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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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After defendant installed drain tile on his property in a manner consistent with the NRCS map but inconsistent with the FWS map, defendant was convicted of the lesser-included offense of disturbing property in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Eighth Circuit vacated the conviction and held that the district court erroneously instructed the jury that the lesser offense was a strict liability crime when, in fact, the lesser offense requires proof of defendant's negligence. In this case, the evidence presented at trial would have been sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to convict defendant under the proper formulation of the lesser offense, but given the jury's acquittal of defendant on the greater offense of knowingly disturbing property, the court could not say that the evidence of his culpable mental state was so overwhelming that it rendered the erroneous instruction harmless. View "United States v. Mast" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendants Sayonkon and Samaan appealed their convictions for aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Defendant Sesay pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. All defendants appealed their sentences. The Eighth Circuit held that there was sufficient evidence to convict Sayonkon and Samaan for a single conspiracy to commit bank fraud; there was no variance between the indictment for a single conspiracy charged in the indictment and the proof at trial; the district court did not err in denying Samaan's motion to suppress evidence gathered when police examined the guest registry at a motel he was staying, because he had no legitimate expectation of privacy in the identification card that he provided when registering at the motel; the evidence was sufficient to support Samaan's conviction for aggravated identity theft where a reasonable jury could find that he knowingly used another person's identification and that "another person" includes both the living and deceased; the district court did not err by applying a sentencing enhancement under USSG 3B1.1 to Sayonkon for his role as a leader in the criminal activity; the district court properly calculated the loss amount for sentencing Samaan; and Sesay's below-guidelines sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Sesay" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Plaintiffs, a class of civilly committed residents, appealed the dismissal of their claims against state officials, alleging that the state's commitment provisions are facially unconstitutional, and that the treatment program as applied to the residents violates their substantive due process rights. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that plaintiffs did not assert a typical substantive due process claim but, rather, they contend that defendant officials must change the way that they conduct annual reviews of civilly-committed persons, design procedures for releasing low-risk residents into less restrictive housing, and carry out a statutory duty to authorize petitions for release of low-risk residents. The court held that an entitlement to these actions is not deeply rooted in the Nation's history and tradition or implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. In this case, plaintiffs had procedures available to them that were sufficient to vindicate their liberty interest in gaining release from detention once the reasons that justified the commitment dissipate. The court explained that the fact that the Act provides additional opportunities to facilitate release, and that state officials allegedly have failed to implement them properly, does not run afoul of substantive due process. In the alternative, the court held that the shortcomings cited by the district court in Missouri mirror those that Karsjens v. Piper, 845 F.3d 394 (8th Cir. 2017), held were not conscience-shocking in Minnesota. Accordingly, the district court correctly reasoned that the as-applied substantive due process claims should be dismissed. Finally, there was no reversible error in the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs abandoned their state law claims. View "Van Orden v. Stringer" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's petition for habeas corpus relief. The court held that plaintiff's counsel's representation did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness, and even if it did, plaintiff has not demonstrated that he was prejudiced. The court also held that, even assuming that plaintiff fairly presented his claim to the state court, his claim failed where considering an aggravating factor in violation of a state statute alone does not amount to a constitutional violation meriting federal habeas relief. Finally, the court held that the tools were available to plaintiff to make his arguments -- that his youth at the time of the offense and the serious mental illnesses categorically exempt him from the death penalty -- before the state court, he failed to show cause, and his procedural default was not excused. View "Anderson v. Kelley" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon. The court held that defendant's prior Arkansas conviction for second degree battery was a violent felony under the Armed Career Criminal Act. The court also held that defendant's two prior Texas convictions for delivering a controlled substance were serious drug offenses under the Act. Accordingly, the district court correctly sentenced defendant as an armed career criminal. View "United States v. Block" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction to one count of distribution of child pornography. The court held that the statute of conviction, 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(2), as constitutionally applied to him, did not violate his rights under the First and Fifth Amendments. The court rejected defendant's contention that the statute unconstitutionally violated defendant's First Amendment right to free speech, because child pornography is categorically excluded from protection under the First Amendment. The court also rejected defendant's contention that the statute violated a right o privacy or sexual intimacy under the Fifth Amendment. The court held in United States v. Bach, 400 F.3d 622, 629 (8th Cir. 2005), that the Due Process Clause as interpreted in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), did not prevent a prosecution for transmitting a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, even though the conduct was not criminal. View "United States v. Rouse" 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 evidence after he conditionally pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. The court held that the officer who stopped defendant lacked reasonable suspicion to detain defendant. However, the court held that the officer discovered the evidence against defendant after he learned of an outstanding arrest warrant, and thus the initial violation of defendant's Fourth Amendment rights was sufficiently unrelated to the ultimate discovery of the evidence that suppression was inappropriate. Therefore, the discovery of the evidence used against defendant was attenuated from his unlawful stop. View "United States v. Lowry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Defendant pleaded guilt to one count of bank robbery and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon, and was sentenced to 216 months in prison. On appeal, defendant argued that the district court violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment by retroactively increasing the severity of his punishment based on an "unforeseeable" judicial decision in United States v. Swopes, 886 F.3d 668 (8th Cir. 2018) (en banc), that was filed after the commission of his firearms offense. The Eighth Circuit held that the en banc decision in Swopes was not so unexpected as to raise due process concerns. View "United States v. Dunlap" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Eighth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's decision finding petitioner ineligible for cancellation of removal because he sustained a prior conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude when he was convicted of theft by receiving in violation of Nebraska law. The court also held that Ali v. Barr, 924 F.3d 983, 986 (8th Cir. 2019), foreclosed petitioner's claim that neither the IJ nor the BIA had subject matter jurisdiction over his removal proceedings, because the initial notice to appear served on petitioner did not include information about when and where to appear. View "Inzunza Reyna v. Barr" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255 based on Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). The court held that Johnson did not justify relief in this case, because defendant's prior conviction for first degree assault qualified as a violent felony under the force clause. Therefore, defendant was not sentenced based on the residual clause and failed to satisfy the requirements for proceeding with a successive motion under section 2255(h)(2). View "Unverzagt v. United States" on Justia Law