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

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit reversed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered short-barreled shotgun. The court concluded that the district court plainly erred in imposing the destructive-device enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(3)(B). The court also concluded that the error affected defendant's substantial rights because his Guidelines imprisonment range would have been lower without the enhancement and the error seriously affects the fairness of the proceedings. Accordingly, the court remanded for resentencing without the destructive-device enhancement. View "United States v. Zarate" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Assuming, without deciding, that the government knowingly intruded into the attorney-client relationship when officers seized privileged documents from defendant's cell, the district court concluded that defendant fails to demonstrate any particular prejudice or substantial threat of prejudice to his sentencing proceeding. In this case, the district court's offer of additional time to prepare for the sentencing hearing was an adequate shield from prejudice, given the relatively short-term deprivation of materials and absence of any evidence derived from the seized materials being used for sentencing. Therefore, there was no Sixth Amendment violation.The court also concluded that the district court did not commit procedural error when calculating defendant's Guidelines-recommended sentence by relying on his two prior Iowa convictions. The court explained that the convictions are counted independently because they are separated by an intervening arrest. Furthermore, the district court correctly considered defendant's prior convictions as controlled substance offenses for purposes of determining his base offense level. Finally, the court concluded that defendant's sentence was not substantively unreasonable where the district court denied defendant's request for a downward variance, weighed the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors, and did not abuse its discretion in sentencing defendant. View "United States v. Sawatzky" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence for carjacking; two counts of carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting government exhibits at trial related to a photo on defendant's Facebook, Facebook conversations, and a video of defendant with a firearm while counting a large amount of cash. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury on the "intent" element of carjacking and the phrase "carried a firearm" in 18 U.S.C. 924(c); the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions for carjacking, carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person; and the district court did not err in imposing an enhancement under USSG 2K2.1(b)(1) for possession of between 3 and 7 firearms, and in applying the carjacking offense characteristic under USSG 2B3.1(b)(5). View "United States v. Wright" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's 96-month sentence after a jury found him guilty of three counts of abusive sexual contact of a child. The court concluded that any evidentiary error in admitting defendant's prior sexual assault accusation against defendant was harmless because it had little to no influence on the verdict. The court also concluded that the district court did not make a mistake by treating the prior abuse as part of "a pattern of activity involving prohibited sexual conduct" under USSG 4B1.5(b). Furthermore, the district court could consider it once it found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the prior prohibited conduct occurred, regardless of whether it "resulted in a conviction." Finally, the district court did not rely on a "clearly erroneous fact." View "United States v. Oakie" 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 motion for a Franks hearing after he was convicted of one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and cocaine. In regard to the motion to suppress, the court concluded that, even if the warrant affidavit lacked probable cause, the good faith exception applies in this case because the issuing judge could have logically inferred that defendant stored contraband at his residence. Therefore, the officer's reliance on the search warrant was objectively reasonable. In regard to the motion for a Franks hearing, the court also concluded that defendant has not made a substantial preliminary showing that the statements at issue were false and defendant waived his GPS-related argument. View "United States v. Mayweather" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit denied a petition for review challenging petitioner's removability and seeking asylum. Petitioner, a Somali native who is part of a minority Islamic sect called Sufism, fled Somalia to escape the country's civil war. He came to the United States in 2000 and his entire family resides in the United States, including his nine children.The court concluded that petitioner's conviction for possession of khat relates to a federal controlled substance under 8 U.S.C.  1227(a)(2)(B)(i). In this case, khat contains at least one of two substances listed on the federal drug schedules and thus petitioner is removable. In regard to asylum, the court applied de novo review and concluded that petitioner's evidence was insufficient to establish the social distinctiveness of his proposed social group: those suffering from mental health illnesses, specifically post traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, the Board did not err in concluding that the IJ's factual finding that the Somali government was helpless against al-Shabaab was clearly erroneous. View "Ahmed v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to a deputy sheriff in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the deputy sheriff failed to safeguard plaintiff's health and safety and had thereby inflicted injuries upon him. In this case, the deputy sheriff was transporting plaintiff from a medical appointment to the Lee County Correctional Center when city police dispatch advised of an armed robbery nearby. The deputy sheriff drove to the bank with the intent of observing the crime in progress, saw the robbery suspect flee on foot through a vacant lot, and drove his cruiser at approximately 20 to 25 miles per hour through the lot to follow the fleeing suspect. During the pursuit, the suspect shot at the cruiser and the deputy sheriff turned sharply to the right and drove away from the scene. Plaintiff, who was shackled and "thrown around" in the back of the cruiser without a seatbelt during these events, alleged that the deputy sheriff subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.The court could not say that the deputy sheriff's actions in this quickly evolving emergency situation were anything more than negligent and thus were clearly insufficient to constitute deliberate indifference. In the absence of a showing that he acted with deliberate indifference, plaintiff has failed to establish the existence of an Eighth Amendment violation. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to enter an appropriate order. View "Stark v. Lee County" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in denying petitioner's motion to vacate, set aside or correct his life sentences. The court concluded that, for purposes of 18 U.S.C. 3559(c)(1), his Iowa convictions for robbery and first-degree robbery were serious violent felonies under the section's enumerated-offense clause. In this case, petitioner cannot show that at the time of sentencing, the district court necessarily relied on section 3559's residual clause in ruling that the aggravated robbery conviction and first-degree robbery conviction were serious violent felonies. Therefore, the district court properly refused to vacate the mandatory life sentence under section 3559. View "Langford v. United States" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for distributing a controlled substance near a protected location resulting in death and of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance near a protected location. The court concluded that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion to suppress statements made to law enforcement where defendant's statements were consensual and he was never seized or detained. In this case, an officer's statement to "just kinda stay here" was not a seizure or a significant restraint on his movement, and latter statements to stay outside the apartment were made to assure the officer and defendant did not get in the way of medical staff and did not amount to a detention. The court explained that none of the other factors suggest that defendant's encounter had ripened into a seizure or custodial arrest. Even if the court assumed that defendant was seized and in custody at the police station, it is clear from the totality of the circumstances that defendant voluntarily waived his Miranda rights.The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant's request for a lesser-included-offense jury instruction of possession of heroin for Count II, in addition to distribution of heroin; there was sufficient evidence to support defendant's conviction; and the elements necessary to apply the concurrent sentence doctrine are present in this case. View "United States v. Parker" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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After the district court denied defendant's motion to suppress video recordings discovered on his laptop, defendant pleaded guilty conditionally to one count of receiving child pornography and unconditionally to one count of wire fraud.The Eighth Circuit concluded that probable cause combined with exigent circumstances justified the warrantless seizure of defendant's laptop. In this case, the investigators had probable cause to believe the laptop contained evidence of a crime based on an interview with defendant's uncle; the investigators had an objectively reasonable belief that exigent circumstances demanded the seizure; and the fifteen-day delay between seizure and application for the search warrant was not unreasonable. The court also concluded that, even under de novo review, the district court provided an adequate explanation of defendant's within-guidelines-range sentence. The court further concluded that the district court did not rely on clearly-erroneous facts in setting the sentence. However, the imposition of certain special conditions concerning computer use, contact with persons under the age of 18, and participation in sex-offender treatment are vacated and remanded so that the district court may conduct the requisite "individualized inquiry" and make sufficient findings on the record. Furthermore, the special condition concerning possession of use of sexually oriented materials is also remanded to permit the district court to amend its written judgment to conform to its oral pronouncement at sentencing. View "United States v. Mays" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law