his case to be consecutive. Lymon pled guilty to three offenses charged in the same indictment: selling heroin to an undercover officer on two separate occasions (Counts 1 and 3), and being a previously convicted felon in possession of a gun (Count 2). Using the sentencing guidelines’ grouping rules, the district court established a single combined offense level for all three convictions. That offense level led to an advisory sentencing range of 77 to 96 months in prison. Lymon did not object to that starting guideline range, but he does object to the court’s ultimate decision to vary upward from the range to a total sentence of 216 months as a result of running the sentences on each of the three counts of conviction largely consecutively instead of concurrently as called for in the guidelines. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not procedurally err because the sentencing guidelines were only advisory, the district court considered the guidelines’ recommendation before exercising its discretion under 18 U.S.C. 3584 to order consecutive sentences, and the court adequately explained why it did so. View "United States v. Lymon" on Justia Law

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Defendant Daederick Lacy was charged with three felony counts stemming from his prostitution of teenage girls. The jury convicted him on all three counts, and he was sentenced to a total of 293 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant challenged his conviction on each count, arguing Count 1 should be reversed because: (1) the district court did not provide the jury with a technical definition of “sex act” to guide its verdict and (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that his sixteen-year-old victim engaged in sex acts with her clients. He argued Count 2 should have been reversed because the district court allowed two law enforcement officers to testify about what the victim told them the day after she committed an act of prostitution arranged by Defendant. Finally, he argued Count 3 should have been reversed for insufficiency of the evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Lacy's convictions. View "United States v. Lacy" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma charged Raye Smith with several child abuse charges stemming from the death of her two-year-old daughter, Kelsey, who died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen. Kelsey’s death, and Smith’s subsequent trial, generated substantial public interest and publicity. In the end, a jury convicted Smith of enabling child abuse. Smith moved for a new trial based on claims of juror misconduct and jurors’ exposure to information outside the courtroom. To support her contention, Smith provided affidavits from trial attendees who alleged some jurors were sleeping during the trial. Smith also claimed the out-of-court publicity tainted the verdict. Smith requested an evidentiary hearing from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA), which granted with respect to the publicity issue, but refused on the sleeping-juror issue, finding the trial judge's statement on the issue adequately refuted the allegations. Ultimately, the OCCA denied relief. Turning to the Tenth Circuit, Smith sought habeas relief, reiterating the sleeping juror issue, and arguing she received ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to bringing the sleeping juror to the trial judge's attention. Smith also argued the trial publicity violated her rights to an impartial jury and due process. Finding that the OCCA did not base its denial of Smith's claims on an unreasonable determination of the facts, and that the OCCA's opinion was contrary to or unreasonably applied clearly established federal law, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the OCCA. View "Smith v. Aldridge" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Aaron Lewis, Jr., a federal prisoner acting pro se, sought a certificate of appealability to appeal the district court’s denial of his section 2255 petition. In 2010, Petitioner pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court found Petitioner to be an armed career criminal based on two prior drug convictions and one burglary conviction and sentenced him to 188 months of imprisonment. He did not appeal his conviction. In this habeas petition, Petitioner sought sentencing relief based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated the residual clause of 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B). The gravamen of his argument was that he was entitled to Johnson relief because the necessary third prior conviction for burglary under Kansas statute 21-3715 only qualified as a violent felony under the now-void residual clause. Petitioner also contended the district court erred in holding that Mathis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2243 (2016), was not retroactively applicable on collateral review. Having granted the COA, the Tenth Circuit nevertheless denied Petitioner’s appeal on the merits. Though Petitioner asserted a timely Johnson claim, he did not establish a Johnson error, meaning that the Court's analysis could not go further than the initial, historical evaluation of the sentencing court’s decision. Petitioner was sentenced in 2010; Mathis was decided in 2016. Because Mathis was a “post-sentencing decision” that was not part of the “controlling law . . . at the time of sentencing,” and as such, the Court did not apply it on collateral review. View "United States v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Wendell Grissom, with the assistance of a man he had just met, randomly selected a rural Oklahoma home to burglarize. Upon realizing that the home was occupied by two women and two minor children, Grissom shot his way into the home, killing one woman and seriously injuring the other. After the injured woman was able to escape in Grissom’s own vehicle, Grissom and his accomplice fled on a stolen all-terrain vehicle. Grissom and his accomplice were arrested shortly thereafter. Grissom was tried and convicted in Oklahoma state court of first degree murder, shooting with intent to kill, possession of a firearm after former conviction of a felony, and larceny of a motor vehicle after two or more previous felony convictions. Grissom was sentenced to death for the first degree murder conviction, and sentenced him to lengthy prison sentences for the other convictions. After exhausting his state court remedies through a direct appeal and a single application for state post-conviction relief, Grissom filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus, which was denied. However, the district court granted him a certificate of appealability (COA) with respect to one issue. The Tenth Circuit granted Grissom a COA with respect to two additional issues. Finding no reason to disturb the district court’s order, the Tenth Circuit affirmed denial of habeas relief. View "Grissom v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Richard Grissom, a prisoner in the custody of the Kansas Department of Corrections, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against a number of state corrections and prison officials, alleging violations of his constitutional rights stemming from his lengthy placement in solitary confinement. The district court granted summary judgment against Grissom, and he appealed. Finding that the Prison Officials were entitled to qualified immunity because at the time of Grissom’s confinement there was no clearly established law that would have alerted them that his asserted constitutional rights were being violated, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Grissom v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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Matthew Durham appealed his convictions and sentence on four counts for illicit sex with minors in Kenya after travelling there from the United States. He raised eight issues for the Tenth Circuit's review, arguing errors regarding the conduct of trial and the admission of certain evidence all cumulatively affected his Constitutional rights. In addition, he argued 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c), the statute on which the convictions were based, was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to Durham because it exceeded Congress’s power under the Foreign Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution. The Tenth Circuit held that section 2423(c) was constitutional because Congress could rationally conclude that travel abroad followed by illicit sex with a minor, in the aggregate, substantially affected foreign commerce. The Court found no other reversible error and affirmed Durham's convictions. View "United States v. Durham" on Justia Law