Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury; and discharge of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's evidentiary rulings where the district court's admission of the challenged 911 call did not violate defendant's confrontation right because the call was not testimonial in nature; the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the call over defendant's Federal Rule of Evidence 403 objection; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in deciding that the probative value of the challenged 911 call was not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. Furthermore, any prejudice stemming from the reference to the victim owing defendant money for marijuana did not substantially outweigh the value of the testimony as part of the res gestae of the crime. The court also held that there was no error in denying defendant's proposed limiting instruction, and there was no error in imposing two of the supervised release conditions. However, the court vacated the district court's condition prohibiting defendant from consuming alcohol or visiting establishments that primarily serve alcohol. In this case, the court failed to explain its basis for the condition, defendant's offense did not involve alcohol, and the record did not show that he was alcohol or drug dependent. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "United States v. Robertson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this interlocutory appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to a police officer who stopped, frisked, and handcuffed a person who had been watching another police officer perform traffic stops. The court agreed with the district court that genuine issues of material fact preclude the officer from receiving qualified immunity at this stage. In this case, under Walker v. City of Pine Bluff, 414 F.3d 989 (8th Cir. 2005), the officer violated plaintiff's clearly established right to watch police-citizen interactions at a distance and without interfering. View "Chestnut v. Wallace" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an employee of 4T Construction, filed suit against McKenzie under both negligence-based and strict liability law principles after he was seriously injured while replacing a high voltage transmission line for a project. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for McKenzie, holding that the parties' contract clearly and unambiguously stated that 4T was retained as an independent contractor. In this case, the parties' contract stated that 4T was an independent contractor that performs its work without supervision by McKenzie. The court held that McKenzie did not retain control over 4T's and plaintiff's actions. Finally, the North Dakota Supreme Court has declined to hold a utility company strictly liable for injuries and damages from contact with high tension power lines, and McKenzie was not liable under a theory of strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities. View "Meyer v. McKenzie Electric Cooperative, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's revocation of defendant's supervised release and sentence of 36 months in prison for assault of a law enforcement officer. The court held that there was a sufficient basis for finding a grade A violation of assault on a law enforcement officer, because the deputy was indisputably performing his official duties at the time of the assault. In this case, when defendant placed his hand on the deputy's service weapon with intent to remove it, defendant took a substantial step toward committing the offense of assault with at least a threat of violence. Therefore, the district court did not err by finding that defendant violated his conditions of supervised release by assaulting the deputy. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Plaintiff, an assistant professor at Macalester College, filed suit against the college after she was terminated for violating the college's policies on student-teacher relationships. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims for discriminatory discharge based on disability under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). The court held that plaintiff's claim regarding the departing provost was raised for the first time on appeal and therefore could not be considered by the court; the district court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint to add claims under the Family Medical Leave Act was untimely and futile; and, even if plaintiff made a prima face case of discrimination, the court concluded on de novo review that the college articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating plaintiff based on her sexual relationship with a former student. Finally, the court held that plaintiff's claim for failure to accommodate her disability under section 504 failed as a matter of law. View "Naca v. Macalester College" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit previously affirmed defendant's 600 month sentence after a jury convicted him of sexual exploitation of a minor, exploiting a minor while being required to register as a sex offender, two counts of distributing and receiving child pornography, and five counts of possessing child pornography. In this case, the court denied the petition for panel rehearing, holding that the crux of its harmless error analysis was not that the highest statutory maximum was 40 years if the maximum on Count One was reduced from 50 to 30 years. Therefore, the district court properly determined that the advisory range under USSG 5G1.2(d) greatly exceeded the 600 month sentence it imposed. The court held that any error was harmless because that remained true even if the statutory maximum for Count One was reduced by eliminating the section 2251(e) enhancement. View "United States v. Hansen" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress and his request for a hearing under Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). Defendant pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual exploitation of minors and one count of possession of materials involving sexual exploitation of minors. The court held that the issuing judge had a substantial basis for finding probable cause to search a cell phone for evidence of sexual abuse. In this case, the sheriff's written affidavit was sufficient to establish probable cause and any alleged inefficiencies were either non-existent or harmless because the issuing judge nonetheless had a substantial basis for finding probable cause. The court held that the victim was reliable; the fact that the affidavit does not set forth the sheriff's training and qualifications does not detract from a finding of probable cause; the forensic interviewer's identity and qualifications were irrelevant to the probable cause determination; the issuing judge was permitted to rely on the information contained in certain paragraphs of the affidavit when assessing probable cause; and the facts were sufficient to establish the basis for the victim's knowledge that there was a video of her on defendant's phone at the time of his arrest. The court also held that defendant failed to make the requisite substantial preliminary showing to merit a Franks hearing; the failure to discover evidence on the devices seized from the family residence pursuant to the first search warrant did not make it any less probable that such evidence would be found on the cell phone in defendant's possession; the circumstances and motives surrounding the report to the sheriff had no bearing on the probable cause analysis; and defendant's claim that the sheriff omitted certain information about the witness was rejected. View "United States v. Daigle" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The union appealed the district court's order denying the union's motion to compel arbitration of the grievances regarding early retirement benefits for employees terminated as the result of a plant closing. Applying de novo review, the Eighth Circuit held that the grievance, on its face, stated a claim that Trane violated a specific provision of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by not providing a bargained-for benefit, a benefit Trane reconfirmed in the Memorandum of Agreement. The court held that this grievance involved the interpretation of the CBA and was therefore arbitrable. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to the bridge grievance. However, the court affirmed the order denying the union's motion to compel arbitration of the temporary pension supplement benefit grievance, holding that it was not arbitrable because it was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, rather than the Labor Management Relations Act or the CBA. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "International Union v. Trane U.S. Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress nearly 2000 grams of heroin found in a rental car defendant was driving. The court held that, even if a strawman eliminated Fourth Amendment standing, the evidence here does not establish a strawman situation and the court's precedent holds that an unauthorized and unlicensed driver may challenge a search of a rental car operated with the renter’s permission. Therefore, defendant had standing to challenge the search of the vehicle. The court also held that, as the encounter with defendant unfolded, officers developed additional evidence indicating deception and criminal conduct. Therefore, the officers had probable cause to seize the vehicle and continue the search. View "United States v. Bettis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography. The district court imposed a sentence at the bottom of the advisory guidelines range, 262 months, but ordered the sentence to run consecutive to the remaining portion of an earlier-imposed, 60-month, revocation-of-supervised-release sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3583(k). After the Supreme Court held that section 3583(k) was unconstitutional in United States v. Haymond, 139 S. Ct. 2369 (2019), the court ordered supplemental briefing. The court held that even if Haymond abrogated the court's double jeopardy precedent, any error in this case was not plain. The court also held that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court considered the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors and sufficiently explained its reasons for imposing a within-guidelines sentence. View "United States v. Watters" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law